Work: Gypsy Baron Overture (Der Zigeunerbaron)
About This Work
This is another of Johann Strauss Jr.'s sparkling overtures that tantalizes the audience with the themes and melodies that await them in the operetta.
Die Zigeunerbaron was a project of Strauss, the German-Hungarian author Ignaz Schnitzer,
and Hungarian writer, Jókai Mór. They began working on it in late 1883. Schnitzer, with input from Jókai, developed the libretto from Jókai's novel, Saffi. Early in 1885, Schnitzer threatened to give the libretto to Franz von Suppé or another composer since Strauss was unusually slow in composing the music. Strauss got the message. The operetta finally premiered on 25 October 1885, the eve of Strauss' 60th birthday.
The story concerns Sandor Barinkay who, returning from Austria to his birth land of Hungary, finds his father's castle in ruins and the rest of the estate being used by gypsies and a pig-farmer. The gypsies proclaim him a baron. Saffi, daughter of the gypsy Czipra, helps Barinkay find treasure in the castle. Saffi is then revealed to be a princess; Barinkay, despite his new-found wealth and nobility, declines to marry her. He joins the Hungarian army, goes to war, later returning to marry Saffi.
The overture begins with the distinctive rhythms and minor mode rhapsodic music that evokes Hungary, as heard in Liszt's and Brahms' works based on folk music. Dramatic pauses and a flute cadenza connect the chorus melody (a somewhat syncopated, minor key quasi-march) and the melody sung by Saffi (here, by the oboe), welcoming Barinkay back to the land of his birth, the gypsies' homeland, at the end of Act I. This is followed by the "knock, knock, knock on each stone" as Barinkay, Saffi, and Czipra search for the treasure in Barinkay's castle in Act II. The knocking is distinct in the polka tune. A melodramatic intermezzo (which is strange in that it can be found only in the vocal score, not in the operetta's normal orchestral score) leads into the familiar, lighthearted, swinging Schatz (Treasure) Waltz. Three very brief references are heard next, all contrasting the brass and woodwind sections with the strings. First is an orchestral interlude from the finale of Act I, where the steady rhythm of the melody is supported by a dotted rhythm chordal harmony; second is a few bars of the "recruiting" song from Act II, the determination of the recruiters obvious in the martial sounding tune (a Hungarian theme given to Strauss by Jókai); third is an Andantino section of the chorus of boatmen that opens the operetta, with the rocking waves of the sea of life evident in the music. The overture finishes with the running scales, typical of Strauss' codas, then a direct quote of the syncopated Allegro found in the finale of Act I.
Johann's brother, Eduard, premiered the concert performance of this work, two weeks after the operetta's opening, and it has since been a standard in the Viennese concert repertoire.
-- Patsy Morita
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