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FRANZ AND KARL DOPPLER (1821-1883; 1825-1900)

Rigoletto Fantasie for 2 flutes & piano

September 18, 2022: Seth Morris & Maron Anis Khoury, flutes; Bryan Wagorn, piano

Brothers Franz and Karl Doppler both began studying flute at an early age with their father, composer and oboist Joseph Doppler. Franz played in the conventional manner with the flute out to his right, but Karl played “backwards” with the flute out to the left! As teenage flute virtuosos they made several concert tours together, then in 1838 settled in Pest, Hungary. They both became flutists of the German Town Theater and in 1841 of the Hungarian National Theater. Karl also served as a conductor at the National Theater until 1862. Franz composed several operas that met with considerable success, and Karl composed a singspiel, some incidental music, and songs that also found a receptive audience. They even composed several works jointly, such as the present Rigoletto Fantasy. Together they helped found the Philharmonic Concerts in 1853 and periodically toured as a duo.

In 1858 Franz left for Vienna to become first flutist for the Court Opera and later conductor of the ballet orchestra; his fifteen ballets date from this period. From 1865 Franz also taught flute at the Vienna Conservatory. Karl stayed on for a time in Pest, but then moved to Stuttgart in 1865 to serve as court Kapellmeister, a post he held for thirty-three years. Besides composing for the theater, they each wrote a number of piano pieces and works for male chorus, and the compositions of both brothers achieved great popularity in their day.

The Fantasy and Variations on Motives from the Opera Rigoletto, of Verdi, to use the work’s full title, was published in 1878 as Opus 38, but it may have been composed years earlier. One can easily imagine the brothers working on it when they lived in the same vicinity and touring with the piece long before it was published. On the other hand, maybe they had a reunion and celebrated by collaborating on the piece. In any case, they would have been very familiar with Verdi’s themes, since Rigoletto had been immensely popular ever since its Venice premiere in 1851.

The aria that receives the most attention in the course of the Fantasy is the celebrated “Caro nome,” which is treated to several variations, interspersed with interludes that bring in other themes from the opera. The famous “La donna è mobile” makes a brief appearance, and we also hear parts of “Povero Rigoletto—La rà, la rà,” “Bella figlia dell’amore,” “Figlia! Mio padre!,” “Cortiginai, vil razza dannata,” and “Sì, vendetta.” The scoring for two flutes happily accommodates the many passages of parallel thirds and sixths so common to Italian opera. The Dopplers also added virtuosic filigree, switching off between players so that each has ample chance for dazzling display.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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