Humperdinck is a rather unique name, is it not? At least here in the United States. And perhaps you might consider it even more unusual if you add the first name Engelbert. But, I assure you, it’s legit. As many of you know, Engelbert Humperdinck is a well-known balladeer who has entertained people all over the world.
Because his British father was working in India, Arnold George Dorsey came into was born on 2 May 1936 in Madras, India. The match between his Anglo father and Indian mother created a hand-some man which was definitely an asset for his professional persona. At age seven, his parents moved back to Britain and Arnold’s feet touched British soil for the first time and remained there most of his early life.
With he and his family settled in England’s historic town of Leicester, at age eleven, Arnold decided to learn to play the saxophone.
It is written, his singing career essentially began at age seventeen when friends urged him to enter a pub’s singing contest; which Arnold won. Along with his other talents, he enjoyed doing comic impressions of celebrities. His most famous being Jerry Lewis which got his friend’s calling him Gerry Dorsey. Long before he graduated, he was entertaining in night spots. In 1956, as with many others in England, he entered the military.
By 1958, Decca Records had picked him up, but the lone single they recorded didn’t sell well. Fortunately, by then, British television was alive and well and his exposure to the public began to grow. Touring with Marty Wilde helped him a great deal, but a prolonged illness in ‘61 brutally halted his climb to fame. Also, in Britain, a new style of music was taking over. Rock and roll was what many of the audiences were crying for, so a balladeer’s life wasn’t so easy.
That all gradually changed after Arnold sought help from a former roommate named Gordon Mills who was an artist manager who represented Tom Jones. It was Gordon who suggested Arnold, aka (also known as) Gerry, adopt the catchy name of Engelbert Humperdinck. Gordon is reported to have advised his friend to keep his life very private, hence tantalizing the public with a little mystery.
In response to his growing presence in the industry, in 1967, Decca offered Engelbert a three record deal. Though the first two sold well, they didn’t reach the charts. However, Engelbert’s rendition of an old hit got him on the charts in both Britain and the United States. Over the next three years, five more hits were followed by six more in the category of ‘easy listening’, which often vied with the Beatles for notice.
Now sought after by even more cabarets and nightclubs, Engelbert’s invitation to Las Vegas assured his trek to the top. With so many of his songs gaining in popularity, he re-recorded a bunch of them in different languages.
Yet, when most people are looking to retire, Engelbert was giving as many as two hundred major performances a year and recording for the Epic label. Even with his mantel covered in awards, he continues to gather more and to use his fame for charitable purposes.
Wouldn’t it be something, if Engelbert, aka Arnold, aka Gerry Dorsey was related to the man he was named after? A man who was born a century before him and was actually named Engelbert Humperdinck.
Of course they are both real. The only difference is that when Gordon Mills suggested the name to Arnold he knew about the German composer who was born in 1854.
From the information I’ve read, his namesake is best known in our contemporary world for his opera entitled Hansel and Gretel which was first produced in 1893. Based on the fairy tale by the Grimm brothers, it’s fun to note that the libretto was actually written by Humperdinck’s sister.
But back to his history. At age seven, the 19th century Engelbert was studying the piano. By thirteen he wrote two Singspieles; which, according to Google, is a German word meaning singing games. I didn’t delve any deeper.
As it was not unusual for parents in Engelbert’s day to think music was not a financially secure career, they urged him to study architecture. However, evidently being the independent type, at eighteen he began his music studies at the Cologne Conservatory. Four years later he won a scholarship and moved to Munich to study more. Three years after that, with another award to his credit, Engelbert moved to Italy. There he met Richard Wagner who invited him to Bayreuth. From 1880-81 Humperdinck helped with the production of Wagner’s Parsifal, often known as A Knight’s Tale; which is believed to be loosely based on a 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail.
After that, Humperdink garnered yet another grant. This time he traveled through France to Spain and spent a couple of years teaching. His teaching career continued when he moved to Cologne where he held two jobs, but it was there that he was officially granted the title of professor. By that time he had written a number of chorus works and a Humoreske for orchestra. A sort of musical version of wit. (1)
A possible tie between the two Humperdincks is that there is a suggestion that one or both of them might be the namesake for the prince in the 1973 novel, The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I’ll have to ask him if I get the opportunity as I didn’t find a way to contact him through the Internet.
Anyway, after a four year professor-ship in Boppard, Humperkinck returned to Berlin as head of a Meister-Schule of composition, ie Master Class. It is written he was possibly the first to create a unique technique of half singing and half talking called Sprechgesang, which loosely means recitative, speech singing which is sometimes used in musicals.
In 1914 it seemed his next step was to hold the post as the director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, Australia. However, with the outbreak of WWI, Germans, in general, were both shun and feared by the outside world.
Surviving the war, Engelbert went on to teach, compose, and work with such important people as Max Reinhardt. He also tutored Richard Wagner’s son, Siegfried, provided incidental music for many Shakespearean productions, and let Richard Strauss conduct the first performance of Hansel und Gretel (1923). It was the first opera to be broadcast on the radio from Covent Garden in London, England. Eight years later it was the first live transmission from the Metropolitan Opera in the U.S.
With his health declining, Humperdinck’s son, Wolfram, helped his father finish his last work, Gaudeamus. Sadly, Humperdinck had a heart attack while listening to Wolfram’s production of Gaudeamus, and died the following day.
Though the two Engelbert’s might not be directly related, they both can be credited with creating music for the world to enjoy.
Though I used other sites to check facts, my primary internet sources were the following: http://www.starppulse.com/Music/Humperdinck,_Engelbert/Biography/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engelbert_Humperdinck_(singer) the Wikipedia Website stated that the information was "from Etude magazine, prior to 1923" and contributed by Aryeh Oron (July 2007)
The fun Hansel and Gretel opera was produced at CSUF and included a very clever set where the live children turned into cookies. There were a number of melodies that resonate in the children's world today. I heard it was the first official opera that Cal State had produced, though they had a very successful run of Little Women, the musical, and others evidently not classified as operas.