La Valse des patineurs (The Skater’s Waltz) is one of the most famous waltzes in the world. Many people think Johan Strauss wrote it. But they are wrong! The Skater’s Waltz was written by Emile Waldteufel, French musician born in Strasbourg in 1837 into a Jewish family. His grand-father, Moyse Lévy was a traveling musician in Bischheim (Alsace).
Due to the Napoleonian decree of July 28th 1808 forcing all the Jews to have a “definite name” in order to facilitate their survey and civil-state registry, Moyse Lévy chose to be called Waldteufel.
One of his sons, Lazare Lévy aka Louis Waldteufel (1801-1884), fiddler and conductor, had four sons: Achille (1830-?), Isaac (1832-1884), called Léon, court conductor for balls, and Charles-Emile (1837-1915), called Emile, who was the most famous and prolific composer of the family.
In 1844, his family goes to Paris in order for Léon to learn violin in the Conservatory. Then it’s Emile, from 1853 to 1857, who is enrolled to learn the piano; Jules Massenet and Georges Bizet are his classmates. Waldteufel, like many other pianists during that time, composed his works on the piano, but with the perspective of future orchestration depending on for which kind of performance it would be used (private salons, ballrooms or outside balls).
During the Second Empire, Waldteufel wrote many dances which will make him known. In 1865, particularly liked by Eugénie, he becomes director of dance music of the imperial court of Napoleon III and the entitled pianist of the empress. He is put in charge of the famous dance evenings of Biarritz and Compiègne. From 1867 on, Waldteufel’s orchestra performs for the balls in the Tuileries Garden, following what did Isaac Strauss.
In 1874, he is noticed by the Prince of Wales, future Edward VII, who gives him the opportunity to become known in Great-Britain. He then signs a contract with the editing company of London Hopwood & Crew which allows him to be played during the balls of Queen Victoria at the Buckingham Palace. His music is at the top of the programs for many years. The Skater’s Waltz (1882) gives him an international fame, and he is then played in London, Berlin and Paris with great success until the beginning of the 20th century.
Waldteufel’s music is defined by a melodic pattern in the tradition of French composers of the time such as Gounod, Saint-Saëns or Bizet. His inspiration goes from comical operas by Audran, Lacome or Offenbach to more popular Bavarian music (that he knows from his mother) or Bohemian folklore. His abundant work contains mainly music for dancing: waltzes, polkas and mazurkas, as well as several melodies who made his reputation.
Excerpts of this biography are taken from Wikipedia
Listen to the music of Waldteufel on YouTube
Listen to the radio show dedicated to Emile Waldteufel, hosted by Laure Schnapper
Valse Toujours ou jamais d’Emile Waldteufel, performed by L’orchestre Eugénie
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