#BuildBetterBrains Project

Making Music Makes You Smarter

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“Evening Prayer,” known in German as “Abendsegen,” is among the most admired music from Englebert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera, which is based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale about the titular Hänsel and Gretel.  It was Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Weete, who proposed the opera and also wrote the liberetto.

This video is a trio performance of Victor L. Gumma's versatile arrangement from National Music Publishers.  

Will this public domain melody get a fraudulent copyright claim on YouTube? To find out, read the Copyright Poaching section.

The Story

As a fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel was first published in Kinder- und Hausmärchen by German brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812.  The story has been told and retold over generations, with the basic elements staying the same.

Facing famine in medieval Germany, a woodcutter and his family fear starving to death.  The woodcutter's wife, who in later editions was labeled as stepmother to his son and daughter, suggests that he take the kids to the forest and leave them there.  She hopes to keep more food for herself and her husband.

She is unaware that Hansel and his sister Gretel have overheard the plan. That night, Hansel sneaks out of the house to gather white pebbles. When their father reluctantly leads them into the woods the next day, Hansel leaves a trail of pebbles behind.

Gretel cries as she realizes their father has abandoned them, but Hansel reassures her. (In the opera, here they sing their evening prayer.) After dark, he leads her back home, with the pebbles as guide.

Arriving the next morning, the woodcutter is overjoyed his children have returned.  But again, the stepmother insists the kids be taken away.  This time, she locks up the bedroom so that Hansel cannot gather more pebbles. 

When their father again leads them into the woods, Hansel crumbles up the small piece of bread given to him, leaving a new trail.  This time, however, he and his sister discover that birds have eaten the bread — they are lost.

After searching for home for a great long while, they come upon a house made from cakes, candy, and bread.  They voraciously eat from the house until a friendly old woman invites them inside for a meal.  She soon traps them inside her house.

Hansel and Gretel are made to do chores, while the woman feeds them well. The children soon realize she is a witch, intent on fattening them up to be eaten themselves.

When the witch is ready to eat, she tells Gretel to fire up the oven and put a pot on to boil.  She tells Gretel to get in the oven to see if it is hot enough to bake the bread, but Gretel is no fool.  The girl pretends not to understand, infuriating the witch, who leaps into the oven herself to demonstrate what she wants Gretel to do.

Gretel slams the oven closed, trapping the witch.  As Gretel and Hansel make their escape from the witch's candy house, they discover a stash of precious stones and treasure and take it with them.

When they find their way home, they are reunited with their father, who has been unhappy every day they have been gone.  The evil stepmother died while they were away, leaving father and children to live happily ever after on the witch's treasure.


The Music

Adelheid Weete had written several songs for her children based on the Hansel and Gretel tale.  She proposed to work with her brother, Englebert Humperdinck to expand the musical sketches into a full opera.  

Weete's original songs were written for the Christmas season, and the opera is still most commonly associated with that time of year.  The opera premiered in Weimar in December 1893 and was conducted by Richard Strauss, himself a famed composer, conductor, pianist and violinist. 

Here I perform Victor L. Gumma's arrangement of the "Evening Prayer," which is heard in Act II, scene 2.  The arrangement is versatile and can be performed in many formats:

  • With two handbell musicians and a keyboardist
  • With a single handbell musician and a keyboardist
  • As an unaccompanied handbell duet
  • As an unaccompanied handbell solo, although this would only present the melody
  • Substitute the melodic handbell part with another C instrument such as flute, violin, or oboe, remembering to play the part one octave higher than written in the handbell music

The keyboard music works equally well with piano or organ.  Both handbell parts may be played on the same table with a single two-octave set of handbells or handchimes.  (I spread out in the video to simplify production.)

"Evening Prayer" and the entire Hänsel and Gretel opera were composed in Frankfurt in 1891 and 1892, with their premiere in 1893.  The melody is therefore in the public domain according to the Berne Convention and the laws of the United States.  

Nonetheless, within minutes of my upload to YouTube, EMI Publishing Group has made a copyright claim against the video, claiming they own the melody I perform for the first 95 seconds of the video. They cite an unrelated recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as ownership of the melody.

YouTube is therefore diverting watchtime monetization revenue I might otherwise earn to EMI, which is knowingly violating YouTube's platform policies by filing a false copyright claim.

However, YouTube's dispute process does not have an option to allow me to contest this — a frequent issue on the platform, where law-abiding content creators are left without an option when copyright poachers/strikers attack on false grounds.

Therefore, your direct patron support is more critical than ever.

Looking Ahead

My plan with these videos is to demonstrate a variety of music that is approachable as a listener and as a performer, while also highlighting some challenging and impressive works for advanced performers.

Some of my videos will look like this one: A music performance followed by discussion.  Others will be more of a tutorial format.  

There are a lot of handbells around sitting unused in school closets and church basements, so if these videos are shared widely I hope this will help get some of those instruments back into use.


How You May Help #BuildBetterBrains

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Finally, please ask your friends and colleagues to join you in your support of this cause with a shout out on Facebook or post on Twitter or even a good old fashioned personal email. Thank you again. Let's make music together. Let's #BuildBetterBrains.

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