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8.223441 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 3

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 3


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.

Soirée d’été (“Summer Evening” / “Ein Sommerabend”), Valse, Op. 188 (1883)

This appropriately sunny, airy waltz was dedicated to Madame Morton, who was probably a member of Parisian Society during the years of the French Third Republic.

Invitation à la gavotte (“Invitation to the Gavotte”), Op. 246 (1891)

Emile Waldteufel’s dance compositions were mostly confined to waltzes and polkas. This piece in gavotte rhythm, dedicated by the composer to his friend Paul Mathey, is therefore something of an oddity in his output. Since it was registered with the French performing right society S.A.C.E.M. in February 1891, it may well have been introduced at one of that year’s Carnival balls. In 1937 it was included in a programme introduced by the composer’s son Henri for the BBC in London to celebrate the centenary of the composer’s birth.

Les Sirènes (“The Sirens” / “Sirenenzauber”), Valse, Op. 154 (1878)

The legend of the sirens who enticed unwary seafarers with their enchanting music has long fascinated composers and artists. Emile Waldteufel’s evocation has justly remained one of his most popular waltzes. Indeed, of all Waldteufel’s waltzes, this was the one that had the greatest initial success in Britain, the piano edition far outselling other Waldteufel titles. The whole waltz is full of enchantment, with a haunting siren’s call in the introduction and a main theme that is of interest for using the same rhythm as for the opening themes of Les Patineurs and Acclamations. The waltz was first published in London in 1878 and introduced there, together with Hommage aux dames, at a State Ball at Buckingham Palace on 22 May 1878. It is dedicated to the composer’s friend Louis Dufour, who in 1874 had succeeded Olivier Métra as musical director at Montmartre’s leading dance-hall, the Élysée-Montmartre in the Boulevard de Rochechouard. Dufour was to achieve a sort of immortality not only through this dedication but also by being depicted, with baton raised, directing the music for a quadrille in Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s drawing “Le Quadrille de la Chaise Louis XIII a l’Élysée-Montmartre”.

Ma Voisine (“My Neighbour” / “Meine Nachbarin”), Polka, Op. 206 (1886)

This charming polka is indeed a jolly piece that oozes good neighbourliness. The neighbour of the title is, of course, female, but the published edition gives no clue to what human story may lie behind its composition. However, it is tempting to link it with the story of how the composer and his future wife first met in the 1860s. According to their son Henri, they were occupying humble rooms on opposite sides of a narrow street in Montmartre. One day Emile heard the most exquisite notes carolling out from the other side of the street. His wife-to-be was practising and, as the days went on, Emile found that she had no piano to practise on, but only a tuning fork. Without showing himself—at least in the beginning—he set himself to accompany her, picking up on his piano the operatic airs that floated out of one window into the other.

Les Sourires (“The Smiles” / “Holdes Lscheln”), Valse, Op. 187 (1883)

This lovely waltz proved particularly popular at State Balls at Buckingham Palace in the 1880s, and the composer himself conducted it at Covent Garden on the opening night of his season there in November 1885. Of that occasion the Daily Chronicle reported: “Les Sourires was never given with greater verve than last night in obedience to his baton. Applause long and loud followed the finely balanced melody with its graceful adornments in orchestral effects”. The key to the title lies in its dedication to “Madame Maurice Ephrussi, née de Rothschild”. She was Charlotte Beatrix de Rothschild (1864–1934), second daughter of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827– 1905), head of the Paris branch of the famous banking family. The waltz evidently aims to capture the smiles of joy associated with her marriage to Maurice Ephrussi, a member of another banking family. Emile Waldteufel was often to be found presiding at the splendid balls of the Rothschilds at their grand mansion, the former home of the Prince de Talleyrand in the Rue St Florentin, overlooking the Place de la Concorde.

Pluie de diamants / Pluie d’or (“Golden Rain” / “Goldregen”), Valse, Op.160 (1879)

The original title of this waltz was apparently Pluie de diamants, which means not only “diamond rain” but also a “shower of diamonds” such as might be found suspended from a lady’s neck at any elegant Parisian ball. In London, however, the title was changed to Pluie d’or (“Golden Rain”), which for British minds has given it associations with fireworks. The British title was in turn translated into German when the work was published by Litolff. Whether associated with jewels or fireworks, the work begins with a suitably dazzling kaleidoscopic display in polonaise rhythm, prefacing another of the best-known and most truly inspired of all Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes. The work carries a dedication to the Baroness Hoffmann.

Très jolie (“Very Pretty” / “Ganz allerliebst”), Valse, Op. 159 (1878)

Yet another of the very finest Waldteufel waltzes from the years of his great international success, this develops quite splendidly, with the cumulative effect of the inflections of rhythm and dynamics building up an irresistible climactic sweep. Note especially the third waltz section, in which the violins flirt deliciously with the trombones, and the broadening of melody in the fourth waltz section, where dotted minims make up 29 of 30 consecutive bars of the 32-bar trio. The work carries a dedication to Vicomtesse Léonie de Chabrol.

La Cinquantaine / Joyeux Paris (“Merry Paris” / “Jubel-Polka”), Polka, Op. 215 (1886)

As with Pluie de diamants, this most sprightly and agreeable polka has a curious history of name-changes. It was published in Paris in 1886 under the title La Cinquantaine, which means “the fifty (or so)”—though just what this referred to is unclear. In London, Hopwood & Crew retained the piece unpublished for many years until, in 1901, they finally issued it under the revised title of Joyeux Paris (“Merry Paris”). The name change may simply have been to appeal better to the public, but it may also have been to avoid comparisons with the popular “air in ancient style” La Cinquantaine by Gabriel Marie. This had been published in Paris in December 1887—curiously the month of Waldteufel’s own fiftieth birthday!

Tout en rose (“Through Rose-Coloured Spectacles” / “In bester Laune”), Valse, Op. 200 (1885)

By comparison with the three everlastingly popular Waldteufel waltzes heard earlier in the programme, this has long been unjustly neglected and thus provides a correspondingly refreshing conclusion to the programme. It was dedicated to Mademoiselle Marie Durrieu.

Andrew Lamb

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