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Erich Schwandt, Fredric Woodbridge Wilson, and Deane L. Root

(Fr.; It. burlesca; Ger. Burleske)

A humorous piece involving parody and grotesque exaggeration; the term may be traced to folk poetry and theatre and apparently derived from the late Latin burra (‘trifle’). As a literary term in the 17th century it referred to a grotesque imitation of the dignified or pathetic, and in the early 18th century it was used as a title for musical works in which serious and comic elements were juxtaposed or combined to achieve a grotesque effect. In England the word denotes a dramatic production which ridicules stage conventions, while in 19th- and 20th-century American usage its principal meaning is a variety show in which striptease is the chief attraction.

Burlesque: Instrumental music

Burlesque: English theatrical burlesque

Burlesque: American burlesque

ESMGG2 (‘Burleske’; M. Struck) [incl. list of instrumental works]NicollHT.F. Dillon Croker and S. Tucker, eds.: The Extravaganzas of J.R. Planché, Esq. (Somerset Herald, 1827–1871) (London, 1879)W. Davenport Adams...

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Fredric Woodbridge Wilson and Deane L. Root

In the USA, burlesque followed the English form until the 1860s. From the late 1830s burlesques of operas and romantic plays were presented in New York, and the English émigré John Brougham wrote and acted in numerous burlesques from 1842 to 1879. Brougham’s Po-ca-hon-tas (1855, after Longfellow’s narrative poem) is peopled with ‘Salvages’, its dialogue is a string of doubles entendres and its songs were selected from such popular tunes as Widow Machree and Rosin the Bow and Tyrolean melodies. Several minstrel troupes presented such satires; in the 1860s the Kelly & Leon Negro Minstrels performed burlesques of Offenbach (La Belle L.N., Grand Dutch S.) throughout the north-eastern states, and Sanford’s Minstrel Burlesque Opera Troupe advertised a ‘change of programme every night’. From about 1860 burlesque often provided the framework for elaborate spectacles, beginning with those produced in New York by Laura Keene, who employed ballet troupes of women whose costumes exposed their legs; nearly all New York theatres presented shows that relied less for their effect on dramatic elements, wit or satire than on female beauty, and the term ‘burlesque’ gradually shifted in meaning from the ridicule of stage conventions to an emphasis on women in various degrees of undress, with striptease elements prominent by the 1920s. The burlesque was banned in New York in ...

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Fredric Woodbridge Wilson and Deane L. Root

Burlesque was related to and in part derived from Pantomime and may be considered an extension of the introductory section of pantomime with the addition of gags and ‘turns’ such as traditionally accompanied a transformation scene. But whereas pantomime most often took its subject matter from stories familiar to children – fairy tale, nursery rhyme, folk story, familiar fiction or exotic tales – burlesque tended to employ more elevated and serious models: mythology, classical or historical legend (Medea, Ivanhoe), literature, Shakespearean drama and history (Guy Fawkes, Lucrezia Borgia). Among the objects of ridicule were the conventions of serious theatre and melodrama. Burlesques followed the appearance of virtually every major opera, as for example J. Halford’s Faust and Marguerite (1853) after Gounod’s Faust.

Like pantomime, burlesque became a largely seasonal entertainment, appearing in legitimate theatres at Christmas and Easter in place of more serious bills. Occasionally a burlesque appeared as a companion piece to other works. Whereas pantomime entertained all classes and all ages, the burlesque and extravaganza tended to appeal to a relatively educated and sophisticated audience. In both genres dialogue was cast in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter verse (less often in blank verse). Music was an essential if often a minor feature, consisting chiefly of arrangements of songs and incidental music to underscore the action or for comic effect. In operatic burlesques, numbers were appropriated from the model, with new words and often with humorous touches; additional numbers were interpolated from a variety of familiar sources (such as music hall and minstrel songs). Rarely was there any attempt at musical parody....

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Erich Schwandt

J.G. Walther (1732) described burlesque music as ‘jocular’ and ‘amusing’ (‘schertzhafft’, ‘kurzweilig’) and referred to ‘burleske Ouvertüren’ as pieces in which ‘laughable melodies, made up of 5ths and octaves, appear along with serious melodies’. This probably referred to the comic effects achieved by composers of Italian opera buffa in the early 18th century, effects that doubtless helped to set a standard of musical humour for the ‘burlesca’ movements sometimes included in contemporary suites. The example in Bach’s Partita bwv827, which is called a minuet in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook (1725), has nothing particularly jocular about it, although it displays some striking harmonies, as well as a passage in parallel octaves. J.L. Krebs placed a ‘bourlesca’ between the saraband and the minuets of his Partita no.2 in B♭; the movement is not a dance, but rather a small-scale sonata form with a few melodic and harmonic surprises. François Couperin subtitled some of his harpsichord pieces ‘dans le goût burlesque’; two examples are ...

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Robert Stevenson

(b Villena, nr Alicante, March 27, 1851; d Madrid, March 25, 1909). Spanish composer. In 1865 he conducted the band in his home village, where his father, an enthusiastic music-lover, was a barber. Two years later Chapí enrolled in the Madrid Conservatory, studying with Arrieta and winning first prize in harmony in 1869. While earning a precarious living as cornettist in the Circo de Price theatre orchestra, he composed an overture Zanzé and his first zarzuela Abel y Caín. In 1871 he competed successfully for the directorship of the artillery regimental band. His first symphonic suite La corte de Granada: fantasía morisca was composed in 1873 (the third of its four movements, ‘Serenata’, is still played); his one-act opera Las naves de Cortés, performed at the Teatro Real on 19 April 1874 with Tamberlik in the title role, earned him a three-year government grant to study, first at the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, then at Milan and Paris. As fruit of these years abroad, he sent back the one-act operas ...

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Robert Stevenson

(b Philadelphia, Nov 28, 1815; d New York, May 21, 1862). American minstrel-troupe organizer and performer. In 1842 while helping the widow Harriet Harrington to run a tavern at Buffalo, he joined her son George (who adopted the name Christy) and Thomas Vaughn to sing blackface songs. The troupe was augmented with Lansing Durand and others, and toured upstate New York in 1843–5. Acting as manager, interlocutor (centre man on the minstrel semicircle), ballad singer and banjo player, Christy took the six-man troupe to Palmo’s Opera House in New York on 27 April 1846. From 15 February 1847 to 15 July 1854 they played at Mechanics Hall, Broadway, perfecting a minstrel show in three sections that appealed to all levels of audience. On 25 August 1847, at the close of their second Cincinnati visit, Christy’s Minstrels gave Stephen Foster a benefit performance that included Oh! Susanna. From that time the troupe specialized in Foster premières, and in ...

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Robert Stevenson

(b Palmyra, NY, Nov 6, 1827; d New York, May 12, 1868). American minstrel performer. He changed his family name of Harrington after joining (as a jig dancer) the troupe of his stepfather, Edwin Pearce Christy, at Buffalo in 1842. He appeared with Christy’s Minstrels in New York from 1847 to 1853, creating such roles as Lucy Long and Cachuca, and distinguishing himself in every part from endman and bone player to wench. In 1853 he joined Henry Wood at 444 Broadway to form Wood and Christy’s Minstrels. After a fire destroyed their premises in December 1854, the company went on tour; they later returned to New York and re-established themselves on Broadway. Christy formed his own company, George Christy’s Minstrels, in 1858, and played at Tom Maguire’s Opera House in San Francisco. In May 1859 he attempted to resume occupancy of the rebuilt 444 Broadway in New York, but was prevented from doing so by his erstwhile partner Wood. His last appearance was in Brooklyn with Hooley’s Minstrels ten days before his death. Christy published collections of his songs, dialogues and jokes, including ...

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Robert Stevenson

(b Madrid, May 5, 1846; d Madrid, July 20, 1908). Spanish composer. He studied elementary piano and theory at the Madrid Conservatory, but then, at his parents' insistence, turned to medicine. However, Barbieri brought him back to a musical career when he conducted a set of Chueca's waltzes, Lamentos de un preso, which commemorated a student escapade. His first theatrical success was La canción de la Lola (1880), which ran for two years at the Teatro de Variedades. He composed about 37 zarzuelas, mostly in one act (género chico), many of them orchestrated by Joaquín Valverde. Chueca was able to capture the local flavour of regions as far apart as Asturias and Andalusia and had the gift of writing facile tunes that immediately appealed to the Madrid public and eventually won the favour of the entire Spanish-speaking world, as well as the esteem of Falla. ...

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Andrew Lamb

(b Szepesvárallya [now Spišská Nová Ves, Slovakia], May 14, 1842; d Vienna, Oct 27, 1894). Hungarian composer. At the age of 15 he was performing as a pianist in Russia; then he became a music teacher, and later a conductor in Wiener Neustadt (1864–5), Innsbruck, Trieste, and at the Carltheater in Vienna. He then entered military service, becoming bandmaster of several Austro-Hungarian infantry regiments. During the 1880s and early 90s he conducted ‘Monster Concerts’ in the Prater in Vienna, and he composed much successful dance and salon music, and several operettas, of which the first, Pfingsten in Florenz (1884), was the most successful. Around 1889–90 he arranged dances on themes from The Yeomen of the Guard and The Gondoliers (for Bosworth & Co.), at the time when these works were being performed in Germany.

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Orly Leah Krasner

(b Middletown, CT, April 3, 1859; d Chicago, Jan 16, 1920). American composer. In 1872 he went to England and in 1880 took the BA in modern history from Oxford University. He had studied the piano with Wilhelm Speidel at Stuttgart and after graduating returned there to study the piano and harmony with Siegmund Lebert and Dionys Pruckner. He pursued further theory studies with J.C. Hauff at Frankfurt, and learnt singing with Luigi Vannuccini at Florence and composition with Richard Genée at Vienna. In 1882 he returned to the USA, working in business before turning to composition full time. He was a music critic (1889–1912) for Harper’s Weekly, the New York World, New York Herald, New York Journal and the Chicago Evening Post. He also founded and conducted the Washington SO (1902–4).

De Koven is best known for his operettas, particularly those with libretti by Harry-Bache Smith. Their three most successful works, ...

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Andrew Lamb

(b Graslitz [now Kraslice], Bohemia, July 8, 1857; d Dresden, Sept 24, 1910). German composer and conductor. The son of a woodwind instrument maker, he attended the music school in Graslitz for three years and then (1874 to 1879) studied the clarinet with Julius Pisařowitz at the Prague Conservatory. In 1880 he became theatre conductor in Brno and was subsequently at various other German theatres before he went to the Carl Schultze-Theater in Hamburg in 1883. There he met the singer Anna Maria Eppich (1864–1919), whom he married in 1886 after the wide success of his first operetta Don Cesar; this work, which used the same story as Wallace’s Maritana, was performed throughout Germany and Austria and as far afield as the USA. In 1893 Dellinger became chief conductor at the Residenz-Theater in Dresden, where further operettas by him were produced with limited success. In later years he suffered from financial worries and consequent overwork, and in ...

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Robert B. Winans

(b 1808; d New Orleans, 1861). American minstrel performer. He was most famous for his entr’acte performances of Coal Black Rose, the first blackface comic lovesong, and Long Tailed Blue, the first song of the black dandy; both of these song types later became standard in the minstrel show, and both songs are in a simple musical style that was thought (mistakenly) to represent African American music. Dixon claimed authorship of these songs (and, less credibly, of Zip Coon), and is credited as the first to perform them; he presented Coal Black Rose as early as 1827 in Albany and in 1828 brought it to New York, where he became highly popular. Capitalizing on this success, in 1829 he expanded the song into two comic skits (an interlude and an afterpiece), The Lottery Ticket and Love in a Cloud; the latter has been cited as the first ‘negro play’. Dixon performed throughout the 1830s, but by the 1840s he had been eclipsed by other minstrel performers; he went on to gain notoriety as a filibuster in Yucatán and as the editor of a New York scandal sheet. ...

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(b Terre Haute, IN, April 22, 1858; d New York, Jan 30, 1906). American songwriter, lyricist, publisher and performer. He was the brother of the novelist Theodore Dreiser. He learned the guitar and piano, and at the age of 16 joined a travelling show, adopting the pseudonym Dresser. From 1885 he performed with the Billy Rose Minstrels, composed sentimental songs and wrote and acted in five plays. After his first successful songs, The Letter that Never Came (1886) and The Outcast Unknown (1887), he became one of the first American performers to enter music publishing, as a staff composer for Willis Woodward Co. He continued to write songs (e.g. The pardon came too late, 1891), and about 1894 helped found the George T. Worth Co. (eventually Howley, Haviland & Dresser, 1901). The company thrived, mostly on Dresser’s tragic and sentimental ballads such as ...

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Robert Stevenson

(b Mount Vernon, OH, Oct 29, 1815; d Mount Vernon, June 28, 1904). American composer and minstrel performer. He had little formal education, but in early youth learned popular tunes from his musical mother and taught himself to play the fiddle. At the age of 13 he became an apprentice printer and in 1834 enlisted in the US Army. At Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, he became an expert fifer and drummer, publishing his own Fifer’s and Drummer’s Guide in 1862 in cooperation with George Brace. On receiving his discharge from the army on 8 July 1835 he joined a Cincinnati circus, for one member of which he wrote the words of his first ‘black song’ (to the tune of Gumbo Chaff). In 1840–42 he toured with the Angervine and other circuses as a blackface banjoist and singer.

In November 1842 Emmett and Frank Brower (1823–74), a blackface dancer and singer who was the first black impersonator to play the bones, formed a fiddle and bones duo in New York. From ...

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(b Vienna, Oct 20, 1853; d New York, Sept 13, 1914). American composer and conductor of Austrian birth. He received his musical education in his native city, where he reportedly studied with Jacques Offenbach. He emigrated to the USA in 1882, became conductor at the Thalia Theatre, New York, and began arranging other composers’ works. His own first published score was 1776, a three-act romantic comic opera in German (1884), but his first (and greatest) success was The Passing Show (1894), the earliest of the lavish topical American revues. Englander composed scores for about 55 shows, principally comic operas, writing as many as four a year during the period 1895 to 1904. More than 50 of his songs and a handful of piano pieces (mostly from the shows) were published. Although he was a prolific composer of well-crafted songs and dances, Englander’s thorough grounding in Viennese operetta prevented him from adapting, towards the end of his career, to the Tin Pan Alley and musical comedy styles. The most popular songs in some of his shows were in fact written by other men: for example, ‘Sweet Annie Moore’ (...

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Andrew Lamb

(b Vienna, Oct 25, 1815; d Vienna, March 31, 1885). Austrian composer and bandmaster. In 1825 he joined the newly formed orchestra of Johann Strauss the elder, and he worked closely with Strauss on the preparation of the latter's works. He formed his own orchestra in 1835, rivalling Strauss and Lanner and occasionally deputizing as conductor of the court balls. Fahrbach came into his own with the deaths of Lanner and Strauss, before being overshadowed again with the emergence of the younger Johann Strauss. He published some 400 dances and marches, as well as theatre and religious music, and he contributed articles on wind instruments and military music to the Allgemeine Wiener Musikzeitung. A large collection of his manuscripts is in A-Wst .

His son Philipp (b Vienna, 16 Dec 1843; d Vienna, 15 Feb 1894) was also a composer and bandmaster. He studied the violin under Jakob Dont and by ...

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Andrew Lamb

[Faster, Otto]

(b Hamburg, Feb 16, 1854; d Hamburg, Jan 11, 1931). German conductor and composer. The son of a journalist, he was educated in Hamburg and studied music with August Herzog (1870–72). He began a career in business, but from 1880 was active as conductor and composer of waltzes, polkas, and other dances and marches. His waltz ...

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Andrew Lamb

(b Cloonyquin, Co. Roscommon, May 1, 1854; d Formby, Jan 24, 1920). Irish singer and songwriter. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin (1872–80), and had a career in engineering, but in 1890 turned to writing and performing. His shows included story-telling, humorous sketching and singing, sometimes accompanied on the banjo. He moved to London in about 1900, and performed throughout Britain as well as on the Continent and in North America. One of French’s first songs was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer (1877), which became widely popular in a pirated edition (he had failed to register the copyright). His numerous Irish comic ballads include Phil the Fluther’s Ball (1889), Slathery’s Mounted Fut (1889), Mat Hannigan’s Aunt (1892), Are ye right there, Michael? (1902) and Come back, Paddy Reilly (1912). He wrote the words to several other songs, including ...