Offenbach was a German born French composer, cellist and impresario. He was born on 20 June 1819 in Cologne. Despite being accepted at music college at the age of 14 he found that academics were not for him and he left to earn his living as a cellist and composer. His ambition however was to compose comic pieces for the musical theatre. He was a known as a funny man, like those he wrote about, however he was also subject to bouts of depression.
During the 1860’s he produced over 18 full length operettas’ including La belle Hélène, La Vie parisienne, La Grande-Duchessse de Gérolstein and La Périchole. The provocative humour, sardonic jibes together with Offenbach’s melody made these internationally famous and translated versions were successful around Europe in particularly in Vienna and London.
His works from this period included La belle Hélène (1864), La Vie parisienne(1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868). The risqué humour (often about sexual intrigue) and mostly gentle satiric barbs in these pieces, together with Offenbach’s facility for melody, made them internationally known, and translated versions were successful in Vienna, London and elsewhere in Europe.
He blossomed under Napolean III regime with his humour and satiric barbs and became know as the his ‘The Mocking Bird of the Second Empire’…but as this Empire fell in 1870 to the Prussians, France was swept by violently anti-German sentiments, and Offenbach’s music
He fell out of favour with French audiences. Fortunately his successes in London and Vienna continued. He was also accused of being a German Spy due to his German upbringing.
Offenbach fell in love with Hérminie d’Alcain. However, before he could marry her he needed to be financially secure and achieved this by touring around France, Germany and onto London returning with a new found reputation and wealth. His next obstacle was to change his religion and he become a Roman Catholic. He married at the age of 25 and their marriage was happy and life long, they had 5 children.
The Can Can
*We are all very familiar with Offenbach’s Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld – be it through opera, music lessons or on my part frantically kicking my legs up and down on the dance floor whilst desperately trying to cling on to the people at the side of me. This is a song that always makes me smile and not one to sit down to. Anne has two arrangements for this piece a piano duet & solo.
I challenge you to read this article whilst listening to the music…
In all seriousness Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers) was Offenbach’s first full length Operetta which was performed in 1858 – his previous works were regarded as much less adventurous. However, this one was very well received.
Offenbach suffered from Gout during the 1860’s and died in 1880 at the age of 61 of heart failure brought on by acute gout. He continued working until he died. He was given a state funeral