About this Recording
8.223433 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 1

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 1


Like Johann Strauss, Emile Waldteufel came from a family of dance musicians, being preceded in the business by his father Louis (1801–84) and brother Léon (1832–84). Despite their Germanic surname, the family were French. This is explained by the fact that they hailed from Alsace, which despite strong German traditions had been fully integrated into France since 1793.

Emile Waldteufel was born in Strasbourg on 9 December 1837, just seven weeks after the elder Johann Strauss gave his first concert on French soil in that very city. When he was seven the family moved to Paris for Léonto take up a place as a violin Student at the Paris Conservatoire. Emile Waldteufel was tolive in Paris for the rest of his life, and he in turn studied piano at the Conservatoire from 1853 to 1857, his classmates there including Jules Massenet.

Meanwhile the family dance orchestra was becoming one of the best-known in Paris, increasingly in demand for Society balls during Napoleon III’s Second Empire. In 1865 Emile was appointed court pianist to the Empress Eugénie in succession to Joseph Ascher (composer of “Alice, where art thou?”), performing at Court functions not only in Paris but in Biarritz and Compiègne. From 1867 the Waldteufel orchestra played at Napoleon Ill’s magnificent Court balls at the Tuileries.

After the Franco-Prussian War the orchestra again presided at the Presidential balls at the Elysée. Yet so far Emile Waldteufel’s dances had been known only to a relatively limited Society audience. By the time international fame came he was almost forty. In 1874 he happened to be playing at a soirée attended by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. The Prince complimented him on his waltz Manolo and agreed to help launch his music in London.

The result was a long-term publishing contract with the London firm of Hopwood & Crew. Since the firm was half-owned by Charles Coote, director of Coote & Tinney’s Band, the premier London dance orchestra, this also gave access to the musical programmes of Queen Victoria’s State Balls at Buckingham Palace. For several years Emile Waldteufel’s music dominated the programmes there, generating him world-wide fame as he turned out a string of works that enjoyed huge popularity-including his best-known work Les Patineurs (“The Skaters’”) in 1882.

His French publisher Durand, Schoenewerk was now forced to buy the French rights to these works from Hopwood & Crew. So later did the German firm of Litolff, in whose editions the works sometimes appeared under slightly different German names. In addition, to suit Germanic custom, in 1883 Litolff retrospectively began an opus numbering system. This began at 101 to make arbitrary allowance for early works, and for various reasons many works were numbered out of chronological Sequence, thereby providing a source of much confusion ever Since.

In 1890 and 1891 Waldteufel conducted at the Paris Opéra Balls, and his orchestra continued to provide dance music for Presidential Balls, as well as for other Society functions, until 1899, when he retired. He continued to compose, but in a style that was already outdated. He died in Paris on 12 February 1915 at the age of 77. His wife, a former singer Célestine Dufau, whom he married in 1871 and by whom he had two sons and a daughter, had died the previous year.

Waldteufel was recognised as a good-natured person, with a ready sense of humour-characteristics that are readily perceivable in his music. Unlike the music of Johann Strauss, Waldteufel’s perhaps scales no great architectural heights, but rather seeks to enchant by the grace and charm of his melodies and their gentle harmonies. By comparison with Strauss’s very masculine creations, there is undoubtedly more of a feminine feel about Waldteufel’s waltzes. Unlike Strauss, he conducted with a baton rather than a violin bow, and he composed at the piano, his works being orchestrated later. The standard Waldteufel orchestration was for strings, double woodwind, two cornets, four horns, three trombones and ophicleide (or tuba), plus timpani and percussion.

After Waldteufel’s death his music continued to hold a place in the affections of ordinary music-lovers alongside that of Johann Strauss. The conductor of these recordings, Alfred Walter, recalls having a lot of Waldteufel’s music at his childhood home in Southern Bohemia—not only for piano but also in arrangements for piano trio which were played in his musical family. If in recent decades Emile Waldteufel’s music has been overshadowed by that of the Strausses, it is with correspondingly greater freshness that we are able to rediscover its grace and charm today.

The Works

Unfortunately Paris newspapers did not report the titles of dances played at Society balls. Thus the best available dating of Emile Waldteufel’s works comes from publication records and dates of registration with the French performing right society S.A.C.E.M. In the following notes, the original French titles are given, together with English translations and the titles under which the works were published in Germany.

Les Patineurs (“The Skaters”/“Die Schlittschuhläufer”), Valse, Op. 183 (1882)

In years before increasing urbanisation and industrialisation created any thought of global warming, ponds and rivers iced over far more commonly than today. Ice-skating was a popular pastime, and the Cercle des Patineurs in the Bois de Boulogne was a popular Parisian meeting place. The winter of 1879–80 was especially severe, and on 10 December 1879 Paris experienced a temperature of -25.6°C—the lowest-ever recorded there. The Seine froze over completely, and omnibuses and carriages had to operate on runners. It was against this background that, some two years later, Emile Waldteufel composed his most famous waltz, Les Patineurs. Of them all it is the one with the most obvious programmatic content. The introduction, anticipating the main theme, offers a sense of the sharpness and glitter of a wintry scene, with the flute and answering violin glissandi helping to give the impression of skaters trying out the ice. The main theme in turn presents a readily recognisable picture of skaters gliding around, after which they build up their confidence and try some daring leaps and falls. Then a sleigh, complete with sleigh-bells, arrives to complete the wintry scene. Waldteufel delivered the waltz to Hopwood & Crew on 27 July 1882, and it was published by them on 30 October 1882. He dedicated it to his friend Ernest Coquelin (1848–1909), the younger of two celebrated actor brothers of the Comédie Française.

Dans les bois (“In the Woods”/“Im Walde”), Polka-Mazurka, Op. 119 (1866)

Dating from the time when he was pianist to the Empress Eugénie and still enjoying only local fame, this delicate polka-mazurka was dedicated to Monsieur de Y. Goyena, who was possibly either a person at Court or one of Emile Waldteufel’s piano pupils.

Chantilly, Valse, Op. 171 (1879)

The town of Chantilly, 40 kilometres north of Paris, is famous for its castle, its racecourse and stables, its lace, and its whipped cream. Of these itis the beautiful castle, surrounded by artificial lakes, that is commemorated in Emile Waldteufel’s waltz. Former home of the Princes de Condé, it was destroyed in the Revolution but rebuilt in the late 1870s by its nineteenth-century owner, the Duc d’Aumale, son of King Louis-Philippe. The venture ultimately bankrupted the Duke, but meanwhile in July 1879 it was announced that the castle was completely restored, and that the Duke was going to sell his Paris mansion and live permanently at Chantilly. That was the background to this waltz, which was published in Paris at the end of that year with a beautiful portrait of the restored castle on its title page. Distinguished by its imposing brass introduction, the waltz carries a dedication to Madame Picatory-Trubert.

Dans tes yeux (“In Your Eyes”/“In Deinen Augen”), Valse, Op. 227 (1888)

Perhaps only the fact that by 1888 the Waldteufel craze had passed its peak has kept this waltz from being among the composer’s best-known, for it offers a delightfully varied set of waltz melodies that sustain the momentum quite splendidly. It was published in Paris in 1888 and introduced to London by Coote & Tinney’s Band at a State Ball at Buckingham Palace on 20 May 1890.

Jeu d’Esprit (“Witticism”), Polka, Op. 196 (1884)

In the composer’s most sprightly, witty style, and with prominent contributions forcornet, this polka was dedicated to another leading performer of the Comédie Française, Suzanne Reichemberg (1853–1924), who had performed on the Parisian stage with the composer’s actress cousin Octavie.

Bien aimés (“Well Loved”/“Ueber Alles”), Valse, Op. 143 (1875)

The particular significance of this waltz lies in the fact that it was dedicated to the Prince and Princess of Wales after the Prince had helped to introduce the composer’s work to London. It was on 2 September 1875 that the composer wrote asking for permission to dedicate the waltz to the Prince and Princess. Nine days later, the Prince’s Private Secretary, Francis Knollys, acknowledged that it will afford His Royal Highness, together with the Princess of Wales, great gratification to accept, adding that the Prince would be glad if you would be so good as to let him have the score of the waltz in question prepared for an orchestral bandy. The work was duly launched at the first State Ball of the 1876 season, at Buckingham Palace on 1 June. These origins explain the waltz’s unusually lengthy and stately introduction. However, the Waltz also deserves particular attention for an opening theme that, with its melodic rise and graceful flicks in the eleventh and twelfth bars, is one of the loveliest   that even this composer ever created.

Hommage aux dames (“Hommage to the Ladies”/“Frauenlob”), Valse, Ор. 153 (1878)

Again sporting an imposing processional introduction, this waltz dates from the early days of Emile Waldteufel’s international fame. Along with Les Sirènes, it was introduced to London at a State Ballat Buckingham Palace on 22 May 1878. By offering the composer’s portrait on the original piano edition, the London publishers offered his admirers a chance to see what their new idol looked like. The Waltz was dedicated to Madame de Girardin—presumably the estranged second wife of Emile de Girardin (1806–81), founder of La Presse.

Camarade (“Comrade”/“Kameraden-Polka”), Polka, Op. 197 (1884)

Distinguished by a delightfully tripping trio section, this polka was published in Paris in 1884. In November of the following year the composer conducted it in person during nightly appearances at a four-week season of Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden, London. The British sheet music, depicting soldiers around a camp-fire, clearly sees the title as referring to comrades-in-arms. However, the French edition, incorporating intertwined letters “E” and “A”, perhaps suggests a more personal comradeship between the composer and the work’s dedicatee, Enrique de Argaez, Secretary of the Paris Legation of the United States of Colombia (which at that time included Panama as well as present-day Colombia). Through his frequent engagements for ambassadorial balls, Emile Waldteufel had many friends within Paris embassies.

Estudiantina, Valse, Op. 191 (1883)

Besides his original compositions, Emile Waldteufel made many dance arrangements from currently popular songs and stage works. Thus it was that the publisher Enoch commissioned him to arrange a set of waltzes around a highly popular duet “Estudiantina” (“Band of Students”) composed by Paul Lacome (1838–1920). The actual song was sufficient for only the first one-and-a-half sections of Waldteufel’s waltz. However, since Lacome and his lyricist Comte J. de Lau Lusignan had made many French adaptations of Spanish popular songs(including an 1872 collection Echos d’Espagne), Waldteufel needed to go on further than Lacome to find some genuine Spanish songs to complete a four-part waltz with a consistently Spanish tang. The songs used in the various Waltz sections are: 1. “Estudiantina” (refrain); 2. “Estudiantina” (verse) and “Chanson d’automne” (another original Lacome composition); 3. “Jota de la Estudiantina” and “Tirana”; 4. “De Cadiz al Puerto and ”El Tripilio”. Lacome’s “Estudiantina” was published in December 1881, and Emile Waldteufel’s waltz in April 1883.

Andrew Lamb

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