Salon Orchestra Favourites, Vol. 3
Musical Reminiscences of the Good Old Days
The expression \The good old days" awakens a variety ofquite disparate associations. It would seem to be almost impossible to linksuch a vague concept to a specific historical context, and yet a point ofreference can be found in which there is a convergence of many factorsinvolving both time and place. The popular sectors of both literature and filmssoon latched on to the period in question, because of its characteristic lifestyle: this was the Austria of the Royal and Imperial Danube monarchy of theHapsburgs, the kingdom of the almost legendary Emperor Franz Joseph with hiscapital, Vienna.
Much would have to be corrected in the picture of theperiod, which memory has transformed, if it were a question of historicalaccuracy, but it must be admitted that there were also many factual startingpoints to hand from which to develop the later idealisation: the lively mixtureof peoples, whose co-existence could never be totally standardised; an economythat only to a limited extent was subjected to the pressures of modernindustrialisation; and an ambivalence towards the military that attached almostgreater importance to the smartness of the uniform than to the efficiency ofthe unit - to take only three examples. It was a life that went along its ownway, always accompanied by its own characteristic music.
The armies of the empire that came to an end in 1918 areremembered more for their marches than for their victories. A leading composerof older Austrian military music was Julius Fucˇik (1872-1916), who wasborn in Prague and from 1897 was active, principally in Budapest, as abandmaster. The Florentine March, written in 1907, is among his best knownworks, its fame perhaps only exceeded by his Entry of the Gladiators of 1899.Karel Komzak (1850-1905) was also born in Prague and earned his living as amilitary bandmaster. In his many compositions he often collaborated with hisfather, who bore the same name, so that it is only rarely possible to make adefinite attribution. His Storm Galop takes as sly a slant on the army as theDevil's March of the great Vienna operetta composer Franz von Suppe(1819-1895), who bore the resonant Italian names of Francesco EzechieleErmengildo Cavaliere Suppe Demelli.
It would nevertheless be rather one-sided to think ofViennese music as only marches. What then of Johann Strauss and Vienneseoperetta? Yet, so that it is not always Johann, his brother Josef (1827-1870)is represented here by his polka-mazurka The Dragon-Fly. For the colourfulnessof Viennese operetta there were, in any case, a number of other composers.Among these is Richard Heuberger (1850-1914), who was trained as an engineer,but later became a music critic and finally a composer, who, with his verysuccessful Adventure of a New Year Night (1896) and Opera Ball, belongscompletely to the nineteenth century, as does Oscar Straus (1870-1954). Thelatter was typically Viennese (his operetta Waltz Dream, from which Leise, ganzleise comes, had its first performance in 1907), yet he was also verysuccessful in the 1920s and 1930s.
By 1938 the "good old days" in Austria were a thing of thepast. After the establishment of the National Socialist Greater Germany therewas no further place for tolerant co-existence. Oscar Straus had to emigrate toFrance and then to the United States, like the Hungarian-born Emre Kalman(1882-1953). In 1915 Kalman had provided his native country with a musicalmonument in The Csardas Princess; another followed in 1925 with CountessMaritsa. Among those who emigrated from Vienna was also Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962),who took American citizenship in 1943. The great violin virtuoso was alsoincreasingly known as the supposed arranger of older pieces, as with his threeOld Viennese Melodies, Schon Rosmarin, Liebesleid and Liebesfreud. It was in1935 that it became known that Kreisler had simply composed his so-calledarrangements in the style of earlier times.
Other countries too had their "good old days". The Englandof Queen Victoria can be compared to the era of the Emperor Franz Joseph. Herlater years were marked by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), now regarded as the mostimportant British composer between Purcell and Benjamin Britten. His numeroussymphonic and choral works have still not found the wide popularity of hisearly light music, notably Salut d'amour. The particular ambivalence of thesalon music of the period is exemplified in this work. Thoroughly typical ofElgar, perhaps with a subtle British accent, it has a French title, a sign ofits reference to that country and to the international nature of middle classculture. The then leading composers of French music had long lost much of theirformer importance. That some of their compositions have actually survived isnot least owing to the work of gifted arrangers. The somewhat overblown operaTha?»s, first performed in Paris in 1894, is as rightly forgotten as Jocelyn,which had its premi?¿re in Brussels in 1888. Without the latter's Berceuse,known in the 1920s and 1930s in numerous arrangements, the name of BenjaminGodard (1849-1895) would be forgotten. Only slightly better in standing isJules Massenet (1842-1912), after Bizet the leading figure in French opera inthe later nineteenth century. One or other of his many operas may be given hereor there, but real popularity remains only for a short extract from Tha?»s, anidyllic violin solo with the title Meditation.
English version by Keith Anderson