About this work
Lehár's Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count from Luxembourg; 1909) is one of three operettas the composer produced in a three-month period following the failure of his Der Mann mit den drei Frauen (The Man with Three Wives). Of the three new works, Der Graf von Luxemburg and Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love) became international hits.
Johann Strauss Jr. set the libretto of Der Graf von Luxemburg in 1897, under the title Die Göttin der Vernunft (The Goddess of Reason); it was, in fact, his last operetta. Alfred Maria Willner, Robert Bodanzky, and Leo Stein (actually L. Rosenstein) adapted the earlier libretto, by Willner and Bernhard Buchbinder. Strauss had reluctantly composed the work only to fulfill a contract, which resulted in a work that soon vanished from the stage, prompting several artists to later tinker with the libretto.
The story of Der Graf von Luxemburg, in which a Count who is in need of money consents to a marriage of appearances to a woman he never sees, stands on flimsy dramatic legs. However, the youthful vigor and sensuous melodies of Lehár's score overshadow the libretto's faults, and the operetta was an immediate success, in part because of an excellent cast. The work ran for 299 continuous performances in Vienna. By 1911 it had spread through theaters in Germany and soon after created a frenzy in London and Paris.
In Lehár's treatment, the dramatic clash between money and marriage has its musical parallel in the work's contrast of Parisian inflections and Slavic flavors, especially in the dance-like music that accompanies Basil Basilowitsch. Lehár's use of dance rhythms has all the power evident in his Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow; 1905). In particular, the moderato waltz tempo plays a much larger role in Der Graf von Luxemburg than in the earlier work. In Der Graf von Luxemburg, music in this tempo accompanies most of the communication between René and Angèle, who, although married, must remain apart. Soon after they are wed, while separated by an easel, the moderato waltz in "Sie geht links, er geht rechts" (She goes left, he goes right) serves as a premonition of their impending mutual attraction. The tempo becomes prominent in the second act, when the two fall in love, not yet knowing that they are actually married. Their duet, "Lieber Freund, man greift nicht nach den Sternen" (Dear friend, one does not reach for the stars) is an excellent example, as is Angèle's earlier solo, "Soll ich, soll ich nicht?" (Should I or shouldn't I?) In "Lieber Freund," the sense of anticipation is heightened by the pause at the beginning of each measure, creating an atmosphere of capricious unrest in the circular melody.
Other characters, too, are characterized by their music. March rhythms mark the two buffo characters, Hans and Veit, most notably in the second number of the operetta, "Wir bummeln durchs Leben" (We loiter through life). Groaning sounds from the orchestra accompany the lusty old Basil in his "Packt die Liebe" (Love stows away). Also, in Basil's "Ein Löwe war ich im Salon" (I was a lion in the salon), Slavic overtones are heard in the stormy orchestral backdrop to a fiery polka.
Lehár's Der Graf von Luxemburg in its original version premiered at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on November 12, 1909. A revised version appeared in 1937.