JOSEF BAYER (1852 - 1913)
Opera house musicians have often found playing for ballet performances something of a chore. Austrian symphonic composer Franz Schmidt (1874–1939) was scathing when he related experience of playing cello under court ballet director, Josef Bayer: I liken him, in order not to insult this rank, to an Austrian regimental music sergeant only in so far as he possessed the arrogance and coarseness of one in richest measure. His ability as conductor and musician, however, would not have satisfied the needs of the post of regimental music sergeant by a long way. He was beneath all criticism and was further devalued by the pitifulness and vulgarity of his compositions.
Yet, in his line, Josef Bayer was a master of his craft and for thirty years was musical head of ballet in Vienna. Born there on 6 March 1852, he studied at the Vienna Conservatory under Josef Hellmesberger senior (1828–93), Anton Bruckner (1824–96) and Otto Dessoff (1835–92) and was from 1870 until 1898 a violinist in the Court Opera Orchestra. The peak of his career was those thirty years in charge of ballet there from 1883 until his death in Vienna on 12 March 1913. During that time he composed over twenty one-act ballets, many other dance scenes and divertissements, and numerous operettas and light music for other venues.
Perhaps by the time Franz Schmidt joined the Court Opera orchestra, Bayer’s inspiration was running a little dry. Certainly his greatest successes came in earlier years. The first was in January 1885 with the ballet Wiener Walzer (Viennese Waltzes), which portrayed the evolution of the Viennese waltz over the previous century, with favourite melodies woven into the score. Its considerable success was overshadowed in 1888, however, by what was to prove the Vienna Court Operas greatest ballet creation ever. Originally entitled Im Puppenladen (‘In the Doll Shop’), it finally came to be known as Die Puppenfee (‘The Fairy Doll’) after its central rôle. It became the most overwhelmingly successful ballet of its time in Vienna, and in all was performed on over a hundred European stages. To this day it holds a place in the schedules of the Vienna State Opera (successor of the Court Opera), having been performed there over eight hundred times in total.
Bayer consolidated his reputation with further ballet scores without ever quite achieving the same acclaim again. Still in 1888, Österreichischen Märsche (‘Austrian Marches’), a ballet after the manner of Wiener Walzer, was staged in Prague. Then, a year later, the Vienna Court Opera staged another one-act ballet, Sonne und Erde (‘Sun and Earth’). Among later ballet scores was Rund um Wien (‘Around Vienna’), produced at the Court Opera in October 1894 to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Waltz King Johann Strauss (1825–99) as conductor and composer. Bayer also paid further homage to Johann Strauss later, by arranging for performance the Waltz Kings unfinished ballet score Aschenbrödel (‘Cinderella’).