LIFE OF GREAT MASTER OF MUSIC
It reads February 13th, 1820. Principal magistrate of the town, Stefan von Keler and his wife Anna, born Both, are happy parents of newborn baby boy, Albert Paul. Kelers belonged to Upper Hungarian protestant peerage. They acquired privilege from the king Leopold in 1699 and they deservedly used their own coat of arms. Father Stefan was a senator of urban municipality and school superior of Protestant church. Mother Anna took care of numerous family and raised 12 children. In the last will of Bela Keler there are introduced the names of his siblings in this numerical order: Frederika, stefan, Anna Emília, Antónia, Matilda, Augusta, Apolónia, Ferdinand, Viktor, Jozefína and Amália. The houshehold of Kelers was German. Folk schools in Bardejov belonged to Church till 1898. Protestant Boys, and one of them, Albert Paul attended the school behind Protestant church, with German as the tuitional language. When a boy Albert Paul went in the street he could hear majority of people speak Slovak, or soft Upper saris dialect. He couldn´t speak Hungarian and nobody could speak this language fully, even if he later started to use first name Bela.
Musical gift was uncovered in him since his childhood. When he entered school, he started to play the violin as a student of Bardejov choirmaster, Franz Schiffer. He was an autodidact at piano playing. In October 1834 his father enrolled him at Protestant lycee in Levoca. He continued in study in Debrecín, where he studied law and philosophy and learned Hungarian. He didn´t endure too long there and he returned to study at Protestant college in Presov, where he probably led student orchestra. He finished the study of law with excellent results. According to the wish of his parents he was supposed to devote his life to agriculture. On July 1st, 1840 he worked in Liptov, then in Mukacevo and later in Beskydy. One year he was wandering and his mind was full of music and notes - not full of grain and plough. To fulfill the wish of his parents, he started to work at his brother´s in law manor in Halic.
In the evening after work he often played violin and improvised valses which he composed during his student years. For 4 years of "agricultural life" he wrote approximately 50 compositions and he studied the theory of music from Albrechtsberger during the evenings. The book "Theorie der Tonkunst" was his precious treasure. Step by step he decided to leave agricultural life and he devoted his life to music. What helped him was a chance. His brother in law, as the consequence of natural catastrophes lost his fortune and Keler had to return back to Bardejov.
He didn´t find his parents at home, they were staying in their villa in Bardejov spa (the villa isn´t there anymore). Here he was the member of the spa orchestra and in 1844 he decided to leave for Presov and make his living as a musician. He taught music, played in theatre orchestra, practiced and saved money.
In 1845 noted Viennese "Theater an der Wien", announced recruitment - they searched 1st violinist. Keler applied and got the position. He left home and family. His professional career started as 1st violinist of Theater an der Wien in the opera "Alessandro Stradella" from Friedrich von Flotow. Here he gained the strongest impulses for his musical development. He studied instrumentation and harmony at Schlesinger and counterpoint at Simon Sechter. His grow was influenced by the biggest European personalities such as Berlioz a Meyerbeer. He played under the conduction of Gustav Albert Lortzing or Franz von Suppé. In Vienna he stayed for 9 years and here he composed his first significant composition, romantic overture - Overture Romantique, which was appraised by the conductor of the theater Franz von Suppé. Short time after it was conducted by him in public concert. It was printed in its reworked form in 1872 as op. 75 in the publishing house Spiegel C. J. W. in Leipzig, Saxony. From 1846 the other Keler´s compositions started to be published in various publishing houses. His popularity was growing.
He left Vienna in 1854 as he accepted the position of a conductor in Berlin band of J. Sommer under the name Bela Keler. He won Berlinese audience over his valse "Stars of fortune"- Hoffnungssterne op. 17. Next success came with Grosser Sturmgalopp op. 12, spectacular concert composition which was performed in Berlin for 23 years after Keler´s departure.
In September 1854 he was performing the valse "Journeys of sailors" - Seemansfahrten op 43 in „ Hamburger Tonhale". A year later he was in Vienna, where he led the orchestra after deceased G. Lanner. In December 1855 he conducted a splendid concert in Hietzing near Schönbrunn. He performed his extensive composition "Night in Venice" - Eine Nacht in Venedig. From this composition was preserved only one fragment. And from the preserved programmes we can partly imagin the extent of the composition. Next four years he was a bandmaster of the military band of Count Mazzuchelli, that brought him the performance in Pesť, Debrecín, Brasov and Síbiu. In 1860 his health condition worsened rapidly and he left to be cured. Later he left military service too. Then he was staying in Pest where he founded the orchestra with his childhood friend Joseph Dubec. In the introductory concert he performed for the 1st time his violin duo Die Kunstbruder. New Folk Theater in Budapest - Nepszínház was opened with Keler´s voluminous Rákozci ouverture op. 76.
In the years 1863 - 1866 he conducted spa orchestra and was the manager for the Duke of Nassau in Wiesbaden. He was performing at court balls and at many other events. In the years 1867 -1870 he retreated into privacy and devoted his life to composing. In the summer he travelled a lot, performed his compositions in Switzerland and Paris.
In the summer of 1868 he was having rest in Bardejov spa. During the visit he performed the concert full of his compositions. He devoted the profit of it to the inhibitants of his birthplace which was hit by fire. After his return to Wiesbaden he conducted the premiere of his valse "At the beautiful Rhine I will remember you"- Am schönen Rhein gedenk´ ich Dein op. 83. Quality of this composition was often compared to Johann Strauss´s valse "At the beautiful blue Danube". It is the most famous of Keler´s compositions which was performed worldwide and was printed in many publishing houses in Berlin, Paris, Milan and London. In December 1868 he conducted wide-ranging cycle of concerts.
On July 25th, 1870 he was commissioned to lead spa orchestra in Wiesbaden and he remained at the post until December 1872. With no rest he was composing one composition after another one. He was an incredible hairsplitter and he kept every printed programme of his concerts. Thanks to this personality feature we can say that he conducted an incredible number of 366 concerts altogether. Since May 1872 he conducted the orchestra in Wiesbaden only as visitant. He devoted all his free time to composing. We can mention for example valse "On the wings of love" - Auf den Flügeln der Liebe op. 93, or his one hundreds´opus, valse "Last moment of happiness"- Die letzten Gluckstunden op. 100. In September 1874 he was involved in London opera house Coventgarden, where he organized and conducted so called „Concerts populairs". He performed the following of his compositions in London Die schone Reiterin op.102, valse "On the bank of the river Thames"- An der Themse Strand op.104 and "Beautiful English woman" - La belle Anglaise op. 109. Then concerts in Manchester followed in „Free Trade Hall". A year later he conducted Berlinese symphonists. In June the same year he led Gungl orchestra in Munich, in the beginning of September he was in Zurich „Torhalle Pavillon" and near Luzern he performed the series of successful concerts. In January 1875 he was in London again, where he conducted and composed seven new compositions. After great successes he returned to Wiesbaden, composed valse "From the Rhine to the Danube" op.138, "Turkish march" op. 128 and Russian March op.127. There were not preserved any information from the year 1877. In 1880 he modified his song from youth in Bardejov spa „Ach Liebste, wenn ich bei Dir bin", which was published as op. 103. Preserved written records speak that in 1881 Keler performed 134 concerts in Wiesbaden, Berlin and Leipzig.
He died in Wiesbaden on November 20th, 1882 62 year old. He is buried in the town too. On his gravestone there are chiseled out first bars of his valse "At the beautiful Rhine, I will remember you" and inscription „Bela Keler, composer and bandmaster of the Duke from Nassau. Born and educated in Upper Hungarian Kingdom, he performed and deceased in Wiesbaden." Even during the last days of his life he didn´t forget his home, birthplace which he loved and where he left his musical heritage.
German newspaper „Hamburger Fremdenblat" brought comprehensive retrospection of his life, it summed up his work and life. During 23 years of composing and conducting activities he received the following honours. The Swedish and Norwegian king Oscar awarded him with gold medal „Literis et artibus", Prussian king Wilhelm IV awarded him with handmade jar, German emperor Wilhelm I awarded him with golden ornamental brooch and the Duke of Nassau awarded him with big silver cross „Für Verdienste und Wissenschaft". Some of the awards and their documentation are preserved in collections of our Museum.
The creative heritage of Bela Keler wasn't fully evaluated till now. The exception might be the short study written by Štefan Hoza and only one study by associate professor František Matúš from the year 1970. From this place we try to bring a brief section through his work.
Until 1877 a hundred thirty-eight of his compositions were published in twelve European publishing houses. Some of the compositions are handwritten and they are the part of the collection of our Museum. Vast editorial activity gives evidence of Keler's success as the composer and about the quality and popularity of his compositions. He composed 27 voluminous valses, 27 marches, 20 csardasses, 18 polkas, 15 songs, 13 galops, 10 overtures. Many of his compositions were not preserved or they are missing.
Highly appraised are his overtures, which were published exclusively in the publishing house of C. F. W. Spiegel in Leipzig. Except for aforementioned Romantic overture op.75 and Rákoczi overture op. 76, the biggest success was the following overtures: Comedically overture op. 73, Comic overture op. 74 and Festive overture: Consecration of the temple op. 95, French comedically overture op. 131 and many others.
Twelve-piece sound painting A Night in Venice for violin and piano
in modern revision and arrangement by Pavel Burdych
Keler composed several extensive compositions, to which belong musical poems for big symphonic orchestra: „La chasse aux papillons op. 133", „Serenata Veneziana, quasi Cavatina op. 93", musical scene The Carpathians and A Night in Venice. From the other extensive genres are the following ones missing: Csokonay overture, Grand concert for violin and orchestra, Old and new year - musical dialogue in the questions and answers, Musical telephone, Potpouri from Verdi's opera Troubadour and many others.
His compositions are written in dance forms but they are appointed more for listenining than dancing. The following episode that was preserved in the memory of Almos Jaschika gives the evidence of the fact. When Keler conducted his valse In the new homeland op. 112, the dancing couples gradually stopped dancing as they were listening with interest for the rest of the valse. Nostalgic and broody atmosphere of the composition (together with many others of his works) serves more to calm down the soul than to initiate somebody to dance. Today we call this music therapy. Emotional and melodically attractive are also other valses, such as: Stars of hope op. 17, In the wings of love op. 93, Sparkling spring op. 65, Rosy-coloured dreams op. 72, and also his last valse From the Rhine to the Danube op. 138. And of course Keler's most famous valse Beautiful river Rhine, I will remember you which was mentioned before, should be mentioned in this context.
However, his vocal compositions are very melodic too. Let's mention his concert valse for soprano and orchestra Come palpita il mio cor! op. 61. Its score and schedule for musical instruments of the orchestra are preserved in handwriting of the author. The part Árvalanyhaj op. 38 belonged to the most performed songs in czardas form. Keler's polkas and quadrilles belonged in his era to the most popular. Polka - mazurka „Traumglück-Polka" op. 94 was published in two big printing houses Bote & Bock in Berlin and Cramer in London. Interesting fact is that his Grand diabolical galop op. 60 - Grand Galopp Infernale, was composed in Prešov, in February 1861. The piano version was dedicated to all poor "dancesick" devils. The composion is divided into the following parts: Orcus, The choir of diabolical ghosts, Furies in action, Dance of demons, Hour of ghosts stroke, Revealation of Pluto, Jubilant welcoming in Orcus's temple.
The peak of Keler's career is probably Memorial czardas of Bardejov op. 31, published in Germany as „Erinnerung an Bartfeld". The composition was written in July 1858 on the route from Bardejov do Debrecín, as it is preserved in one of printed parts. At that time the composer was on his way to 10th regiment of Earl Mazzuchelli, where he had the position of a military bandmaster at that time.
32 bars of Keler's composition were later the inspiration for Johaness Brahms some 11 years later. He used them for his 5th Hungarian dance in absolute version. Period critique accused Brahms of stealing spiritual property of other composers. It is well known that Keler kept friendly relationship with Brahms and he put his dances through detailed analysis. He found ouf that 9 out of 10 Brahms's dances contain melodies that were before introduced in the works of the following composers: Windt, Rizner, Travnik, Sarkozy and others. Written record with the analysis is the part of Keler's heritage. According to František Matúš: „These facts cannot be used to blame Brahms from plagiarism, even if they are credible... Brahms in the title of its first publication warned that it is only musical arrangement, not his own composition. In the other German and Hungarian articles Keler's czardas was introduced as the source for Brahm's 5th Hungarian Dance.
The compositions mentioned before represent only a fragment from overall Keler's work. The selection should serve for those interested who want to have an idea of Keler's versatility. During his long journeys he often impressed the audience. Composer full of feelings which were processed by his musician's soul into his own compositions filled with splendid melodies and dark harmonies. Many of them are soaked up with strong emotions of his homeland, with the places of his childhood. Musicologist, František Matúš says: „With his relentlessness he became a reputable artist in nearby abroad and asserted himself recognized artist in the biggest European rivalry; demonstrated his quality in the mids of the biggest European centers. His name is found in all prestige international encyclopedias, however we didn't find him in our musicological literature. His popularity and grandeur are hidden in Bardejov museum."
The following words are written in one less known period reviews: Keler's music won hearts of audience at both sides of the ocean, but it caused real miraculous power at that time when great musician himself conducted his compositions. Then not only listeners, but also musicians were full of special soulful state and their inner life was opened to new world - stargazing, miraculous, endless..."
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