Stephan, Rudi


Stephan, Rudi

Die ersten Menschen / The First Human Beings (Vocal Score with German libretto)

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Stephan, Rudi

Die ersten Menschen / The First Human Beings (Vocal Score with German libretto)

Information to the opera:

Opera in two acts (1909-14) after Otto Borngräber (1874-1916)

When the 28-year-old soldier Rudi Stephan was killed in action in present-day Ukrainian Galicia on 29 September 1915, after only two weeks on the front, German music lost one of its great white hopes. Stephan received his basic musical training from Karl Kiebitz (1843-1927), music director in Worms, who, to quote the composer, “was the first seriously to introduce me to music and particularly to Beethoven’s spiritual universe.” Being interested in other things, he was a poor student at high school. In 1905-6 he studied privately in Frankfurt am Main with the progressive teacher and composer Bernhard Sekles (1872-1934), whose pupils would later include Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), Ottmar Gerster (1897-
1969), Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) and Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno (1903-69). Although Stephan put great store in Sekles, he moved to Munich in 1906 to study with the theorist and critic Rudolf Louis (1870-1914), a friend of Strauss and Pfitzner and an eloquent champion of the “Munich School” associated with Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907). Louis cut a poor figure as a composer, and his best-known pupil apart from Stephan was Ernst Boehe (1880-1938). However, as Juliane Brand points out in her standard study Rudi Stephan (in the series Komponisten in Bayern, Tutzing, 1983), from which most of the information in this preface has been taken, Stephan insisted in his autobiographical sketch that he learned harmony and piano from Sekles, but counterpoint and fugue from Louis. In short, from neither did he learn composition; and his posthumous estate, which was destroyed by the accidental detonation of a firebomb in 1945, one day after the devastating air raid on Worms, is said to have had no compositional exercises of any significance.
Among the fellow-composers of his generation Stephan maintained closest contact with Heinz Tiessen (1887-1971), to whom he dedicated his lied Im Einschlafen. Tiessen, one of the most distinguished of German expressionist composers, recalled their friendship in his Wege eines Komponisten (Berlin, 1962): “I must record yet another memory from my days on the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung. After the première of Rudi Stephan’s Music for Orchestra [Stephan’s second and definitive composition by this title, which superseded the first version that has been reprinted in 2003 as Study Score No. 162 in the Repertoire Explorer series] at the Jena Music Festival in 1913, I put the thumbscrews on Herr Schwers to hold the evening’s lecture and wrote a perfectly elated review. A lengthy exchange of letters ensued between Stephan and myself, and he made me the dedicatee of a lied that I consider the most beautiful he ever wrote.” In his ground- breaking study on modern music, Zur Geschichte der jüngsten Musik (1913-28): Probleme und Entwicklungen (vol. 2 in Melosbücherei, Mainz, 1928), Tiessen wrote the following words under the heading of “Rejection of the Literary” (Abkehr vom Literarischen): “The titles that Rudi Stephan gave to his works at the festivals of 1912 and 1913 — Music for Seven String Instruments and Music for Orchestra — had about them the ring of an adamant volte-face from program music. But more important than the title was the new, fresh, taught energy of the music itself in the latter piece, which, pace Delius and Reger, far outstripped all the other works in the festival’s program.”
Because of his untimely death, few revealing accounts of Stephan the man have come down to us. Kasimir Edelschmid, in his obituary for the Frankfurter Zeitung (7 October 1915), said of him that “his sense of justice was of such diamond-like sharpness and transparency that it made him difficult to get along with. He was not so much impulsive as equilibrating. Trivialities that would be passed over with a smile by other men, even those of good breeding, exercised his moral sensibilities for a long time. […] A certain earnestness pervaded everything about him — even his laughter, which was frequent and deep. His judgments were just and radical, as they are in all persons who live for a cause, perfectly convinced of their inner vocation. I do not believe that his nature lacked that great kindness which is the cornerstone of great achievement. He was convinced of his worth without making a fuss about it, with all the innate modesty of a medieval master.”
Karl Holl, writing in Rudi Stephan: Studie zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Musik am Anfang des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (Saarbrücken, 1920), had this to say: “Creation, like life as a whole, did not come particularly easily to him. The proof can be seen in his sketches: he produced his music slowly and with difficulty, almost warily. He wrestled with the same ideas for years: many of the themes from his Jena Music for Orchestra and his Die ersten Menschen [“The First Men,” Stephan’s opera] have entire histories of their own. They migrate from one work to another, changing key, time signature, rhythm and instrumental timbre, expanding or being truncated, until they finally find their place in a later work, precisely fashioned to accommodate their indwelling energy. But until they reached publication, not even they were safe from the relentlessly tinkering hand of this obstinate and forward-striving composer.”
The earliest purely orchestral draft in the catalogue of Stephan’s posthumous estate is a Marcia eroica for large orchestra
(1905). One year later it was joined by three unfinished orchestral pieces: a Ballet Scene, a Scherzo and an Idyll. On 1 July
1908, shortly before completing his studies with Louis, he presented his first complete orchestral work in Munich, a single- movement Opus I for orchestra (“op. I fuer Orchester.”)that bore the motto “Vorwärts sehen, vorwärts streben — keinen Raum der Schwäche geben!” (Look to the fore, strive to the fore, leave no room for frailty) and the duration “16 minutes.” After his death this work was thought to be lost, but on 24 April 2003 we were fortunate to discover, in the archive of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, the autograph score along with a complete set of instrumental parts, none of which had ever been used. It had been stored under the incorrect title of “Rudi Stephan: Concerto for Orchestra” — yet another indication of the confusion resulting from his terse and nondescript titles. Apparently Stephan had submitted his Opus I after its completion to what was then the Munich Konzertverein Orchestra for a performance that never materialized. It is
perfectly in keeping with Stephan’s character that, having come closer to his creative ideals in the orchestral works that followed, he lost interest in the less mature Opus I and did not ask to have the music returned. In view of the destruction of his posthumous papers, this has turned out to be a much-belated blessing in disguise. The autograph score and parts thus spent nearly 95 years in a state of limbo from which they may now soon expect their baptism by fire … (Translation: Bradford Robinson)

Read full preface of the full score > HERE

Score Data


Opera Explorer




210 x 297 mm


Vocal Score (opera)



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