WILHELM KIENZL (1857-1941)

The young Wilhelm Kienzl


The Austrian Wilhelm Kienzl was a greatly respected opera composer and conductor until the 1930s. 
Now he is completely unknown to many opera lovers. 

In German-speaking Europe, his name is linked to 'Der Evangelimann (The Evangelist)', an opera held for 'oversentimental', for which most music critics no longer have any interest.

The reason for this must be the
tenoraria on biblical text with accompanying children's choir -scene: 'Selig sind die Verfolgung leiden... (Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness, for of them is the Kingdom of Heaven)'. 
This song has become part of the religious ideas of believers over the years and as such extremely popular. Thanks to the tenors Tauber, Völker, Patzak, Schock, Wunderlich, Gedda, Domingo etc., who kept on singing it - often surrounded by a devoted swarm of children - enthusiastically .

After the 2nd World War, Rudolf Schock again made the song popular. On gramophone record for the first time in 1952:

In 1953 the song sounded from the white screen in the Tauber/Schock film 'Du bist die Welt für mich (You are the World for Me)' and after that Rudolf Schock sang the aria many times on the record and in countless (choir) concerts.
In 1972 it even came to complete opera performances on the Viennese 'Volksoper' with Rudolf Schock in the role of "Evangelimann Mathias".

A new SECOND video of the 'Evanglimann' follows as soon as possible!

Another tenor scene from an opera by Kienzl also reached the 21st century: the 'finale of the first act' from the opera 'Der Kuhreigen'.
Richard Tauber sang the first finale before World War II (1931), Rudolf Schock did so after World War II (1955). Later Fritz Wunderlich followed.
The Dutch, internationally known opera critic Leo Riemens (1910-1985) wrote in 1955, when Rudolf Schock's 'Kuhreigen' recording came out, that he did not understand the "neglect" of that special opera ( Elsevier's Great Opera Book).
In the Dutch monthly 'Luister(Listen!)' he applauded Schock's performance of the 'Kuhreigen' finale. But his expectation, that the record would be a second Kienzl bestseller, did not come true. Only now - on YouTube - the interest increases:
Der Evangelimann/ The Evangelist (1895)
is in fact a veristic opera about people who are left with skin and hair to the merciless reality of life. 'Verismo' ( from Italian) means 'realism' and stands for the literary mainstream in the second half of the 19th century. Novels from those years are about people who are exposed to an unmoved reality.  Especially Italian opera composers were inspired by the verismo . In German-speaking countries, that movement seemed to be limited to an opera such as 'Tiefland (The Lowlands)': Link Eugen d'Alberts 'Tiefland' (German & Dutch). 
In the meantime, however, there are other voices in the serious musical world that conclude that Kienzl's operas surprisingly tie in with the verismo operas of a Giordano, Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini!
 Short content of 'The Evangelist'
Wilhelm Kienzl bases the textbook written by himself on historically transmitted events:

Mathias, office clerk in an Austrian monastery, and his older brother, the teacher Johannes are both in love with Martha, niece and foster daughter of their superior.
The girl answers Mathias'love, to which the jealous Johannes informs her father.
Mathias is fired and says goodbye to Martha emotionally. Johannes listens to this togetherness and in blind hatred he starts fire.
Mathias is accused of the deed. His dismissal must have been the motive. He is sentenced to 20 years in prison.
After his release, Mathias hears that Martha found a final resting place in the Danube. He decides to go through the country as an evangelist...

  Der Kuhreigen (1911)
(is a song with which, for centuries, farmers in the Swiss Alps called their cows to be milked).
Wilhelm Kienzl wrote the opera libretto too. His plot is also based on historical facts and the content can be seen as "veristic".
The story plays during the French Revolution of 1792 (In the finale of the 1st act, Swiss mercenary soldiers from the French king hang around in the courtyard of a barracks near Paris).

Non-commissioned officer Primus Thaller (tenor part) puts his arm around the shoulders of fellow soldier Dursel in a melancholy mood and makes him aware of the beautiful evening sky: "Lug, Dursel, lug, der Abend bricht herein.../Look, Dursel, look, the evening dawns ...". In (vocal) rapture, Primus - later also Dursel - is overwhelmed by homesickness to the Swiss "homeland". Suddenly he starts to sing the forbidden (!) melody of the 'Kuhreigen': 'Zu Straßburg auf der Schanz/At Strassbourg on the battlement'. The other men sing with him emotionally.
  Alarmed French soldiers storm the courtyard to arrest the "rebellious" mercenaries. Primus, who confesses that he has started singing, is beaten in chains. He sings a final prayer verse.
The 2nd and 3rd Act revolve around the love between Primus and Blanchefleur. He, a trapped foreign mercenary and she, the wife of a French marquis. Blanchefleur pleads successfully with the king for the life of Primus.Then the revolution causes an extreme change of roles. Blanchefleur gets the chance to choose between a life on the side of Primus and the scaffold. She chooses the scaffold.  

HOMESICKNESS or the problem of the "Swiss disease"
Swiss disease (homesickness)
Photo: Oskar Gustav Rejlander 1813-1875

Swiss men were wanted as a mercenary in French and Dutch government. But a problem was that when they heard patriotic songs like the 'Kuhreigen' song,
they became ill of homesickness and headfirst deserted. That's why singing that kind of songs led to death penalty. Elsewhere in Europe, the Scottish bagpipe had the same effect.

Against Kienzl's music
were and are persistent prejudices! Critics knew that the young Kienzl had assisted Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. Promptly they discovered Wagner in Kienzl's music.
It was difficult in Kienzl's time to come out under the shadow of Wagner. But Kienzl succeeded in moving down his own appealing path.
An important and influential colleague composer, such as Erich Wolfgang von Korngold (1897-1957), praised the simplicity and singing ability of Kienzl's melodies. Others condemned that for exactly the same reason. 
 The older Wilhelm Kienzl

Kienzl reacted in his biography (1926) with modesty to the criticism he received:
"In art you have to stimulate the senses, or hit the heart, there is nothing in the middle. I chose the latter"/"I would benefit from the operation that the theater scene has on the spectator? That's not a cunning calculation, but fair art".

Wilhelm Kienzl had an admirable talent for writing theater music, which the people knew how to hit: the so-called 'Volkston (folk song style)', which is straightforward and direct, but seems simple.
He endorsed - consciously or not - the starting point of the song composer Johann Abraham Peter Schulz (1747-1800).
According to Schulz, the secret of the "Volkston" lies in the "appearance of the well known". A composer achieves that if he consistently subordinates the progressive melody to the course of the text. Schulz shows that e.g. in his famous musical version of the Matthias Claudius poem 'Der Mond ist aufgegangen (The moon has risen)'.
YouTube recordings of the first finale from 'Kuhreigen'

The voices of Fritz Wunderlich and "his" male choir sound beautiful polished and the (first) stereo recording is transparent. The orchestra accompaniment seems to avoid possible associations with Wagner as much as possible.

From Richard Tauber in 1931 the 2 parts of the finale were recorded separately. What stands out is Tauber's almost nonchalant vocal ease and the self-confident accents that he places here and there in the text. The sentences of the baritone (Dursel) in 'Lug, Dursel, lug' sings Tauber himself.

Richard Kraus
Conductor of the mono-recording with Rudolf Schock is Richard Kraus (1902-1978), son of Ernst Kraus (Wagner-tenor celebrated a century ago and good friend of Enrico Caruso! ).
Richard Kraus & the Deutsche Oper Berlin orchestra do not shy away from Wagner's shadow and create a powerful sound. A sensitive Rudolf Schock and a Primus Thaller, who feels connected with nature and God, coincide nicely.

Schock, the heroic baritone Alfons Herwig (Dursel), the other 'Swiss' and the orchestra make the radio play a compelling spectacle.
Baritone Alfons Herwig

Note the ominous commitment of the orchestra after Primus ' firm 'Das klag 'ich an/I accuse that'... You see the French rushing into the courtyard!

Krijn de Lege, 9 oktober 2018

! Link to Schock's filmbiography: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgnTZlOtIeE