Franz von Suppe (1819 - 1895)
Overtures Volume 4
The composer Franz Suppe, the possessor of an imposing string of names and title 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, 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 lung 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 Pokorny. Here he remained for the next seventeen years, working at first with Lortzing and, after 1848, with Adolf Muller. 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 act 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 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 a version 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.
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 Kriimer und sein Commis, was designed to introduce a two-act operetta first staged at the Josefstadt Theatre in February 1844. It is followed by the overture to Flotte Burschen, generally and infelicitously, translated into English as Gay Blades. It 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.
Uber Berg, uber Tal (Up Hill, Down Dale) is a characteristic march, succeeded here by Sommernachtstraum (Summer Night"s Dream), with its ominous opening and more lyrical lovers" theme. Mozart, like the overture Schubert draws material from the works of the composer of the title. Notable is the approach of Don Giovanni"s Stone Guest, a dance from the same opera, Cherubino"s planned departure for the war, the enchantments of The Magic Flute and a somewhat heavy-footed end to the Count"s philandering from Figaro.
Zehn Madchen und kein Mann (Ten Girls and No Husband) of 1862, the number of unhappy girls later increased to twenty-five, has, after the introduction, an extended clarinet solo, followed by a rapid march and a more lyrical waltz. It is succeeded here by the overture to Kindereien (Childish Games), cheerful and exuberant, and the overture to Die Afrikareise, a three-act operetta first staged at the Theater an der Wien in March 1883, when it ran for less than a month, in spite of the presence in the cast of Girardi, who had appeared in the very successful Boccaccio.
The Solemn Overture opens with apt fugal gravity, moving to the grandiose and celebratory.