Alexander Zemlinsky: Es war einmal...

Zemlinksy Es war Einmal Critical Edition by Ricordi

Edited by Antony Beaumont

Märchenoper in einem Vorspiel und drei Aufzügen 
Libretto: Holger Drachmann after the comedy of the same name by Maximilian Singer (in German)
World premiere: 22.01.1900, Vienna


In the presence of an assembled court, a gallant seeks to woo the king’s sister. With his singing unable to impress, he is shown the door. A second suitor, this time a prince, is let inside. The princess wants to bring him to his knees, but he refuses, and she withdraws in anger. The prince decides to win her over with trick – disguised as a vagabond, he offers her a magic pot in exchange for a kiss. She agrees, but the king banishes her from the court. Her only choice is to go with the vagabond, who calls for understanding and rationality from the recalcitrant young woman. He comforts her with a tender folk song; her fear slowly turns to fondness, and they eventually fall in love. A herald announces that the prince wishes to marry, and that the bride is still to be chosen. The wedding dress fits the princess perfectly, but she loves her vagabond. When the prince reveals his true identity, she ascends with him to the throne.


Zemlinksy’s second opera is based on the folk comedy “Der var engang” (Once upon a time) by the Danish playwright Holger Drachmann, premiered in 1887, which in turn drew upon Shakespeare, Gozzi, the Brothers Grimm, and Andersen. The following star-studded premiere on January 22, 1900 was a great success. The music turned out to be a real offshoot from Art Nouveau – no wonder then, that the court opera director Mahler disliked the opera at first, but then set to work making cuts and changes to the text as well as drastically reducing the exuberant orchestration. Zemlinsky had to compose a new finale for the first act. Mahler’s version of the work became a triumph and was henceforth the only version performed, which thus forms the exclusive basis of the new critical edition.

Critical edition

  • 120 years after the premiere saw the publication of the first scholarly edition.
  • From the vast number of authentic source material on offer, it was possible to bring the libretto and musical score together to form a “definitive edition.”
  • Several accounts of the work’s origin have turned out to be imprecise or even fictitious. The story of the opera’s origins and early reception is retold in the annotations and is clearly documented with authentic textual citations.

Recommendations for concert

Vorspiel - - timp.perc - hp - str 

3.2.2.bcl.2 - - timp.perc - 2hp - str 

2nd Act, Scene no. 1, Duo Prince of Norderland, Princess of Illyrien Ich kann nicht mehr
S.T - - - timp- str