Émile Waldteufel (German for forest devil) was born in
Strasbourg to a Jewish Alsatian family of musicians. The
original surname of the family was Lévy. His father Louis
had a respected orchestra, and his brother Léon was a
successful performer. When Léon won a place to study violin
performance at the Conservatoire de Paris, the family
followed him there. It was in Paris that Waldteufel spent
the rest of his life.
Waldteufel studied the
piano at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1853 to 1857. Among
his fellow pupils was Jules Massenet. During his time at the
conservatory, Louis Waldteufel's orchestra became one of the
most famous in Paris, and Émile was frequently invited to
play at important events.
At the age of 27, Émile
became the court pianist of the Empress Eugénie. He also led
the orchestra at state balls. After the Franco-Prussian War
had dissolved the Second French Empire, the orchestra played
at Presidential balls at the Élysée. At this time only a few
members of the French high society knew of Émile; he was
nearly 40 before he became better known.
In October 1874 Waldteufel
played at an event that was attended by the then Prince of
Wales, future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The
Prince was enthralled by Waldteufel's "Manolo" waltz, and
was prepared to make Waldteufel's music known in Britain. A
long-term contract with the London-based editor Hopwood &
Crew followed. Part of the company belonged to Charles Coote,
director of the Coote & Tinney’s Band, the first dance
orchestra in London. Through these means, Waldteufel's music
was played at Buckingham Palace in front of Queen Victoria.
Waldteufel dominated the music scene in London and became
world-famous. During this period he composed his best known
works, many of which are still heard today around the world.
He became best known for the waltz "Les Patineurs" (The Ice
Skaters), composed in 1882.
His waltz Dolorès (op. 170;
1880) was the basis for the Russian romance Honey, do you
hear me (ru: «Милая, ты услышь меня»).
Waldteufel gave concerts in
several European cities, such as London in 1885, Berlin in
1889 and the Paris Opéra Balls in 1890 and 1891. He
continued his career as conductor and writing dance music
for the Presidential Balls until 1899 when he retired.
In 1915 Waldteufel died in
Paris at the age of 77. His wife, Célestine Dufau, a former
singer, had died a year earlier. They had two sons and a
Waldteufel conducted with a
stick rather than the then-customary violin bow. His
compositions were first created at the piano and later
orchestrated. The typical Waldteufel orchestra consisted of
strings and a doubled woodwind section, two cornets, four
horns, three trombones, and ophicleide or euphonium, along
Waldteufel's music can be
distinguished from Johann Strauss II's waltzes and polkas in
that he used subtle harmonies and gentle phrases, unlike
Strauss's more robust approach. It was considered that
Waldteufel's music was not revolutionary, which explained
why his waltzes fell out of favor as the age of
Impressionism came to Paris.
A biography of the
Waldteufel family by Andrew Lamb was published in 1995.
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