A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Offenbach, Jacques

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OFFENBACH, JACQUES, born at Cologne, June 21, 1819, of Jewish parents; came to Paris as a youth, and in Nov. 1833, entered the cello class of Professor Vaslin at the Conservatoire. He quitted in a year, without having distinguished himself, or shown any taste for serious study. He then entered the orchestra of the Opéra Comique, where he played by the side of Seligmann, and doubtless picked up much of his knowledge. He first appears as the composer of some chansonettes to parodies of La Fontaine's poems. He then became conductor of the orchestra at the 'Théâtre Français,' and composed the 'Chanson de Fortunio,' in Alfred de Musset's 'Chandelier' (1848), a song which is certainly one of the best of his melodies. Henceforward he made use of every expedient to place himself before the public, giving concerts of a kind to excite public curiosity, and in various ways illustrating the saying that 'a grain of wit is better than a bushel of learning' (le savoir-faire vaut mieux que le savoir). His first piece, 'Pepito,' produced at the Opéra Comique Oct. 28, 1853, attracted little notice, but he followed it by a host of operettas, suited to small theatres, and careless audiences, and at last found his real field in 'Les deux Aveugles,' 'Le Violoneux,' and other musical trifles which he gave at the small theatre in the Champs Elysées. At length, in Dec. 1855, he took the 'Théâtre Comte,' in the Passage Choiseul, named it the 'Bouffes Parisiens,' and produced a succession of operettas which became immensely popular, and eventually opened to him the doors of the Opéra Comique, and even of the Académie, where his ballet-pantomime, 'Le Papillon,' was brought out, Nov. 26, 1860, with considerable success. Thus this very clever and prolific musical caricaturist ran some danger of being treated as a first-rate composer at a time when Cafés-concerts were encouraged, and Concerts du Conservatoire were out of fashion at the Tuileries. The following list of his works is arranged for convenience' sake in alphabetical order.

Apothicaire et Ferruquier, 1 act; 1862.
Bagatelle, 1 act; 1874.
Barbe bleue, 3 acts; 1866.
Barkouf. 3 acts; 1861.
Ba-ta-clan. 1 act; 1856.
Bavards, Les, 2 acts; 1863.
Belle Hélène, La, 3 acts; 1865.
Bergers, Les, 3 acts; 1866.
Boite au lait, La, 4 acts; 1877.
Bonne d'enfant, La, 1 act; 1856.
Boulangère, La, a des écus, 3 acts; 1875.
Boule de neige. 3 acts; 1872.
Braconniers, Les, 3 acts; 1873.
Brigands, Les, 3 acts; 1870.
Chanson de Fortunio, La, 1 act; 1861.
Château, a Toto, Le, 3 acts; 1868.
Chatte, La, métamorphosée en femme, 1 act; 1858.
Créole, La, 3 acts; 1875.
Croquefer, 1 act; 1857.
Daphnis et Chloé, 1 act; 1860.
Deux Aveugles, Les, 1 act; 1855.
Diva, La, 3 acts; 1869.
Docteur Ox, Le, 3 acts; 1877.
Dragonette, 1 act; 1857.
Fantasio, 3 acts; 1872.
Fifre enchanté, Le, 1 act; 1868.
Fille du Tambour major, La, 3 acts; 1879.
Financier, Le, et le Savetier, 1 act; 1856.
Foire St. Laurent, La, 3 acts; 1877.
Geneviève de Brabant, 3 acts; 1860.
Géorgiennes, Les, 3 acts; 1864.
Grande duchesse de Gérolstein, La, 3 acts; 1867.
Ile de Tulipatan, L', 1 act; 1868.
Jeanne qui pleure et Jean qui rit, 1 act; 1865.
Jolie Parfumeuse, La, 3 acts; 1873.
Madame Favart, 3 acts; 1878.
Madame l'Archiduc, 3 acts; 1874.
Maître Péronilla, 3 acts; 1878.
Mariage aux lanternes, Le, 1 act; 1858.
Marocaine, La, 3 acts; 1879.
Mesdames de la Halle, 1 act; 1858.
Monsieur Choufleuri, 1 act; 1861.
Monsieur et Madame Denis, 1 act; 1862.
Orphée aux enfers, 3 acts; 1868.
Papillon, Le, ballet, 2 acts; 1860.
Pepito, 1 act; 1863.
Périchole. La, 3 acts; 1868.
Permission de dix heures, La, 1 act; 1874.
Pierrette et Jacquot, 1 act; 1876.
Pomme d'api, 1 act; 1873.
Pont des soupirs, Le, 2 acts; 1861.
Princesse de Trébizonde, 3 acts; 1870.
Robinson Crusoé, 3 acts; 1867.
Roi Carotte, Le, 4 acts; 1872.
Romance, La, de la rose, 1 act; 1870.
Rose de St. Flour, La, 1 act; 1856.
Signor Fagotto, 1 act; 1868.
Soixante sixième, Le, 1 act; 1856.
Trois baisers du diable, Les, 1 act; 1857.
Tromb al Cazar, 1 act; 1856.
Une demoiselle en loterie, 1 act; 1857.
Une nuit blanche, 1 act; 1855.
Un mari à la porte, 1 act; 1859.
Vent du Soir, 1 act; 1857.
Vert-Vert, 3 acts; 1869.
Vie parisienne, La, 5 acts; 1866.
Violoneux, Le, 1 act; 1855.
Voyage dans la lune, 4 acts; 1876.
Voyage, Le, de MM. Dunanan, 3 acts; 1862.

—69 pieces and 143 acts, written in 25 years! Such astonishing facility implies abundance of ideas, rather than originality or fastidiousness. Offenbach's melodies are often vulgar and often wanting in piquancy. He never hesitates to repeat a good phrase, or to break a rule, if any purpose is to be served by it; but this and other faults are much concealed by the bustle, gaiety, and extravagance of his effects, the frequent happy hits, and the strong natural vein of irony. It is melancholy to predict that of all these musical bouffonneries little or nothing will remain; since in order to live, a work of art must possess either style or passion, whilst these too often display merely a vulgar scepticism, and a determination to be funny even at the cost of propriety and taste.

Offenbach has twice visited England. In 1844 he played the cello in public (e.g. with Döhler, at the Musical Union) and private. In 1866, when his Belle Hélene was running at the Adelphi, he made no public appearance. [App. p.734 "Add that he died of gout on the heart, at his residence on the Boulevard des Capucines, Oct. 5, 1880. His posthumous works include 'La belle Lurette,' composed within a short time of his death, and 'Les Contes d'Hoffmann,' opéra comique. The former was revised by Léo Delibes, and produced at the Renaissance, Oct. 30, 1880, with Jane Hading, Milly Meyer, Vauthier, Jolly, etc. (in English at the Avenue Theatre, March 24, 1883). The second opera was the composer's most cherished work, on which he had been working for years. For some time Offenbach had felt his end approaching, and said to M. Carvalho, 'Make haste, make haste to mount my piece; I am in a hurry, and have only one wish in the wrld—that of witnessing the premiére of this work.[1] 'It was finally revised and partly orchestrated by Guiraud, and produced at the Opéra Comique, Feb. 10, 1881, with Adele Isaac, Marguérite Ugalde, Talazac, Taskin, Grivot, etc. It was played no less than 101 nights in the year of its production. It was given in Germany, and at the King Theatre, Vienna, at the time of its conflagration. Some of the music was adapted to a one-act farce by Leterrier and Vanloo, 'Mlle. Moucheron,' produced at the Renaissance, May 10, 1881. Offenbach's widow died April 10 1887."]

[ G. C. ]