The Most Famous Exponent of 20th Century Operettas

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Since February is the month of love and friendship I thought it would be interesting to present one of my favorite romantic composers, for nothing says romance better than music.Turn off the television put your iphone on mute and enjoy some of the loveliest music of the 20th Century when life was less complicated.

Franz Lehár (1870-1948) was an Austro-Hungarian composer mainly known for his operettas, of which the most successful was the Merry Widow. The son of a military bandmaster and composer, he studied in Prague and followed his father in an army career. In 1902 he resigned to work in Vienna as a conductor and composer, notably of operettas, achieving spectacular international success with The Merry Widow (1905), The Count of Luxenbourg and Gypsy Love. These and others restored the fortunes of the Viennese operetta and opened the genre to an international vogue in America.

During the First World War he again conducted music for the military. After the war, Viennese opera declined in popularity as new kinds of popular music took over the scene, including blues and American popular dance tunes. Instead of acknowledging defeat, Lehár incorporated these new elements into the Viennese genre. The result was more successes. His success in the 1920s was also due to the famous tenor, Richard Tauber, who could handle Lehár’s increasing challenging vocal roles. Two of Lehár’s best operettas from the post war period are The Tsarevitch of 1927 and The Land of Smiles of 1929. Lehár also began composing film scores and producing filmed versions of his operettas.

Lehár remained in Vienna during the Second World War, even though his wife was Jewish.
Lehár’s relationship with the Nazi regime was an uneasy one. He had always used Jewish librettists for his operas and had been part of the cultural milieu in Vienna which included a significant Jewish contingent.  Further, although Lehár was Roman Catholic, his wife, Sophie (née Paschkis) had been Jewish before her conversion to Catholicism upon marriage, and this was sufficient to generate hostility towards them personally and towards his work. Hitler enjoyed Lehár’s music, and hostility diminished across Germany after Goebbels’s intervention on Lehár’s part.

I’ve included a few clips of Lehár’s music for you to enjoy from The Merry Widow. The first is the overture to the operetta and the second has Ana Netrebco and Placido Domingo singing a duet from the same operetta.

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