Gustav Albert Lortzing
Lortzing, (Gustav) Albert
Lortzing, (Gustav) Albert
Lortzing, (Gustav) Albert, celebrated German composer; b. Berlin, Oct. 23, 1801; d. there, Jan. 21, 1851. His parents were actors, and the wandering life led by the family did not allow him to pursue a methodical course of study. He learned acting from his father, and music from his mother at an early age. After some lessons in piano with Griebel and in theory with Rungenhagen in Berlin, he continued his own studies, and soon began to compose. On Jan. 30, 1823, he married the actress Rosina Regina Ahles in Cologne; they had 11 children. In 1824 he wrote his stage work, the Singspiel Ali Pascha von Janina, oder Die Franzosen in Albanien, which was not premiered until 4 years later (Münster, Feb. 1, 1828). He then brought out the Liederspiel Der Pole und sein Kind, oder Der Feldwebel vom IV. Regiment (1832) and the Singspiel Szenen aus Mozarts Leben (Osnabrück, Oct. 11, 1832), which were well received on several German stages. From 1833 to 1844 he was engaged at the Municipal Theater of Leipzig as a tenor. His light opera Die beiden Schützen was first performed there on Feb. 20, 1837, with much success. It was followed there by the work that is now considered his masterpiece, Zar und Zimmermann, oder Die zwei Peter (Dec. 22, 1837). It was performed with enormous success in Berlin (1839), and then in other European music centers. His next opera, Caramo, oder Das Fischer stechen (Leipzig, Sept. 20, 1839), was a failure; there followed Hans Sachs (Leipzig, June 23, 1840) and Casanova (Leipzig, Dec. 31, 1841), which passed without much notice; subsequent comparisons showed some similarities between Hans Sachs and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, not only in subject matter, which was derived from the same source, but also in some melodic patterns; however, no one seriously suggested that Wagner was influenced by Lortzing’s inferior work. There followed a comic opera, Der Wildschütz, oder Die Stimme der Natur (Leipzig, Dec. 31, 1842), which was in many respects one of the best that Lortzing wrote, but its success, although impressive, never equaled that of Zar und Zimmermann. At about the same time, Lortzing attempted still another career, that of opera impresario, but it was short-lived; his brief conductorship at the Leipzig Opera (1844–45) was similarly ephemeral. Composing remained his chief occupation, and he wrote Undine in Magdeburg (April 21, 1845) and Der Waffenschmied in Vienna (May 30, 1846). He then went to Vienna as conductor at the Theater an der Wien, but soon returned to Leipzig, where his light opera Zum Grossadmiral was first performed (Dec. 13, 1847). The revolutionary events of 1848 seriously affected his position in both Leipzig and Vienna; after the political situation became settled, he wrote the opera Rolands Knappen, oder Das ersehnte Gluck (Leipzig, May 25, 1849). Although at least 4 of his operas were played at various German theaters, Lortzing received no honorarium, owing to a flaw in the regulations protecting the rights of composers. He was compelled to travel again as an actor, but could not earn enough money to support his large family, left behind in Vienna. In the spring of 1850 he obtained the post of conductor at Berlin’s nondescript Friedrich-Wilhelmstadt Theater. His last score, the comic opera Die Opernprobe, oder Die vornehmen Dilettanten, was premiered in Frankfurt am Main on Jan. 20, 1851, while he was on his deathbed in Berlin; he died the next day. His opera Regina, written in 1848, was ed. by Richard Kleinmichel, with the composer’s libretto revised by Adolf L’Arronge, and performed in Berlin as Regina, oder Die Marodeure on March 21, 1899; the first perf. of the original version in the new critical ed. was given in Gelsenkirchen on March 22, 1998. His Singspiel Der Weihnachtsabend was first performed in Münster on Dec. 21, 1832. Lortzing also wrote an oratorio, Die Himmelfahrt Jesu Christi (Munster, Nov. 15, 1828), and some incidental music to various plays, but it is as a composer of characteristically German Romantic operas that he holds a distinguished, if minor, place in the history of dramatic music. He was a follower of Weber, without Weber’s imaginative projection; in his lighter works, he approached the type of French operetta; in his best creations he exhibited a fine sense of facile melody, and infectious rhythm; his harmonies, though unassuming, were always proper and pleasing; his orchestration, competent and effective.
P. Düringer, A. L: Sein Leben und Wirken (Leipzig, 1851); H. Wittmann, L. (Leipzig, 1890; second ed., 1902); G. Kruse, A. L. (Berlin, 1899); idem, A. L.: Leben und Werk (Leipzig, 1914; second ed., 1947); H. Laue, Die Operndichtung L.s (Würzburg, 1932); H. Killer, A. L. (Potsdam, 1938); G. Dippel, A. L.: Ein Leben für das deutsche Musiktheater (Berlin, 1951); H. Burgmüller, Die Musen darben: Ein Lebensbild A. L.s (Berlin, 1955); M. Hoffmann, G.A. L.: Der Meister der deutschen Volksoper (Leipzig, 1956); E. Lortzing, A. L.: Zur Familienchronik L.-L. (Starnberg, 1963); H. Schirmag, A. L.: Ein Lebens-und Zeitbild (Berlin, 1982); I. Capelle, Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von G.A. L: (LoWV) (Cologne, 1994); idem, ed., A. L: Sämtliche Briefe (Kassel, 1995); H. Schirmag, A. L.: Glanz und Elend eines Künstlerlebens (Berlin, 1995); P. Fischer, Vormärz und Zeitbürgertum: G L.s Operntexte (Stuttgart, 1997).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire