Gustav Albert Lortzing (1801–1851)
Gustav Albert Lortzing was a composer, conductor, actor and singer. He worked in the Leipziger Stadttheater (Leipzig city theater) as an actor and singer. He also held the position of Kapellmeister in 1844/45 and in 1849/50 .
Gustav Albert Lortzing was born on October 23rd, 1801 in Berlin, as the son of the former leather dealer Johann Gottlieb Lortzing and his wife Charlotte Sophie, maiden name Seidel. The young Albert Lortzing was taught in Berlin by the composer, music educator and subsequent director of the Berliner Sing-Akademie Friedrich Rungenhagen. It was Rungenhagen who imparted upon Lortzing his knowledge of music and composition. Due to the fact that the leather business didn’t afford the family the success they had hoped for, they decided to make their acting ambitions into a career. They gave up their shop and joined the theater company “Urania,” where Lortzing played child roles starting in 1806. From early on, as the child of actors, he traveled with his parents throughout the provinces of Germany and lead an unsettled vagrant life. In order to survive with his family, the young Albert worked sporadically as a sheet music transcriber. He was self-taught. His school was the theater company.
In 1826 Lortzing separated from his parents to act with his wife at Hoftheater in Detmold (The Court theater in Detmold). This involved performances in Osnabrück and Münster. He reunited again with his family in 1833 in Leipzig, stayed with them for 12 years and was active in the Stadttheater (City Theater). In 1844, after he was ousted from his post as Kapellmeister, he traveled with his family to Vienna, where he was Kapellmeister at “Theater an der Wien” under the director Franz Pokorny from 1845 and 1847. In 1850 he lost his position as Kapellmeister there as well and traveled to Berlin, his place of birth, with a short stay in Leipzig. He stayed in Berlin until his death on the 21st of January 1851.
2. Private Life
Lortzing met the young actress Rosina Regina Ahles in Josef Derossi's company, which the family joined in 1817. On January 30th 1824 the two actors were married and had 11 children together, six of which survived into adulthood. The entire family moved to Detmold in 1826. During his stay there, from 1826 to 1833, Lortzing began to compose. After he lost his Kapellmeister position in Leipzig, as well as in Vienna, he had to take on acting and guest conducting jobs in Gera and Lüneburg in order to feed his family.
Deeply indebted, overworked, and very sick Lortzing died in Berlin. He was buried in II Sophien-Friedhof (II Sophie Cemetery). The members of the Braunschweiger Herzoglichen Hoftheaters (Ducal Court Theater of Brunswick) placed a monument on his grave in Berlin.
3. Connection to Leipzig
Gustav Albert Lortzing had his first performance at the Leipzig Stadttheater (city theater) on November 3rd, 1833. It was here that he was reunited with his parents, who had been part of Friedrich Sebald Ringelhardt’s company since 1832. Lortzing was an adored part of the Leipzig company and he especially shined in his roles as a nature boy and the young lover. On stage he had a bubbly temperament and humor. His first comic opera did not have it easy with Leipzig censors and he was constantly in conflict with the “theater police”. The premiere of his Spieloper (Opera play) “Die beiden Schützen” on February 20th, 1837 however was his breakthrough as an opera composer. Spurred on by this success he composed another opera “Zar und Zimmermann” in the same year, which was first performed on December 22nd. Three years after opening night his opera had already been performed on 18 stages. Lortzing had similar success with the opera he first premiered in Leipzig on December 31, 1842 : “Der Wildschütz”.
In 1844 he was offered the position of Kapellmeister at the Leipziger Stadttheater (municipale theater), but was quickly removed from the position in 1845. His layoff was based on the onset of his rheumatic complaints. Despite protests of the public and the company nothing changed his dismissal as Kapellmeister. Before he left Leipzig for Vienna, he lived as a man of independent means in the city.
Memberships in Leipzig
In Leipzig Lortzing tried to integrate into society life. He joined the social group “Tunnel über der Pleiße”. The members of the club met every sunday evening in the inn “Zum Birnbaum”, located on Hainstraße, which later changed its name to “Hôtel de Pologne” and was expanded to its current size. The members discussed and debated current political and artistic issues with artists, salesmen, academics, and publishers alike. The society was founded by the composer Heinrich Marschner and the theater critic Friedrich Gleich. Members, besides Albert Lortzing, included the publisher Anton Philipp Reclam, the music dealer (and father of Clara Schumann) Friedrich Wieck, as well as the composer and choirmaster Carl Friedrich Zöllner. In 1834 Lortzing also became a member of the freemasons “Balduin zur Linde”. Through the societies he joined, he came into contact with many important personalities of the cultural scene, including Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
During his 12 year stay in Leipzig Lortzing moved around the city many times. His first residence, which he lived in from 1833 to 1838, was in the residential area Naundörfchen –west of the old city center of Leipzig. The neighborhood no longer exists today, but a street nearby still carries its name.
In 1838 he moved onto the Frankfurter Straße 28, near the “Große Funkenburg” (Great Funkenburg), with his family. The name “Große Funkenburg” describes multiple buildings in Leipzig, all of which were destroyed. The address in which Lortzing lived at that time corresponds today to Jahnallee 6, which is also found in the Waldstraßenviertel.
When he became Kapellmeister in 1844 he relocated behind the Funkenburg, where he lived in a garden house with an extension. Only a year later he was forced to give up this home and move to Vienna. When he returned to Leipzig for a short time in 1849, he lived on Tauchaer Straße 2 (today Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße) before he went back home to Berlin. Sadly Lortzing's Leipzig homes no longer exist. A street in Waldstraßenviertel in the north of Leipzig is named after him.
Lortzing lived during the Romantic period and counts as the founder and main representative of the German Spieloper (play opera), a cheerful opera in the tradition of the Singspiel (song theater). His theater roles as the young lover and nature boy, as well as his naturally high voice as a tenor, made him a public favorite in his youth. His opera “Zar und Zimmermann,” in which he played the role of Zar Peter himself made him famous throughout Germany.
Lortzing only received a one time payment for his works which included the purchase of performance rights and the notes to his pieces. Therefore the continued success of his works did not profit him. This is one of the reasons he found himself in financial difficulties.
1837: „Die beiden Schützen“, LoWV 35 (Premiere on 20th, Februar 1837 in Leipzig)
1837: „Zar und Zimmermann“, LoWV 38 (Premiere on 22th, Dezember 1837 in Leipzig)
1842: „Der Wildschütz“, LoWV 58 (Premiere on 31st, Dezember 1842 in Leipzig)
1823/4: „Ali Pascha von Janina“, LoWV 9, (Premiere on 1st, Februar 1828 in Münster, Erstdruck in Leipzig bei B. Senff)
1828: „Die Himmelfahrt Jesus Christi“, LoWV 15 (Premiere on 15th, November 1828 in Münster)
6. Sources and Links
Jürgen Lodemann: Lortzing. Leben und Werk des dichtenden, komponierenden und singenden Publikumslieblings, Familienvaters und komisch tragischen Spielopernweltmeisters aus Berlin. Steidl Verlag, Göttingen: 2000
Image: Albert Lortzing, Lithographie by Schlick, 1845