Mozart, A Play with Music

(Rev. Dario Salvi) DV 20700 132 Pages Romantic

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(b Spalato, Dalmatia [now Split, Yugoslavia] 18 April 1819; d Vienna, 21 May 1895). Austrian composer and conductor of Belgian descent. His father and grandfather were Austrian civil servants working in Dalmatia, his mother Viennese. Despite paternal opposition Suppé showed his musical talent at an early age, encouraged by the bandmaster Ferrari and the cathedral choirmaster Giovanni Cigalla (1805–57). He was sent to study law at Padua, but he heard and made much music, visiting Milan and meeting Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi as well as hearing their operas.

After his father’s death in 1835 he and his mother went to Vienna. He considered studying medicine but he took up music in earnest, taught and encouraged by Seyfried and Sechter; although the former’s testimonial of 14 March 1840 emphasizes Suppé’s abilities in serious composition, he helped secure him a post, initially unpaid, as third Kapellmeister at the Theater in der Josefstadt in autumn 1840. There his first complete score was very successfully given on 5 March 1841; under the title of Jung lustig, im Alter traurig, oder Die Folgen der Erziehung it received a favourable review in the Theaterzeitung, being praised for qualities associated with his later masterpieces:

Melodious, rich in tender ideas [and] fine nuances, clearly and effectively orchestrated and containing such surprising modulations and transitions, that the overture and most of the songs and choruses had to be encored … The whole composition has traces of the Italian style but now and then goes in for thoroughly vernacular, simply handled themes.

Suppé is reported to have said later that much of the success was due to his having unconsciously (owing to his very limited knowledge of German) treated a Jodler in the style of a sentimental Donizettian farewell, through misunderstanding the text. Donizetti, a distant relative, encouraged Suppé during one of his visits to Vienna (probably in the early 1840s) when the young man showed him the score of an opera, Geltrude, that he was then writing but was never performed, and Donizetti was probably instrumental in bringing about Suppé’s later visits to Italy.

Until 1845 Suppé wrote well over 20 scores for the Theater in der Josefstadt (and for the director Franz Pokorny’s other theatres in Baden, Ödenburg (Sopron) and Pressburg (Bratislava), in which he was mainly employed in and about 1843); among them were Ein Morgen, Mittag und Abend in WienNella die Zauberin and a score for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (all 1844); he also appeared with success as a singer on the provincial stages, making his début in that capacity as Dulcamara (in L’elisir d’amore) at Ödenburg on 2 May 1842.

In 1845 Suppé moved to Pokorny’s newly acquired Theater an der Wien, where for the next 17 years he was Kapellmeister, sharing the duties with Lortzing in 1846–8 and with Adolf Müller from 1848. Apart from a string of more or less successful theatre scores, he conducted many important operatic performances – for instance the productions of Meyerbeer’s Die Gibellinen in Pisa (Les Huguenots) in May 1846, with Jenny Lind and Tichatschek, and Vielka (Ein Feldlager in Schlesien) with Lind and Staudigl in February 1847.

In 1860 Suppé’s Das Pensionat was the first successful attempt at a genuine Viennese operetta in answer to the French product, which since October 1858 (the Carltheater production of Offenbach’s Le mariage aux lanternes) had been gaining a firm hold on the Viennese repertory. In 1862 Suppé moved to the Kaitheater and in 1865 to the Carltheater (formerly the Theater in der Leopoldstadt). Year after year he turned out a series of theatre scores, ranging from overtures and incidental music to operettas, opera parodies and even the occasional opera. Among his greatest successes were Gervinus (1849), Flotte Bursche (1863) and Fatinitza (1876), each of which received 100 or more performances in a few years; and, above all, Boccaccio (1879), which he referred to as ‘the greatest success of my life’. In the late 1870s he purchased an estate in Lower Austria, and his increasing fame was reflected in invitations to visit the first Bayreuth festival in 1876, and Paris, Brussels, Germany and Italy (1879). In 1881 he was given the freedom of the City of Vienna. In 1882 he retired from his post as Kapellmeister to the Carltheater, though he continued to compose until the end of his life, enjoying successes in Germany in 1883 when he conducted his latest operetta, Die Afrikareise. Although he was working on another operetta, Das Modell, at the time of his death, his last works were mainly sacred.

Suppé is the earliest Viennese composer of musical farces whose works still survive as viable stage scores (and popular overtures), and later in his career he became the first master of the classical Viennese operetta in the train of the acclimatized scores of Offenbach. His light, fluent style includes the ability to vary a phrase length or melodic and rhythmic figure in a personal and immediately effective way. Though now remembered mainly as the composer of overtures such as Dichter und BauerLeichte Kavallerie and Ein Morgen, Mittag und Abend in Wien, his ambitions extended to the composition of large-scale sacred works and operas. He is at his best and most characteristic in the series of famous operettas from Die schöne Galathée (1865) to Boccaccio (1879). Numbers like ‘Hab ich nur deine Liebe’, ‘Mia bella Fiorentina’ and ‘Holde Schöne’ from Boccaccio have an irresistible elegance and élan, and his scoring is worthy of the finest orchestras rather than the bands that so often seize upon the overtures in particular. The song ‘O du [Des ist] mein Österreich’ of 1849 has become virtually Austria’s second national song.

From The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

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