Franz Suppe

Born - Apr 18, 1819   |   Died - May 21, 1895   |   Genres - Music, Comedy

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Suppé was an early composer of many Viennese operettas, opera farces (Lohengelb, oder Die Jungfrau von Dragant, a take-off on Wagner's Lohengrin), and popular overtures; he was also noted for his highly melodious and nuanced scores, his wonderfully lively and clear orchestrations, and his synthesis of German folk, French operetta, and Italian styles. He also composed many serious works (Requiem [1855] and Missa dalmaticca -- written when he was 13 and regarded so highly that it was revised and published when he was 53), several full operas (Paragraph 3, Des Matrosen Heimkehr, Bellman, Das Mädchen vom Lände, Gertrude della vale), two other masses, symphonies, and string quartets. But the lighter works are the ones for which he is best remembered today.

The stormy and energetic allegro strepitoso middle section of Suppé's Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant Overture, 1846) has been employed in several cartoons. In Dave Fleischer's black-and-white animation The Spinach Overture from 1935, Popeye rehearses with an ensemble of his friends, including Olive Oyl playing the harp with her foot and Wimpy cooking a hamburger on his cymbal. They attempt an arrangement of the Poet and Peasant Overture which interlaces the Popeye theme song "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" and the traditional tune I've Been Working on the Railroad" (aka the state anthem The Eyes of Texas"). Popeye's nemesis and neighbor Bluto appears with his violin and challenges Popeye in an effort to show him up. Popeye's invigorating catalyst -- spinach -- enables him to hold his own in a wild musical contest. In another example, Popeye's nephews want to help him build a house instead of practicing music in Tots of Fun (1952). When Popeye finishes his work, the house falls down with him in it. So the nephews combine their music chores with fun, and build a skyscraper-high apartment building to the music of the Poet and Peasant Overture. In Jack Hannah's Slide, Donald, Slide (1949), Donald Duck looks forward to listening to World Series baseball in his backyard, but a bumblebee who prefers the radio's classical music station interferes with Donald's plans. The Poet and Peasant Overture's trills followed by quick-skipping passages create a "wind up and the pitch" gesture that fits especially well with baseball.

Suppé's popular Light Cavalry Overture with its lively triplet horseback-riding pulse is heard in the battle scenes of the anti-slave-running sea epic Mutiny on the Blackhawk (1939), in the concert film Symphony Hour (1942), and Friz Freleng's cartoon about a reluctant fishing worm, Greetings, Bait (1943). But its finest appearance is in the splendid and candid biographical film Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) with Clifton Webb as John Philip Sousa, the sergeant major leader of the Marine Corps Band, and later of his own legendary ensemble.

The composer's most successful operetta, Boccaccio (1879), was realized as the Austrian/Italian film Boccaccio (1920) (aka Boccaccios Liebesnächte [Boccaccio's Nights of Love]) and in the Italian Boccaccio of 1940. Another of Suppé's popular operettas, Die schöne Galathea (The Beautiful Galatea, 1865), received a production as the Swedish television program Den Sköna Galatea (1963). Excerpts from the overture with its tripping beat and surprising harmonic modulations appeared in the Chuck Jones cartoon of Bugs Bunny as the Long-Haired Hare (1949), and Suppé's singspiel (play with music) Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend (Morning, Noon and Night, 1844) was excerpted for Chuck Jones' Baton Bunny (1959). Suppé's music also appears in Laurel and Hardy's outrageous Way Out West (1937).