27. Der Trompeter von Säkkingen – Viktor Nessler


  • Oper in 3 Acts, with a Prologue
  • By Viktor Nessler
  • Libretto: Rudolf Bunge, after Joseph Viktor von Scheffel’s poem Der Trompeter von Säckingen
  • First performed: Carola Theater (Stadttheater), Leipzig, 4 May 1884


WERNER KIRCHHOFER, stud. jur.Baritone 
CONRADIN, Landsknecht trumpeter and recruiterBass / baritone 
The Major Domo of the Electress of the PalatinateTenor 
The Rector Magnificus of Heidelberg UniversityBass 
A StudentBass 
Landsknechte and Recruiters – Students – Two Beadles – Cellarmen  

The Piece

The Freiherr von SchönauBass 
MARIA, his daughterSoprano 
The Graf von WildensteinBass 
His wife (separated from him), the Baron’s cousinMezzo 
DAMIAN, the Graf’s son by his second wifeTenor 
CONRADINBass / baritone 
A Servant of the Freiherr  
A Messenger of the Count  
A Cellarman  
Four Heralds  
Youths and Maidens – Citizens of Sackingen and their wives – Hauenstein Peasants – People – School-Children – Deans and Chaplains – Burgomaster and Councillors of Sackingen – Knights of the Teutonic Order – Princess-Abbess and Noble Ladies of the Convent – Landsknechten – Followers of the Graf von Wildenstein – The Landlady of the Inn yclept “The Golden Button,” in Sackingen – Village Musicians of Hauenstein  

SETTING: Heidelberg Castle; 17th century, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Next in our line-up of comic operas: one of the most popular German works of the late nineteenth century.

The opera is based on a popular poem by Joseph Victor von Scheffel (1826-86).  A New York Met programme from 1887 called it “one of the most charming poetic works of modern German literature … with its beautiful pictures of mediaeval life and its quaint philosophy and its love story that have charmed two generations of Germans”.


Prologue: Werner Kirchhofer, a law student at Heidelberg, is expelled for causing a disturbance outside the window of the Electress Palatinate.  He and the other students join the Landsknecht troopers, Werner as its trumpeter.

Act I: The town of Säckingen is celebrating the feast day of St Fridoline, the Irish missionary who founded Säckingen Abbey in the sixth or seventh century.  Peasants dance and sing, but they are also on the eve of revolt against the nobility.  Werner saves Maria, his commanding officer’s pretty daughter, and her aunt, the Gräfin von Wildenberg, from the Hauenstein peasants.  Maria falls in love with him, while the Gräfin is reminded of her long-lost son, kidnapped by gypsies.

The rest of the opera takes place at the Freiherr’s castle.

The Freiherr von Schönau, Maria’s father, grumbles about his gout, for which the best cure is good wine.  He receives a letter from the Graf von Wildenberg, who wants his son Damyan to marry Maria.  This will close a breach between the two families; the Graf and Gräfin separated after the loss of their son.  The Freiherr, on Maria’s suggestion, hires Werner as his bugler at the castle.

Act II: The Gräfin surprises Werner making love to Maria while he should be teaching her music.  (Shades of The Barber of Seville!)  Reluctantly, the Graf fires his bugler, who rejoins the regiment, bidding a sad farewell to Maria.  This is the once famous aria “Behüt’ dich Gott, es war so schön gewesen”, with a lovely solo on (of course!) the trumpet:

Act III: The peasants attack the castle, but Werner bravely repels them.  Damian (who has arrived with his father) scarcely covers himself in glory; he runs away from the enemy.  Maria certainly doesn’t want to marry Damian, who is an idiot and a coward – but the Graf doesn’t want her to wed a commoner, even one who’s brave and has been to Heidelberg.  Ah, but Werner isn’t a commoner at all!  He’s the Gräfin’s son, kidnapped by gypsies as a baby.  (As the audience guessed early on.)  She recognizes him, in the time-honoured way, because he has a strawberry birthmark on his arm.


Trompeter - Victrola.jpg
Victrola Book of the Opera (1917)

Der Trompeter, Nessler’s ninth opera, was an extraordinary success.  It was performed several thousand times in Germany within a few years  – more than 900 times in 1888 alone.

The critics were baffled.  “The most remarkable thing in this unprecedentedly successful opera,” wrote Eduard Hanslick, “is precisely its success.” The work itself, he thought, was “a musical mediocrity”.  Grove (Dictionary of Music and Musicians) thought it and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin), his other big hit,  “owe their popularity to an easy superficiality of style, which commends itself to the less musical portion of the German public”. Gustav Mahler thought it was “dreadful”, but still had to conduct the work often.

What the critics objected to was its musical conventionality.  The opera appeared in 1884, three years after Wagner‘s last opera, Parsifal (1881).  Wagner had revolutionized opera; in his epic, quasi-symphonic operas he had jettisoned conventional opera forms (trios, duets) and replaced them with “endless melody” (heightened recit).  Now Wagner, the titan of German opera, was dead, and the musical world trembled at his passing.  What would the next generation of composers do?

Nessler carried on writing quaintly romantic number operas in the tradition of Lortzing and Flotow, with their gentle love stories and picturesque German folklore.  And the public loved them.

Pace the critics, it’s easy to see why the German public liked it. The best tunes stick in the ear, particularly “Behüt’ dich Gott, es war so schön gewesen” – deservedly a favorite baritone concert aria.

Yes, the plot is sentimental and familiar from dozens of operas: the lovers who can’t marry because he’s of the wrong social class, and her father wants her to marry someone else.  And all is sorted out when he’s reunited with his parents.  In fact, it’s the same basic story as Smetana‘s Bartered Bride.  But Nessler handles the plot skilfully, with several good choruses and plenty of charm.

The audience would also have liked seeing one of their favorite poems brought to life.  Then, too, there is the opera’s Germanness: students carousing at Heidelberg; Landsknechte; peasants dancing the church; and the May Procession, with dancers portraying King May, Princess May Blossom, Prince Woodlord, and various German rivers.

Nessler Trompeter

There’s only one recording of the opera: Helmuth Froschauer’s 1994 recording, starring Hermann Prey (Werner).



The Court Yard of Heidelberg Castle by Night

1. Studentenlied und Landsknechts-Chor

a) Studentenlied: Alt‘ Heidelberg, Du feine

b) Landsknechts-Chor: Wohlauf, Kameraden, mit fröhlichem Muth

2.  Ensemble, Trompeterlied und Serenade (Minne-Lied)

a) Trompeterlied: Solch’ einem schmucken Herrn (Des Trompeters Erinnerungen)

b) Serenade (Minne-Lied): Ich kniee vor Euch als getreuer Vasall

3.  Die Werbung.  Duettino (Bass u. Baryton)

Ei, ei, Jungbürschlein wohlgemuth

4.  Ensemble

Darum greif’ nach der Trompete

5.  Finale

Haltet ein! nicht weiter!

ACT I: Sankt-Fridolin’s-Tag (Saint Fridoline’s Day)

Open Place before the Church of St. Fridoline at Sackingen

6.  Bauerntanz und Chor

a)  Der Hans schwingt die Liese

b) Fridoline, Schutzpatron!

7.  Ensemble und Recitativ

Das ist doch eine Sünd und Schand’!

8.  Recitativ, Ensemble und Duettino

a) Viel bunte Nachen wiegt der Rhein

b) Duettino (Erstes Begegnen): Fürchtet nichts

9.  Finale (Der Kirchgang)

O heil’ger Fridoline!

ACT I: Der Freiherr und der Trompeter (The Baron and the Bugler)

An Apartment in the Freiherr von Schönau’s Castle

10.  Die Arie vom Zipperlein (Bass)

Da schlage doch das Wetter d’rein

11.  Recitativ, Melodram und Ariette (Bass)

a) Das kommt vom Grafen Wildenstein!

b) „Alter Freund!“

c) So reite zurück in dein Donauthal

12.  Terzett (Sopran, Mezzo-Sopran, Bass)

Zürne nicht, mein Väterchen

13.  Recitativ, Notturno und Lied

a) Wenig Dank wisst Ihr dem Retter

b) Lied (Sopran): Wie stolz und stattlich geht er!

14.  Quartett, Lied und Finale

a) Ha! das ist er!

b) Lied (Baryton): Ihr heisset mich willkommen?

c) Ich freue mich, dass Euch die Welt

ACT II: Werner und Maria (Young Werner and Margaretha)

In the Garden of the Freiherr’s Castle

15.  Recitativ und Lied

So wird es recht!

Lied (Baryton): Am Ufer blies ich ein lüstig‘ Stück

16.  Recitativ, Duettino und Lied

a) Was solch’ Landsknechtsmusicus

b) Lied (Baryton): Als ich zum erstenmal dich sah

17.  Quartett (Die Lautenstunde) (Sopran, Mezzo-Sopran, Baryton, Bass)

Ihr habt gewiss schon mein geharrt

18.  Liebesduett (Sopran u. Baryton)

Gott sei gedankt! wir sind allein
Lied (Baryton): Als ich zum erstenmal dich sah, es war am sechsten Märze

19.  Doppel – Ensemble

Zu Hülfe! zu Hülfe!

20.  Quintett

Ach! was musste hier passiren

21.  Das Maifest

I.  Der Einzug des „Königs Mai.“ (Festmarsch, Chor, Heroldsruf und Recitativ)
II.  Mai-Idylle (Pantomime-Ballet)

22.  Finale

Ha! das sind sie!
Jung Werner’s Abschied (Lied f. Baryton): Behüt dich Gott! es wär’ zu schön gewesen

ACT III: Lösung und Ende (Solution and End)

Garden-like Court-Yard within the Walls of the Baron’s Castle

23.  Arie (Sopran)

Verlorene Liebe, erstorbenes Glück

24.  Quintett und Lied mit Chor

a) Schnell, ihr Knechte! schliesst das Thor!

b) Lied (Sopran): Ich bin des tapfern Landsknechts Kind

25.  Ensemble und Schlachtgesang

Da bringt man aus dem Keller

Schlachtgesang (Männerchor): Wohlauf denn zur Schlacht!

26.  Finale

Heil dem Tapfer’n!

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