B. Polak Daniëls (pseudonym for Baron Wilhelm Knigge (1827-1888)

KniggePhWelserCoverBaron Knigge composed under the pseudonym  B. Polak Daniëls. Little is know about his life and his work. At best we suspect him to be a descendant or relative of Baron Freiherr Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Knigge (1752–1796), writer, freemason, and contemporary of Mozart. Clear is that Polak Daniëls was not a professional, but rather a talented free time composer. All the more remarkable that his only opera, Philippine Welser oder Die Perle von Augsburg, contains some of the most beautiful pages in Dutch operatic literature. Philippine’s aria “La nuit s’avance en l’enfants”, shall be performed at the very first 401DutchOperas concert in Hoog-Keppel, on April 26, 2015. Soprano Jolien De Gendt shall sing Philippine, and tenor Denzil Delaere will sing Ferdinand. They will be accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore. The concert will be recorded professionally in audio and HD-video. Recordings will later be offered as downloads. Part of the concert will be broadcast live by means of a live-stream on this website.

Text: René Seghers
French translations: Hilaire de Slagmeulder

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B. Polak Daniëls (Den Haag, 1827 – Ischl, 1888) was a pupil of J.H. Lubeck. In 1861 he received a diploma and membership of the Association Encouragement Musical Arts, for a cantata by his hand. The manuscript of Polak Daniëls’ opera Philipine Welser oder Die Perle von Augsburg from 1873, mentions ‘opus Nr. 3.’ De titles of the previous two compositions are unknown. All we know, is that his lyric-romantic opera in three acts, Philippine Welser, received its world premiere on November 9, 1873 in Nurenberg. According to the MCO catalogue he composed it on a libretto of his own making, whereas the German libretto mentions W. Mannstädt as librettist. The opera was a tremendous success in Nuremberg, and in various other German theaters. Illustrierte Zeitung, Nr. 281 mentioned that its success resulted in the opera entering the iron repertoire of some of the houses where it had been performed. The Dutch New Israelite Weekly of December 26, 1873, summarizes the enthusiasm:

Our compatriot, Mr. B. Polak Daniëls from The Hague, residing since some years in Germany, has composed an opera that has met with much praise from the German press. At its Nuremberg world premiere, Philippine Welser, as the opera is titled, the audience was ecstatic and the composer had to take several curtain calls. In Hamburg, Queen widow Amalia of Greece attended the performance; Polak Daniëls received the most flattering compliments. As we understand, the Rotterdam based opera company f Mr. Pfläging plans to perform Philippine Welser in Amsterdam, which will give that cities’ audience a chance to appreciate the esteemed work of a compatriot”

Philippine Welser at the Coolsingel

A year after the world premiere, to be precise on November 14, 1874, Knigge’s opera went at the Hoogduitsche Opera of Rotterdam, where it reached the total of 6 performances. Given that number, one is astonished by the memoirs of conductor Hutschenruyter, whose reminiscences of the Oude Duitse Opera, published in NRC of March 6, 1938, state that at the Coolsingel, Philippine Welser was a complete flop.

Edouard Gregoir in Littérature Musicale of 1875 sheds a little more light on our mysterious Baron Knigge, and reveals that he was an amateur composer, whose opera met with considerable success in Rotterdam:

“The author took curtain calls under clamorous applause and the stamping of feet, a token of appraisal much used in Germany and The Netherlands. Praise also for the choruses, the overture and the trio.”

Perhaps these – indeed wonderful – highlights induced Gregoir to write about ‘a grandiose oeuvre for the lyric stage, which would hopefully soon be presented on French stages too.’ The tremendous German success may have induced him to express such hopes, since apart from Nuremberg; the opera also was given in Bamberg and a multitude of other German theaters. This unexpectedly turns Philippine Welser into one of the most successful Dutch operas ever, along with Brandts-Buys’ Die Schneider von Schonau, and Richard Hageman's Caponsacchi , and Ignace Lilien's Beatrijs. The mere publication of the piano reduction in a French tradition, further points to certain hopes that publisher Scott must have had for the opera. It is unknown if such a French or local Belgian performance also materialized. Regardless, the Belgian government makes Polak Daniëls in 1877 correspondent of the Brussels conservatory. A year onwards, he is appointed ‘Maestro Compositore Onorare’ of the Bologna Academy. He died in Ischl, in 1888, with, as rumor has it, ‘numerous unpublished composition in the shelves in his study.

Regrettably, the French piano reduction of Philippine Welser has been the last that was heard of the opera, until Willem Noske unearthed the trio ‘Il faut nous séparer’. This trio sparked my research into the complete opera, of which I found the score in the archives of the MCO library. This rediscovery then sparked our own performance of highlights of Baron Knigge’s opera, for even though Baron Knigge is one of the least documented Dutch opera composers, Philippine Welser contains some of the most beautiful pages in Dutch opera. Remarkably, for an opera that was premiered in Germany, the baron composes in an evident French melos… with his ‘self-composed’ libretto revealing a string of romances, serenades, duets, trios and uniso finales in a style that hovers between an opéra comique and a Meyerbeerian grand opéra, than a classical German historic opera. Unclear is if the French translation by Gustave Lagye, published by Schott in Brussels, has ever been performed.

Philippine Welser at the first 401NederlandseOperas live concert

KniggePWelserIntroIt can safely be presumed that Eduard Reeser, had he even dedicated a single line to Polak Daniëls in his study of Dutch classical music 1815-1915, would have concluded that our baron was no more of an ‘innovator,’ then his fellow Dutch composers were. Admittedly, Polak Daniëls composed in relatively transparent harmonies that aren’t very complex, a delightful little gem. His opera survives by the grace of a number of irresistible melodies, among which the chorus sections deserve special attention. The tenor romance “Frais zéphyr que sur ton aile…”, and Philippine’s aria “La nuit s’avance en l’enfants”, shall be performed at the first  401DutchOperas live concert on April 26, 2015, in Hoog-Keppel. Soprano Jolien De Gendt will sing Philippine, tenor Denzil Delaere Ferdinand, and Pieter Dhoore will accompany them from the piano. The concert will be professionaly recorded on audio and HD-DVD, and the first part of the concert will be broadcast live on the website by means of a live-stream. It will afterwards be offered as a download.


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On behalf of 401DutchOperas,

Bas ten Have
Anthony van der Heijden
René Seghers