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Celebrating that “Parisienne Gaiety”

When I was a teenager, I began learning about classical music by listening to radio programs in the evening. Often the shows would begin with an overture or “light classic”, such as the Light Cavalry Overture (which our school band played), or the William Tell Overture (the “Lone Ranger” to me). There was also a very lively piece that one announcer called “Gate Parisienne.” I assumed that this “Gate” was a must-see for tourists, like the Eiffel Tower.

All of this came back to me when I read that October 5 is the day when Jacques Offenbach died. Born in Cologne on June 20, 1819, Offenbach studied cello and composition at the Paris Conservatoire. Then, after working as a cellist, he became conductor at the Théâtre-Français.

By the 1860s he was celebrated as the composer of operettas, such as Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) and La Belle Hélène. Intended as a spoof of grand opera, Offenbach’s operettas influenced other creators, such as Johann Strauss, and Gilbert and Sullivan. This success made it possible for him to open his own theater, Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, which he directed for ten years.

Late in life, Offenbach began writing a grand opera, Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) and, although not quite finished when he died, it was performed in 1881 at the Opéra-comique.

“Helen of Troy in Opera”, DBM00145, is one of several recordings that can provide more information about Offenbach. Michael Barclay has talks on The Tales of Hoffmann, DBM00859; Merry Widow and Operetta, DBM00765; and La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein, DBM01366. There is also “Orpheus in Opera” at DBM00127, which discusses “settings of the Orpheus myth … over the past 350 years.” And Ann Thomson explores Orpheus in the Underworld, DBM01260; and Tales of Hoffmann, DBM01427.

A braille libretto for Tales of Hoffman is at BRM35004. Celebrated Soprano Arias, compiled by Kurt Adler, BRM22085, includes Offenbach’s aria “Elle a fui”. The baritone recitative and aria from this opera, “Scintille, Diamant” may be found at BRM26467.

If you want to learn the “Can-Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld, there is a version for recorder at BRM06428, and one for organ in BRM20668.

And we have his famous Barcarolle arranged for piano, BRM29621 and LPM00397; for cello and piano, BRM00892; clarinet and piano, BRM28846; and for soprano and mezzo-soprano with piano, BRM26864.

To borrow any of these, or to learn about other Offenbach works that we have, please contact the Music Section!

The Music and Sounds of the Vietnam Era

Like many other Americans, I have been tuning in to the documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick this past week. This 10-part series depicts the grim realities of the Vietnam War at home and abroad, and the soundtrack of the movie transports one back to the late 1960s quite perfectly. With […]

A Gem in the Music Appreciation Collection

One of the most nerve-racking events I ever experienced as a music student was participating in master classes. I remember one class in particular vividly; the feeling of slight panic as the master class teacher repeated for the fourth time, “no, not like that, try again.” I could hear the audience shifting in their seats […]

Connections: Participating in Pride Month

Recently on June 9th-10th, I had the pleasure to present some treasures at the recent “Pride in the Library: LGBTQ+ Voices in the Library of Congress Collections” exhibit. This was in the Jefferson Building and there was great interest in what was on display.  The attendance record (2,365 visitors over three days) illustrates the level of […]

Start a New Family Tradition

Recently, I read Willie Nelson’s autobiography “It’s a Long Story.” Willie and his sister Bobbie were raised by their paternal grandparents who were avid amateur musicians. From when they were very young, the Nelson children spent much of their time making music together and singing gospel songs at their church. Willie still cherishes those times […]

An American Classic: Irving Berlin

We’ve discussed show-tunes, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook on the blog before, but we have yet to talk about perhaps one of the most influential composers of American standards: Irving Berlin, who happens to celebrate his 129th birthday today. Along with penning a few Broadway scores, including the score for Annie Get Your Gun, […]

And For Your Listening Pleasure From the NLS Music Section

Everybody knows someone who gets a lot of mileage out of limited knowledge. People with this talent sound like experts and can dominate conversation at a gathering for 10-15 minutes until they have to leave to “refresh their drink” or to “catch up with a friend.” Well, I am here to offer you a chance […]

Celebrating Black Composers

In honor of Black History Month, this blog post will highlight materials in the music section that are written by or about African American composers. These composers wrote in many styles, including popular, Western classical, jazz, gospel, and more. Here is some music by three Black composers that we have available in our collection. Harry […]

A Miniaturist and More

For many music lovers, the end of January brings to mind two birthdays: Mozart’s on the 27th, and Schubert’s on the 31st. Could a composer born between these two giants, end up being overlooked? Perhaps. It was while preparing my blog about the Viking Opera Guide (BRM29585) that I learned that the 29th of January […]

Newest BARD Additions

Since we are on a roll talking about BARD, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the new (or newly digitized) titles that we’ve uploaded to BARD over the past few weeks. Talking Books Uncle Dave Macon (DBM03766) This is a look at “Uncle Dave” Macon (also known as “The Dixie Dewdrop) and […]