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8.223438 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 2

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 2


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 Léon to take up a place as a violin student at the Paris Conservatoire. Emile Waldteufel was to live 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 III’s magnificent Court balls at the Tuileries.

After the Franco-Prussian War the orchestra again presided at the Presidential balls at the Élysée. 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.

Cans les nuages (“In the Clouds” / “In den Wolken”), Valse, Op. 208 (1886)

An appropriately ethereal introduction ushers in this unfamiliar waltz, which is marked by a typical sequence of Waldteufel waltz themes with some lovely instrumental interplay and rhythmic shifts along the way. As with so many of Emile Waldteufel’s works, the published edition carries a dedication to a Society lady—in this case the Comtesse de Kessler.

Retour des champs (“Return from the fields” / “Heimkehr vom Felde”), Polka, Op. 203 (1885)

This typically sprightly, piquantly scored polka, with its more expressive trio section, reflects the composer’s good-humoured nature and shows what delights are to be found outside his more familiar waltz tempo. The published edition, depicting a meadow of wild flowers, suggests no particular significance in the title beyond a suitably atmospheric picture. The polka was dedicated to the Comtesse de Rancy.

España, Valse, Op. 236 (1886)

Besides his original compositions, Waldteufel’s contract with Hopwood & Crew permitted him to make dance arrangements of other composers’ music for other publishers, and Estudiantina and España are merely the best-known of many such works. Without for a moment suggesting that Emmauel Chabrier needed any help from Emile Waldteufel, it is a fact that Chabrier’s rhapsody and Waldteufel’s waltz arrangement have shared popular acclaim for over a hundred years. It was in November 1883 that the rhapsody was published, and some two years later that Waldteufel made his waltz arrangement. Not only the themes are taken over, but also details of orchestration such as the distinctive whirring of the cellos in the second waltz section and the famous barking trombone theme in the fourth. At the same time, so skillfully are the melodies integrated that few realise that not all the material is from the rhapsody. Short of sufficient themes for the standard four two-part sections Waldteufel found material for the third section in a duet in Chabrier’s charming one-act operetta Une Éducation manquée (1879). The waltz arrangement of España was published in France in 1886, but Litolff’s belated acquisition of the German publishing rights resulted in the misleadingly high opus number.

Tout-Paris (“Fashionable Paris” / “Pariser-Walzer”), Valse, Op. 240 (1889)

Tout-Paris appeared in 1889 as the first of Emile Waldteufel’s works alter he followed up his 14-year contract with Hopwood & Crew with a new contract with the firm of Cranz & Co. The latter firm was then looking for a “big name” dance composer to replace Johann Strauss, who had just severed links with them after many years. 1889 was a particularly busy year for Waldteufel, including a visit to Berlin in October to conduct at six promenade concerts at the newly opened Königsbau concert hall. More particularly 1889 is remembered as the year of the Paris Exposition for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed. It may have been with the exposition in mind that this waltz obtained its title. It presents an elegant sequence of melodies with many delightful touches not least the delightful lento introduction, with its “man-about-town” feel. The waltz carries a dedication to Monsieur F.M. de Yturbe.

Fontaine lumineuse (“Bright Fountain” / “Uchtfontaine”), Valse, Op. 247 (1891)

After an appropriately bright start from the flutes, Fontaine lumineuse parades a typical sequence of Waldteufel waltz themes. The third waltz section is especially notable for some lovely flirtatious interchanges and hesitations, followed by an agitated string figure that has at least a passing similarity to the big waltz theme of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Registered with S.A.C.E.M. in February 1891, this waltz may have been introduced to the Parisian public during that year’s Carnival season. Emile Waldteufel was also then conducting at the Opera Balls—occasions of great revelry lasting from midnight practically until dawn. He had been appointed one of the two conductors for the 1890 season in succession to Jean-Baptiste Arban and Olivier Métra, both of whom had died in 1889. However, Waldteufel’s visit to Berlin in October 1889 had aroused a great deal of anti-German feeling and opposition to his appointment, and a change of management after the 1891 season led to him giving up the position.

Tout ou rien (“All or Nothing” / “Alles oder Nichts”), Polka, Op. 219 (1887)

Waldteufel’s contract in his later years with Hopwood & Crew provided for the supply of six waltzes and two polkas each year. Here is one of the latter, another spirited piece in which he again shows himself in sparkling form in polka tempo.

Je t’aime (“I Love You” / “Ich liebe Dich”), Valse, Op. 177 (1882)

At the time Je t’aime was composed, Emile Waldteufel was at the height of his international popularity. He was directing his orchestra at the major Parisian Society balls, including the Presidential Balls at the Élysée Palace, and at the same time was delivering one success after another to his publisher in London. Such indeed was the interest in Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes at the time in London that Hopwood & Crew were ablet to sell this waltz to the rival firm of Chappell & Co. The waltz opens with a distinctive introduction in march tempo, which gives way to a typical sequence of swaying, enchanting waltz themes marked by subtle variations of rhythmic and melodic shape. The waltz was dedicated to the Baroness de Alméda.

Ange d’amour (“Angel of Love” / “Liebesengel”), Valse, Op. 241 (1889)

In the case of Ange d’amour we are for once able to pinpoint the precise occasion for which the work was composed. On 25 January 1889 the Waldteufel orchestra performed at a soirée given by Monsieurand Madame Oyague, at their villa in the Avenue léna, to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Marguerite. Thus we may connect the occasion with this waltz, which carries a dedication to Marguerite Julie Oyague. The tenderness of the occasion is admirably captured in the introduction, but by the end Waldteufel has his audience swept up in the irresistible whirl of the dance.

Les Bohémiens (“The Bohemians” / “Zigeuner-Polka”), Polka, Op. 216 (1887)

Much more primitive in style than Waldteufel’s usual racy examples, this piece thereby evokes the polka’s origins as a country dance in Bohemia. The title page of the piano edition, depicting violin, tambourine and castanets in an open-air setting, suggests that the Bohemians of the title were gypsy musicians. In this context it is interesting to reflect that the composer’s own grandfather, Moïse Waldteufel (1769–1848), was an itinerant violinist in Alsace in the early years of the eighteenth century. Thus he was probably “le bohemian Waldteufel” referred to as leader of a group of musicians in the historical novel Histoire d’un conscrit de 1813 (1864) by Émile Erckmann and Pierre-Alexandre Chatrian.

Andrew Lamb

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