Michael McCooe – Composer: Offenbach

German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach (20 June 1819 – 5 October 1880) completed nearly 100 operettas of the Romantic era between 1850s–1870s. His uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann is one of his most famous works and remains part of the standard opera repertory.

He influenced the works of Johann Strauss Jr and Arthur Sullivan, among many other composers of future generations in composition.

Early breakthrough of Offenbach

jacques offenbach

Born in Cologne, Offenbach displayed his musical talents from a young age and by 14 he had been accepted as a student at the Paris Conservatoire. He chose to leave after one year of studying, in order to focus on playing the cello and conducting himself, to which he would go on to achieve international fame.

Offenbach produced his first full-length operetta, Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), in 1858, which was exceptionally well received. This remains one of his most popular works, along with some of his 18 works from the 1860s, notably the Can Can.

His one-act pieces from this period include La belle Hélène (1864), La vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868). The risqué humour and gentle satire made them internationally renowned and some of the works were translated for audiences in Vienna, London and other cities across Europe.

Later life

Offenbach’s later operettas proved popular in France, particularly Madame Favart (1878) and La fille du tambour-major (1879). La fille was very profitable for Offenbach, but left him with very little time to compose any other operas.

In his last years he strove to finish The Tales of Hoffmann, but passed away before the premiere of the opera, which has entered the standard repertory in versions completed or edited by other musicians.

He passed away in Paris in 1880 at the age of 61, and it was believed by critics that his music would soon be forgotten. That was not the case, and it has gone on to have a lasting impression on many composers in the generations since.

You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.