Die Vögel, Op. 30 (in two volumes with German libretto. First time available for sale)
(b. Frankfurt, 19 December 1882; d. Cologne, 19 March 1954)
Die Vögel (The Birds), op. 30 (1913-19)
Lyrico-fantastical play in two acts
on a libretto freely adapted by the composer from Aristophanes
Walter Braunfels belongs to that group of German composers who were forced into “inner emigration” during the Third Reich. In 1933, at the height of his career, with several successful operas to his credit, he was summarily removed from his directorship at Cologne Musikhochschule and officially blacklisted throughout the Reich: performances of his music were prohibited, and his name was struck from publications. Half‑Jewish and vociferously out of sympathy with the new régime, he withdrew from public life and retired to the countryside, where he worked in isolation on his compositions. After the war Konrad Adenauer personally restored him to his former position in Cologne, where he helped to rebuild the Musikhochschule before retiring in 1950. He left behind a large body of music ranging from the brilliant comic operas and orchestral essays of his youth to the austere, mystical oratorios of his old age (Braunfels was a devout convert to Catholicism).
Today Braunfels is remembered mainly for his operas, most of them on librettos adapted by himself from literary models: Die Vögel after Aristophanes’ The Birds (1920), Princess Brambilla after E. T. A. Hoffmann (1908), and Don Gil von den grünen Hosen after Tirso de Molina (1924). Of these, Die Vögel is generally considered to be his masterpiece. Its long gestation (1913-19) is accounted for by the First World War, where Braunfels served on the Western front after being drafted in 1915. Wounded in action in 1917, he returned to his native Frankfurt, converted to Catholicism, and resumed his musical career as an accomplished pianist. Die Vögel was brought to completion in 1919 and premièred at the Munich Opera on 30 November 1920 with a star-studded cast (Maria Ivogün, Richard Strauss’s coloratura soprano of choice, sang The Nightingale, and the great tenor Karl Erb sang Hoffegut). The conductor that evening was none other than Bruno Walter, who in later life called Die Vögel
“the most interesting production of my Munich period. … Those who were privileged to hear Karl Erb’s song of man’s yearning and Maria Ivogün’s comforting voice of the nightingale from the tree-top, and those who were cheered by the work’s grotesque scenes and touched by its romantic ones, will surely remember with gratitude the poetic and ingenious transformation of Aristophanes’ comedy into an opera.” (Alfred Einstein, Theme and Variations, New York: Knopf, 1946, p. 236).
No less enthusiastic was the review by Germany’s leading critic at the time, Alfred Einstein, who immediately elevated the previously little-known Braunfels to the front rank of Germany’s opera composers:
“I believe that Germany’s opera stage has never been traversed by a more absolute artistic creation than this ‘lyrico-fantastical play after Aristophanes.’ It is one of the documents of the anti-naturalist movement in opera that has increasingly taken hold of composers over the last decade. Among the landmarks of this movement are the unreal stylistic balance of
210 x 297 mm