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ClassicsOnline Home » French Ballroom Favourites: Les Succes de la Danse
Les Succès de la danse
French Ballroom Favourites
Nineteenth-century dance music did not all come from Vienna, and not for nothing did the French capital earn the description of 'Gay Paree'. Whether at the Tuileries or Elysée Palace or in some humble Parisian guingette, dancing brought the public together as did nothing else, and the Opéra Balls earned reputation far beyond the confines of Paris.
Thanks to the discovery of a rich trove of original orchestral material, Jerome D. Cohen here demonstrates something of what we have been missing from the long neglect of nineteenth-century French dance compositions. What they may lack in Viennese grace is more than made up in Gallic piquancy and élan. In every case this collection uses the original nineteenth-century orchestrations, with just the minimum of editing necessary for the music to be performed by modern performers. Thus the brass parts have been transposed for modern instruments, and the extinct ophicleide has been replaced by the tenor tuba. Occasionally an additional instrumental line has been added or the scoring modified for recording purposes.
One name that will be familiar to all is that of Emile Waldteufel. His contribution to this collection, though, is not as composer but merely as orchestrator. Born in Strasbourg on 9 December 1837, Waldteufel was himself the son of dance composer and conductor Louis Waldteufel (1801-84). Brought to Paris at the age of seven, Emile was a sufficiently proficient pianist to gain admittance to the Paris Conservatoire and to become pianist to the Empress Eugénie in 1865. From 1867 his orchestra performed at the Court Balls at the Tuileries and, after the Franco-Prussian War, at the Presidential Balls at the Elysée Palace. In 1890 and 1891 he conducted at the Balls at the Opéra.
Emile Waldteufel's widespread fame as a composer dates from the late 1870s and early 1880s, and it was on the back of this that he was commissioned to provide the French orchestration for a currently popular waltz that had travelled from its native Romania in piano solo form. This was the waltz originally titled Valurile Dunari, which became internationally celebrated as Donauwellen, Waves of the Danube or, in French, Flots du Danube. The composer, Ion Ivanovici, was born in Romania around 1845 and spent most of his career involved with military music in Galati, site of a naval training-school on the north bank of the Danube, some eighty miles north-east of Bucharest. In 1901 he moved to Bucharest but died there the following year. This most famous of his waltz compositions was first published in Bucharest in 1880, with a dedication to Emma Gebauer, the publisher's wife. In 1946 its distinctive main theme gained renewed familiarity when adapted by Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin as the 'Anniversary Song' ('Oh! how we danced on the night we were wed') in the film The Jolson Story. Ion Ivanovici himself won a composition prize at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, some three years after Emile Waldteufel made this orchestration. It provides an interesting comparison with the more frequently heard version.
The earliest composer featured in this collection is Isaac Strauss. Known as 'Strauss de Paris', he was unrelated to the Viennese Strausses but cannot have been disadvantaged by the shared surname. Like Waldteufel, he hailed from Strasbourg, where he was born on 2 June 1806. In 1826 he entered the Paris Conservatoire as a violinist, and in 1828 was a co-founder of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. Shortly afterwards he was engaged as violinist at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris, and he also began to build up a reputation as director and composer of dance music. From 1843 to 1863 he was conductor of the spa orchestra at Vichy, and he was conductor of the Imperial Balls at the Tuileries almost throughout the Second Empire, his orchestra latterly sharing the duties there with the Waldteufel orchestra. He then became conductor of the Opéra Balls. In his later years he was a generous benefactor to old and needy musicians, and he built up an extensive art and archaeological collection, which is now housed in the Salle Strauss of the Cluny Museum, Paris. He died in Paris on 9 August 1888.
The fact that Isaac Strauss's compositions were published simply under the name of 'Strauss' or 'J. Strauss' has meant that they have often been confused with those of Johann Strauss. That could be particularly easy to do when, as with Offenbach's 1858 opéra bouffe Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), both composers arranged a quadrille on the same material. However, French (and English) quadrilles can be distinguished from Viennese by the former having just five figures compared with the Viennese six. Cohen has lightened the 'al fresco' style of scoring of Isaac Strauss's quadrille, in which all the instruments play almost all the time to create a greater volume of sound outdoors.
Isaac Strauss was noted for the frenetic nature of his conducting. By comparison, Olivier Métra was once described as maintaining a 'dreamily tranquil appearance… utterly detached from the rollicking joy that he let loose with the tip of his violin bow'. Born on 2 June 1830 (in Reims according to some sources, in Le Mans according to others.), Jules-Louis-Olivier Métra initially followed in the footsteps of his father as an actor. In 1842 he appeared in Paris in the children's company at the Théâtre Comte, which later became the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. He subsequently played violin, cello and double-bass in various theatre orchestras and in 1849 was admitted to the Conservatoire, where he gained the first violin prize in 1854. By the time he became conductor at the Théâtre Beaumarchais he had also begun a career as dance composer-conductor which saw him successively chef d'orchestre at various Parisian dance halls - the BaI Robert, Mabille, Château-des-FIeurs, Athénée Musical, Elysée-Montmartre, Casino-Cadet and BaI Frascati. These engagements and his numerous compositions gave him widespread popularity, and by 1870 he was at the top of his profession. He went on to conduct at the Folies-Bergère, for which he also composed numerous baIlets and operettas. In 1879 his grand ballet Yedda was produced at the Opéra, where he conducted the masked balls for many years until his death on 22 October 1889.
Métra's most successful waltzes – Les Roses, La Vague, Les Faunes, La Sérénade and Espérance! – date from the 1860s or early 1870s and thus predate the major Waldteufel successes. So representative are they of their time that Métra and Les Roses are featured in Reynaldo Hahn's 1923 operetta Ciboulette, set in the Paris of 1867. Most of Métra's waltzes are in the standard waltz format of four two-part sections preceded by an introduction and rounded off with a coda recapitulating the main themes. Such is the case with Espérance! (Hope!, 1872), dedicated to his friend and fellow composer Emile Tedesco, several of whose dances Métra orchestrated. By contrast, La Sérénade (The Serenade, 1869), is distinctive for having a central waltz sequence of just two sections, after which the coda introduces new material. Described as a 'valse espagnole', the composition has many Spanish touches, including an introduction based upon a traditional figure that is used in many Spanish compositions. Spanish influences were, of course, much in evidence at the Court of Napoléon III, the Empress Eugénie being herself a Spaniard.
The other comparatively familiar French light music composer represented in this collection is Gabriel-Marie – to use the hyphenated form of his name he adopted professionally. His fame rests largely on his 'air dans le style ancien' La Cinquantaine (1884), but his other dance compositions seem weIl worth rediscovering, judging by the refreshing charm of his waltz Sous les frênes (Under the Ash Trees, 1884) and the rhythmic ingenuity of the polka Frais minois (Fresh Face). Born in Paris on 8 January 1852, he studied at the Paris Conservatoire and achieved a prominent position in Parisian musical life in the late-nineteenth century. He was timpanist and then chorus master of the Lamoureux Concerts from 1881 to 1887, and conducted the orchestral concerts of the Société Nationale de Musique from 1887 to 1894. A keen Wagnerian, Gabriel-Marie was among the early French visitors to Bayreuth and was chorus master for the production of Lohengrin given by Charles Lamoureux in Paris in 1887.
Gabriel-Marie also conducted the concerts of Sainte-Cécile in Bordeaux, and then from 1902 settled in Marseille, conducting there during the winter months and at the Casino at Vichy during the summer until his retirement in 1912. Besides dances, he also composed music for theatres in Paris and Marseille and wrote music criticism. He died suddenly at Puigcerdà in Spain on 29 August 1928 while travelling in the Pyrenees. His son Jean Gabriel-Marie was also a composer, whose works included music for Miréio, based on the same Provençal poem as Gounod's opera Mireille, and who was director of the Institut Gabriel-Marie in Marseille for many years until his death in 1970.
Not only Gabriel-Marie's son but also his father was a musician. Thus his earliest works were published under the names of 'G. Marie' or 'Marie fils', his father evidently being the E. Marie who composed the schottische La Grande Dame (The Grand Lady). Ernest Marie was a prolific dance composer, whose music was played at the State Balls at Buckingham Palace in London in 1864. By 1872 he was conductor at the Harmonie café-concert in the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin in Paris, an establishment described in a contemporary guidebook as 'extremely weIl named, because the chef d'orchestre is E. Marie, author of so many charming works and ravishing waltzes-polkas'. At the Harmonie, Marie conducted overtures, operatic extracts, operettas, songs and baIlets after the fashion of the Paris refreshment-entertainment resorts of the time. He died in 1882.
Emile Tavan, who died in December 1929 aged 80, was active as a prolific arranger and orchestrator of other composers' music over some fifty years. His name is attached to arrangements for various instrumental combinations, but above all to his many fantaisies or selections of themes from operatic and operetta successes of the time. Judging by the polka Le Carnaval viennois (The Viennese Carnival, 1881), his ability as an original composer has been unjustly overshadowed by this work as an arranger. Full of inventive phrasing, the piece is dedicated to Mr. L. M. Lorjé, who may perhaps be identified with the minor composer Louis Lorjé.
A musical magazine of the early 1900s pictured the diminutive, bearded Tavan with Emile Waldteufel, André Messager, Louis Ganne and other popular composers among the judges of composition competitions which were a popular feature of musical magazines of the time. Also in the group is Georges Auvray, composer of the mazurka Escapade (1887), which he dedicated to his friend and fellow composer Paul Frémaux. Besides his individual dance pieces, Auvray composed ballets produced in Paris and Nice during the 1880s and 1890s and in the latter decade conducted dance music at the Opéra Balls. He died in May 1931.
The waltz Nuit étoilée (Starry Night, 1886) was the most successful composition of Pierre Muller, who died in 1901. It was dedicated to Mademoiselle Virginie Haussmann, who may have been related to the Baron Haussmann who changed the face of Paris with the construction of broad boulevards in the 1860s. No less striking is Muller's polka militaire L' Infanterie française (French Infantry), a remarkable evocation of an infantry band in polka tempo. More familiar to us today, though, will be the themes of the waltz Muller based on Emmanuel Chabrier's sparkling 1887 opéra comique Le Roi malgré lui (King Despite Himself), Besides the famous Fête Polonaise or Polish party music that opens the opera's second act, Muller makes particularly effective use of the exquisite Act 1 duet between the King and the young slave-girl Minka and the Act 2 'barcarolle-duet'. One way and another, Muller's three pieces typify the attractions of nineteenth-century French dance music that are so rewardingly uncovered in this innovative collection.
© 1995 Andrew Lamb
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French Ballroom Favourites: Les Succes de la Danse