Suppé started life with several major disadvantages. The first was that his parents, an Italian-Belgian father and an Austrian mother, saw fit to christen him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-DemeIIi, which at least taught him almost all the letters of the alphabet from a very early age. The second was that, in common with a number of other composers, he had to contend with his parents trying to discourage him from studying music, preferring that he become a lawyer.
A move to Vienna cemented his musical training and, having simplified his name to the more Austrian Franz von Suppé, he found conducting, playing and singing opportunities in Vienna’s opera houses, at first unpaid but on the understanding that he would be invited to write for the theatre. He was to write over a hundred works for the stage in Vienna, including incidental music, farces and ballets, many of which have disappeared virtually without trace, and over 40 operettas, a small handful of which remain in the repertoire.
Best known of Suppé’s operettas are Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry, and a small handful of others, Boccaccio, The Beautiful Galatea and Fatinitza, have seen the light of day briefly in recent years. The overtures to Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry are however staple repertoire.
Light Cavalry was composed to a libretto written by one Karl Costa and premiered on 21 March 1866 in the Carltheater, Vienna. The plot deals with the trials and tribulations of bringing two sets of lovers together, Kitt, the glazier, with Dorothea, and Hermann with Vilma, an orphan, the catalyst being the arrival of a troop of Hungarian Hussars, the Light Cavalry of the title.
The overture begins with trumpet fanfares and processional drama, before an Allegro in Hungarian style sweeps all before it. This leads directly into the most famous moment, a portrait of the Hussars as they gallop along in their finery, introduced by the trumpet. A full-blooded gypsy section represents the elemental passions at stake, before the return of the Hussars’ horseback ride carries us to the triumphant close.