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8.553935 - SUPPE: Famous Overtures

Franz von Suppé (1819 -1895)
Famous Overtures

The composer Franz Suppé, the possessor of an imposing string of names and title as Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli, was born in the Dalmatian town of Spalato (the modern Split) in 1819. His father, a civil servant in the service of the Austrian Empire like his father before him, was of remoter Belgian origin, his mother Viennese by birth. Suppé made his career chiefly in Vienna. As a boy he had no encouragement in music from his father, but was helped by a local bandmaster and by the Spalato cathedral choirmaster. His Missa dalmatica dates from this early period. Following his father's wishes, he studied law in Padua, while pursuing his musical interests privately, particularly during visits to Milan, where he heard operas by Rossini, Donizetti and the young Verdi and met the composers. The death of his father in 1835 led to removal with his mother to Vienna, to the home of her parents. Here he attempted courses at the Polytechnic and in the University School of Medicine, before deciding on music as a profession. He now took lessons from Ignaz von Seyfried and Simon Sechter, representatives of an earlier age of Viennese classicism, paying his way by giving Italian lessons, and in 1840 started unpaid work as theatre conductor at the Theater in der Josefstadt, then under Franz Pokorný, who was also associated with theatres in Baden, Ödenburg (now Sopron) and Pressburg (the modern Bratislava), spending the years from 1842 to 1844 in the last of these. His first stage success came in 1841 with the comedy with songs Jung lustig, im Alter traurig oder Die Folgen der Erziehung (‘Happy in Youth, Sad in Old Age or The Consequences of Education’). Earlier Italian operas, Virginia written in 1837 and Gertrude della valle, composed in 1841 and shown to his visiting distant kinsman Donizetti, remained unperformed, but from 1844 he was entrusted also with the direction of Italian operas. These years were busy, allowing him to write a number of scores for the Josefstadt Theater and the other theatres, to conduct and, in Ödenburg in 1842, to appear as a singer, taking the part of Dulcamara in Donizetti's L'elisir

d'amore. In 1845 he moved to the Theater an der Wien, Schikaneder's old theatre, now acquired by Pokorný. Here he remained for the next seventeen years, working at first with Lortzing and, after 1848, with Adolf Müller. These years saw the composition of a number of successful theatre pieces, Singspiel, operas and plays with songs, as well as a Requiem for Franz Pokorný in 1855.

It was in 1860, with his two act operetta Das Pensionat for Pokorný's son Alois, that Suppé first embarked on the genre of Viennese operetta at the Theater an der Wien. Two years later, with Alois Pokorný's bankruptcy, he became conductor at the Kaitheater, later destroyed by fire, moving then to the Carltheater with the actor-manager Carl Treumann. It was here, above all, that he established his reputation as a composer of light opera, from Das Corps der Rache (‘The Revenge Corps’) in 1864 to Das Modell, left incomplete at his death in 1895, but staged in the same theatre six months later in aversion finished by others. He had retired from the Carltheater in 1882, after the failure of Das Herzblättchen (‘The Sweetheart’), which he blamed on the production. His position in the world of Viennese operetta had been recognised the previous year by the freedom of the city. Operetta in Vienna owed much to the influence of the younger Johann Strauss, but Suppé brought to the task a much longer experience of the theatre and, it might be suggested, wider musical experience from his early background. Never entirely losing his Italian accent, he brought to Austrian operetta an Italian gift of vocal melody, with a sure technical command of the resources of composition. He may be regarded as the creator of Viennese operetta, although his invention may have begun to fail in his later years, when a hostile Viennese critic remarked that his music was not the heady wine of Strauss but a Dalmatian Suppé (soup).

The operetta Die schöne Galatea (‘Fair Galatea’), was first performed at Meysel's in Berlin in June 1865. The libretto by Poly Henrion, the pen-name of Kohl von Kohlenegg, deals with the subject of Pygmalion, who created a beautiful statue, Galatea, brought to life by the intercession of Venus. In the operetta Galatea proves so troublesome, wooed by the rich Mydas and flirting with Pygmalion's servant Ganymede, that he prays for her to be turned again to stone. His prayer is answered and the statue is sold to Mydas, who had first set his heart on acquiring it. The sparkling overture, hinting at the drama to come, is among the more familiar. The satirical-mythological story is akin to the popular Offenbach excursions into this territory in Orphée aux enfers and La belle Helene.

Leichte Kavallerie (‘Light Cavalry’), a comic operetta in two acts, with a text by C. Costa, was first staged at the Carltheater on 21st March 1866. The overture opens with a fanfare, echoed, before launching into the familiar music of sparkle and brilliance.

Fatinitza, an operetta in three acts, based on La circasienne of Eugène Scribe, set by Auber, has a text by Zell and Genée, two of the most distinguished collaborators in the genre of operetta. Zell was the pseudonym of Camillo Walzel, who had spent seventeen years as a captain with the Danube Steamship Company, after a varied earlier career. He was artistic director from 1884 to 1889 at the Theater an der Wien, where Richard Genée was conductor from 1868 to 1878. Zell, Genée and Suppé died within a few weeks of each other in 1895. Set in the Crimean War, it deals with the mistakes that occur when Lieutenant Wladimir adopts female disguise, captivating the General Kantschukoff and later finding himself imprisoned in a Turkish harem. It was first staged at the Carltheater in 1876.

Boccaccio oder Der Prinz von Palermo, another Zell and Genée collaboration, is a three-act operetta. The plot of the operetta concerns the poet Boccaccio and his attempts, in various disguises, to woo the natural daughter of the Duke of Tuscany, Fiametta, whom, in spite of his scandalous reputation in Florence, he eventually marries. Boccaccio, one of Suppé's greatest successes, was staged at the Carltheater in February 1879. The March is heard in Act III and appears again to bring the whole piece to a memorable conclusion.

The very dramatic overture to Irrfahrt um's Glück (‘Fortune's Labyrinth’) is followed by the well known overture to Ein Morgen, Mittag und Abend in Wien (‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’), used virtually in the same form for the operetta Der Krämer und sein Commis and designed to introduce a two-act operetta first staged at the Josefstadt Theatre in February 1844.

Banditenstreiche (‘Jolly Robbers’), in 1867, its opening fanfares heralding a more ominous motif, before a march begins, relaxes into an initially gentler dance of some mountain hide-away, while Pique-Dame (‘Queen of Spades’) was a revised version of the earlier Die Kartenschlägerin, that proved less successful in its earlier version, staged at the Kaitheater in 1862, to be remounted to a better reaction under its new title in 1865, now at the Carltheater. It has an overture that starts ominously enough, before the seemingly inevitable excursion into a lighter mood.

Flotte Burschen, generally and infelicitously translated into English as Gay Blades, has an alternative German title, Das Bild der Madame Potifar (‘The Picture of Madame Potifar’) and was first mounted in Vienna in April 1863. The plot centres largely on romantic student activities in Heidelberg and the overture itself includes a number of student songs, the famous Gaudeamus igitur among them.

The most familiar overture of all, Dichter und Bauer (‘Poet and Peasant’), was published in no less than 37 varied arrangements, from piano duet to duet for two flutes. The original work was a comedy with songs, composed in 1846, but the overture was not new, having been used twice before.

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