Humperdinck was born at Siegburg, in the Rhine provinces. In 1872 he entered the Cologne Conservatory under Ferdinand Hiller. In 1876 he won a scholarship which enabled him to go to Munich, where he studied with Franz Paul Lachner and later with Josef Rheinberger. He won the Mendelssohn Stiftung (foundation) of Berlin in 1879, and went to Italy, and became acquainted with Richard Wagner in Naples. Wagner invited him to go to Bayreuth, and during 1880-81 Humperdinck assisted in the production of Parsifal. Having won another prize, however, he went again to Southern Europe, traveling through Italy, France and Spain, spending two years in Barcelona teaching at the conservatoire. In 1887 he returned to Cologne, and was appointed professor at the Hoch Conservatory (Frankfurt-am-Main) in 1890, and also teacher of harmony at Stockhausen's Vocal School. By this time he had composed several works for chorus and a Humoreske for orchestra, which enjoyed a vogue in Germany.
His chief reputation rersts on his opera Hänsel und Gretel, which was produced at Weimar, 1893. In 1896 the Kaiser made Humperdinck a Professor and he went to live at Boppard. Four years later, however, he went to Berlin where he was appointed head of a Meister-Schule of composition. Among his other operatic works are Dornröschen, Königskinder and Die Heirat wider Willen.
Humperdinck was greatly influenced by Richard Wagner, and worked as his assistant. In his opera Königskinder, Humperdinck became the first composer to use Sprechgesang, a vocal technique halfway between singing and speaking, and later exploited by Arnold Schoenberg.
This article is based on a text from the Etude magazine, 1909-1922.