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8.225332 - ZIEHRER: Operetta Overtures
Carl Michael Ziehrer (1843-1922)
Without doubt, the greatest of all rivals to the superiority of the Strauss brothers was Carl Michael Ziehrer. His long musical career had similarities with that of the younger Johann Strauss, with the noted exception that Ziehrer was three times a military bandmaster, a fact that introduced an often brash and swaggering style into his compositions. This, combined with the influence of local folk-music, provides a recipe that is refreshingly different from his contemporaries. Ziehrer was launched with a brand new orchestra in 1863 at the Dianasaal by Carl Haslinger, an event sprung by the publisher as revenge against the Strauss brothers because of a financial disagreement. This was not entirely spontaneous, however, as Ziehrer's father, a prosperous hatter, assisted by Haslinger, had helped finance his son's musical education at the Vienna Conservatory, a period which ended with a contract with Haslinger to publish his compositions.
Despite the initial fanfare, Ziehrer found the competition from all three Strauss brothers daunting, and often had to perform in the suburbs to make a living. Nevertheless, as he tirelessly pursued his career with one engagement after another, his activities soon attracted the attention of the press; his style was likened in one early article to that of Joseph Lanner, who of course had been Strauss father's prime competitor. Probably as a result of financial pressures, he accepted a three-year contract with the army as a bandmaster in 1870. Returning to civilian life he formed an orchestra in record time to play at the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition. He also founded the musical journal Deutsche Musik-Zeitung which became one of the prime sources of musical information of the late nineteenth century.
Ziehrer rejoined the army for another spell, discharging himself in 1877 when he returned to civilian life and changed his publisher to Doblinger. He took over in Vienna many of Eduard Strauss's musicians who were reluctant to follow the latter on an extended overseas tour, naming the orchestra "The Former Eduard Strauss Orchestra". This led Eduard Strauss to take out an injunction against the use of the title, which had, in fact, been demanded by the musicians themselves. In 1879 Ziehrer visited Bucharest with a reconstituted orchestra and became closely involved with their Royal family, and then went to Budapest to stage a now lost operetta, Der kleine Don Juan. He met his future wife Marianne Edelmann, a popular operetta singer, while performing in Berlin in 1881.
It was not until Ziehrer's third spell as a bandmaster with the Hoch- und Deutschmeister Regiment in 1885 that he fully established his reputation in Vienna and within days he was raising the standards of military band performance to previously unknown heights, attracting huge crowds. At civilian concerts many of his players dropped their percussion and brass instruments and took up strings, a common practice at the time. He had at last found his own identity and many of his best dance compositions were written over the next decade. He played at innumerable balls and functions, many for charity, and was regarded very much as a people's man.
The peak of Ziehrer's military career came with an invitation in 1893 to represent Austria at the Chicago World Fair, where he played nightly. Ziehrer continued to tour the United States, outstaying his leave, only to be dismissed with his orchestra by the authorities on his return. He accepted an engagement to Berlin, taking his players with him under the title of the Chicagoer Konzert-Kapelle and toured no less than 41 German cities and towns, playing with precision and verve. Still very popular, he returned to Vienna and formed a new orchestra to perform at daily engagements all over the city. After an abortive attempt to play in London, he fell ill from overwork and retired to the Austrian mountains, where he decided in future to concentrate on operetta. With his home-grown style and very Viennese librettos his operettas did not travel as well as those of some of his contemporaries. Like Johann Strauss he published arrangements, dances and songs from his operettas, many becoming well known and outlasting the stage works themselves.
In the twilight period prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Ziehrer's operettas kept to the form of the so called Golden Era, soon to be overtaken by the more romantic style of the Silver Age started by his friend Franz Lehár. In 1909 the Emperor Franz Joseph appointed him to the position of Imperial Court Ball Director, in recognition of his popularity and contribution to music. Giving up his own orchestra he became active as a guest conductor, along with Franz Lehár, Leo Fall and Oscar Straus. With Lehár he was instrumental in forming a permanent orchestra to perform popular music to a consistently high standard from which emerged the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, but the war destroyed him, and his fortune went together with the Empire. In 1914 he conducted the very last Court Ball. He died penniless, the last of the original waltz kings, having produced little after 1915. Nevertheless he has kept his place in the hearts of the Viennese.
Some limited film footage and sound recordings were made, and a film of Ziehrer's life was produced by Willi Forst in 1949. Professor Max Schönherr, long-time conductor of the Vienna Radio Orchestra, arranger, composer, recording artist, and musicologist, published the largest ever dissertation on a light music composer in 1974, entitled Carl Michael Ziehrer, sein Werk, sein Leben, seine Zeit, an invaluable reference in the production of notes for this series. In 1952 he arranged a second posthumous operetta entitled Deutschmeisterkapelle (the first being Die Verliebte Eskadron, 1930 arranged by Karl Pauspertl) and during his lifetime played a major rôle in keeping Ziehrer's music alive. Today this rôle is maintained by the Ziehrer Stiftung (Foundation) who perform concerts and also make recordings. Ziehrer's legacy includes some six hundred dance pieces and marches, and 23 full-length operettas.
Although a lot of Ziehrer's dance music has appeared on recordings over the years, no recording exists, until now, that is entirely devoted to his operetta overtures. These provide a rich and varied repertoire and can be compared with similar compilations of overtures by Suppé and Johann Strauss. Furthermore, much of what is included are first ever recordings, a result of much research and restoration from the many archives of Vienna. For those that may notice the absence of some of Ziehrer's overtures such as Die Landstreicher, Liebeswalzer, and Fesche Geister (he wrote in total a known fifteen) it was considered to be of little incremental value to repeat them as other modern recordings already exist, thus allowing space for a more rewarding compilation that focuses on his other operettas.
[Track 1] Ball Bei Hof (Ball at the Court)
 Das dumme Herz (The Stupid Heart)
 Der bleiche Zauberer (The White Magician)
 Der Fremdenführer (The Tourist Guide)
 Der Schätzmeister (The Pawnbroker, or The Appraiser)
 Der schöne Rigo (The Charming Rigo)
 Die drei Wünsche (The Three Wishes)
 Manöverkinder (Children of the General)
 Ein Deutschmeister
 Ein tolles Mädel (Crazy Girl)
 König Jérôme (King Jerome)
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