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ClassicsOnline Home » KOMZAK I / KOMZAK II: Waltzes, Marches, and Polkas, Vol. 2
There were three composers named Komzák, father, son and grandson, each of whom shared the first name Karel
or Karl, and who together made a significant contribution to the popular light music of Central Europe during the
nineteenth and early twentieth century. The central, and most successful, member of this dynasty was Karel (Karl)
Komzák II, ten of whose compositions are recorded here. He was undoubtedly one of the most outstanding among
a host of highly-gifted composers whose dances and marches made Vienna the light music capital of Europe in the
closing decades of the nineteenth century. His father, Karel Komzák I, an eminent orchestral conductor and military
bandmaster, is represented here by three works.
The Komzák family came from southern Bohemia where, in 1823, Karel I was born in the village of
Netûchovice near Týn nad Vltavou. He moved to Prague and founded his own orchestra which was so successful
that in 1862 it became the resident orchestra of the newly-founded Prague Provisional Theatre, forerunner of the
renowned National Theatre. Antonín Dvofiák was a viola-player in this orchestra, which also included the
conductor’s son, Karel II, on violin. Karel I left his orchestra in 1865 to take up the appointment of bandmaster to
the Austro-Hungarian imperial army’s 11th Infantry Regiment. Over the next fifteen years he served with the
regiment in a succession of locations from Trento, in the west, to Hradec Králové, in the east. Everywhere, both as
bandmaster and composer, he was extremely popular and the band became noted for the regular inclusion of Czech
folk-songs in concert programmmes. Then, after moving on to the 74th Infantry Regiment in 1880, Karel I found
himself in less favourable circumstances where the performance of Czech national airs was forbidden.
Consequently after only a year in this new post he left military service. In December 1882, however, when the
authorities were looking for an accomplished bandmaster to undertake the formation of a military band for the
newly-established 88th Infantry Regiment in Prague, Karel I was persuaded to take up this important appointment.
Five years later, with the band flourishing, he finally retired for good at the end of April 1888, spending the rest of
his days at Netûchovice, where he died in 1893. Of his reputedly more than two hundred compositions, we now
know (thanks to the scholarly work of Max Schönherr) that a fair number have survived in various archives. At
least two waltzes, forty-odd polkas, around twenty polka mazurkas, a handful of galops and quadrilles, and about
fifteen marches still exist, either in printed or manuscript copies, mostly without opus numbers.
Karel Komzák II was born in Prague on 8th November 1850. His father supervised his early musical training,
and he studied violin, musical theory and conducting at the Prague Conservatory between 1861 and 1867. In
March 1869 he joined his father’s 11th Regiment band at Linz, playing violin and baritone. He also gained useful
experience conducting the Linz theatre orchestra during his two-and-a-half years with the regiment. When the
position of bandmaster to the 7th Infantry Regiment became vacant in 1871, Komzák applied and was successful,
taking up his new post at Innsbruck at the age of 21. During this period the “Bohemian musician” came to know
the folk-music of the Tyrol, and this showed its influence in the choruses he wrote for the Innsbruck Liedertafel
Choir, of which he was also choirmaster.
A long-standing desire to come to Vienna was eventually fulfilled in 1882, when Komzák was called to the
capital to take over the duties of bandmaster to the 84th Infantry Regiment. It was while he was with this regiment
that his fame gradually spread throughout the Austrian Empire. His congenial appearance, friendly nature and
energetic conducting soon made him a firm favourite of the Viennese public, who regarded him as one of the
leading military composers, together with Ziehrer, Fahrbach, Czibulka, Král and J.F.Wagner.
An important contribution of Komzák to the development of Austrian military music was his use of stringed
instruments on whose contribution to the music he laid great emphasis. His band contained no less than fourteen
first violins and could therefore be compared favourably with the usual concert orchestra of the period. The
frequent and widespread tours undertaken by Komzák with his regimental orchestra were everywhere received with
In 1892 Komzák was given leave of absence from his regiment on health grounds and the family moved to the
spa town of Baden, some fourteen miles southwest of Vienna, where the following year he took over direction of
the Spa Orchestra. In the meantime, on 20th September 1892, he gave a farewell concert in Vienna with the band
which was being moved to the regiment’s new garrison at Mostar, Herzegovina. Komzák retained the position of
bandmaster until his eventual retirement in 1896, spending the winter months with the regiment in Mostar and
returning to Baden in the spring to direct the season’s spa concerts. Probably the climax of his career was the series
of concerts he gave with the Wiener Farben Orchestra at the World Exhibition in St Louis in America, which was
held between August and October 1904. Only six months later he met his tragic death, on Easter Sunday, 23rd April
1905. In attempting to jump onto a departing train at Baden station he slipped and fell under the wheels. He was
buried at Baden but in the following November his remains were exhumed and transferred to the Central Cemetery
of Vienna, where the beloved artist was given an honourable grave by the city authorities. A monument, showing
the composer with baton in hand, was erected on his grave in 1907.
The compositions of Karel Komzák II reached the opus number 306, but how many he actually wrote it is
impossible to say. (Around two hundred scores have been traced according to Schönherr’s list.) Titles were
sometimes changed, some works cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular member of the family, and there
are many pieces for which an opus number does not exist. Nevertheless, his oeuvre contains examples in a variety
of forms written for a wide range of performers including concert orchestra, military band, string quartet, violin and
piano, solo voice, chorus and piano. His operetta Edelweiss was first performed in 1892 at Salzburg and was later
given at Munich and Vienna. Although Edelweiss was greatly acclaimed by the public, Komzák was too sagacious
a musician not to realise that dramatic music, even in its lighter forms, was not really his métier and so it remained
his only work in this field.
Although he is generally known today by a mere handful of works, these are of a very high quality and there are
many others equally memorable which remain in relative oblivion. Bad’ner Mad’ln is of course reasonably well
known and is certainly in the front rank of Viennese waltzes. This work with its surprising contrasts of brilliant
martial music and languorous melodies for the strings is typical of Komzák’s best waltzes. Other notable examples
are An der schönen, grünen Naranta, Op. 227, Phantome, Op. 160, and his last work Maienzauber, Op. 306.
Of Komzák’s many vigorous galops his Sturmgalopp, Op. 156, is still heard today and the polka mazurka
Feinsliebchen, Op. 123, is representative of his contributions to this form. The marches, still very popular with
central European military bands, vary in type from the typical parade-ground specimen such as the 84th Regiment
March, Op. 125, to the sparkling Echtes Wienerblut, Op. 189, of his maturity, and the triumphal Kaiser-Marsch,
Op. 260, with which he won a competition held in connection with Emperor Franz Joseph’s jubilee in 1898.
In his own lifetime Komzák was particularly noted for his potpourris, which were usually based on popular folk
melodies or the best-known works of other composers such as the Strauss family, Ziehrer, J.F. Wagner and others.
The two waltzes Fideles Wien I, Op. 109, and Fideles Wien II, Op. 271, are, in fact, potpourris of popular Viennese
songs. His Wien bei Nacht potpourri, Op. 297, is subtitled “nach Motiven beliebter Wiener Operetten, Tänze und
Lieder”. Probably the most unusual Komzák potpourri is the ABC Potpourri, Op. 245. This work quotes themes by
26 composers (one for each letter of the alphabet) arranged alphabetically, starting with Adolphe Adam (Giralda
Overture) and finishing with Ziehrer’s Gruss an meinen Freund Komzák Galopp. For the letter K the march Gruss
an die Heimath by Komzák senior is quoted.
Of the compositions for small combinations of instruments, the delicate Volksliedchen und Märchen, Op. 135,
retains it place in the repertoire. Originally written for string quartet and harp, it is now more often heard in the
exquisite arrangement for string orchestra. From Edelweiss (which Komzák himself called a “Volksoper”), the
overture, the waltz, and a number of shorter pieces based on themes from the operetta, bear witness to the
abundance of melodious music his only work for the stage must have contained.
Komzák’s best works contain examples of harmonic originality quite unusual in the light music of his time.
The melodies are distinctive and the structure, especially in the waltzes, frequently reveals an exceptional level of
creative imagination at work. Perhaps if he had lived longer his total output might have eventually matched that of
the Strausses or Ziehrer. Nevertheless in quality terms, many of his compositions are able to stand comparison with
the best examples of his contemporaries in this genre. The dissemination of this recording, following the
favourable reception given to the earlier Marco Polo volume (8.225175) released in 2000, now enables these
admirable qualities to be appreciated by the wider public.
The last of the Komzák family of bandmaster-composers, Karl Komzák III, was born in Innsbruck on 20th
May 1878. When he was only four years old the family moved to Vienna and some ten years later to Baden, where
his father directed the spa orchestra. Rather surprisingly, Karl’s father did his best to discourage his son from
taking up music as a career, although his own father had in fact encouraged him to become a musician from a very
early age. Karl III was, therefore, obliged to enter the legal profession and his father, a strict disciplinarian, made
sure that he did not neglect his legal studies. Not unnaturally, however, the young Karl did show a capable musical
talent, but it was only after his father’s untimely death that he was able to make real progress in the musical world.
He formed his own orchestra and travelled throughout Austria and Germany. Although Vienna was his real home
he lived in Hamburg and Munich among other places and he also visited England twice during his career. Always
of rather delicate health, Komzák III was discharged from the Austrian army during the First World War on health
grounds. His short career as a composer-conductor came to an abrupt end when, at the age of 46, he died of a
sudden heart attack while walking in a Vienna street on 5th September 1924.
If one can believe the opus numbers of his works that were published, Karl Komzák III must have been a very
prolific composer – about 360 works in twenty-odd years is a considerable output. Only a few tens of these,
however, are known to exist at the present time and it could be that only one sequence of opus numbers was used
for the total output of all three Komzáks, with the majority of pieces being composed by Karel II. Nearly half of
Komzák grandson’s known compositions were waltzes, but even the most popular of these, the ebullient
Münchner Kindl, Op. 284, is often mistakenly credited to his father. He also composed an operetta, but this never
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