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ClassicsOnline Home » ZIEHRER: Operetta Overtures
Although much of Ziehrer’s dance music has been recorded, notably on Marco Polo, no recording exists, until now, that is entirely devoted to his operetta overtures. Expertly written at the height of Ziehrer’s career, memorably tuneful and always exhilirating, many of those included on this disc are first ever recordings, a result of considerable research and restoration from the many archives of Vienna. This is the fifth Marco Polo recording of the music of Ziehrer. Previous volumes are available on 8.223814, 8.223815, 8.223817 and 8.225172.
By David Denton
Carl Michael Ziehrer (1843-1922)
Without doubt, the greatest of all rivals to the superiority of the Strauss brothers was Carl Michael Ziehrer. His long musical career had similarities with that of the younger Johann Strauss, with the noted exception that Ziehrer was three times a military bandmaster, a fact that introduced an often brash and swaggering style into his compositions. This, combined with the influence of local folk-music, provides a recipe that is refreshingly different from his contemporaries. Ziehrer was launched with a brand new orchestra in 1863 at the Dianasaal by Carl Haslinger, an event sprung by the publisher as revenge against the Strauss brothers because of a financial disagreement. This was not entirely spontaneous, however, as Ziehrer's father, a prosperous hatter, assisted by Haslinger, had helped finance his son's musical education at the Vienna Conservatory, a period which ended with a contract with Haslinger to publish his compositions.
Despite the initial fanfare, Ziehrer found the competition from all three Strauss brothers daunting, and often had to perform in the suburbs to make a living. Nevertheless, as he tirelessly pursued his career with one engagement after another, his activities soon attracted the attention of the press; his style was likened in one early article to that of Joseph Lanner, who of course had been Strauss father's prime competitor. Probably as a result of financial pressures, he accepted a three-year contract with the army as a bandmaster in 1870. Returning to civilian life he formed an orchestra in record time to play at the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition. He also founded the musical journal Deutsche Musik-Zeitung which became one of the prime sources of musical information of the late nineteenth century.
Ziehrer rejoined the army for another spell, discharging himself in 1877 when he returned to civilian life and changed his publisher to Doblinger. He took over in Vienna many of Eduard Strauss's musicians who were reluctant to follow the latter on an extended overseas tour, naming the orchestra "The Former Eduard Strauss Orchestra". This led Eduard Strauss to take out an injunction against the use of the title, which had, in fact, been demanded by the musicians themselves. In 1879 Ziehrer visited Bucharest with a reconstituted orchestra and became closely involved with their Royal family, and then went to Budapest to stage a now lost operetta, Der kleine Don Juan. He met his future wife Marianne Edelmann, a popular operetta singer, while performing in Berlin in 1881.
It was not until Ziehrer's third spell as a bandmaster with the Hoch- und Deutschmeister Regiment in 1885 that he fully established his reputation in Vienna and within days he was raising the standards of military band performance to previously unknown heights, attracting huge crowds. At civilian concerts many of his players dropped their percussion and brass instruments and took up strings, a common practice at the time. He had at last found his own identity and many of his best dance compositions were written over the next decade. He played at innumerable balls and functions, many for charity, and was regarded very much as a people's man.
The peak of Ziehrer's military career came with an invitation in 1893 to represent Austria at the Chicago World Fair, where he played nightly. Ziehrer continued to tour the United States, outstaying his leave, only to be dismissed with his orchestra by the authorities on his return. He accepted an engagement to Berlin, taking his players with him under the title of the Chicagoer Konzert-Kapelle and toured no less than 41 German cities and towns, playing with precision and verve. Still very popular, he returned to Vienna and formed a new orchestra to perform at daily engagements all over the city. After an abortive attempt to play in London, he fell ill from overwork and retired to the Austrian mountains, where he decided in future to concentrate on operetta. With his home-grown style and very Viennese librettos his operettas did not travel as well as those of some of his contemporaries. Like Johann Strauss he published arrangements, dances and songs from his operettas, many becoming well known and outlasting the stage works themselves.
In the twilight period prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Ziehrer's operettas kept to the form of the so called Golden Era, soon to be overtaken by the more romantic style of the Silver Age started by his friend Franz Lehár. In 1909 the Emperor Franz Joseph appointed him to the position of Imperial Court Ball Director, in recognition of his popularity and contribution to music. Giving up his own orchestra he became active as a guest conductor, along with Franz Lehár, Leo Fall and Oscar Straus. With Lehár he was instrumental in forming a permanent orchestra to perform popular music to a consistently high standard from which emerged the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, but the war destroyed him, and his fortune went together with the Empire. In 1914 he conducted the very last Court Ball. He died penniless, the last of the original waltz kings, having produced little after 1915. Nevertheless he has kept his place in the hearts of the Viennese.
Some limited film footage and sound recordings were made, and a film of Ziehrer's life was produced by Willi Forst in 1949. Professor Max Schönherr, long-time conductor of the Vienna Radio Orchestra, arranger, composer, recording artist, and musicologist, published the largest ever dissertation on a light music composer in 1974, entitled Carl Michael Ziehrer, sein Werk, sein Leben, seine Zeit, an invaluable reference in the production of notes for this series. In 1952 he arranged a second posthumous operetta entitled Deutschmeisterkapelle (the first being Die Verliebte Eskadron, 1930 arranged by Karl Pauspertl) and during his lifetime played a major rôle in keeping Ziehrer's music alive. Today this rôle is maintained by the Ziehrer Stiftung (Foundation) who perform concerts and also make recordings. Ziehrer's legacy includes some six hundred dance pieces and marches, and 23 full-length operettas.
Although a lot of Ziehrer's dance music has appeared on recordings over the years, no recording exists, until now, that is entirely devoted to his operetta overtures. These provide a rich and varied repertoire and can be compared with similar compilations of overtures by Suppé and Johann Strauss. Furthermore, much of what is included are first ever recordings, a result of much research and restoration from the many archives of Vienna. For those that may notice the absence of some of Ziehrer's overtures such as Die Landstreicher, Liebeswalzer, and Fesche Geister (he wrote in total a known fifteen) it was considered to be of little incremental value to repeat them as other modern recordings already exist, thus allowing space for a more rewarding compilation that focuses on his other operettas.
[Track 1] Ball Bei Hof (Ball at the Court)
The operetta Ball bei Hof was a great disappointment to Ziehrer as he was unable to have it staged in Vienna, yet some of the music he wrote for it was, in his opinion, amongst the best he ever wrote. He had to content himself with playing orchestral arrangements at his concerts, which included a suite, dance pieces and this overture. The operetta was staged in Stettin (now Szcezcin, Poland) in 1911, which at that time was part of Germany and the hit song 'Rote Rose' survives to this day. This is the first complete recording of the overture.
 Das dumme Herz (The Stupid Heart)
The famous operetta star Alexander Girardi took the lead rôle in Das dumme Herz, in each scene appearing as a different brother, and the première was delayed owing to censorship, as it poked fun at the establishment. It was heralded as well above the average of what was being staged at the time in Vienna and it would have enjoyed a very long run had it not been cut short by the outbreak of the First World War. The waltz from this operetta Ich Lach'! Op. 554, appeared in the Marco Polo Selected Dances and Marches Vol. 3 (8.225172). The operetta has never been performed since, and this is the first ever recording of the overture which is the only other orchestral work surviving from the operetta.
 Der bleiche Zauberer (The White Magician)
The almost unknown one-act tableau Der bleiche Zauberer ran for only sixteen performances at the Theater-an-der-Wien in 1890, and it was thought until recently that the music had been totally lost. The overture was found, however, in the private archives of Prof. Norbert Nischkauer in Vienna and we are therefore grateful to him for the score for this recording.
 Der Fremdenführer (The Tourist Guide)
Along with Die Landstreicher, Der Fremdenführer is the best known of Ziehrer's operettas, having been staged on and off from its première to this day. There was a new arrangement of the operetta in 1943, but the original score was rediscovered in the Doblinger archives in 1978 and the operetta was staged at the Vienna Volksoper in 1978/9 and again in 1987, the most recent performance being in the 2006/7 season at the Stadttheater in Baden bei Wien. Although the overture is known through previous recordings, it was always of an arrangement. This recording is the first in its original form. The story enlivens a rather boring evening at a gentleman's club where a baron, a man of total leisure, bets that he can support himself on his own wits for 24 hours, which leads to the usual operetta entanglements involving love and farce.
 Der Schätzmeister (The Pawnbroker, or The Appraiser)
Ziehrer's operettas had their best run of success, starting with Die Landstreicher in 1899 with its record breaking 1500 performances, followed by Die drei Wünsche in 1901, Der Fremdenführer in 1902 and Der Schätzmeister in 1904, the last at the Carltheater in Vienna. There were many hits from this operetta, the most famous being the waltz Herrreinspaziert! which is frequently played at Viennese balls. (Marco Polo Selected Dances and Marches Vol. 2, 8.223815). Amongst the best known songs are 'O leg' dein Händchen fest in meiner Hand', and 'Do re mi fa sol la ci', and of course the song 'Herrreinspaziert!'. The overture is much less known. The story concerns a prima donna who hits hard times and has to pawn her voice.
 Der schöne Rigo (The Charming Rigo)
Only an annotated piano score of the overture of Der schöne Rigo survives, the original orchestral material having perished during allied bombing of the publisher's archives in Hamburg during the Second World War. Christian Pollack has therefore re-orchestrated the overture specially for this recording. Der schöne Rigo included some of the best melodies from Ziehrer's operetta Ein Deutschmeister of ten years earlier, but with much new material added, and a brand new overture.
 Die drei Wünsche (The Three Wishes)
Die drei Wünsche was performed at the Carltheater in 1901, and many of its songs remain popular in operetta repertory, even today. At the time the operetta provided stiff competition on German-speaking stages, especially in the provinces, with Lehár's Merry Widow. The operetta also ran at Vienna's Theater-an-der-Wien and Raimundtheater, and in Berlin, Prague and Budapest. It peaked in popularity in 1907 when all four capitals were staging it. The story revolves around a determined country waitress who, having seen a shooting star, lives out the ancient superstition that with such luck she can fulfil her three greatest desires.
 Manöverkinder (Children of the General)
One of Ziehrer's last operettas, Manöverkinder was first staged in 1912. It was reworked as Der Husarengeneral a year later, with the same overture. The operetta was staged at the summer theatre, Kaisergarten in the Prater in Vienna. There is a strong Hungarian influence in some of the music. It is interesting in the variety of construction, and as such, quite a novelty. It has not been performed since 1913. The score to the overture was recently located, and the first public performance took place at a ball in Oxford, England, in 2006. More information on this operetta can be found in the notes to the waltz O diese Husaren!, Op. 552, which is based on melodies from the operetta (Marco Polo Selected Dances and Marches Vol. 3). We thank Prof. Nischkauer for providing the orchestral material for the Overture.
 Ein Deutschmeister
Ein Deutschmeister was Ziehrer's first theatre work where the complete score survives, being staged at the Carltheater in 1888 while he was bandmaster of the famous Hoch- und Deutschmeister Regiment. It got off to a good start as the Crown Prince Rudolf was supposed to attend, though he never actually turned up. Despite a short run of only twenty performances, many of its melodies dominated Vienna's carnival season of 1889. It was to be another ten years before Ziehrer once again reverted to the stage, with his subsequent run of successes. As can be surmised, the operetta has a military background.
 Ein tolles Mädel (Crazy Girl)
Ein tolles Mädel was a two-act variety production staged in Wiesbaden in Germany in 1907. The story revolved around a girl who made a bet that she could go unrecognised for a day as a soldier in a men's barracks - quite a modern theme for its day. The operetta was Americanised with the title Mlle Mischief and played on Broadway in 1908. Some of Ziehrer's merrier melodies were incorporated into the show, and the main waltz theme (Tolles Mädel Waltz, Op. 526, Marco Polo Selected Dances and Waltzes Vol. 2) also appears in the overture.
 König Jérôme (King Jerome)
Produced at the Ringtheater in Vienna in 1878, König Jérôme was Ziehrer's first serious entry into the field of operetta, ten years before Ein Deutschmeister and twenty years before he became a well known operetta composer. The original score and stage material were destroyed in the disastrous fire at the Ringtheater in 1881. In the meantime, however, eight original dance pieces and the famous hit song Verliebt, still popular today, and the overture had been separately published. It is interesting to note that Ziehrer had planned to attend the Vienna première of The Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach on the night of the disastrous fire which killed so many people, but decided at the very last moment to return to Berlin where he had an ongoing engagement. It caused great consternation amongst his family and friends in Vienna when he had not returned home after the performance as he had told no one of his change in plans.
Chairman of The Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain and author of the book From Gold to Silver on the life of Carl Michael Ziehrer.
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ZIEHRER: Operetta Overtures