February 2012

Light Cavalry Overture

by Franz von Suppé

Franz von Suppé (pronounced SOO-pay) was born in an area that is now known as Croatia, but at the time was part of the Austrian Empire. He lived from 1819 to 1895. He largely wrote light operas. The music from these operas is not known well by title, but are very familiar tunes. Many find their way into cartoons, television, etc.

In 1866, he wrote an opera called Leichte Kavallerie ("light cavalry"). Light cavalry is a group of military troops riding on horses. The "light" usually refers to their armor. A "light" cavalry has little or no armour. A "heavy" cavalry armors the troops and their horses. They're also slower moving, as a result. During war, messengers were often accompanied by light cavalry.

Leichte Kavallerie has pretty much faded into obscurity. It's not often performed. But the overture is very well known. It's more recently been immortalized through cartoons of the early 20th century.

What makes this overture particularly memorable is the section that clearly represents horses galloping. One can clearly see in one's mind men on horseback galloping toward something.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

It's difficult to say when I very first heard this piece. It was likely heard partially in a Warner Bros. cartoon of some sort. I'd always known the gallopping section (I can't remember a time when I didn't know it). I came across the Disney cartoon (included in the Extra Credit section) later in life. It's an excellent example of how it's used in cartoons.


So here is the Light Cavalry Overture. The galloping section is a little over two minutes in, but I'm certain the whole overture is exciting enough to hold your interest. Enjoy!

Light Cavalry Overture by Franz von Suppé (6:55)

For those interested, this recording was performed by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel.

Jon's Interpretation:

This is a great example of Romantic era overtures. They're exciting. They keep the listener's interest. And it gets the audience member excited about seeing the show they're about to see. This was a predecessor to the film scores of today.

I know I've already talked about it a couple of times, but I have great respect for composers that are able to represent something visual within their music. The triumphant gallop section of this overture is great stuff. It's fun, but it also does a great job of representing the scene (a galloping cavalry).

Extra Credit:

Here is the Conductor's score for the overture:

Conductor's Score for Light Cavalry Overture by Franz von Suppé

And finally, I had to include a cartoon example. This is a Walt Disney cartoon from 1942 called "Symphony Hour". It features Mickey Mouse as an up and coming symphony conductor about to perform the Light Cavalry Overture on a live radio show. The problem? Goofy accidentally smashes all of the instruments seconds before the performance. The result is a Spike Jones style interpretation of the overture. Enjoy!