contained in this chronicle is subject to revision and will be
frequently updated. Please bring factual or typographical errors to my
attention so that they may be corrected as soon as possible. Thank you.
The 1890s and 1900s are the years of Lauritz
Melchior's childhood and young manhood in Copenhagen. He begins the
early stages of his opera career, starting off the 1910s by enacting
small bass and baritone roles.
Near the end of the 1910s, Melchior, having
modest, but encouraging, success in his vocal training, will make his
earliest attempts at singing tenor
leads. He will close out the decade poised to leave Denmark behind,
first for postwar England, then for Germany.
Melchior as a boy:
A boy soprano in the
choir of Copenhagen's Anglican church choir, the young Lauritz Melchior
"knew nothing more beautiful than singing." (*as
quoted in Jerrild, 1936)
(1845-1925): Lauritz Melchior's first influential voice teacher is
his father, widower Jørgen Melchior, who runs a boys school
inherited from his father. An amateur bass-baritone, he studies singing
with a "real and true passion"* and enjoys performing in various
amateur singing groups, and with his son Lauritz.(*Lauritz Melchior, quoted in Jerrild, 1936)
1901-1911: a prelude
Lauritz Melchior, or, more fully, Lauritz Lebrecht Hommel Melchior,
is born in the city center of Copenhagen, Denmark on the 20th of
March 1890. He is the fifth surviving child of Jørgen Conradt
Melchior, 45, and his wife, Julie Sophie
(Møller) Melchior, 39, both natives of Copenhagen from
respectable families. Lauritz Lebrecht Hommel, a sponsor of his
namesake's baptism, is co-principal of the boys'
school founded by Jørgen C. Melchior's late father Henrik Emil
family lives, with a number of boarders, on the top story of the
apartment building Jørgen owns. Behind
this building stands the school.
Lauritz Melchior's advent becomes a period of great sadness when his
mother Julie dies of complications from the pregnancy (phlebitis)
twenty-two days after giving birth, on the 13th of April 1890. Sent
away, Lauritz will spend the first year and a half of his life with his
childless paternal aunt and her minister husband near the town of
Slagelse, about 55 miles east of Copenhagen.
Lauritz' return home once again coincides with a period of
unhappiness for his family. Lauritz' older sister, Ellen Marie,
fourteen, dies after an attack of rheumatic fever.
Lauritz will grow up the youngest of four, the next eldest, Agnes
Emilie, being six and a half years his senior. To take care of his
children, Jørgen Melchior has engaged one Miss Kristine Marie
Jensen as housekeeper. More than a maid, Kristine Jensen is a woman of
entrepreneurial ambition, whom Lauritz characterizes as "outspoken and
When he is six years old, Lauritz becomes one of the pupils at his
father's school. Lauritz' childhood will be marked by the school's
mounting financial problems. With the introduction of state-funded
schooling into Denmark, Jørgen Melchior finds it difficult to
attract pupils to the school. As the family school continues to
hemorrhage students, Lauritz's family will have to sell their home,
moving themselves and the school into increasingly humble quarters to
befit their reduced circumstances.
Amongst all the disappointments associated with the 'Melchior
School,' song performance remains a source of harmonious joy for the
Melchiors, and Lauritz gets plenty of practice with family and friends,
and as a boy soprano in the choir of Copenhagen's Anglican church. In
addition, one of the boarders living with Lauritz and his family, is a
singing and music teacher, Thora Lunddahl, who gives Lauritz music
Lauritz' observations attending performances of the Royal Danish
Opera, with his sister Agnes-the sibling closest to him in age, blind
from birth, and a future professional concert singer and music
teacher-serve to reinforce what he is learning at home about the powers
Meanwhile, while Lauritz' father's school has been failing, the
Melchior family's devoted maid, Kristine Jensen, has been having
success with her own ventures. In 1901, she publishes the first of
the eight best-selling cookbooks she will write within the next fifteen
years and publishes articles in the daily newspaper Politiken and
In 1905 Lauritz Melchior completes his course of education at his
father's school. He finds employment as a song-plugger for a music
publishing house, a photographer's apprentice, a salesman in a
music-instrument shop. His older brother Henrik Emil, after training as
a painter, has already embarked on his own artist's-life that will
include book and newspaper illustration, cartooning, and costume and
set design in Copenhagen and Paris.
By the time Lauritz Melchior's father closes down the school in
1908, Melchior has decided to become a professional opera singer, a
baritone or bass. To this end, he takes some vocal training with the
instructor Poul Bang, and studies at the Gradman and Walbom opera
school. He also studies acting with Peter Jerndorff of Copenhagen's
|| clockwise from top:
Bodil Juliane, Henrik Emil, Lauritz L.H., and Agnes Emilie
- Concert: Vor Frue Kirke, Svendborg,
Denmark. Melchior, 20, makes a professional concert debut as a
church soloist singing hymns.
- Opera school of Walbom and Gradman: Marriage
of Figaro. Melchior makes an opera stage debut in the
buffo bass role of the gardener Antonio.
Melchior in 1911
in uniform for his compulsory term
of military service in the Royal Danish Guard.
- 1. Melchior performs and studies with the
Royal Danish Opera School, which also trains him in all manner of
stagecraft. Thus, he acts in some plays, in addition to opera.
2. Melchior tours Denmark as Georgio Germont in
La Traviata for the provincial opera company of Willi
3. Melchior is singing in formal concerts, and
for clubs, funerals and hotels, often, perhaps, with opera colleagues
such as Inger Nathansen, soprano, whom Melchior will marry in 1915, and
bass Holger Hansen.
- Recording sessions, Danish Odeon, Copenhagen: two Verdi
opera and operetta, and songs.
- Opera/Operetta: Royal Danish Opera: Melchior makes his
professional debut at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen; he performs Silvio
in Pagliacci for the first of two times this year. Later, he
will portray Baron Douphol in Traviata, Morales in Carmen,
Per in En Sondag på Amager, Sverkel in Liden Kirsten.
The conductor of the opera orchestra at the Royal Theatre during this
time period is the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Over the next few
years, the Royal Opera mainly taps Melchior for buffo work, utilizing,
in particular, his talents for comedy and vocal acting. Only provincial
touring companies use him for the primary baritone roles, which is not
surprising, given the limited success and appropriateness of his vocal
- Recording session, Danish HMV, Copenhagen: Danish opera and
[August 1914-beginning of World War
unlike most of Europe, Denmark remains neutral in the conflict]
| 26,29 March 1915
- Recording sessions: Danish HMV, Copenhagen: a series of
| 2 November 1915- Melchior, 25,
marries divorcee Inger Nathansen at Slotskirken; the bride is a
26-year-old operetta/opera singer,
and sometime colleague. Her previous husband was the Danish actor
Harald Holst Rasmussen (1886-1960). She is the daughter of a stage
Ludvig Michael Nathansen (1858-1907), and his first wife, Thora Schmidt
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: The
Damnation of Faust, Der Rosenkavalier, and others.
Bass and Baritone opera roles Melchior will take
on this year include Faninal.
| [April 1916]
- Opera: Melchior goes on an opera tour
with the Gradman opera company to Sweden. He plays Count De Luna in the
productions of Il Trovatore.
Newly married and, by the end of next
year, a father, Lauritz Melchior no longer feels satisfied with the
modest career path he has chosen.
According to Melchior, despite the war
raging between England, France, and Germany, the notable American
contralto Madame Charles Cahier (1870-1951), guest artist, portrays
Melchior, admiring Cahier greatly, will later credit her for
noticing that he was "a tenor with the lid on," thanking her for using
her influence and prestige to help him move his career in the heldentenor
direction. [As quoted, for example, in Barker, F.G.
(1949). Stars of the opera. Petergate, York: Lotus Press, p.
21; and Mephisto's Musings. (1966, March). High Fidelity, p.
| 15 April 1917
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Gloria
Arsena. WORLD PREMIERE DEBUT CREATOR ROLE Melchior
sings the small role of Louvet in August Enna's 4 Act opera with the
title part danced by a ballerina, drawn from Dumas
and E.T.A. Hoffmann (librettist, Olaf Hansen). [Note: the
production is repeated on the 17th, 20th, 22nd and 27th
of this month]. Georg Høeberg. Crew: Julius Lehmann (staging),
Gustaf Uhlendorff (ballet), Svend Gade (sets).
|1917-1918-Melchior dedicates a year to training his voice
with retired Danish tenor, Vilhelm Herold (1865-1937). Herold teaches
Melchior the heldentenor roles of Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.
|[17 September 1917- Lauritz Melchior's son, Ib
Jørgen Melchior, is born.]
| 8 October 1918
- Royal Danish Opera: Tannhäuser. Lauritz
Melchior makes his tenor debut.
Politiken: "Lauritz Melchior is a new tenor but well
known on this stage, having previously been a good, capable baritone in
smaller roles....At first one was a bit skeptical...but Melchior
immediately banished doubt...He was splendid, sympathetic in every
way. His unusually dashing stage presence met with approval, and
his acting seemed natural and graceful, gentlemanly and intelligent.
His voice is also attractive. Not powerful and fiery, but soft,
distinctive. His high notes seem a bit pinched, but I do not doubt that
practice will help him overcome this. The audience showed the
young singer audible sympathy, a response he deserved" (p. 5).
Lauritz will credit his brother Henrik
Emil, who has been working for a number of years as the costume and set
designer for the Copenhagen revue theater "La Scala," as the designer
of his costume for the occasion**
About a week after Melchior's debut, the 1918-1919 influenza
pandemic, which will kill more people worldwide than four years of war,
reaches Copenhagen, causing cancellations of many public
activities this fall and winter; it continues to be a matter of
concern into 1920.
1918]-'All Quiet on
the Western Front']
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: minor parts Lauritz Melchior will
play this year include the comedic minor role of one of the Jews in
Despite encouraging reviews, the single year of training
with Herold has not been
anywhere near enough for Melchior to achieve solid success in leading
parts at any major opera company.
I did not get anything to do [after my tenor
debut]; I sang in a complete season merely 25 times, I saw no future
for me at the Royal Theatre, and believed I had to see what would come
elsewhere. [Quoted in: Jerrild, Holger. (1936,
October). Hos Kammersanger Lauritz
Melchior. Gads danske magasin].
Denmark has become far "too small" to contain Melchior's
ambitions. [quoted in Melchior,
Die drei vaterlander. In Josef
Müller-Marein & Hannes Reinhardt (Eds.), Das musikalische
selbstportrait. Hamburg: Nannen-Verlag.]
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Pagliacci. DEBUT. Melchior
makes his Canio debut as a last minute replacement for an ailing Niels
Hansen, the usual performer of dramatic tenor parts at the Royal Opera
at this time.
"In consideration of the fact that Lauritz Melchior had
never sung the part before and did not have the time to rehearse, he
acquitted himself surprisingly well: the voice was distinguished
sounding; and there was vitality in his dramatic representation. He
deserved the approval he received from the almost sold-out house." Politiken,
- [Concert, St. Johannes Kirke, Copenhagen: with Harriet
Vendelhaven, composer Fini Henriques and organist Arthur Allin
(Announced; however, Melchior is not mentioned in the review)]
|1 June 1919
- [Concert, Ribe Cathedral. with singers Ida Møller
and Max Müller (Announced)]
- Special Appearance, Outdoor Concert, Kongens Have,
Copenhagen: Melchior is one of the singers at the "Radikale Venstres"
[Radical Left Party's] Constitution festival.
- Concert/Recital: Tivoli Theatre Hall, Copenhagen.
"Lauritz Melchior...met with right good luck. In Canio's
Aria from Paglacci and Siegfried's Forging Song he had
excellent opportunity to smelt out his good tenor with festivity and
power, and later put much feeling into various ballads by Lembke, Helge
Bonnén, and G. Rygaard. The audience was so satisfied, that he
was made to sing the Steersman's Song from the Flying Dutchman
and Heise's 'Regnen, den regner hver evige Dag' [aka
"Dengang jeg var kun saa stor som saa"] as encores." Politiken, p. 12.
[28 June 1919-Treaty of Versailles]
summer of the Treaty of Versailles, Melchior takes advantage of his
first opportunity to leave Scandinavia and the closure of the Opera for
Until Melchior obtains additional, specialized
vocal schooling, he knows he will continue to feel like a
runner on a "treadmill" (qtd. in Jerrild, 1936). But
Melchior can't go to the Continent immediately. Germany, in particular,
having just suffered
a crushing defeat in war, is still reeling from the aftereffects.
Instead, Melchior travels to victorious
England, a country with a close relationship to Denmark in the form of
Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), the Danish wife of England's King Edward
VII (1841-1910). In London, Melchior auditions at Covent Garden, and
probably for others, such as Sir Henry Wood's "Proms."
| 29 August, 1, 2 September 1919
- Opera Comique, Christiania (Oslo), Norway: three
performances of Tannhäuser. With Astri
Udnæs-Bisgaard, Magnus Andersen, Borghild Thomsen. Melchior is
announced as "the well-known Danish tenor...hailed as [Vilhelm]
Herold's heir" (Aftonposten, 28 August 1919, Morning Ed., p. 4)
Aftonposten: "A very capable Danish singer....His
voice's lack of natural gifts were compensated for by high vocal
cultivation. The singer's splendid schooling compelled admiration. And
the fine rhythm added to the vigorously tossed-off tones used to great
effect. The musical interpretation backed up his distinguished
theatrical skill. The characterization was powerfully drawn, with a
somewhat rough, very clearly defined line. As a result, Melchior's
Tannhäuser stands in stark contract to Bjørn Talén's
[last season's Tannhäuser]. Talén has a finer
instrument...but Melchior gave us a more dramatically aware heroic
figure. [Talén's] approach is more valuable, but [Melchior's]
also has an audience." (Hjalmar Borgstrøm, 30 August 1919,
p. 5, morning edition)
|7 September 1919
- Concert, Kristiansborg castle riding grounds. Vilhelm
Rosenberg. Melchior appears as soloist at the 60th Anniversary of the
Copenhagen Choral Society. He sings the Steersman's song from the
Flying Dutchman and "Kongernes Konge"
|18 September 1919
- Concert, Copenhagen, Simeons Kirke. Melchior appears as a
soloist at a concert of organist Peder Thomsen
|21 September 1919-Melchior is one of the
Royal Theater personnel appearing (as fullback) in a football
match to benefit the "Actor's Old Age Home Fund" (audience of 10,000)
|26 September 1919
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Pagliacci. Melchior
(Silvio), Tenna Fredericksen (Nedda)
|28 September 1919
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Der Rosenkavalier.
Melchior (Faninal), Lola Artôt de Padilla, Lamprecht (Sophie),
Ingvar Nielsen (Ochs)
|29 September 1919
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Pagliacci. See 26
|30 September, 2, 11
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Der Rosenkavalier.
|2 November 1919
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Pagliacci. See 26
|28 November 1919
- Concert, Odense: Gellin & Borgstrøm, Melchior.
|17 December 1919
- Concert, Odd-Fellow Palace Grand Ballroom, Copenhagen.
Euphrosyne music society. Ludolf Nielsen. Melchior, as soloist, sings
arias from Bechgaard's Frode and Verdi's Otello.
|9 January 1920
- Concert: Odd Fellow Palace Grand Ballroom, Copenhagen.
Melchior is one of the singers at a benefit concert for an
influenza-stricken singer; he sings songs and also Gluntarne
(the latter with Holger Hansen).
- [Opera, Finland [Helsinki?]: Melchior is scheduled to sing
in Tosca, Tannhäuser, Aida, and Pagliacci]
* actual location and content of performances
under investigation, Helsinki does not seem to have been the location
of the visiting Danes, who also included Holger Hansen, according to
|25 January 1920
- Concert, Palace Grand Ballroom. Melchior (having returned
from overseas) and Ida
Møller are the soloists at a presentation of a Sophus Andersen cantata to text by Kjartan
Andersen, on the occasion of the Municipal School Teacher Association's
25th Anniversary. Conducted by the composer.
- Provincial Concert Tour, Sjaelland. Melchior and Holger
Hansen; they sing opera arias & duets, and Gluntarne.
|1 April 1920
- Concert, Palace Grand Ballroom. Melchior, Ellen Beck and
actor Albert Luther.
|8 April 1920
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Komedianten DEBUT; WORLD
PREMIERE; CREATOR ROLE Melchior plays the small role of
Barkilpedro, Countess Josanna's butler in August Enna's opera based on
Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs (Olaf Hansen, librettist).
Georg Høeberg. Crew: Johannes Poulsen (staging), Svend Gade
& Axel Bruun (sets)
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Samson og
Dalila DEBUT. Melchior, Ingeborg Steffensen (Delilah) Holger
Byrding (High Priest); Helge Nissen.
"The young, voice-gifted Lauritz Melchior, who in other
parts...has certainly an extra-ordinary ability to characterize, was
not successful in his cross between a heldentenor and a lyric,
vigorous, credible lover....[His hero was] always swinging between the
display of power and the pathetic." H.S., Politiken, p. 10
|10 May 1920
- Concert, Old Fellow Palace Grand Ballroom, Copenhagen.
Melchior is one of the artists appearing.
|26 May 1920
- Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Samson og Dalila.
Melchior (Samson), Steffensen (Delilah).
For the Promenade Concerts, Melchior has been preparing excerpts
from the opera roles he has been studying and will be singing in the
future, such as Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, and Radames.
Melchior hopes London will offer more opportunities for him, and that
his performances there will attract patrons who,
recognizing his potential, will provide for the schooling his voice
needs in order to have a stable opera career.
The most exciting decade of Melchior's life is about to begin.
* as quoted
in Boyhus, Else-Marie.
(2003). Kristine Marie Jensen 1858-1923. Dansk
Kvindebiografisk Leksikon [Dictionary of Danish Women's Biography].
Retrieved January 1, 2005, from http://www.kvinfo.dk/side/171/bio/852/.
See also: Kulturhistorisk Museum Randers [Social History Museum of
Randers]. (n.d.). Frøken Jensens kogebog [Miss Jensen's
Cookbook]. In Historier fra Randers. Retrieved January 1, 2005
**for some online examples of
H.E. Melchior's work and brief career information in Danish, see:
Danish Museum of Decorative Art. (n.d.). H.E. Melchior 1881-1927. In Den
Danske Plakat 1890-1945. Retrieved December 9, 2004 from http://www.danskeplakater.dk and
Danske Museer Online. (n.d.) Kostumetegning. In Teatermuseet i
Hofteatret. Retrieved December 9, 2004 from
Melchior's well-traveled older brother Henrik Emil Melchior (H.E.
Melchior), who seems to have
been too much Lauritz' senior to have been a close companion, had a
Roman-born daughter, Yvonne, born when Lauritz was a preteen; she
became a singer of ancient music in France.