A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Nicolai, Otto

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NICOLAI, Otto, eminent composer and conductor, born at Königsberg June 9, 1810. His home was unhappy and his education neglected, except for the piano, which he was well taught. At 16 he ran away, but found a protector in Justizrath Adler of Stargard, who assisted him in his studies, and in 1827 sent him to Berlin, where he took lessons from Zelter and Klein. In 1833 the Chevalier de Bunsen sent for him to Rome as organist to the chapel of the Prussian Embassy, and there, under Baini, he studied the ancient Italian masters, without neglecting those of modern date. Towards the close of 1837 he went to Vienna, and became Capellmeister and singing-master of the court opera, returning to Rome in Oct. 1838. He then composed a series of operas in the prevailing taste of the day. 'Enrico Secondo' and 'Rosmonda d'Inghilterra' (1839) were given at Trieste, and 'Il Templario' (1840) with great success at Turin; but 'Odoardo e Gildippe' (Genoa) and 'Il Proscritto' (Milan) were not so well received. In 1841 he accepted the first Capellmeistership of the court opera at Vienna, and remained till Easter 1847, highly appreciated as a conductor. Here were produced his 'Templario' (1841, German 45) and 'Die Heimkehr des Verbannten' (1844) a remodelling of 'Il Proscritto,' in which Staudigl was much applauded. With the avowed object of giving first-rate performances of Beethoven's Symphonies, he founded the Philharmonic concerts, the first of which took place March 28, 1842. A mass (composed 1843) dedicated to Frederic William IV, and a Fest-ouverture for the Jubilee of the University of Königsberg (1844) led to his appointment as director of the newly-founded Domchor, and Court-Capellmeister of the opera in Berlin, and he gave a farewell concert in the large Redoutensaal at Vienna (April 1, 1847) at which Jenny Lind sang, and some of the instrumental music in 'Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor' was produced for the first time. He completed that opera in Berlin, and the first performance took place on March 9, 1849, with brilliant success, which he did not live to enjoy, as he expired of apoplexy on May 11. The opera was given in Vienna (with recitatives by Proch) Feb. 12, 1852, and in London (as 'Falstaff') May 3, 1864, and holds its place as one of the most popular of comic operas.

Nicolai had a fine collection of Italian and German scores, which he left to the Imperial library at Berlin. Mendel's 'Otto Nicolai' (Berlin, Heimann) contains a catalogue of all his works, printed and in MS., the latter being numerous. He was an honorary member of the Società Cecilia of Rome and of the Filarmonici of Bologna. The Tonkünstler-Verein of Berlin erected in 1851 a monument over his grave in the churchyard of Dorotheenstadt.

[ C. F. P. ]