About this Recording
8.223692 - WALDTEUFEL: The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 11

Emile Waldteufel (1837–1915)
The Best of Emile Waldteufel, Vol. 11


Like Johann Strauss the elder, 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 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 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.

Waldteufel’s 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 Opera 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, the 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.

Retour du printemps (“Return of Spring”/ “Es muss doch Frühling werden”), Valse, Op. 244 (1890)

In 1889, after a fourteen-year association with the London publishing firm of Hopwood & Crew, Emile Waldteufel signed a new contract with the publishing company Cranz, which had recently lost its contract with the Waltz King, Johann Strauss. Among the works Emile Waldteufel composed in the first year of the new association was this lovely waltz Retour du printemps. Its wistful introduction prefaces a delightful succession of beautifully shaped and gently contrasted waltz sections after Waldteufel’s usual fashion. Rhythmically varied and elegantly melodic figures are subtly decked out with lighthearted string figures and bubbling woodwind interjections.

La cinquantaine (“The Half Century”/ “Joyeux Paris”/ “Jubel-Polka”), Polka, Op. 215 (1886)

Just what occasion is commemorated by the piquant little polka La cinquantaine is unclear, though it is possible that it was anticipatory of the composer’s own fiftieth birthday in December 1887. Waldteufel delivered it to the London firm of Hopwood & Crew in 1886, but the publisher was then finding the supply of Waldteufel dances exceeding demand. Though La cinquantaine was published by Durand & Schoenewerk in Paris in late 1886, it remained on the Hopwood & Crew shelves for many years. Not until 1901 did the London firm publish it, and then not under its original title but as Joyeux Paris (“Joyful Paris”). This may have owed something to the international popularity then enjoyed by another piece entitled La cinquantaine, the air in ancient style by Gabriel-Marie (1852–1928).

Papillons bleus (“Blue Butterflies”/ “Die Flatterhaften”), Valse, Op. 224 (1888)

If the decline in demand for Waldteufel’s new compositions during the 1880s was due mostly to simple changes of fashion, it may also have owed something to the tendency for his waltzes to follow something of a standard formula. Yet each had much to admire, as the waltz Papillons bleus amply demonstrates. As befits its title, the lightness of the principal waltz section and many of the succeeding themes perfectly conveys the impression of butterflies fluttering through the air. The section part of the second waltz section, in which rising violin quavers answer an insistent opening brass figure, is especially effective.

Tendresse (“Tenderness”/ “Die Zärtlichen”), Valse, Op. 217 (1887)

Perhaps even more than Papillons bleus, the waltz Tendresse demonstrates the delights that are awaiting rediscovery in Emile Waldteufel’s less familiar and unjustly neglected compositions. The sweeping second part of the first waltz section, marked confuoco, helps provide an effective contrast to the pervading mood of tenderness created by a delightful succession of beautiful melodies. Along with La cinquantaine, Tendresse was in Emile Waldteufel’s repertory when he conducted the balls of the Paris Opera in the early months of 1890.

Minuit (“Midnight”/ “Mitternachts-Polka”), Polka, Op. 168 (1880)

The marvellously piquant Minuit is one of the very best of Emile Waldteufel’s polkas, with a bewitching succession of melodies and an engaging rhythmic build-up. Moreover it transcends its rhythmic format to become something of a miniature tone poem. At two points in the score, Waldteufel incorporates the sound of midnight striking (first in the central trio section, and then again at the very end), thereby symbolizing one of the important points of the Parisian Society Balls at which he made his reputation. At the Tuileries Palace during Napoleon III’s Second Empire, midnight was the witching-hour when formalities eased and lovers kept assignations beneath one or another of the busts of the Marshals of France that adorned the Salle des Maréchaux. There is certainly an air of excitement and anticipation in the music as midnight starts to sound in the distance just before the broad melody of the trio returns. The polka was dedicated to Mme Emanuel Bocher, who was probably either a lady at Court or one of Emile Waldteufel’s piano pupils.

Tendres baisers (“Tender Kisses” / “Kuss-Walzer”), Valse, Op. 211 (1887)

Another waltz from the later stages of the second contract with Hopwood & Crew that deserves to be much better known is Tendres baisers. An imposing maestoso introduction prefaces a sequence of particularly sparkling Waldteufel waltz melodies with a marvellous cumulative swing.

Autrefois (“Formerly”/ “Aus schöner Zeit”), Op. 167 (1880)

Whereas most of the waltzes in this collection date from somewhat after the period of Emile Waldteufel’s greatest success, Autrefois dates from 1880, when his popularity was at its height. Composed, like so many others, to meet the terms of his contract with the London firm of Hopwood & Crew, this example received its first London performance at the annual wedding anniversary ball of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), which was held at Marlborough House on 10th March, 1880. (Coincidentally, the polka Minuit was first heard in London on that very same occasion.) Autrefois has some particularly effective pieces of scoring, especially those that bring the piece to its brilliant conclusion. The waltz carries a dedication to the Vicomtesse de Courval, the former Princess Bibesco.

Près de toi (“Near to Thee”/ “Bei Dir”), Valse, Op. 193 (1883)

Another unjustly neglected product of Emile Waldteufel’s second contract with the London publisher Hopwood & Crew, Près de toi has one of his more unusual and most seductive main themes. After delivery to Hopwood & Crew in September 1883, the waltz was first published in Paris early in 1884. Like several other Waldteufel waltzes, it was introduced to London not at a Society ball but as a ballet in a stage show. The show in question was the pantomime Aladdin, which opened at London’s Drury Lane Theatre on Boxing Night, 26th December 1886. The published edition carries a dedication to Madame Edouard André.

Jean qui pleure et Jean qui rit (“John weeping and John laughing” / “Weinender Hans und lachender Hans”), Polka burlesque, Op. 106 (1861)

By way of complete contrast with the pieces from Emile Waldteufel’s maturity, the programme ends with one from the very early days of his career, when Emile was finding his way in the family dance music business run by his father Louis and elder brother Léon. Since they were both violinists, Emile’s rôle was often that of pianist at intimate soirées rather than performing at major Society balls. Jean qui pleure et Jean qui rit is described as a burlesque polka, and its title depicts the traditional contrasts of tragedy and comedy; tears and chuckles may be detected in the music. It is interesting to note that the piece dates from three years before Offenbach’s somewhat similarly titled one-act operetta Jeanne qui pleure et Jean qui rit (“Crying Jane and Laughing John”). The polka’s dedicatee, Comte Henri de Fleurieu, was doubtless a member of the Emperor Napoleon III’s Society circle. Only during the 1880s was the opus number added when the German publishing rights were acquired by the publisher Litolff. For this recording, Christian Pollack has orchestrated the polka from the piano edition.

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

(Fullers Wood Press, 1995)

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