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8.557048 - Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol. 3
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Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol

Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol. 3

 

Musical Reminiscences of the Good Old Days

 

The expression “The good old days” awakens a variety of quite disparate associations. It would seem to be almost impossible to link such a vague concept to a specific historical context, and yet a point of reference can be found in which there is a convergence of many factors involving both time and place. The popular sectors of both literature and films soon latched on to the period in question, because of its characteristic life style: this was the Austria of the Royal and Imperial Danube monarchy of the Hapsburgs, the kingdom of the almost legendary Emperor Franz Joseph with his capital, Vienna.

 

Much would have to be corrected in the picture of the period, which memory has transformed, if it were a question of historical accuracy, but it must be admitted that there were also many factual starting points to hand from which to develop the later idealisation: the lively mixture of peoples, whose co-existence could never be totally standardised; an economy that only to a limited extent was subjected to the pressures of modern industrialisation; and an ambivalence towards the military that attached almost greater importance to the smartness of the uniform than to the efficiency of the unit - to take only three examples. It was a life that went along its own way, always accompanied by its own characteristic music.

 

The armies of the empire that came to an end in 1918 are remembered more for their marches than for their victories. A leading composer of older Austrian military music was Julius Fucˇik (1872-1916), who was born in Prague and from 1897 was active, principally in Budapest, as a bandmaster. The Florentine March, written in 1907, is among his best known works, its fame perhaps only exceeded by his Entry of the Gladiators of 1899. Karel Komzák (1850-1905) was also born in Prague and earned his living as a military bandmaster. In his many compositions he often collaborated with his father, who bore the same name, so that it is only rarely possible to make a definite attribution. His Storm Galop takes as sly a slant on the army as the Devil’s March of the great Vienna operetta composer Franz von Suppé (1819-1895), who bore the resonant Italian names of Francesco Ezechiele Ermengildo Cavaliere Suppe Demelli.

 

It would nevertheless be rather one-sided to think of Viennese music as only marches. What then of Johann Strauss and Viennese operetta? Yet, so that it is not always Johann, his brother Josef (1827-1870) is represented here by his polka-mazurka The Dragon-Fly. For the colourfulness of Viennese operetta there were, in any case, a number of other composers. Among these is Richard Heuberger (1850-1914), who was trained as an engineer, but later became a music critic and finally a composer, who, with his very successful Adventure of a New Year Night (1896) and Opera Ball, belongs completely to the nineteenth century, as does Oscar Straus (1870-1954). The latter was typically Viennese (his operetta Waltz Dream, from which Leise, ganz leise comes, had its first performance in 1907), yet he was also very successful in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

By 1938 the “good old days” in Austria were a thing of the past. After the establishment of the National Socialist Greater Germany there was no further place for tolerant co-existence. Oscar Straus had to emigrate to France and then to the United States, like the Hungarian-born Emre Kálmán (1882-1953). In 1915 Kálmán had provided his native country with a musical monument in The Csárdás Princess; another followed in 1925 with Countess Maritsa. Among those who emigrated from Vienna was also Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), who took American citizenship in 1943. The great violin virtuoso was also increasingly known as the supposed arranger of older pieces, as with his three Old Viennese Melodies, Schön Rosmarin, Liebesleid and Liebesfreud. It was in 1935 that it became known that Kreisler had simply composed his so-called arrangements in the style of earlier times.

 

Other countries too had their “good old days”. The England of Queen Victoria can be compared to the era of the Emperor Franz Joseph. Her later years were marked by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), now regarded as the most important British composer between Purcell and Benjamin Britten. His numerous symphonic and choral works have still not found the wide popularity of his early light music, notably Salut d’amour. The particular ambivalence of the salon music of the period is exemplified in this work. Thoroughly typical of Elgar, perhaps with a subtle British accent, it has a French title, a sign of its reference to that country and to the international nature of middle class culture. The then leading composers of French music had long lost much of their former importance. That some of their compositions have actually survived is not least owing to the work of gifted arrangers. The somewhat overblown opera Thaïs, first performed in Paris in 1894, is as rightly forgotten as Jocelyn, which had its première in Brussels in 1888. Without the latter’s Berceuse, known in the 1920s and 1930s in numerous arrangements, the name of Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) would be forgotten. Only slightly better in standing is Jules Massenet (1842-1912), after Bizet the leading figure in French opera in the later nineteenth century. One or other of his many operas may be given here or there, but real popularity remains only for a short extract from Thaïs, an idyllic violin solo with the title Méditation.

 

Konrad Dussel

 

English version by Keith Anderson


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