Composers Datebook®

The 'Tales' of Offenbach?

Composers Datebook - Feb. 1, 2024


In 1881, the posthumous premiere of Jacques Offenbach’s final work, The Tales of Hoffmann, had been announced for Feb. 1 at the Opera Comique in Paris — and in fact was performed on that date, but as a closed dress rehearsal attended only by theater staff and Offenbach’s family.

Offenbach knew he was dying as he wrote this opera and had completed a full piano score and extensive sketches for its orchestration. For its premiere, Ernest Guiraud faithfully orchestrated Hoffmann, but, at the request of the Opera Comique’s director, he replaced the original, quick-paced spoken dialogue between its musical numbers with slower, sung recitatives in the style of a grand opera.

At a private premiere, the opera ran much too long. In something of a panic, drastic cuts and a wholesale rearrangement of Offenbach’s score were made before the public premiere nine days later. In its drastically altered form, Hoffmann proved to be a great success and remained so for decades. For the opera’s centenary in 1981, however, musicologists painstakingly prepared new performing versions of Hoffmann, restoring Offenbach’s original plan for the work.

Consequently, opera companies today are faced with a dilemma: Do they stage the familiar or the faithful version of Offenbach’s masterpiece?

Music Played in Today's Program

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880): Tales of Hoffmann Suite; Detroit Symphony; Paul Paray, cond. Mercury 434 332

On This Day


  • 1690 - Italian composer Francesco Maria Veracini, in Florence;

  • 1701 - Swedish composer Johan Joachim Agrell, in Löth;

  • 1859 - Irish-born American composer and cellist Victor Herbert, in Dublin;

  • 1869 - Russian composer and violinist Julius Conus (Yuly Konyus), in Moscow (Julian date: Jan. 20);

  • 1907 - Hungarian-born Swiss composer Sándor Veress, in Kolozsvár;

  • 1928 - German-born American composer Ursula Mamlok, in Berlin;


  • 1824 - Austrian composer and pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis, age 64, in Vienna;

  • 1875 - British composer William Sterndale Bennett, age 58, in London;

  • 1981 - German composer Ernst Pepping, age 79, in Berlin;

  • 1981 - Norwegian composer Nils Geirr Tveitt, age 72, in Oslo;


  • 1893 - Puccini: opera, "Manon Lescaut," in Turin at the Teatro Regio;

  • 1896 - Puccini: opera "La Bohème," in Turin at the Teatro Regio, with Arturo Toscanini conducting;

  • 1916 - Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 ("The Inextinguishable") with the orchestra of the Copenhagen Music Society, the composer conducting;

  • 1918 - Lehar: operetta "Wo die Lerche singt" (Where the Lark Sings) in Budapest;

  • 1930 - Schoenberg: opera "Von Heute af Morgen" (From One Day to the Next), at the Frankfurt Opera;

  • 1947 - Hindemith: "Sinfonia Serena" by the Dallas Symphony, Antal Dorati conducting;

  • 1982 - Tobias Picker: Violin Concerto, by the American Composers Orchestra, Paul Dunkel conducting, with Rolf Schulte the soloist;

  • 1984 - John Harbison: chamber orchestra version of “Mirabai Songs” (to poems of Mirabai, translated by Robert Bly), at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass., with mezzo-soprano Hance Felty and the ensemble Collage, Gunther Schuller conducting; The original voice and piano version of this work premiered in Boston on Nov. 15, 1983;

  • 1996 - George Walker: "Lilacs" for voice and orchestra, by soprano Faye Robinson and the Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa conducting; This work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music;

  • 2002 - Michael Torke: "An American Abroad" for orchestra, in Edinburgh, Scotland, by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop conducting;


  • 1862 - American premiere of Brahms's Serenade No. 2 in A, at Irving Hall in New York, by the New York Philharmonic, Carl Bergmann conducting; The world premiere performance of this work had occurred in Hamburg, Germany, on Feb. 10, 1860, with the composer conducting;

  • 1864 - First documented American performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto, at Milwaukee's Music Hall, by the Musical Society under Frederick Abel, with three unnamed soloists;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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