Émile Waldteufel (German for forest devil) was born in Strasbourg to a Jewish Alsatian family of musicians. His father Louis had a respected orchestra, and his brother Léon was a successful musician. When Léon won a place to study violin performance at the Conservatoire de Paris, the family followed him there. It was in Paris that Waldteufel spent the rest of his life.

Waldteufel studied the piano at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1853 to 1857. Among his fellow pupils was Jules Massenet. During his time at the conservatory, Louis Waldteufel's orchestra became one of the most famous in Paris, and Émile was frequently invited to play at important events. At the age of 27, Émile became the court pianist of the Empress Eugénie. After the Franco-Prussian War had dissolved the Second French Empire, the orchestra played at Presidential balls at the Élysée. At this time only a few members of the French high society knew of Émile; he was nearly 40 before he became better known.

In October 1874 Waldteufel played at an event that was attended by the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The Prince was enthralled by Waldteufel's "Manolo" waltz, and was prepared to make Waldteufel's music known in Britain. A long-term contract with the London-based editor Hopwood & Crew followed. Part of the company belonged to Charles Coote, director of the Coote & Tinney's Band, the first dance orchestra in London. Through these means, Waldteufel's music was played at Buckingham Palace in front of Queen Victoria. Waldteufel dominated the music scene in London and became world-famous. During this period he composed his best known works, many of which are still heard today around the world. He became best-known for the waltz "Les Patineurs" (The Ice Skaters), composed in 1882.

Waldteufel gave concerts in several European cities, such as London in 1885, Berlin in 1889 and the Paris Opéra Balls in 1890 and 1891. He continued his career as conductor and writing dance music for the Presidential Balls until 1899 when he retired.

In 1915 Waldteufel died in Paris at the age of 77. His wife, Célestine Dufau, a former singer, had died a year earlier. They had two sons and a daughter.

Waldteufel conducted with a stick rather than the then-customary violin bow. His compositions were first created at the piano and later orchestrated. The typical Waldteufel orchestra consisted of strings and a doubled woodwind section, two cornets, four horns, three trombones, and ophicleide or euphonium, along with percussion.

Waldteufel's music can be distinguished from Johann Strauss II's waltzes and polkas in that he used subtle harmonies and gentle phrases, unlike Strauss's more robust approach. The noted 19th century American bandmaster and dancing instructor Allen Dodworth referred to the long legato melody lines of Waldteufel's compositions as "Hymn-tune waltzes", adding "They are beloved of pianists on account of the great rest they give to the hands, which is why they cling to them with loving laziness." It was considered that Waldteufel's music was not revolutionary, which explained why his waltzes fell out of favor as the age of Impressionism came to Paris.

A biography of the Waldteufel family by Andrew Lamb was published in 1995.

Works of Waldteufel

(with opus number):

Kamiesch, March, Op. 5,

Myosotis, Waltz (Vergissmeinnicht), Op. 101,

Jean qui pleure et Jean qui rit, Polka burlesque, Op. 106,

Bella, Polka-mazurka, Op. 113 (1867),

Dans les bois, Polka-mazurka, op. 119,

Les Lointains, Waltz, op. 121,

Mellow waltz op. 123 (1866),

Carolinen, Polka, op. 124,

Dans les champs polka-mazurka op. 125 In the Fields (1868),

Madeleine, Waltz, Op. 126,

Desiree, Polka Mazurka, Op. 132,

Térésa (Antoinette) waltz op. 133 (1864),

Joujou-Polka, Op. 135,

Manolo, Waltz, op. 140 (1874?),

Rose et Marguerites, Waltz, op. 141,

Tout a vous (Yours Very Truly / Dir allein), Valse, Op.142 (1875),

Bien aimés waltz Op.143 (1875),

Entre nous waltz op. 144 (1876),

Flots de joie (Waves of Joy I Auf Glückes Wogen), Valse, Op.145 (1875),

Grand vitesse (High Speed / Eilgut), Galop, Op. 146 (1876),

Violettes waltz op. 148 Violets (1876),

Au revoir (Farewell), Valse, Op.149 (1876),

A toi, (To Thee / An Dich) waltz, op. 150,

Mon rêve, waltz op. 151 My Dream (1877),

Prestissimo, Galop, Op. 152 (1877),

Hommage aux dames, Waltz, op. 153,

Les Sirènes ('The Sirens' / 'Sirenenzauber'), Valse, Op. 154 (1878),

Pomone waltz op. 155 Pomona (1877),

Toujours ou jamais ('Ever or Never' / 'Immer oder Nimmer'), Valse, Op. 156 (1877),

Les Folies (Acts of Folly / Tolle Streiche), Polka, Op. 157 (1878),

Très Jolie ('Very Pretty' / 'Ganz allerliebst'), Valse, Op. 159 (1878),

Pluie de diamants / Pluie d'or ('Golden Rain' / 'Goldregen'), Valse, Op.160 (1879),

La Bercuese, Waltz, Op. 161,

Brune ou blonde (Brunette or Blonde / Braun oder Blond), Valse, Op.162 (1878),

Bella bocca (Bonne bouche), Polka I Gourmand-Polka, Op. 163 (1879),

Gaite, Valse (Gaiety, Waltz / Frohsinns-walzer), Op.164 (1878),

Ma charmante waltz op. 166 My Charming Lady (1879),

Autresfois, Waltz, Op. 167,

Minuit, Polka, Op. 168,

Toujours fidèle ('Ever Faithful' / 'Treuliebchen'), Valse, Op. 169 (1879),

Dolorès waltz op. 170 (1880),

Chantilly, Waltz, Op.171 (1880),

Solitude, waltz op. 174 (1881),

Jeunesse doree (Gilded Youth I Jugendtraume), Valse, Op.175 (1881),

Je t'aime ('I Love You' / 'Ich liebe Dich'), Valse, Op.177 (1882),

La BarcarolIe, Valse, Op.178 (1882),

Naples, Waltz, Op. 179,

La Source waltz op. 180 (1882),

Trictrac, Polka, Op. 181,

L'Esprit français ('The French Spirit' "Geistesfunken'), Polka, Op.182 (1882),

Les Patineurs waltz op. 183 The Skaters (1882),

Mariana, Waltz, Op. 185,

Les Sourires ('The Smiles' / 'Holdes Lscheln'), Valse, Op. 187 (1883),

Soirée d'été ('Summer Evening' / 'Ein Sommerabend'), Valse, Op. 188 (1883),

En Garde! Polka militaire, Op. 189,

Les Fleurs ('The Flowers'), Valse, Op. 190 (1883),

Estudiantina waltz op. 191 Band of Students (1883) (arrangement from Paul Lacome 1 reputated "Duos"),

Pres de toi, Waltz, Op. 193,

Nid d'Amour, Waltz, Op. 195,

Jeux d'espirit, Polka, op. 196,

Camarade, Polka, op. 197,

Joie envolee, Waltz, Op. 198,

Tresor d'amour (Love- Treasure / Schatzliebchen), Valse, Op. 199 (1885),

Tout en rose ('Through Rose-Coloured Spectacles' / 'In bester Laune'), Valse, Op. 200 (1885),

Un premier bouquet (A First Bouquet / Der erste Blumenstrauss), Valse, Op. 201 (1885),

Reverie, Valse, Op. 202 (1885),

Retour des champs ('Return from the fields' / 'Heimkehr vom Felde'), Polka, Op. 203 (1885),

Illusion, Waltz, Op. 204,

Ma Voisine ('My Neighbour' / 'Meine Nachbarin'), Polka, Op. 206 (1886),

Valse militaire (The Grenadiers), Waltz, Op. 207,

Dans les nuages ('In the Clouds' / 'In den Wolken'), Valse, Op. 208 (1886),

Idylle, Waltz, Op. 209,

Tendres baisers, Waltz, Op. 211,

La Cinquantaine / Joyeux Paris ('Merry Paris' / 'Jubel-Polka'), Polka, Op. 215 (1886),

Les Bohémiens ('The Bohemians' / 'Zigeuner-Polka'), Polka, Op. 216 (1887),

Tendresse, Waltz, Op. 217,

Coquetterie (Princess May), Valse, Op. 218 (1887),

Tout ou rien ('All or Nothing' / 'Alles oder Nichts'), Polka, Op. 219 (1887),

Acclamations (Hoch lebe der Tanz!), Valse, Op. 223 (1888),

Papilons bleus, Waltz, Op. 224,

Chateau en Espagne (Castles in the Air / Luftschlösser), Polka, Op. 225 (1888),

Dans tes yeux, Waltz, op. 227,

Hébé ('Hebe'), Valse, Op. 228 (1888),

Etincelles, Waltz, Op. 229,

Roses de Noel, Waltz, Op. 230,

Rococo-Polka op. 232 (1888),

Bagatelle, Polka, Op. 233,

Sur la plage, Waltz, Op. 234,

Vision valse op. 235 Visions (1888),

España, waltz op. 236 (1886) (after Chabrier),

Par-ci, par-là ('Hither and Thither'), Polka, Op. 239 (1883),

Tout-Paris ('Fashionable Paris' / 'Pariser-Walzer'), Valse, Op. 240 (1889),

Ange d'amour ('Angel of Love' / 'Liebesengel'), Valse, Op. 241 (1889),

Nuee d'oiseaux (Cloud of Birds / Zugvogel), Polka, Op. 243 (1890),

Retour de Printemps, Waltz, Op. 244,

Invitation à la gavotte ('Invitation to the Gavotte'), Op. 246 (1891),

Fontaine lumineuse ('Bright Fountain' / 'Uchtfontaine'), Valse, Op. 247 (1891),

Zig-zag, Polka, Op. 248 (1891),

Sous la voûte étoilée (Under the Starry Canopy / Himmelsaugen), Valse, Op. 253 (1892),

Souveraine (Sovereign), Mazurka, Op. 255 (1893),

(without opus number):

Amour et printemps (Love and Spring / Liebe und Frühling), Valse (1880),

Fleurs et baisers, Waltz (1904),

Beobile, Pizzicato (1908?),

La fauvette du temple, Valse (date unknown),