Figaro-Polka

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Figaro-Polka op. 320 is a French polka written by Johann Strauss II in 1867 and was dedicated to Auguste Delaunay de Villemessant, who was the editor-in-chief of the Paris newspaper 'Le Figaro'.

Strauss was persuaded to travel to Paris after the 1867 Fasching by Comte Charles Xavier Eustache d'Osmond, a friend of Strauss who had earlier came for the 1866 Fasching in Vienna and had advised the composer cum conductor to give concerts in the French capital. Strauss, with his astute business capabilities coupled with his wife, Henrietta Treffz's equally shrewd financial management sought to secure contracts to perform and organise concerts at the Paris World Exhibition in spring 1867. Strauss could not travel with his Strauss Orchestra and he had to conclude an agreement with the King of Prussia's Director of Music Benjamin Bilse to attempt that venture, sharing the conducting of Bilse's orchestra.

Bilse's excellent and well-trained orchestra stole the show in Paris under Bilse himself but is ironically not a signal of enthusiasm for Strauss' waltzes and polkas as Bilse conducted works by other composers, with Strauss only managing lukewarm interest when he had the opportunity to conduct his share. Paris was a melting pot of musical entertainment with stiff competition and there was little encouragement for Strauss at the beginning. Further, he was against the idea of making his entry into Paris as grand as possible as advertisements and other so-called 'trumpetings', in the words of Henrietta 'Jetty' Treffz reached 10,000 francs a day.

Strauss had hoped for a miracle and he got one in the form of de Villemessant, the dedicatee of the 'Figaro-Polka' who skillfully championed Strauss in his newspaper 'Le Figaro' on 24 May 1867 onwards that the composer was able to score a triumph when invited to conduct at a ball hosted by Princess Pauline Metternich at the Austrian embassy on 28 May. Since that conducting venture, Strauss' fortunes turned for the better and a relieved Henrietta noted that their sojourn had been a success after the initial setbacks. Having won over the Parisians, he readily acknowledged de Villemessant's role and therefore dedicated the new polka to the latter, with its premiére on 30 July 1867 at the Cercle International building within the Exhibition complex with Bilse's orchestra.

The polka is in the 'French-polka' style, with deliberate 'feminine' steps. The piece begins with attention-arresting chords in F major, with a tapping quality in the main melody. The piece proceeds at its own relaxed pace although it lacks nothing in terms of gaiety and delighful musical froth. As expected, its cheeky finale sufficiently affirms the polka as one of Strauss' more inspired pieces of the year.

References[edit]

Based on original text by Peter Kemp, The Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain. Used with permission.