FRANZ VON SUPPE (1819 - 1895)
The composer Franz von Suppé, the possessor of an imposing string of names and titles as Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli, was born in the Dalmatian town of Spalato (the modern Split) in 1819. His father, a civil servant in the service of the Austrian Empire like his father before him, was of remoter Belgian origin, his mother Viennese by birth. Suppé made his career chiefly in Vienna. As a boy he had no encouragement in music from his father, but was helped by a local bandmaster and by the Spalato cathedral choirmaster. His Missa dalmatica dates from this early period. Following his father’s wishes, he studied law in Padua, while pursuing his musical interests privately, particularly during visits to Milan, where he heard operas by Rossini, Donizetti and the young Verdi and met the composers. The death of his father in 1835 led to removal with his mother to Vienna, to the home of her parents.
In Vienna Suppé attempted courses at the Polytechnic and at the University School of Medicine, before deciding on music as a profession. He now took lessons from Ignaz von Seyfried and Simon Sechter, representatives of an earlier age of Viennese classicism, paying his way by giving Italian lessons, and in 1840 started unpaid work as a theatre conductor at the Theater in der Josefstadt, then under Franz Pokorný, who was also associated with theatres in Baden, Ödenburg (now Sopron) and Pressburg (the modern Bratislava), spending the years from 1842 to 1844 in the last of these. His first stage success came in 1841 with the comedy with songs Jung lustig, im Alter traurig oder Die Folgen der Erziehung (‘Happy in Youth, Sad in Old Age or The Consequences of Education’). Earlier Italian operas, Virginia in 1837 and Gertrude della valle composed in 1841 and shown to his visiting distant kinsman Donizetti, remained unperformed, but from 1844 he was entrusted also with the direction of Italian operas. These years were busy, allowing him to write a number of scores for the Josefstadt Theater and the other theatres, to conduct, and, in Ödenburg in 1842, to appear as a singer, taking the part of Dulcamara in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In 1845 he moved to the Theater an der Wien, Emanuel Schikaneder’s old theatre, now acquired by Pokorný. Here he remained for the next seventeen years, working at first with Lortzing and, after 1848, with Adolf Müller. These years saw the composition of a number of successful theatre pieces, Singspiel, operas and plays with songs, as well as a Requiem for Franz Pokorný in 1855.
It was in 1860, with his two-act operetta Das Pensionat for Pokorný’s son Alois, that Suppé first embarked on the genre of Viennese operetta at the Theater an der Wien. Two years later, with Alois Pokorný’s bankruptcy, he became conductor at the Kaitheater, later destroyed by fire, moving then to the Carltheater with the actor-manager Carl Treumann. It was here above all that he established his reputation as a composer of light opera, from Das Corps der Rache (‘The Revenge Corps’) in 1864 to Das Modell, left incomplete at his death in 1895, but staged in the same theatre six months later in a version finished by others. Suppé had retired from the theatre in 1882, his unassailable position in the world of Viennese operetta recognized the previous year by the freedom of the city.