An overview of the current state of Offenbach biographical research


Jacobo Kaufmann
Jacques Offenbach en España, Italia y Portugal
Libros Certeza, Zaragoza 2007 (ISBN 84-96219-90-8)

 

Jacobo Kaufmann
Isaac Offenbach und sein Sohn Jacques
Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1998 (ISBN 3-484-65121-0)

 

Jean-Claude Yon
Jacques Offenbach. Editions
Gallimard, Paris 2000

 

Offenbach: La Vie parisienne.
25 ans de l'Avant-Scène
Opéra No.206

 

Laurent Fraison, Jean-Claude Yon (with the collaboration of Dominique Ghesquière)
Offenbach, Les Dossiers du Musée d'Orsay n° 58
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1996

 

Alain Decaux
Offenbach, roi du second Empire
Librairie académique Perrin
Reissue 1978

Alexander Faris
Jacques Offenbach
Faber & Faber, London 1980

Peter Hawig
Jacques Offenbach, Facetten zu Leben und Werk
Verlag Christoph Dohr, Köln 1999

Siegfried Kracauer
Jacques Offenbach und das Paris seiner Zeit
Suhrkamp Taschenbuch
Reissue 1994

Philippe Luez
Offenbach, musicien européen
Séguier 2001

Robert Pourvoyeur
Offenbach
Solfèges, Le Seuil, 1994

David Rissin
Offenbach ou le rire en musique
Fayard, 1980

Alphons Silbermann
Das imaginäre Tagebuch des Herrn Jacques Offenbach
Piper Schott, Reissue München, Mainz 1991


Until recently the condition of Offenbach’s works resembled that of his biography. Although there was no lack of sources, no serious biographical research other than mythical speculation had been undertaken since Anton Henseler’s Offenbach biography from 1930. Wittily written "Imaginary Diaries" were preferred over the hard facts (supplied by Offenbach’s extant but unread correspondence) and many aspects were over- or underestimated for political reasons.

After Alain Décaux’ Offenbach, Roi du second empire (Offenbach, King of the Second Empire) a number of worthwhile and accurate monographies have been published, including a work by Alexander Faris (which has been translated into German), or the vivaciously written and richly illustrated contribution by Robert Pourvo-yeur (unfortunately not yet published in Germany). Over the past three years a new series of groundbreaking publications have appeared which we’d like to briefly introduce and recommend at this point. First, there is Jean-Claude Yon’s monumental Offenbach-biography that was published last year by the French publisher Gallimard. We certainly hope for the German translation to appear soon. Then there is Peter Hawig’s book of important essays on different aspects of Offenbach-related topics, as well as Rainer Franke’s book on questions of performance practice, published by the Institute for Research on Music Theatre at the University of Thurnau.

Albert Gier wrote in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Jan. 13/14, 2001) about Jean-Claude Yon’s Offenbach-biography: "With its almost 800 pages Jean Claude Yon’s comprehensive biography is the exact opposite of Krakauer’s book. The author is a historian who refrains from speculation and has instead taken account of all available sources on Offenbach’s activity as a composer and theatre director (and also about his carefully concealed private life), such as theatre papers, contemporary press reports, national and communal archives, business and private correspondence, memoirs of singers, theatre directors or librettists etc.. (...) Offenbach’s biography is purged in a rather straightforward manner of many of its legends. (...) Jean-Claude Yon’s biography with its bibliography not limited to France will be - for years to come - the reference work on the composer of La Belle Hélène.

In the FonoForum of 5/2000 Ekkehard Pluta writes about Peter Hawig’s Facetten zu Leben und Werk Jacques Offenbachs (Facets of Offenbach’s Life and Works): "Everywhere the genius of Offenbach is praised. But the reception of his works is marked by misunderstanding. A devoted and knowledgeable Offenbachian, Peter Hawig puts his finger on some of the worst clichés on the life and work of this composer. For nearly three decades the author has researched Offenbach, for 15 years he has published on him. It clearly is a happy coincidence that the author’s collection of texts not only fulfills the expectations raised by the subtitle of his book - facets on Offenbach’s life and works - but in addition puts together a well-rounded and colourful portrait of this composer.

Hawig opposes calling Offenbach the "father of the operetta" as this label evokes false and undesired connections. Repeatedly he emphasizes how deeply the Parisian-by-choice born in Cologne was rooted in the music of the 18th century. He wanted to breathe new life into the old Opéra-comique and on the way discovered a new genre that still today carries his name: the ‘Offenbachiade’. Hawig exemplifies this by way of an analysis of Ba-Ta-Clan defining it as a ‘system-immanent utopian satire of society in the form of a music theatre’. (...) Observations of the musical surroundings are equally illuminating. Hawig wants Rossini’s often cited slightly ironic quote ‘the Mozart of the Champs-Elysées’ to be taken seriously and proceeds to show to what extent the Viennese master’s work had indeed impacted Offenbach’s music, next to that of Grétry, Auber, Adam, and even Rossini himself. (...) Additional analyses examine Offenbach’s lesser known instrumental works as well as several operas and show in what way Fantasio (performed once again in Gelsenkirchen in 1994) can be seen as a predecessor of Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Karl Kraus, who arranged 14 works of Offenbach, is represented as the leading figure of an adequate Offenbach-reception.

At the end of the book the author provides a critical overview of literature on Offenbach and passes judgment upon gratuitous contemporary and historical arrangers. As the scholarly standard of this book is maintained throughout and is combined with straightforward and easily understandable language this collection of essays is not only a rich compendium for experts but also an eye-opener to the interested layman."

Furthermore, the Bad-Emser Hefte are an inexhaustible source of information and a veritable treasure trove for friends of the Offenbachian muse. These publications accompany the Offenbach-Festival organized annually by the Offenbach Society of Bad Ems. Here, one finds general introductions next to meticulously researched detail studies that enrich the field of academic publication. These can be ordered directly from Dr. Ulrich Brand, Mühlbachweg 6, D-56357 Berg.

© Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock. Any use outside of the tight borders outside of ownership law is prohibited without the consent of the author.