Home » Uncategorized » Franz von Suppe and the “Poet and Peasant” Overture

Franz von Suppe and the “Poet and Peasant” Overture

      Franz von Suppé (April 18, 1819 – May 21, 1895) was an Austrian composer of light operas who was born Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere di Suppé-Demelli on April 18, 1819, at Split, Dalmatia, then part of the Austrian Empire in what is now Croatia during the time his father was working in this outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His Belgian ancestors may have emigrated there in the 18th century. His father, a man of Italian and Belgian ancestry,  was a civil servant in the service of the Austrian Empire, as was his father before him; Suppé’s mother was Viennese by birth.  Franz spent his childhood in Zadar, where he had his first music lessons and began to compose at an early age. As a boy he had no encouragement in music from his father, but was helped by a local bandmaster and by the Spalato cathedral choirmaster.  His Missa dalmatica dates from this early period. As a teenager in Cremona, Suppé studied flute and harmony. His first extant composition is a Roman Catholic Mass, which premiered at a Franciscan church in Zadar in 1832.

     At the age of 16, Franz moved to Padua to study law – a field of study not chosen by him – but continued to study music. He was also a singer, making his debut as a basso profundo in the role of Dulcamara in Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Sopron Theater in 1842.  Invited to Vienna by Franz Pokorny, the director of the Theater in der Josefstadt, he simplified and Germanized his name, changing “cavaliere di” to “von.”  In Vienna, after studying with Ignaz von Seyfried and Simon Sechter, he conducted in the theater, without pay at first, but with the opportunity to present his own operas there.  Eventually, Suppé wrote music for over a hundred productions at the Theater in der Josefstadt as well as the Carltheater in Leopoldstadt, at the Theater an der Wien. He also put on some landmark opera productions, such as the 1846 production of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots with Jenny Lind.

     Suppe composed about 30 operettas and 180 farces, ballets, and other stage works. Although the bulk of Suppé’s operas have sunk into relative obscurity, the overtures, particularly Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant, 1846) and Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry, 1866), have survived and some of them have been used in all sorts of soundtracks for movies, cartoons, advertisements, and so on, in addition to being frequently played at symphonic “pops” concerts. Two of Suppé’s comic operas,  Boccaccio (1879) and Donna Juanita (1880), were performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but failed to become repertoire works.  Some of Suppé’s operas are still regularly performed in Europe.  After retiring from conducting, Suppé continued to write operas, but shifted his focus to sacred music. He wrote a Requiem for theater director Franz Pokorny, three Masses, songs, symphonies, and concert overtures such as Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna.   Franz von Suppé died in Vienna on May 21, 1895, and is buried in the Zentralfriedhof.

     Works by von Suppe included in my collection are as follows:

                The Beautiful Galatea: Overture. 

                Boccaccio: March. 

                Fatinitza: Overture. 

                Fortune’s Labyrinth: Overture. 

                Gay Blades: Overture. 

                Jolly Robbers: Overture. 

                The Light Cavalry (1866): Overture. 

                Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna Overture (1844). 

                Poet and Peasant (1846): Overture. 

                Queen of Spades: Overture.

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