Engelbert Humperdinck – Moorish Rhapsody for orchestra (1898)
(b. Siegburg, 1 September 1854 – d. Neustrelitz, 27 September 1921)
I Tarifa (Sunset Elegy). Slow – More lively p. 3
II Tanger (A Night in the Moorish Café). Lively p. 29
III Tetuan (Ride into the Desert). Moderately fast – Much slower p. 70
Although very different in its folksy demeanour, Engelbert Humperdinck’s music was strongly influenced by Richard Wagner, whose son Siegfried received a decisive musical education from Humperdinck. The lasting fame of Humperdinck was founded almost exclusively on the fairy tale opera Hänsel and Gretel, which was first performed on 23 December 1893 in Weimar. Subsequent operas could not match this success: The Seven Kids, Königskinder (Children of the King), The Sleeping Beauty, The Reluctant Marriage, The Sutleress and Gaudeamus. The best known of these works is Königskinder, which made its debut as the music for a play in Munich on 23 January 1897 — later Humperdinck arranged it as a true opera, which was performed for the first time on 28 December 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
For health reasons Humperdinck resigned from his duties as professor at the Hochsches Conservatorium in Frankfurt in 1896 and settled in Boppard at the Rhine near Koblenz. There in the summer of 1898 he wrote his Moorish Rhapsody, in which is reflected in purely musical terms his impressions of a journey to southern Spain and Morocco in 1883. This rhapsody emerged from work on a Moorish Suite (1887) and a Moorish Symphony (1890); the stimulus for its completetion came via an invitation from Leeds to perform a piece of his own in autumn of 1898. The first performance of the Moorish Rhapsody was conducted by the composer on 7 October 1898 at the Leeds Music Festival. The orchestral score and the version for four-handed piano appeared in print in 1899 from the Leipzig publisher Max Brockhaus.
As the English wished a concert programme, the 75-year-old father of Engelbert, Gustav Humperdinck, authored a three part poem which was placed at the front of the printed score. In Engelbert Humperdinck: Das Leben meines Vaters (The Life of my Father, Frankfurt am Main, 1965), Wolfram Humperdinck referred to this matter: “The opinions of father and son were diametrically opposed: whereas the latter gave expression to lyrical and also humorous moods in exotic colours, the father sensed heroic motifs, and in his admittedly rather pretty poem he allowed the lost Moorish supremacy to be revived in the form of old epic songs. […] Nevertheless, Engelbert did not think it seemly to withdraw the painstakingly constructed poem and thereby offend his old father.”
On 13 April 1900 Wilhelm Kienzl wrote in the Grazer Tagblatt: “Humperdinck’s rhapsody is a masterpiece with regard to the harmonious union of the poetic with the purely musical. Within it lives the charm of the artist’s personality. The three parts are not to be understood as descriptions in the common programmatic sense, but as lyrical moods of the highest order. […] What in my eyes places the art of Humperdinck still higher than the other masters, is the deep soul which underlies its expression. And what subtle, charming, droll humour arises wherever the script allows, such as in the rather genial scene in the Moorish café. And what a noble, refined art that speaks in the orchestration.”
Shortly thereafter the Moorish Rhapsody was to be heard in Vienna, conducted once again by Humperdinck, but despite its fine qualities it could not maintain its position in the concert halls. The new edition of the score in study format is long overdue.
For performance materials please contact the publisher Max Brockhaus, Bonn.
Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek archives of the Münchner Stadtbibliothek.