“Perhaps a little too late?”
Engelbert Humperdinck: The Moorish Rhapsody
Contrary to expectations, Engelbert Humperdinck’s name seldom appears on the concert programmes of the Gewandhaus concerts, despite the fact that Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss supported him as best they could.
Strauss conducted the premiere of “Hansel and Gretel” at the Weimar Court Opera in 1893. Although Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera was to be regularly performed at the Leipzig Opera, the management of the Gewandhaus clearly paid little attention to the aspiring composer.
While Gewandhaus Orchestra conductor Arthur Nikisch – like d’Albert from the New German school – was interested in Humperdinck’s work, he strangely enough included his compositions in concerts only five times during his term of office. All the same, the Gewandhaus audience heard the introductions to the second and third acts of the melodramatic opera “Die Königskinder (the king‘s children) in November 1896 – a year before the stage premiere at the Munich Court Theatre!
As a “novelty”, Nikisch performed “Tarifa” and “Tangier”, the first two movements of Humperdinck’s “Moorish Rhapsody”, for the first time in 1910.
Leipzig critics felt that was rather late in the day, additionally complaining that the work, which was still unknown in Leipzig, had not even been presented in its entirety.
Die Leipziger Neuesten Nachrichten went on as follows: “After twelve years, the best part of this lovable and masterly little work has found its way to the Gewandhaus; as the politely respectful applause indicated, perhaps a little too late?”
Nor did the composer escape criticism from the Leipziger Volkszeitung: “Not knowing this music is hardly a loss, but one does wonder how such works, which cultivate no modern excesses but certainly contain a degree of interest value, have been ignored for such a long time in the Gewandhaus”.
The reviewer goes on: “Tarifa (Elegy at sunset) is a tone picture in Central-European style, although the monotone beginning with the high-pitched violin melody gives it an exotic touch.
One still has the feeling that this kind of monotony suggests more the sad shepherds‘ tune in Tristan than any elegiac feelings in Andalusia. Yet this beginning represents some of the best music in the work, the rest seeming ever more like New German school mood-music that more or less totally lacks original power. It was at any rate significant that this beautifully set, slow mood piece was considerably better received than the second: Tangier (A night in a Moorish café), which is almost entirely lacking in the sparkling vitality it might be expected to have. Here one sees clearly enough that Humperdinck lost his artistic joie de vivre a long time ago.”
It was the death of the composer of “Hansel and Gretel” in Neustrelitz on September 27, 1921 that prompted the next performance of his music at the Gewandhaus. In remembrance of him, Nikisch now quite spontaneously included the introduction to Act 3 of “Die Königskinder” in the programme on October 20, 1921.
Nikisch himself died just half a year later. Humperdinck’s name was forgotten at the Gewandhaus for more than twenty years after that. The radio recording of March 1945 presented here was the first performance in Leipzig of his “Moorish Rhapsody” in its entirety.
Broadcasting technology had come to Humperdinck’s rescue.
Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth