Entertainment, Movies and TV, Music

Happy Birthday, Englebert Humperdinck!

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Oh.  Wait.  Sorry.  Wrong Englebert Humperdinck.

“Wut!”  I hear you exclaim in disbelief.  There’s more than one Englebert Humperdinck?

Well, no…..

The “real” Englebert Humperdinck, born September 1, 1854 was a German composer best known for his opera Hänsel und Gretel, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale of the same name.  Like many of his works, it sprang from a friend or family connection, or featured stories from childhood.  Hänsel und Gretel was the fully fleshed-out product of his sister’s request to compose some tunes for her daughters’ puppet show.  Humperdinck’s opera Konigskinder (King’s Children), which Humperdinck later turned into a standalone opera was first written as musical interludes to accompany a play written by the daughter of a friend.  Other works included Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty), Bübchen’s Weihnachtstraum (Little Boy’s Christmas Dream), and Das Mirakel (The Miracle).

Humperdinck’s score for Das Mirakel was incorporated into the 1912 British silent movie, The Miracle (not to be confused with the German silent movie Das Mirakel released the same year).  Humperdinck’s Miracle, set in the Middle Ages, recounts the adventures of Megildis, a disobedient nun, who leaves the convent to with a knight for a series of adventures with good and evil.  Meanwhile, back at the convent, a statue of the Virgin Mary comes to life to take her place until Megildis, having been shown the error of her ways, returns–chastened and in tragic circumstances– on Christmas Eve to experience ‘the miracle.’

Theologically incoherent (and worse) as it may be, the “Lyricscope play” was a rip-roaring success at its December 1912 world premiere at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, where it was accompanied by a full orchestra, a troupe of dancers in medieval costume, live sound effects such as church bells and crowd noises, and a chorus of at least 60. The piece-de-resistance though, was the single hand-colored print, making it one of the first full-length color feature films to ever be shown.  (Most of the film’s worldwide showings were in black-and-white).

Eleven years later, that same Royal Opera House chose Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel for its first radio broadcast of a complete opera.  The Metropolitan Opera in New York followed suit on Christmas Day, 1931, when it selected Hänsel und Gretel to kick off its inaugural series of Saturday Matinee radio broadcasts, which continue today.

Englebert Humperdinck later enjoyed a successful career as a professor of music (his students included Kurt Weill), and he continued to provide incidental music for a number of contemporary and classic productions.  He died, following a series of heart attacks, on September 27, 1921.

Now, that other Englebert Humperdinck:

Arnold George Dorsey was born in Madras, India on May 2, 1936. After a very modest musical career under the name “Gerry Dorsey,” his new manager, Gordon Mills (who already had ‘Tom Jones’ (also not-his-actual-name) in tow, suggested that Dorsey change his name to “Englebert Humperdinck.”  And, 140 million record sales later, the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not his birthday, but here’s another of his hits:

and here’s the Overture from  Hänsel und Gretel by that “other” Englebert Humperdinck:

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