Lauritz Melchior as Parsifal

Lauritz Melchior Web

Chronology 1890-1920

 

Mini-Bio-Timeline  Filmography  Bibliography Repertoire Photo Gallery  Selected Recordings

Performance Chronologies:

                 1920-1924   1924-1926   1926-1929   1929-1931 

1931-1933   1933-1935   1935-1936   1936-1938   1938-1939

1939-1941   1941-1945   1945-1947   1948-1950   1950-1955

1956-1973


All information 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.


1890-1919

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.
Lauritz 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)

Lauritz Melchior as a young boy

Lauritz Melchior's father Jørgen Melchior Jørgen Melchior (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 Melchior. The 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 self-assured."*

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 lessons.

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 of song.

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 women's magazines.

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 Royal Theatre.

Bodil, Henrik Emil, Lauritz and Agnes Melchior clockwise from top:
Bodil Juliane, Henrik Emil, Lauritz L.H., and Agnes Emilie Melchior. 


29 January 1911
  • Concert: Vor Frue Kirke, Svendborg, Denmark. Melchior, 20, makes a professional concert debut as a church soloist singing hymns.
15 February 1911
  • Opera school of Walbom and Gradman: Marriage of Figaro. Melchior makes an opera stage debut in the buffo bass role of the gardener Antonio.

 

Lauritz Melchior in 1911

age 21
in uniform for his compulsory term
of military service in the Royal Danish Guard.

Lauritz Melchior in 1911 in Royal Danish Guard uniform

 

1912
  • 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 Zwicki.

    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.

 

January-March 1913
  • Recording sessions, Danish Odeon, Copenhagen: two Verdi arias, Danish opera and operetta, and songs.
2 April 1913
  • 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 cultivation.
August 1913
  • Recording session, Danish HMV, Copenhagen: Danish opera and song.

 

[August 1914-beginning of World War I; unlike most of Europe, Denmark remains neutral in the conflict]

 

26,29 March 1915
  • Recording sessions: Danish HMV, Copenhagen: a series of Danish hymns.
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 actor, Ludvig Michael Nathansen (1858-1907), and his first wife, Thora Schmidt (1862-1922).

 

1916
  • 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 Azucena.  

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. 119-120.]

 

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

Lauritz Melchior makes his tenor debut as Tannhäuser
  • 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.

 

[11 November 1918]-'All Quiet on the Western Front']

 

1919
  • Royal Opera, Copenhagen: minor parts Lauritz Melchior will play this year include the comedic minor role of one of the Jews in Salome...

Despite encouraging reviews, the single year of training with Herold has not been anywhere near enough for Melchior to achieve solid success in leading tenor 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, Lauritz. (1963). Die drei vaterlander. In Josef Müller-Marein & Hannes Reinhardt (Eds.), Das musikalische selbstportrait. Hamburg: Nannen-Verlag.]

10 May 1919
  • 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, p. 11

30 May 1919
  • [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)]
5 June 1919
  • Special Appearance, Outdoor Concert, Kongens Have, Copenhagen: Melchior is one of the singers at the "Radikale Venstres" [Radical Left Party's]  Constitution festival.
21 June 1919
  • 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]

The summer of the Treaty of Versailles, Melchior takes advantage of his first opportunity to leave Scandinavia and the closure of the Opera for the summer.

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 September.
30 September, 2, 11 October 1919
  • Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Der Rosenkavalier.
2 November 1919
  • Royal Opera, Copenhagen: Pagliacci. See 26 September.
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.

 


1920

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).
January? 1920
  • [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 Politiken*
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.
February 1920
  • 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)
3 May 1920
  • 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.


RETURN TO TOP Onwards to Chronology,  1920-1924


* 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 from http://www.khm.dk/lokalhistorisk/Histjens.html

**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 http://www.dmol.dk/billede_info.asp?genst_id=24240. Lauritz 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.


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Last Updated September 14, 2007