Composers of Today: A Comprehensive Biographical and Critical Guide to Modern Composers of All Nations

By David Ewen | Go to book overview
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Wilhelm Kienzl 1857-

WILHELM KIENZL, among the more significant of the older generation of modern Austrian composers, was born in Waizenkirchen on January 17, 1857. As a child, Wilhelm was brought to Graz, and in this Austrian city he lived the major portion of his life. Here, his father, a lawyer, was a prominent public official during his entire life, being elected Mayor of the city in 1861.

A cultural background was his birthright. When, therefore, he revealed that his talent lay in music, encouragement was not slow in coming. When he had acquired the rudiments from local teachers, he was sent to the Prague Conservatory. Then, with Rheinberger at Munich, Kienzl's musical studies were brought to a successful completion.

As a young man, Kienzl met and became a friend of Franz Liszt. Kienzl-- who was serving his musical apprenticeship as a vocal director in Graz--confided to Liszt that his major ambition was to become a composer. Liszt glanced over some of Kienzl's early creations, and told the young composer that his future held enormous promise. He urged the young man to surrender all activities and to delve more deeply into composition.

Equally important, in Kienzl's artistic career, was his friendship with Richard Wagner. For a long while, he lived on terms of intimacy with the entire Wagner family in Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth--and Wagner's idealism and noble artistic integrity inspired Kienzl. Unfortunately, their friendship was not to persist. Kienzl openly admired Schumann, and the fact that Wagner often made disparaging remarks about Schumann's talent inspired a series of quarrels which ultimately brought an end to their friendship. However, Kienzl remained a perfect Wagnerite-- one of the most vigorous protagonists of Wagner's music-dramas.

1886 first brought Kienzl name to the attention of the German music public when his first opera, Urvasi, was given its première at Dresden. This opera, based upon a subject from Kalidasa, was strongly influenced by the

Wagnerian music-drama, but it enjoyed a popularity because of its rich melodies. While Urvasi was followed by other operas equally well-received, it was not until 1894 that Kienzl finally attained success. In that year, his Evangelimann, his best known work to date, received its first performance. Its success was instantaneous. The following year it was performed thruout all of Germany and Austria, and before long it rivalled Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel as the most popular modern opera among the masses.

While the Evangelimann is Kienzl's most successful effort to date, he did not exhaust himself artistically with this work. In his future compositions--such as his later operas--a greater depth was added to his style. Julius Korngold goes so far as to consider Don Quixote a far superior work to Evangelimann. "It is finer, more subtle, not so vulgarly popular, and endlessly rich in spirit and soul."

However, tho Kienzl has produced music of charm and loveliness, he has never approached first importance. What a critic wrote about his opera Kuhreigen, might very aptly apply to all of the music he has produced. " Kienzl has written often agreeably, tunefully, competently and with little distinction," wrote a critic in the New Music Review, "grazing often dangerously near the

Kienzl: kēn'zl

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