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Cornelius, Peter (1824-1874)

Peter Cornelius

born: 24 December 1824
died: 26 October 1874
country: Germany

Peter Cornelius (1824–1874) was the son of two actors who saw that he was a talented child and sent him to train in their preferred profession. They also recognized that he had musical gifts and encouraged his music lessons. By 1840 he was playing the violin in the Mainz theatre orchestra, later acting in the Nassau court theatre troupe. On the death of his father he moved to Berlin where he began to devote himself exclusively to music. There he met painters, poets and others from various artistic disciplines and became aware of his talents as a poet and writer. Finding no outlet for his abilities in Berlin he moved to Weimar where he studied with Liszt, who immediately recognized his abilities. The group that surrounded Liszt—the so-called New German School, which included Hans von Bülow—was more to Cornelius’s taste and so the young composer devoted himself to promoting Liszt’s ideas. Liszt, in turn, introduced him to Berlioz, Brahms and Wagner and it was through contact with these composers that Cornelius began to find his métier as an opera composer—his first opera was, in fact, conducted by Liszt. When the latter left Weimar (following a dispute with the ‘New Germans’) Cornelius went to Vienna. Wagner’s influence was strong and, in 1865, he invited Cornelius to Munich as his personal répétiteur, arranging a salary from the Privy Purse of Ludwig II. In Munich he began to teach music theory, harmony, metrics and poetics at the Royal School of Music where, due to his responsibilities, his creativity also began to wane. His third opera was to remain unfinished.

from notes by William McVicker © 2002


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