Franz von Suppé or Francesco Suppé Demelli (April 18, 1819, Spalato (Split) – May 21, 1895 (aged 76), Vienna) was an Austrian composer of light operas who was born in what is now Croatia during the time his father was working in this outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A composer and conductor of the Romantic period, he is notable for his four dozen operettas.
Life and education
Franz von Suppé's parents named him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli when he was born on April 18, 1819, in Split, Dalmatia, Austrian Empire. His Belgian ancestors may have emigrated there in the 18th century. His father – a man of Italian and Belgian ancestry – was a civil servant in the service of the Austrian Empire, as was his father before him; Suppé's mother, Viennese by birth, came from a Polish and Czech background . He was a distant relative of Gaetano Donizetti. He simplified and Germanized his name when in Vienna, and changed "cavaliere" to "von". Outside Germanic circles, his name may appear on programs as Francesco Suppé-Demelli.
He spent his childhood in Zadar, where he had his first music lessons and began to compose at an early age. As a boy he had no encouragement in music from his father, but was helped by a local bandmaster and by the Spalato cathedral choirmaster. His Missa dalmatica dates from this early period. As a teenager in Cremona, Suppé studied flute and harmony. His first extant composition is a Roman Catholic Mass, which premiered at a Franciscan church in Zadar in 1832. At the age of 16, he moved to Padua to study law – a field of study not chosen by him – but continued to study music. Suppé was also a singer, making his debut as a basso profundo in the role of Dulcamara in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at the Sopron Theater in 1842.
He was invited to Vienna by Franz Pokorny, the director of the Theater in der Josefstadt. In Vienna, after studying with Ignaz von Seyfried and Simon Sechter, he conducted in the theater, without pay at first, but with the opportunity to present his own operas there. Eventually, Suppé wrote music for over a hundred productions at the Theater in der Josefstadt as well as the Carltheater in Leopoldstadt, at the Theater an der Wien, and a theater at Baden. He also put on some landmark opera productions, such as the 1846 production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots with Jenny Lind.
Franz von Suppé died in Vienna on May 21, 1895, and is buried in the Zentralfriedhof.
Two of Suppé's comic operas – Boccaccio and Donna Juanita – have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but failed to become repertoire works. He composed about 30 operettas and 180 farces, ballets, and other stage works. Although the bulk of Suppé's operas have sunk into relative obscurity, the overtures – particularly Dichter und Bauer (Poet & Peasant, 1846) and Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry, 1866) – have survived and some of them have been used in all sorts of soundtracks for movies, cartoons, advertisements, and so on, in addition to being frequently played at symphonic "pops" concerts. Some of Suppé's operas are still regularly performed in Europe; Peter Branscombe, writing in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, characterizes Suppé's song Das ist mein Österreich as "Austria's second national song".
Suppé retained links with his native Dalmatia, occasionally visiting Split, Zadar, and Šibenik. Some of his works are linked with Dalmatia, in particular his operetta The Mariner's Return, the action of which takes place in Hvar. After retiring from conducting, Suppé continued to write operas, but shifted his focus to sacred music. He also wrote a Requiem for theater director Franz Pokorny, three Masses, songs, symphonies, and concert overtures.
The descriptive nature of von Suppé's overtures have earned them frequent use in numerous animated cartoons:
Morgen, Mittag, und Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna) was the central subject of the Bugs Bunny cartoon Baton Bunny. One small segment of that work, about 6 minutes in, is recognizable as the inspiration for Dudley Do-Right's theme music. Poet and Peasant appears in the Fleischer Studios 1935 Popeye cartoon The Spinach Overture; the overture to Light Cavalry is used in Disney's 1942 Mickey Mouse cartoon Symphony Hour.
List of works
Some of Suppé's more well-known works are listed here, listed with date of first performance. All are operettas unless indicated:
- Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant) – August 24, 1846, Theater an der Wien, Vienna
- Das Pensionat – November 24, 1860, Vienna
- Die Kartenschlägerin – April 26, 1862, Kai-Theatre Vienna
- Zehn Mädchen und kein Mann – October 25, 1862, Kai-Theatre Vienna
- Flotte Burschen – April 18, 1863, Kai-Theater Vienna
- Pique Dame – Opera – June 22, 1864, Graz (revision of Die Kartenschlägerin; based on the same story by Pushkin as was Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades)
- Die schöne Galathee (The Beautiful Galatea) – September 9, 1865, Carltheater Vienna
- Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry) (MP3, MIDI) – March 21, 1866, Carltheater Vienna
- Banditenstreiche – April 27, 1867, Carltheater Vienna
- Die Frau Meisterin – January 20, 1868, Carltheater Vienna
- Fatinitza – January 5, 1876, Carltheater Vienna 
- Boccaccio – February 1, 1879, Carltheater Vienna
- Donna Juanita – February 21, 1880, Carltheater Vienna
- Der Gascogner – March 22, 1881, Carltheater Vienna
- Bellmann – February 26, 1887, Theater an der Wien, Vienna
- Die Jagd nach dem Glück – October 27, 1888, Carltheater Vienna
- March Oh Du mein Österreich
- Overture Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna)
- Overture Tantalusqualen
- Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre (3 Volumes). New York: Schirmer Books, 2001.
- Traubner, Richard. Operetta: A Theatrical History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1983