Open main menu
CORNELIUS, Peter, a near relation of the painter of the same name, and as composer and author a prominent representative of the so-called New-German school, was born at Mayence Dec. 24, 1824. He was originally intended for the stage, and it was not till after his first performance, which seems to have been unsuccessful, that he decided to adopt music as a profession. His musical education had been incomplete, but his dramatic studies had made him acquainted with literature, and were of considerable service in developing his poetic faculties. He worked hard, and acquired a vast amount of general information. After the death of his father (1844) he pursued music with energy and completeness; but his tendencies were forwards towards the modern ideal, rather than backwards to the strict rules of counterpoint. In 1852 he went to Weimar and joined the young artists who, under Liszt's leadership, were striving to carry out the ideas of Richard Wagner. They formed eventually a separate school, to which the name 'New-German' became attached. It was here that Cornelius became acquainted with Wagner's works, while with Liszt he formed ties of the closest intimacy. His active and versatile pen was of great service to the young enterprise. He strove to elucidate the new principles in the 'Neue Zeitschrift für Musik,' the organ of the party, both by original articles and by translating a series of lectures given in French by Liszt. As a practical embodiment of the new views he composed a comic opera, 'Der Barbier von Bagdad,' of which only a single performance took place (1858). Liszt resented the judgment of the public, and left Weimar, which ceased to be the centre of the school. In 1858 Cornelius went to Vienna, where Wagner was then living, and became intimate with him also. When King Ludwig II invited Wagner to Munich, Cornelius followed him there (1865), first as reader to the king, and later as professor of harmony and rhetoric at the Conservatoire, after it had been transformed into the 'Königliche Musik-schule' with H. von Bülow as principal. Cornelius's grand opera the 'Cid,' produced at Weimar (1865), may be considered as the fruit of his intercourse with Wagner. He was working at another, entitled 'Gunlöd'—of which, after Wagner's example, he had himself taken the subject from the legends of the Edda—when he died at Mayence, Oct. 24, 1874 [App. p.598 "Oct. 26"]. The effect of his dramatic works in furthering the Wagner movement cannot fairly be estimated, as the public have had no real opportunity of judging of them. His published works, principally vocal, show him to have had much feeling. The following deserve mention:—'Duets for Soprano and Baritone,' op. 6; 'Lieder-cyclus,' op. 3; 'Weihnachtslieder,' op. 8; and 'Trauerchöre' (for men's voices), op. 9. Most of these are settings of his own poems. He published a volume called 'Lyrische Poesien' in 1861. Some of his works will shortly be published; and Gunlöd is to be completed from his ample notes by his friend Hofbauer of Munich. [App. p. 598 "on Oct. 28, 1887, his opera, 'Der Barbier von Bagdad,' was reproduced with success at Coburg."]

[ A. M. ]