While German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera Hänsel und Gretel remains as popular today as ever, much of his extensive output has vanished from the repertoire. This year’s centenary of his death offers the ideal moment to take a fresh look at some of his finest works. Deutsche Grammophon pays tribute to his achievements with Erinnerung: Homage to Humperdinck, which will be available as an e-album and double-disc digipack. Curated by pianist Hinrich Alpers and set for international release on 23 April 2021, the album comprises extracts from Humperdinck’s best-known scores, archive treasures, newly recorded rarities and the world premiere recording of an early piano piece, Erinnerung (Memory).
Erinnerung: Homage to Humperdinck opens with excerpts from his incidental music to The Tempest (as used in the Shakespeare Suites Nos. 1 & 2), performed by the Bamberger Symphoniker and Karl Anton Rickenbacher. These are followed by extracts from contrasting visions of Hänsel und Gretel: Georg Solti’s thrilling interpretation with Brigitte Fassbaender, Lucia Popp and Norma Burrowes, and a joyful “Knusperwalzer” (Gingerbread Waltz) from Fritz Lehmann’s 1955 recording.
Other archive highlights include Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s charming performance of the Christmas song An das Christkind and excerpts from the opera Königskinder – regarded by Humperdinck as his finest work – recorded live in Montpellier in 2005 and starring Jonas Kaufmann, Ofelia Sala, Detlef Roth and Nora Gubisch. The Königskinder selection is crowned by Eberhard Wächter’s legendary recording of the Fiddler’s song “Verdorben! Gestorben!”, made in the late 1950s.
The album also presents a series of new recordings made in co-production with Deutschlandfunk Kultur, notably Hinrich Alpers’ world premiere account of Erinnerung. This exquisite piano miniature was written by the seventeen-year-old Humperdinck for his beloved sister Ernestine, who died two years after its composition. The work was recently discovered between the pages of Ernestine’s poetry album and Alpers describes it as a “small but magical trouvaille”.
As well as giving a captivating interpretation of the String Quartet in C major – a masterpiece in its genre – the Schumann Quartett team up with the pianist in the splendid Piano Quintet in G major and in Humperdinck’s officially sanctioned arrangement for two violins, viola, two cellos, double bass and piano of the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Finally, Alpers accompanies soprano Christina Landshamer in an early song cycle setting texts by Moritz Leiffmann and a selection of other Lieder, including two more Christmas songs.
Humperdinck’s incidental music for The Tempest drew direct inspiration from a storm he witnessed in September 1906 while staying at the Villa Meeresstern (“Star of the Sea”) on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom. In addition to curating the centenary album, Hinrich Alpers has also created a three-day Humperdinck anniversary celebration as part of the Usedom Music Festival, with events to be held in the newly renovated villa and other historic venues (3‑5 September 2021). The weekend will include the first public performance of Erinnerung and a talk about Humperdinck’s music hosted by German journalist Kai Diekmann, present owner of the Villa Meeresstern.
Engelbert Humperdinck, born in Siegburg in 1854, wrote his first dramatic works during his teens and subsequently studied at the Cologne Conservatory. He was deeply influenced by Wagner’s music dramas and was invited to Bayreuth by the revered older composer to assist in the first production of Parsifal. Hänsel und Gretel evolved from a series of folk-song settings, written at his sister Adelheid’s request, to become a Singspiel and finally a fully-fledged opera. Its premiere in 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss, was an instant hit and was soon followed by productions in opera houses across Europe and beyond. Humperdinck was appointed a member of Berlin’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1900 and became principal of one of its associate schools of composition. In addition to melodramas and fairy-tale operas, his catalogue includes numerous songs and choral pieces, incidental music, and orchestral and chamber works.