Franz von Suppe (1819 - 1895)
Overtures Volume 3
The composer Franz Suppe, the possessor of an imposing string of names and titles as Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppe 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. Suppe 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 Pokorny, who was also associated with theatres in Baden, Odenburg (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 delIa valIelIe, composed in 1841 and shown to his visiting distant kinsman Donizetti, remained unperformed, but from 1844 he was entrustedalso 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 Pokorny. 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 Pokorny in 1855.
It was in 1860, with his two ac t operetta Das Pensionat for Pokorny"s son Alois, that Suppe first embarked on the genre of Viennese operetta at the Theater an der Wien. Two years later, with Alois Pokorny"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 Co1ps 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 theatre in 1882, his unassailable position in the world of Viennese operetta recognised the previous year by the freedom of the city. Operetta in Vienna owed much to the influence of the younger Johann Strauss, but Suppe 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.
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. It is here followed by the overture to Tricoche und Cacolet, a humorous treatment of life in Paris in three scenes, based on the work of Meilhac and Halevy in aversion by Treumann. It was first performed at the Carltheater on 3rd January 1873. Its pastoral opening over a drone is soon replaced by the inevitable Viennese turn of musical phrase, after a brief fugal passage.
The operetta Boccaccio oder der Prinz von Palermo, with a text by the successful partnership of Zell and Genee, was first staged at the Carltheater on 1st February 1879. The three-act operetta was described by suppe as the greatest success of his life. 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 Genee was conductor from 1868 to 1878. Zell, Genee and Suppe died within a few weeks of each other in 1895. 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. The March is heard in Ac t III and appears again to bring the whole piece to a memorable conclusion.
The Titania Waltz might seem to lack something of the delicacy of the fairy- queen, but is characteristic of Viennese operetta rather than of remoter regions of mysterious enchantment. Fatinitza, another Zell and Genee collaboration, is an operetta in three acts, based on La circasienne of Eugene Scribe, set by Auber. Set in the Crimean War, it deals with the mistakes that occur when Lieutenant Vladimir adopts female disguise, captivating the General Kantschukoff and later finding himself imprisoned in a Turkish harem. Using a libretto rejected by Johann Strauss, it was first staged at the Carltheater on 5th January 1876.
The Humoristische Variationen on the popular folk-song Was kommt dort von der Hoh"? open with a dramatic introduction. Brief wind recitatives punctuated by full orchestral chords lead to a popular tune that must remind English listeners of The Grand Old Duke of York and variations giving scope for the piccolo and other wind instruments before the strings take their lugubrious turn. The march later turns into a waltz, bringing the variations to an end.
Die Heimkehr von der Hochzeit (Homecoming from the Wedding) has an overture that starts with agentie flute cadenza before turning to material of more obvious celebration. A carnival Posse, with a text by Feldmann, it was first staged at the Theater an der Wien on 8th January 1853. It is here followed by a polka from the romantic Herzenseintracht (Harmony of Hearts).
Suppe"s portrait of Schubert, a one act Liederspiel mounted at the Carltheater on 10th September 1864, proved offensive to some critics, one of whom suggested that it was a mistake to exploit the music of Schubert under the guise of honouring a great master, showing him with a glass of beer and giving him pathos-filled speeches, or showing him with pen, ink and manuscript paper, of course at the exact moment of creation. The overture starts with the ominous tones of Schubert"s Erlkönig but inevitably coarsens other material to which it then turns.
The volume ends with a Triumph Overture, in an idiom of which Suppe is an acknowledged master.