Thursday, June 25, 2009

Franz von Suppe

The composer and conductor Franz von Suppé (born in Spalato, Dalmatia on April 18, 1819, died in Vienna on May 21, 1895) is famous today mainly for his opera overtures which are generally considered "light classics".

A distant relative of Gaetano Donizetti, he was named Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-Demelli at birth, he simplified and Germanised his name when he moved to Vienna.
Suppé's first extant composition is a Roman Catholic Mass, premiered at a Franciscan church in Zara. He moved to Padua to study law at the University there. His father chose this direction for him, but he continued to study music furtively. Upon the death of his father, he moved to Vienna where he studied with Ignaz Seyfried and Simon Sechter. He conducted at the Josephstadt theatre, without pay at first, but with the opportunity to present his operas there. Eventually, Suppé wrote music for over a hundred productions at Josephstadt as well as at Leopoldstadt, at the Theater an der Wien (perhaps the most prestigious), and a theatre at Baden. He also put on some landmark opera productions, such as the 1846 production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots with Jenny Lind. Suppé was also a singer, making his debut in the role of Dulcamara in Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore at the Ödenburg theater in 1842.

Two of Suppé's comic operas have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Boccaccio and Donna Juanita, but they failed to become repertoire works. Though the bulk of Suppé's operas have nearly sunken to oblivion, the overtures, particularly Light Cavalry and Poet & Peasant, have survived and some of them have been used in all sorts of soundtracks for movies, cartoons, advertisements, etc., in addition to being played at "pops" concerts. The operas are occasionally performed in Europe, and Peter Branscombe, writing in the Grove dictionary, characterises Suppé's song Des ist mein Österreich as "Austria's second national song". My own favorites are The Beautiful Galatea which highlights a beautiful waltz melody and Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna which has a pastiche of melodies that suggest the Viennese artistic milieu.

After retiring from conducting, Suppé continued to write operas, but shifted his focus to sacred music. He also wrote a Requiem for theater director Franz Pokorny, three Masses, songs, symphonies and concert overtures.

No comments: