Many call the composition style of the German-born Jacques Offenbach “more French than French” and so he became the most popular composer of Napoleon III. Jakob Eberscht was his real name and he was born on 20.06.1819 in Cologne as the seventh (of ten) children.
In order to give his sons Jakob and the four years older Julius (Jules) a better musical education, his father travelled with them to Paris in November 1833. The Conservatoire national de musique et de déclamation was not open to foreigners at that time; in a decree of 1822, the minister had ordered that he reserve the right to admit foreigners. Even Franz Liszt was not admitted by Luigi Cherubini, the director, because of this reservation. The father, who arrived with letters of recommendation, remained persistent and was admitted for his son Jakob on 30 November 1833 (entry in the list of pupils). Jakob moved into an attic apartment and attended the cello class of Olive-Charlier Vaslin, which he left voluntarily in 1834 without graduating. Jakob – who now called himself Jacques – began as a cellist at the Opéra-Comique in 1835 for a monthly salary of 83 francs and received composition lessons from Jacques Fromental Halévy in 1837.
The works of the “inventor” of the operetta hardly have anything to do with what is today understood by operetta, since the expectations towards this genre are shaped by the Viennese operetta (such as the pieces by Franz Lehár or Johann Strauss). Offenbach combined lively, catchy music with a mostly satirical and profound plot that alludes to the customs, characters and events of his time.
Offenbach’s most famous pieces are the final dance number from Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), which was originally called “Galop infernal” but is now known as “Cancan”, and the “Barcarole” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, (Hoffmann’s Stories), which he used earlier in Les Fées du Rhin.