Otto Nicolai

Carl Otto Ehrenfried Nicolai (9 June 1810 – 11 May 1849) was a German composer, conductor, and one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic. Nicolai is best known for his operatic version of Shakespeare's comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor as Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor. In addition to five operas, Nicolai composed lieder, works for orchestra, chorus, ensemble, and solo instruments.


Nicolai, a child prodigy, was born in Königsberg, Prussia. He received his first musical education from his father, Carl Ernst Daniel Nicolai, who was also a composer and musical director. During his childhood his parents divorced, and while still a youth, early in June 1826, Nicolai ran away from his parents' "loveless" home,[1] taking refuge in Stargard with a senior legal official called August Adler who treated the musical prodigy like a son and, when Nikolai was seventeen, sent him to Berlin to study with Carl Friedrich Zelter.

After initial successes in Germany, including his first symphony (1831) and public concerts, he became musician to the Prussian embassy in Rome. When Verdi declined the libretto of Il proscritto by the proprietors of La Scala in Milan, it was offered instead to Nicolai. Later, Nicolai refused a libretto by the same author, and it went to Verdi, whose Nabucco was his first early success. All of Nicolai's operas were originally written in Italian, the sole exception being his last and best known opera, The Merry Wives of Windsor, written in German. At one time he was even more popular in Italy than Verdi.[2]

During the early 1840s, Nicolai established himself as a major figure in the concert life of Vienna. In 1844 he was offered the position, vacated by Felix Mendelssohn, of Kapellmeister at the Berlin Cathedral; but he did not reestablish himself in Berlin until the last year of his life.

On 11 May 1849, two months after the premiere of The Merry Wives of Windsor, and only two days after his appointment as Hofkapellmeister at the Berlin Staatsoper, he collapsed and died from a stroke. On the very same day of his death, he was elected a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Arts.

Nicolai was portrayed by Hans Nielsen in the 1940 film Falstaff in Vienna.



TitleGenreSub­divisionsLibrettoCompositionPremière datePlace, theatre
La figlia abbandonata  1837unfinished 
Rosmonda d'Inghilterra (given at the first performance as: Enrico II)melodramma serio2 actsFelice Romani1837–183826 November 1839Trieste, Teatro Grande
Il templariomelodramma3 actsGirolamo Maria Marini, after Walter Scott1839–184011 February 1840Turin, Teatro Regio
Gildippe ed Odoardomelodramma3 actsTemistocle Solera184026 December 1840Genoa
Il proscritto 3 actsGaetano Rossi184113 March 1841Milan, La Scala
Die Heimkehr des Verbannten (revision of Il proscritto)tragische Oper3 actsSiegfried Kapper18433 February 1844Vienna, Theater am Kärntnertor
Der Tempelritter (revision of Il templario) 3 actsSiegfried Kapper184520 December 1845Vienna, Theater am Kärntnertor
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsorkomische-fantastische Oper3 actsSalomon Hermann Mosenthal, after William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor1845–18469 March 1849Berlin, Hofoper


  • Six four-part unaccompanied lieder, Op. 6
  • Variazioni concertanti su motivi favoriti dell'opera La sonnambula di Bellini, Op. 26, for soprano, horn and piano (or cello or clarinet) (republished in 2000 by edition mf)
  • Ecclesiastical Festival Overture on the chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott", Op. 31
  • Pater noster, Op. 33, for two mixed choirs (SATB/SATB) a cappella with soloists (SATB/SATB). Published by Schott Music in 1999.
  • Der dritte Psalm (Psalm 3) for alto solo. (Manuscript at Library of Congress.)
  • Six sonatas for two horns: from the Handel Knot-Farquharson Cousins ms (re(?)published by Edition Kunzelmann in 1977.)
  • Mass in D major (1832/1845). (Recorded on the label Koch Schwann in 1981, subsequently reissued on compact disc. Published by Augsburg : A. Böhm in 1986.)
  • Te Deum (1832); Psalm 97, "Der Herr ist König"; Psalm 31, "Herr, auf Dich traue ich"; "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe" (psalm and liturgical settings recorded also on Koch Schwann. Te Deum was also recorded on Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft LPM 39,170 in 1966.) Psalms 31 & 97 published by Bote & Bock of Berlin in 1977.
  • Two symphonies: No. 0 (1831) and No. 1 in D (1835, rev. 1845)

Songs and duets

  • Wenn sanft des Abends, Op. 2a
  • Der Schäfer im Mai / Männersinn, Op. 3
  • Abschied, Op. 13
  • Auf ewig dein, Op. 14
  • Wie der Tag mir schleicht / Willkommen du Gottes Sonne / Die Schwalbe, Op. 15
  • Lebewohl / An die Entfernte / Randino / Das treue Mädchen, Op. 16
  • Schlafendes Herzenssöhnchen, Op. 19
  • Rastlose Liebe, Op. 23
  • Il duolo d'amore / Se tranquillo a te d'accanto / Il desiderio al lido op. 24
  • Die Träne, Op. 30
  • Die Beruhigung / Der getreue Bub / Stürm, stürm, du Winterwind, Op. 34
  • Der Kuckuck / Flohjammer / Du bist zu klein, mein Hänselein, Op. 35
  • Herbstlied, Op. 37

Works for piano

  • Six danses brillantes
  • Rondo capriccioso
  • Sonata in d minor Op. 27
  • Mondwalzer
  • Etude Adieu à Liszt, Op. 28
  • 3 Etudes, Op. 40



  1. Biographical on-line note Archived 2008-02-13 at the Wayback Machine (in German)
  2. John Cargher. "The Italian job", ABC Radio 24 Hours, November 2001, pg. 42


  • Nicolai, Otto (1892). Schröder, B. (ed.). Otto Nicolais Tagebücher nebst biographischen Ergänzungen (in German). Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel. OCLC 17601836.
  • Nicolai, Otto (1924). Altmann Wilhelm (ed.). Otto Nicolai, Briefe an seinen Vater, soweit erhalten (in German). Regensburg: G. Bosse. OCLC 3463501.
  • Sadie, Stanley (1992). Brown, Clive (ed.). Nicolai, Carl Otto Ehrenfried in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Grove's Dictionaries of Music. ISBN 0-333-73432-7.
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