Wilhelm Kienzl (17
January 1857 – 3 October 1941) was an Austrian composer.
Kienzl was born in the small, picturesque Upper Austrian
town of Waizenkirchen. His family moved to the Styrian
capital of Graz in 1860, where he studied the violin under
Ignaz Uhl, piano under Johann Buwa, and composition from
1872 under the Chopin scholar Louis Stanislaus Mortier de
Fontaine. From 1874, he studied composition under Wilhelm
Mayer (also known as W.A. Rémy), music aesthetics under
Eduard Hanslick and music history under Friedrich von
Hausegger. He was subsequently sent to the music
conservatorium at Prague University to study under Josef
Krejci, the director of the conservatorium. After that he
went to Leipzig Conservatory in 1877, then to Weimar to
study under Liszt, before completing doctoral studies at the
University of Vienna.
While Kienzl was at Prague, Krejci took him to Bayreuth
to hear the first performance of Richard Wagner's Ring
Cycle. It made a lasting impression on Kienzl, so much so
that he founded the "Graz Richard Wagner Association" (now
the "Austrian Richard Wagner Company, Graz Office") with
Hausegger and with Friedrich Hofmann. Although he
subsequently fell out with "The Wagnerites", he never lost
his love for Wagner's music.
In 1879 Kienzl departed on a tour of Europe as a pianist
and conductor. He became the Director of the Deutsche Oper
in Amsterdam during 1883, but he soon returned to Graz,
where in 1886, he took over the leadership of the
Steiermärkischen Musikvereins und Aufgaben am Konservatorium.
He was engaged by the manager Bernhard Pollini as
Kapellmeister at the Hamburg Stadttheater for the 1890-91
season, but was dismissed in mid-January 1891 because of the
hostile reviews he received (his successor was Gustav
Mahler). Later he conducted in Munich.
In 1894, he wrote his third and most famous opera, Der
Evangelimann, but was unable to match its success with Don
Quixote (1897). Only Der Kuhreigen (1911) reached a similar
level of popularity, and that very briefly. In 1917, Kienzl
moved to Vienna, where his first wife, the Wagnerian soprano
Lili Hoke, died in 1919, and he married Henny Bauer, the
librettist of his three most recent operas, in 1921.
After World War I, he composed the melody to a poem
written by Karl Renner, Deutschösterreich, du herrliches
Land (German Austria, you wonderful country), which became
the unofficial national anthem of the first Austrian
Republic until 1929. Aware of changes in the dynamics of
modern music, he ceased to write large works after 1926, and
abandoned composition altogether in 1936 due to bad health.
As of 1933, Kienzl openly supported Hitler’s regime.
Kienzl's first love was opera, then vocal music, and it
was in these two genres that he made his name. For a while
he was considered, along with Hugo Wolf, one of the finest
composers of Lieder (art songs) since Schubert. His most
famous work, Der Evangelimann, best known for its aria Selig
sind, die Verfolgung leiden (Blessed are the persecuted),
continues to be revived occasionally. It is a folk opera
which has been compared to Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel,
and contains elements of verismo. After Humperdinck and
Siegfried Wagner, the composers of fairy-tale operas, Kienzl
is the most important opera composer of the romantic
post-Wagner era. However, Kienzl's strengths actually lie in
the depiction of everyday scenes. In his last years, his
ample corpus of songs achieved prominence, though it has
largely been neglected since then.
Despite the fact that opera came first in his life,
Kienzl by no means ignored instrumental music. He wrote
three string quartets and a piano trio.
He died in Vienna and is buried in the main cemetery
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