The Jazz Singer

Jacques Offenbach was the son of a Cantor and his problem was that he was either too funny, or not quite funny enough.

You see, he made his mark as a composer and producer of Operettas that satirized not only the politics and culture of the day, but also the musical styles of other famous composers.  If you don’t speak French perhaps the best way to think about him is as the Arthur Sullivan of Paris, only without quite as much pretension.

Instead of Gilbert he had a pair of lyricists that he commonly worked with, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy.

The Second Empire had quite an appetite for frivolity and farce and Offenbach was very popular, but at the onset of the Franco Prussian War he was accused of being a Bismarkian mole and chased from Paris, based mostly on the unfortunate circumstances of his birth.  You see, he wasn’t just a Jew, he was also born in Cologne.

He fled to Spain with his family and did some touring in Italy and Austria, but he really was quite a patriotic Frenchman and soon returned to Paris.

Alas the climate had changed.  The Third Republic, as new regimes often do, ushered in a new puritanical spirit and farce and comedy were not as trendy as they once were.  He was criticized by the Right for his disrespect for the Monarchy and Army, and by the Left as being a lapdog of the establishment and a sellout, including Emile Zola in the novel Nana.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, Zola was a ‘Naturalist’ author who couldn’t write a character without using cardboard, which is kind of a fundamental failing given his philosophy.  Nietzsche on the other hand thought Offenbach 6 times the composer Wagner was, which is high praise indeed.

So he was harassed by the Police and forced into bankruptcy, but was able to make some money back with a tour of the U.S. and was able to mount a few more successful productions before his death in 1880.

Tonight’s piece, Les belles Américaines is a Waltz he composed late in his career.  It was posted by ZIEHRER18431922.


  1. You may disagree with my assessment of Zola as an author, but it is widely shared.  He is no Proust, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, or even a Dickens.  He barely ranks with Galsworthy.

  2. We will be seeing “Orpheus in the Underworld” this summer at the Central City Opera in Central City, Colorado.

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