1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cornelius, Carl August Peter

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CORNELIUS, CARL AUGUST PETER (1824–1874), German musician and poet, son of an actor at Wiesbaden, grandson of the engraver Ignaz Cornelius, and nephew of Cornelius the painter, was born at Mainz on the 24th of December 1824. In his childhood his bent was towards languages, but his musical gifts were carefully cultivated and he learned to sing and to play the violin. Cornelius the elder, anxious for his son to become an actor, himself taught the boy the elements of the art. These theatrical studies, however, were interrupted early by a visit paid by Peter Cornelius to England as second violin in the Mainz orchestra. On returning home young Cornelius made his stage debut as John Cook in Kean. But after two more appearances, as the lover in the comedy Das war Ich and as Perin in Moreto’s Donna Diana, he practically abandoned the stage for music, his idea being to become a comic opera composer. In 1843 his father died. Hitherto Cornelius’s musical studies had been unsystematic. Now opportunity served to remedy this, for his relative, Cornelius the painter, summoned him in 1844 to Berlin, and enabled him a year later to become a pupil of Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn (1799–1858), counterpoint and theory generally being worked at laboriously. After leaving Dehn, Cornelius proved his independence by writing a trio in A minor, a quartet in C, as well as two comic opera texts. In 1847 he returned to Dehn and immediately composed an enormous mass of music, including a second trio, 30 vocal canons, several sonatas, a Mass, a Stabat Mater; he also wrote a number of translations of old French poems, which are classics of their kind. In 1852 he first came in touch with Liszt, through his uncle’s instrumentality. At Weimar, whither he went in 1852, he heard Berlioz’s delightful Benvenuto Cellini, a work which ultimately exercised great influence over him. For the time, however, he devoted himself, on Liszt’s advice, to further Church compositions, the influence of the Church on him at that time being so great that he applied, but vainly, for a place in a Jesuit college. Still his mind was bent on the production of a comic opera, but the composition was long delayed by the work of translating the prefaces for Liszt’s symphonic poems and the texts of works by Berlioz and Rubinstein. Between October 1855 and September in the following year, Cornelius wrote the book of the Barbier von Bagdad, and on December 15, 1858, the opera was produced at Weimar under Liszt, and hissed off the stage. Thereupon Liszt resigned his post, and shortly afterwards Cornelius went to Vienna and Munich, and still later came very much under Wagner’s influence. Cornelius’s Cid was completed and produced at Weimar in 1865. For the last nine years of his life (1865–1874) Cornelius was occupied with his opera Gunlöd and other compositions, besides writing ably and abundantly on Wagner’s music-dramas. In 1867 he became teacher of rhetoric and harmony at the Musikschule, Munich, and married Berthe Jung. He died on the 26th of October 1874. Not the least of Cornelius’s many claims to fame was his remarkable versatility. Many of his original poems, as well as his translations from the French, rank high. Among his songs, special mention may be made of the lovely “Weihnachtslieder,” and of the “Vätergruft,” an unaccompanied vocal work for baritone solo and choir.