About this Recording
8.223687 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 9

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 9


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 their German ancestry and 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 9th 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 his brother 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 Compiegne. 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 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 October 1874 he happened to be playing at a soirée attended by the Prince of Wales, the future King 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.

Violettes (“Violets” / “Frühlingskinder”), valse, Op. 148 (1876)

Violettes was one of the earliest of the fine waltzes to emerge from Emile Waldteufel’s first long-term contract with the London publisher Hopwood & Crew. After a typically solemn introduction, it offers a varied sequence of themes making up the usual four two-part sections, followed by a coda recapitulating the main themes. The first theme of the third section and the leggierissimo quaver sequence of the coda are particularly lovely. Violettes was in the forefront of the waltzes that spread Emile Waldteufel’s reputation far afield, being especially appreciated in America, where the impresario Rudolf Aronson introduced it at his Metropolitan Concert Hall in New York. In Germany it gained currency under the title of Frühlingskinder (literally “Children of Spring"). The waltz’s popularity was such that it was still in Emile Waldteufel’s repertory when he was appointed conductor of the Paris Opéra Balls in 1890. The published edition carries a dedication to Mlle. Magdaleine Davillier Regnaud of St Jean d’Angely.

Rococo-polka, Op. 232 (1888)

For this jolly little polka Emile Waldteufel appropriately provided a flavour of the highly ornamented eighteenth-century rococo style. The piece was among the final products of his second contract with Hopwood & Crew, which ran from 1881 to 1888.

Ma charmante (“My charming lady”), valse, Op. 166 (1879)

During Emile Waldteufel’s publishing contract with Hopwood & Crew, the firm sometimes sold waltzes on to London other publishers. Such was the case with Ma charmante, published by Enoch in 1879. Charm appropriately pervades the piece right from its introduction, and one may assume that this was a personal characteristic possessed by its dedicatee, Madame Marie-Antoinette Girard. The bubbling instrumental interplay in the scherzando first theme of the second section is especially beguiling.

Dans les champs (“In the Fields”/ “In Feld und Flur”), polka-mazurka, Op. 125 (1868)

By the late 1860s the Waldteufel family orchestra had established itself at Second Empire Balls in the opulent surroundings of the Tuileries Palace. In addition Emile Waldteufel was customarily invited to perform as pianist at the intimate house-parties held each autumn by Napoléon Ill at the castle of Compiègne in hunting country to the north of Paris. According to his inscription on the autograph piano score of this charming polka-mazurka, it was at Compiègne on 30th November 1868 that he completed it and dedicated to Baron Tristan Lambert, who was presumably one of the house-guests. Waldteufel’s original orchestral autograph score also survives, albeit in incomplete form. From it Christian Pollack has created the orchestral material for this recording.

The Grenadiers, Valse militaire, Op. 207 (1886)

In November 1885 Emile Waldteufel appeared in London to tumultuous acclaim at a series of Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden Theatre, conducting just four of his compositions each evening of the four-week season. He struck up a friendship with Dan Godfrey (1831–1903), Bandmaster of the Grenadier Guards, who played at some of the season’s concerts, and this inspired one of his finest waltzes. This was issued in London with the English title The Grenadiers, but in France and Germany was published simply as Valse militaire. Some of its themes could equally well belong to any of Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes, but the military bearing of its introduction and its brash principal theme set it apart from the normal suave Waldteufel creation. Altogether there is a marvellous swing to the waltz, and it has justly survived as an all-time Waldteufel favourite.

La Fauvette du Temple (“The Songbird of the Temple”), valse (1886)

Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes Estudiantina and España using themes by Lacome and Chabrier respectively, were far from the only ones he was commissioned by publishers to arrange from other composers’ themes. Here we have a waltz arrangement of music from La Fauvette du Temple, an opéra-comique produced at the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatiques in Paris on 17th November 1885. It was the first full stage work of André Messager (18531929), and already it shows the grace and elegance that typifies the music of that composer. It was a military operetta concerning army conscripts from the Temple district of Paris. The story tells of a singer who follows her lover to war in Algeria where she falls into (and ultimately escapes from) the clutches of an amorous sheik. Emile Waldteufel’s waltz arrangement was dedicated to Juliette Simon Girard (1859–1954), leading lady of this as of many other French operettas of the time.

Térésa (“Antoinette”), valse, Op. 133 (1864)

In Térésa we are offered a rare opportunity to sample one of the earliest of Emile Waldteufel’s waltzes, published when he was 26 and still known only within the confines of Parisian Second Empire Society as pianist and director of small instrumental ensembles at Society occasions. The Ländler-like introduction is typical of the more ambitious introductions he favoured at the time, and it is followed by a delightfully varied sequence of themes of which the swirling quaver theme of the third waltz section is especially captivating. The original edition carries a dedication to Madame José Hurtado de Amazega, evidently one of the Spanish Society ladies who populated the Society occasions of the Emperor Napoleon Ill and his Spanish Empress Eugénie. The waltz was published in England under the title Antoinette.

Louis Waldteufel: La Malle-Post (“The Mail-Coach”/ “Die Schnell-Post”), galop (1852)

Though Emile Waldteufel’s international fame soon eclipsed that of his father Louis and elder brother Léon, his father’s music especially does not deserve complete neglect. Louis’s dance beginnings were in Strasbourg during the 1830s, after which he graduated to performing for Society occasions in Paris. The delightfully racy galop La Malle-post seems to have been the first of his dances to be published not just in France but also in Germany and England. It was composed for the appearance of the Waldteufel orchestra at a glittering ball at the Prussian Embassy in Paris in May 1852. Repeated several times during the evening, it was dedicated to the ambassador’s wife, the Comtesse de Hatzfeldt. Intriguingly Louis re-used the trio of his earlier Grand galop du chemin de fer (included in Volume 8 of this series). Since none of Louis Waldteufel’s works is known to have survived in orchestral form, the piece has been orchestrated for this recording by Christian Pollack.

Andrew Lamb, Author of Skaters’ Waltz: the Story of the Waldteufels

(Fullers Wood Press, 1995)

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