Der König Kandaules / I

Composition – Reconstruction – Orchestration


"Everything in love this earth created, I would wish it were by me"

"Der König Kandaules"

After the depressing experiences Zemlinsky had had with Der Kreidekreis, which the Nazis prohibited, he could not count on a theatre in the German-speaking world performing a new opera by him. Nevertheless in Vienna, with the help of his wife, he tried to find a new subject. In 1935, when Louise brought his attention to André Gide's drama Le Roi Candaule (1899), after some initial hesitation he decided to compose an opera based on the book and arranged the text as a libretto. He sketched the score between June 1935 and December 1936. However, he made little progress on the orchestration: the oppressive political situation paralysed his creativity and also, as he was working on the orchestration, he made extensive changes to the sketch. When the family fled from Vienna in 1938, only a good third of the orchestral score was finished.

In New York Zemlinsky had high hopes for the opera and through its performance wanted to establish himself in the New World. Yet it was not to come to this: he showed the libretto to his friend Arthur Bodanzky, who at the time was conducting at the Met but he advised Zemlinsky from completing the opera because a nude scene, as planned in the second act, would make it impossible to perform the work before a prudish American audience. Zemlinsky had to abandon Kandaules.

During the 1950s his widow had already pursued a plan to have the orchestration of the opera completed and asked "a composer" whether he would be able to do so. However, this person turned down her request and for a long time she undertook no further steps. In 1981 she commissioned Friedrich Cerha, whose completed version of Alban Berg's Lulu had been given its world premiere in 1979, to complete the orchestration. Cerha gave the material a thorough analysis but also turned down her request referring to what he also regarded as the incomplete manuscript of the text. It was not until 1990 that a musician was found in Antony Beaumont who succeeded in reconstructing the entire fragment. He was commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera to complete the orchestration of Zemlinsky's final opera which he did in the years 1992-1995 and it was given its world premiere in Hamburg on 6 October 1996.