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Šarišské múzeum Bardejov
Šarišské múzeum

Life of Great Master of Music

It reads February 13th, 1820. Principal magistrate of the town, stefan Keler and his wife Anna, born Bothová, 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 took care of numberous 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 couldn´t 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 Presov and make his living as a musician. He taught music, played in theatre orchestra, practiced and saved money.
        In 1845 noted Viennese theater "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 house of Alessandro Stradella from Friedricha von Flotowa. 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 Meyrbeer. He played under the conduction of Gustav Adolf Lortzing or Franz von Suppe. 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 vo Suppe. 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 Hietzingu near Schonbrun. 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 found 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 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 “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 valses “The beautiful blue Dannube”. It is the most famous Keler´s composition 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 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 Flügel 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 1975 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 persevered any information from the year 1877. In 1880 he modified his song from youth in Bardejov spa „Ach Liebste, wen ich bei Dir bin“, which was published as op. 103. Persevered 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 “Beautiful river 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.


Texts: Peter Bubák, Gymnázium L. Stockela. Webdesign & Website created by: Martin Urban, Anton Kovaľ, matto.softlabs@gmail.com. Used copies of documents, images and historical prints are published with confirmation of director of saris museum in Bardejov, PhDr.Frantisek Gutek.