From Betty Boop To Popeye, Franz Von Suppé Survives In Cartoons

Apr 29, 2019
Originally published on April 29, 2019 6:18 am
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Franz von Suppé was born on 200 years ago — April 18, 1819 — in what is now Croatia, but he went to Vienna as a young man and built a successful career as a conductor and composer. And while you may never have heard of von Suppé, if you like movies, cartoons, or video games, odds are you've heard his music.

von Suppé wrote mainly for the theater — operettas, ballets and comedies. Most of the operettas and other works haven't survived to the present day, but several of the overtures to his operettas have. Most people might know them from movie or cartoon soundtracks.

In the classic 1930s cartoon Popeye the Sailor, Popeye conducts a performance of von Suppé's "Poet and Peasant" Overture, renamed, for the occasion, the "Spinach Overture."

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Mickey Mouse was also known to conduct works of von Suppé. In the 1942 Disney cartoon Symphony Hour, Maestro Mouse conducts the "Light Cavalry" Overture. "Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna," another famous von Suppé overture, features a very beautiful cello solo that was transformed, rather rudely, in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon.

von Suppé's overtures have both great beauty and great brilliance, which is why they're still played. As for the cartoon versions, von Suppé himself spent a career writing music for light entertainments, so perhaps he would have been perfectly happy to know how often his music has been used to enhance entertainment of a different time.

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(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ VON SUPPE'S "LIGHT CAVALRY OVERTURE")

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And that is the overture to "Light Cavalry." It was composed by Franz von Suppe, who was born 200 years ago this month. Now, von Suppe is not quite a household name, but if you like movies or cartoons, odds are you have heard his music. Classical music commentator Miles Hoffman explains.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF FRANZ VON SUPPE'S "DICHTER UND BAUER OVERTURE")

MILES HOFFMAN, BYLINE: Franz von Suppe is pretty much the classic case of the composer who writes a few pieces that are remembered forever while the rest of his works and the composer himself are largely forgotten. One of von Suppe's pieces that has proved lastingly popular is his "Poet And Peasant" Overture. Here's a somewhat unusual version of the piece conducted by the great maestro, Popeye the Sailor Man.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN")

JACK MERCER: (As Popeye, singing) I'm strong to the finich (ph) 'cause I eats me spinach, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.

HOFFMAN: That's von Suppe's "Poet And Peasant" overture renamed for a 1935 Popeye cartoon, "The Spinach Overture." It's one of the von Suppe overtures that's still a favorite among concert audiences, but it's probably been heard by much larger audiences in cartoon and movie soundtracks. One Internet source I checked lists 173 soundtracks that use the music of von Suppe.

Here's an excerpt, for example, from the soundtrack to the 1942 Disney cartoon "Symphony Hour" which features none other than Mickey Mouse conducting the "Light Cavalry" overture. The original instrumentation, you may notice, has been varied somewhat.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDIO ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF FRANZ VON SUPPE'S "MAESTRO MICKEY CONDUCTS")

HOFFMAN: Franz von Suppe was born in 1819 and raised in what's now Croatia, but he came to Vienna as a young man and built an extraordinarily successful career there as a conductor and composer. But he wasn't a symphony and string quartet kind of guy. He wrote mainly for the theater - operettas, ballets and comedies. Most of the operettas and other works haven't survived, but several of the overtures to the operettas have.

Here's von Suppe's overture to "Morning, Noon And Night In Vienna." It features a very beautiful cello solo that I'm afraid was transformed rather rudely in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon. You'll hear a bit of the original followed by the Betty Boop version.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BETTY BOOP")

MAE QUESTEL: (As Betty) Boop-ee-doop-ee-doop-ee-doop - boop-boop-ee-doo (ph). (Laughter).

HOFFMAN: Franz von Suppe was, in fact, an extremely gifted composer. His overtures have both great beauty and great brilliance, which is why they're still played. They're hard to play, too. It takes a top-notch orchestra to play them well.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF FRANZ VON SUPPE'S "THE BEAUTIFUL GALATEA OVERTURE")

HOFFMAN: That was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing Franz von Suppe's overture to "The Beautiful Galatea." As for the cartoon versions, well, von Suppe himself spent a career writing music for light entertainments, so perhaps he would have been perfectly happy to know that his music has been used to enhance the light entertainments of a different time. For NPR news, I'm Miles Hoffman.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDIO ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF FRANZ VON SUPPE'S "MAESTRO MICKEY CONDUCTS")

GREENE: Miles Hoffman, music commentator and musician himself. He's the violist of the American Chamber Players and the distinguished visiting professor of chamber music at the Schwob School of Music in Columbus, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.