Jacques Offenbach

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Jacques Offenbach, photograph by Felix Nadar
Signature Jacques Offenbach.PNG

Jakob "Jacques" Offenbach ( June 20, 1819 in CologneOctober 5, 1880 in Paris ) was a German-French composer and cellist . He is regarded as the founder of modern operetta as an independent and recognized genre of musical theater . His most famous pieces are the dance number Cancan from Orpheus in der Unterwelt and the barcarole from The Tales of Hoffmann .


Commemorative plaque on Offenbach's birthplace in Cologne, Großer Griemarkt 1


Jakob Offenbach's parents were the cantor , composer and poet Isaac Juda Eberst (1779/1781–1850) and his wife Marianne Rindskopf, daughter of a money changer and lottery operator . Before he was born, the family lived in Offenbach am Main , where his father was cantor of the local Jewish community. After the city was added to the Grand Duchy of Hesse, the family moved to Cologne, took the family name Offenbach and lived from 1816 on the Great Griechenmarkt. Here, too, the father held the office of cantor in the Cologne synagogue community on Glockengasse .

Jakob Offenbach was born in Cologne in 1819 as the seventh of ten children; some of his siblings showed talent for violin (Julius) and piano (Isabella). Jakob received his first cello and violin lessons from his father. From November 25, 1830, Jakob performed as a trio with Isabella and Judah in the Gymnicher Hof on Cologne 's Neumarkt to earn money for music lessons.


In order to enable his sons Jakob and Julius (Jules), who was four years older, to get a better musical education, their father traveled with them to Paris in November 1833 . The Conservatoire national de musique et de déclamation there was not open to foreigners at the time; in a decree of 1822 the minister had decreed that he reserved the admission of foreigners. Even Franz Liszt was not admitted by the director Luigi Cherubini because of this reservation. The father, who came with letters of recommendation, remained persistent and got his son Jakob admitted on November 30, 1833 (entry in the list of students). Jakob moved into an attic at 23 Rue des Martyrs and attended Olive-Charlier Vaslin's (1794–1889) cello class, which he voluntarily left in 1834 without graduating. Jakob - who now called himself Jacques - began in 1835 as a cellist at the Opéra-Comique for a monthly salary of 83 francs and from 1837 received composition lessons from Jacques Fromental Halévy .

From 1836 he composed smaller romances , waltzes and salon pieces ( Winterblumen , French Fleurs d'hiver , 1836; Rebecca , 1837), in 1838 he lost his position at the Opéra-Comique. In 1841, after moving to Paris, Jacques Offenbach met the Catholic Spaniard Hermine d'Alcain (1826–1887), whose father, a Spanish Carlist leader, worked as a concert agent. This enabled Offenbach to embark on his first concert tour to the London royal court in May 1844, where he played for Queen Victoria . After converting to Catholicism , Offenbach was able to marry Hermine d'Alcain on August 14, 1844. They had five children, Berthe (*1845), Minna (*1850), Pépita (*1855), Jacqueline (*1858) and Auguste (*1862). His first play L'Alcôve appeared in 1847, followed in 1849 by Marietta (performed in Cologne in German as Marielle or Sergeant and Commandant ). Jacques moved to Cologne with his family between March 1848 and July 1849 during the German Revolution , which is why he recast Marietta there. In 1849 the family returned to Paris, where in March Offenbach gave a concert before the new President of the Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte . In the same year he accepted the position of Kapellmeister at the Théâtre-Français , where he performed his work Pepito in October 1853 at the Théâtre de variétés . In 1855 he left the Théâtre-Français. With Fortunio's song ( French La chanson de Fortunio ; premiere on January 5, 1861) he celebrated his first stage success. Here he gained a reputation as a virtuoso, playing with pianists such as Anton Rubinstein , Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy .


On July 5, 1855, he opened his own Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition , which initially found space in the Salle Lacaze of the Théâtre Marigny on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées , with the overwhelming success of The Two Blind Men ( French Les deux aveugles ). Seven more world premieres followed here, including numerous one-act plays . From June 1855 he performed his Oyayaie with great success. He opened the winter season in the Passage de Choiseul on December 29, 1855 with his work Ba-ta-clan . The music title gave its name to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris .

International stage successes followed with two and three-act plays . His most important work Orpheus in the Underworld ( French Orphée aux Enfers ) premiered on October 21, 1858 at the Bouffes-Parisiens . The two-act operetta was very successful and made Offenbach popular throughout Europe. With this play he made fun of the society of the second empire . The best-known piece of music is the so-called infernal cancan (in the original French galop infernal ) in the second act, a hit that is still very well known today and is often performed separately. After obtaining French citizenship on 14 January 1860, Offenbach became a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1861 . In 1863 he met Johann Strauss in Vienna and wrote Die Rheinnixen ( French Les fées du Rhin ) there, first performed on 4 February 1864 in Vienna's Theater am Kärntnertor .

Offenbach wrote 75 compositions for violoncello as well as 102 stage works, including The Beautiful Helena ( French La belle Hélène ; December 17, 1864), Bluebeard ( French Le barbe-bleue ; February 5, 1866) and Life in Paris ( French La vie Parisienne ; December 31, 1866). October 1866). The latter opera buffa was performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal . This humorous operetta shows Offenbach's penchant for cynicism and political-cultural satire with parodies of great operatic works .

last years of life

Bust on Offenbach's grave in Paris at the Cimetière de Montmartre

In 1870 the house where he was born in Cologne was demolished. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in July 1870 , Offenbach's fame began to fade. Parisian audiences avoided him because of his German origins. The French press described him as Bismarck 's spy , the German press as a "traitor to the fatherland". Offenbach took his family to safety in Spain and toured Italy and Austria. When he returned to Paris after the end of the war in June 1871, tastes there had changed and his works were not successful with the public. In 1875 the Théâtre de la Gaîté , which he had only taken over in 1873, had to close. The following year he made successful trips to the United Kingdom and the United States, conducting two of his operettas at the Centennial Exhibition and giving over 40 concerts in New York City and Philadelphia .

From 1877 onwards he concentrated on composing the Tales of Hoffmann ( Les contes d'Hoffmann in French ), for which he was able to complete the part scores. In September 1880, gout made him bedridden. Offenbach retired to Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Henry IV Pavilion, 19 rue Thiers), where he died on October 5, 1880 during a rehearsal of The Tales of Hoffmann . Ernest Guiraud was the first to complete the orchestration of the opera, commissioned by the Offenbach family, so that the premiere could take place posthumously at the Opéra-Comique on February 10, 1881. A large funeral service was held for Offenbach, who was well-known throughout Paris, in the parish church of La Madeleine . He was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre cemetery , very close to his home. The tomb was designed by the architect Charles Garnier .


The works of the "inventor" of the operetta have hardly anything to do with what is understood by operetta today, since the expectations of this genre are shaped by Viennese operetta (such as the pieces by Franz Lehár or Johann Strauss ). Karl Kraus coined the term "Offenbachiaden" for his works to make it clear that Offenbach was the only representative of this genre. Offenbach himself used the generic term opérette (little opera) only once for one of his works . Most German translations (usually made before 1960) do not correctly reflect his designations.

Offenbach combined lively, catchy music with a mostly satirical and enigmatic plot, which alludes to the customs, people and events of his time, the Second Empire under Napoléon III. , having. Offenbach's music is decidedly dramatic, even if the figures on the stage deliberately remain motionless. His caricaturing of the military (e.g. in the Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein ) and the German ( Lischen et Fritzchen ) remained incomparable. Offenbach's best-known pieces are the final dance number from Orphée aux enfers , originally called the Galop infernal but now known as the Cancan , and the Barcarole from Les Contes d'Hoffmann , which he had previously performed in Les Fées du Rhin had used.

His instrumentation contrasts the full sound of the Viennese operetta with a slim, transparent sound. In German-speaking countries, they were often edited because they were found brittle. Trumpets were used instead of the original cornet , and the modern trombone instead of the so-called baroque trombone , which was still in use in France well into the 20th century .

After the posthumous performance in 1881, Hoffmann's Tales enjoyed a triumphal march through music theaters, but this version was only a poorly cemented fragment. Much had been cut because it was too long, and one act that was supposed to be set in Venice was omitted entirely. With the printing of the material by Choudens Verlag, much was written that was not intended by its creator. Additions were made at several performance venues, as in Berlin in 1884, and compositions were added, most seriously in Monte Carlo, where the artistic director Raoul Gunsbourg “reworked” entire sections. However, since further originals by Offenbach, which were believed to have been destroyed in a fire in the Paris theater, have been made public, the publishing house Schott and the Offenbach biographer Jean-Christophe Keck have been working on an altered edition of the score.

Works such as his rediscovered Ave Maria for soprano show other facets of the composer.

Works (selection in chronological order)




Concert works

  • Concerto militaire in G major for cello and orchestra (1850)
  • Pupil Polka (1860, dedicated to Clara Pupil)
  • Overture for large orchestra (1873)
  • Souvenir of Aix-les-Bains (1873)
  • American Eagle Waltz (1876 during Offenbach's stay in the United States)


  • Ave Maria , rediscovered aria (c. 1865)


On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Offenbach's death in 1980, the "Jacques Offenbach Society" was founded with its headquarters in Bad Ems . Offenbach had repeatedly stayed there in midsummer between 1858 and 1870 because a significant number of the spa guests came from France, especially Paris. He performed his own works there with his own orchestra and worked on new pieces for the winter in Paris, including Orpheus in the Underworld . Les Bavards (1862), Il Signor Fagotto (1863), Lischen et Fritzchen (1863), Jeanne qui pleure et Jean qui rit (1864) and Coscoletto (1865) were also premiered in the Marble Hall in Bad Ems . The association was founded in 1979 by the former Bad Ems spa director Heinz Wadepuhl and the teacher and church musician Günther Obst. It is dedicated to the performance and research of Offenbach's work and today has around 400 members. Theater scholar Ralph-Günther Patocka has been the chair since 2008.

Since 1980, the Jacques Offenbach Society and the city of Bad Ems have held an annual Jacques Offenbach Festival in Bad Ems.

In 2015, a "Kölner Offenbach Society" was founded with the aim of "establishing an appropriate memorial to the works of Jacques Offenbach in Cologne". The founding members include the two former mayors of Cologne, Jürgen Roters and Fritz Schramma .

Literature (selection)

  • Siegfried Kracauer : Jacques Offenbach and the Paris of his time. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 978-3-518-58348-7 (First publication: Albert de Lange, Amsterdam 1937).
  • Harald Reil: Siegfried Kracauer's Jacques Offenbach: biography, history, contemporary history. Long, New York 2003, ISBN 0-8204-3742-5 .
  • Alphons Silbermann : The imaginary diary of Mr. Jacques Offenbach. Piper, Munich 1991 [First publication: Bote & Bock, Wiesbaden 1960].
  • Father Walter Jacob: Jacques Offenbach. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek 1997 (rororo picture monograph. 50155) ISBN 3-499-50155-4
  • Heinz-Klaus Metzger, Rainer Riehn (ed.): Jacques Offenbach. (Music concepts.13.), Edition text + criticism, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-88377-048-5 .
  • Alexander Faris: Jacques Offenbach. Atlantis, Zurich 1982, ISBN 3-254-00015-3 .
  • Jean Claude Yon: Jacques Offenbach. Gallimard, Paris 2000, ISBN 2-07-074775-1 .
  • Thomas Schipperges, Christoph Dohr, Kerstin Rüllke: Bibliotheca Offenbachiana. Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) - a systematic-chronological bibliography. Dohr, Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-925366-48-2 .
  • Peter Hawig: Jacques Offenbach. facets of life and work. Dohr, Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-925366-57-1 .
  • Peter Ackermann, Ralf-Olivier Schwarz and Jens Stern (eds.): Jacques Offenbach and the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens 1855. Muth, Fernwald 2006, ISBN 978-3-929379-15-0 .
  • Ralf-Olivier Schwarz: Vaudeville and Operetta. Jacques Offenbach's works for the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Muth, Fernwald 2007, ISBN 978-3-929379-18-1 .
  • Peter Hawig: Invitation to Gerolstein. Investigations and interpretations of the work of Jacques Offenbach. Muth, Fernwald 2008, ISBN 978-3-929379-20-4 .
  • Herbert Eulenberg Jacques Offenbach In: Shadows - 20 Musician Portraits. Econ, Dusseldorf 1965.
  • Alain Decaux : Jacques Offenbach composer of the Belle Epoque. (Original title: Offenbach, roi du second empire. Translated by Lilli Nevinny), Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1978, (Bastei Lübbe. 61032) ISBN 3-404-01024-8 ; First edition at Nymphenburg, Munich 1960 under the title: Offenbach, king of the second empire .
  • Alexander Flores: Offenbach in Arabia. In: The World of Islam. Vol. 48, No. 2, 2008, pp. 131–169.
  • Peter Hawig and Anatol Stefan Riemer: Music theater as social satire. The Offenbachiads and Their Context . Muth, Fernwald 2018, ISBN 978-3-929379-46-4 .
  • Heiko Schon: Jacques Offenbach - Masters of Pleasure . Regionalia, Daun 2018, ISBN 978-3-95540-332-4 .
  • Ralf-Olivier Schwarz: Jacques Offenbach. A European Portrait , Cologne et al: Böhlau 2019 ISBN 978-3-412-51295-8 .
  • Siegfried Dörffeldt: The musical parody in Offenbach. Frankfurt am Main 2006, DNB 978965450 (online dissertation University of Frankfurt 1954). DNB 480476810 full text online PDF
  • Alexander Green, Anatol Stefan Riemer and Ralf-Olivier Schwarz (eds.): The "other" Offenbach. Report on the international symposium on the occasion of Jacques Offenbach's 200th birthday at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts on October 18th and 19th, 2018 . Dohr, Cologne 2019, ISBN 978-3-86846-153-4 .
  • Alexander Flores: Jacques Offenbach and his work at Siegfried Kracauer and beyond . Verlag Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster 2021, ISBN 978-3-89691-061-5 .

web links

Commons : Jacques Offenbach  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Jacobo Kaufmann: Isaac Offenbach and his son Jacques, or "It is not every day Purim" . Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1998, ISBN 978-3-484-65121-0 , p. XII .
  2. a b Eduard Prußen (linoleum cuts), Werner Schäfke and Günter Henne (texts): Cologne heads . 1st edition. University and City Library, Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-931596-53-8 , p. 76 .
  3. Constant Pierre: Le Conservatoire national de musique et de declamation . Documents historiques et administratifs. Imprimerie Nationale de France, Paris 1900, p. 273 (French, digitized on Gallica ).
  4. Josef HeinzelmannOffenbach, Jacques. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 19, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-428-00200-8 , pp. 480–482 ( digitized ).
  5. OFFENBACH JACQUES. In: operette-theatremusical.fr. Retrieved April 28, 2018 (French).
  6. Hugo Riemann : Music Lexicon . 8th, completely revised edition. tape 2 . Max Hesse, Berlin, Leipzig 1916, p. 790 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  7. Rudolf Vierhaus (ed.): German Biographical Encyclopedia (DBE) . 2nd, revised and expanded edition. tape 7 . K.G. Saur, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-094026-8 , p. 561 ( limited preview in Google Book Search). .
  8. Don Michael Randel (ed.): The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music . The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London (England) 1996, ISBN 978-0-674-37299-3 , p. 648 (English, limited preview in Google Book Search).
  9. Engelbert Hellen: CV of Jacques Offenbach. In: klassika.info. 17 August 2009, retrieved 11 August 2018 .
  10. Manuel Brug, Eine masterlich falsified opera, Die Welt from February 13, 2018 in: https://www.welt.de/print/die_Welt/Kultur/article173497200/ Eine-meisterlich-gefaelschte-Oper.html
  11. Ave Maria solo de Soprano: . In: bnf.fr . Retrieved January 14, 2020.
  12. Information at Klassika
  13. King Carrot. In: oper-hannover.de. Niedersächsische Staatstheater Hannover , accessed November 27, 2018 .
  14. King Carrot. In: de.schott-music.com. Schott Music , retrieved November 27, 2018 .
  15. Manuel Brug: Creamy ratatouille instead of crunchy vegetable satire: Offenbach's "King Carrot" for the first time in a new version in Hanover. In: classic. welt.de . November 6, 2018, retrieved November 27, 2018 .