About this Recording
8.223451 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 5

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 5


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.

Waldteufel appeared in London in 1885 and Berlin in 1889, and in 1890 and 1891 he conducted at the Paris Opéra Balls. 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 his style was by then outdated. He died in Paris on 12th February 1915 at the age of 77. His wife, a former singer Célestine Dufau, whom he married in 1873 and who bore him 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.

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 copyright collecting agency 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.

Pomone (“Pomona” / “Herbstweisen”), Valse, Op. 155 (1877)

One of the most majestic and successful of all Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes, Pomone dates from the period when his reputation was being established around the world. As usual, we do not know precisely when it was first heard in Paris, but we know that it was introduced to London—along with Toujours ou jamais—by Coote & Tinney’s Band at the Prince and Princess of Wales’s wedding anniversary ball at Marlborough House on 21st March 1878. Pomona was an Italian goddess of tree-fruits such as apples (hence the word “pommes”), who was pursued by Vertumnus, god of the ripening fruits of autumn. The autumnal country atmosphere is admirably captured in the introduction, which is in Ländler tempo, but the waltz proper has a particularly broad melodic sweep. This is especially true of the second part of the third waltz section, which is marked “grandioso” and which is repeated fortissimo in the coda to bring the waltz to an especially exhilarating conclusion. The work bears a dedication to the Comtesse Raphael Cahen d’Anvers.

Souveraine (“Sovereign”), Mazurka, Op. 255 (1893)

Providing a contrast with the broad sweep of the waltz is the delicacy of the gentle Souveraine Mazurka. It was one of a group of dances published by the firm of Cranz in the early 1890s after Emile Waldteufel’s contract with Hopwood & Crew had come to an end. It was registered with S.A.C.E.M. on 6th April 1893.

Amour et printemps (“Love and Spring” / “Liebe und Frühling”), Valse (1880)

Always one of the most popular of Emile Waldteufel’s compositions in his native France, Amour et printemps has enjoyed renewed popularity in modern times from being used as signature tune of French television’s Ciné-Club. That it is much less well-known elsewhere is probably because it does not form part of the main body of waltzes that originate from the Hopwood & Crew contract. Emile Waldteufel himself told how the piece came about:- At the time when I had... an exclusive contract with Coote & Chappell [proprietors of Hopwood & Crew], the London publishers, I received a visit from a M.X., who proposed to buy from me a vocal waltz at a substantial price, for England. I pointed to my contract, and he wrote to Messrs Coote & Chappell offering them adequate recompense. They accepted, and the gentleman returned to me. “Does smoke trouble you?” he said to me. “No, sir”. “In that case, I am going to smoke a cigar, and you are going to compose this waltz”. I had to sit myself at the piano, the inspiration was a happy one, and I wrote Amour et printemps. The result is atypical of a Waldteufel waltz in various ways. Not only was it was designed as a vocal piece (though it is most often heard orchestrally, as here), but it has only the briefest of introductions, after which the waltz proper has only two, rather than the usual four, sections. Most particularly the piece possesses a more rustic flavour than the typically refined Waldteufel waltz. With its off-the-beat main melody, it seems to breathe the air of Montmartre rather than that of the grand boulevards. It was dedicated to Mme Valère Raspaud.

Sous la voûte étoilée (“Under the Starry Canopy” / “Himmelsaugen”), Valse, Op. 253 (1892)

By contrast with the rousing waltzes of the 1870s, Emile Waldteufel’s later works tend to have a more restful nature about them. Such is the case with Sous la voute étoilée, notwithstanding that it works up to a bold conclusion. It is another of the works deriving from the publishing contract with Cranz. Showing no diminution in the composer’s ability to create a string of melodically engaging, rhythmically varied waltzes, it was registered with S.A.C.E.M. on 2nd June 1892.

Les Folies (“Acts of Folly” / “Tolle Streiche”), Polka, Op. 157 (1878)

The Les Folies polka bears a dedication to Monsieur Prevet, solo cornettist of the Garde de Paris, which explains why it is somewhat in the form of a miniature cornet concerto. It begins with a lengthy introduction, in which the soloist is given a chance to show off his lyrical abilities, after which his agility is put to the rest in the spirited polka proper.

Mello, Valse, Op. 123 (1866)

One of Emile Waldteufel’s earliest successes, the waltz Mello was composed when he was still in his twenties and not yet in charge of dance music at the Imperial Balls. A brief ceremonial introduction in march tempo is followed by a principal theme using typically simple, direct phrases, and by later sections marked by contrasts of rhythm and dynamics and gentle harmonic colouring. The work takes its title from Mello Castle, country residence of its dedicatee, the Princesse de Sagan. Situated some fifty-odd kilometres due north of Paris, it stands high above the road in the Thérain valley in the hunting country between Chantilly and Beauvais. The Princesse de Sagan was one of the most beautiful and extravagant ladies of French Society, and a close friend of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) on his visits to France. It was at Mello Castle in October 1874 that Emile Waldteufel was introduced to the Prince, leading to his London publishing contract and international success.

Dolorès, Valse, Op. 170 (1880)

Of all Emile Waldteufel’s lovely waltzes, Dolorès is one of the loveliest, with its colourfully orchestrated, rhythmically varied sequence of ravishingly beautiful melodies. There are numerous Spanish touches, in particular the dreamy pseudo-guitar serenade of the introduction, the “twangy” second part of the first waltz section, the rhythmically exhilarating first part of the fourth waltz section, and various linking passages in the finale. The lovely arioso theme of the second part of the fourth waltz section is especially enchanting. Curiously, despite having a Spanish woman’s name for title, the waltz did not have a Spanish dedicatee. Madame Ferdinand Bischoffsheim was an American who had been introduced to Paris Society at the Tuileries Balls of the 1860s under her maiden name of Emile Payne and whose Paris salon became one of the most celebrated of the time.

Mon rêve (“My Dream” / “Mein Traum”), Valse, Op. 151 (1877)

Mon rêve is yet another waltz that might justifiably challenge for the accolade of being the finest Waldteufel waltz of all. In addition to the way in which it builds up progressively from its beautifully dreamy introduction to the superb melodic sweep of the coda, the delicacy of the orchestration is particularly striking. Dating, like Pomone, from Waldteufel’s most inventive period, it was dedicated to Mme Michel Ephrussi, a member of a Parisian banking family.

Grand vitesse (“High Speed” / “Eilgut”), Galop, Op. 146 (1876)

Over a century before France had its TGV (“train à grand vitesse”), Emile Waldteufel produced the exhilarating galop Grand vitesse,a portrayal of nineteenth-century high speed that provides an exhilarating finale to this, as to many another, Waldteufel programme.

Andrew Lamb
Author of Skaters’ Waltz: the Story of the Waldteufels (1995)

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