Humperdinck – Prelude to Hansel und Gretel
by Max Derrickson
Prelude to Hansel und Gretel
German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s (1854-1921) opera Hansel and Gretel was premiered by another German composer, the 29 year old Richard Strauss, in 1893. The story goes that Humperdinck’s sister, Adelhied Wette, requested from him some incidental music for a children’s play. A precocious and lofty minded composer, the young Humperdinck reluctantly acquiesced. After all, Humperdinck sat at his mentor Richard Wagner’s side during the final copying of Parsifal. A children’s suite was not what he imagined his career encompassing. Yet the result was so successful that he was immediately begged to produce an opera. And this opera gained him immense accolades, as Gustav Mahler called it a masterpiece, and “a delightful addition” to the operatic repertoire.
The overture, or prelude, is still often heard in performance, and the entire opera is still staged regularly. The Grimm brothers’ tales are well known today, due in part to the great success of Humperdinck’s opera. The overture begins with four horns singing the two children’s evening prayer, which is soon broken by the trumpets heralding the witch’s spell. [. . .] the children are blithely munching on the witch’s candy house, and the tune from the resurrected children’s chorus.
The score is beautifully crafted (competently showing his learned ability as an orchestrator) and epitomizes Humperdinck’s exceptional talent as a lyrical writer. [. . .]