Franz Lehár

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Franz Lehár
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Franz Lehár (Hungarian : Lehár Ferenc; 30 April 1870 – 24 October 1948) was an Austro-Hungarian composer. He is mainly known for his operettas, of which the most successful and best known is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe).

Hungarian language language spoken in and around Hungary

Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language spoken in Hungary and parts of several neighbouring countries. It is the official language of Hungary and one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Outside Hungary it is also spoken by communities of Hungarians in the countries that today make up Slovakia, western Ukraine (Subcarpathia), central and western Romania (Transylvania), northern Serbia (Vojvodina), northern Croatia and northern Slovenia. It is also spoken by Hungarian diaspora communities worldwide, especially in North America and Israel. Like Finnish and Estonian, Hungarian belongs to the Uralic language family. With 13 million speakers, it is the family's largest member by number of speakers.

Operetta opera genre

Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter.

<i>The Merry Widow</i> opera

The Merry Widow is an operetta by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. The librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, based the story – concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband – on an 1861 comedy play, L'attaché d'ambassade by Henri Meilhac.



Lehar in 1906 Lehar Ferenc.jpg
Lehár in 1906

Lehár was born in the northern part of Komárom, [nb 1] Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Komárno, Slovakia), the eldest son of Franz Lehár (senior) (1838–1898), [1] an Austrian bandmaster in the Infantry Regiment No. 50 of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Christine Neubrandt (1849–1906), a Hungarian woman from a family of German descent. He grew up speaking only Hungarian until the age of 12. Later he put an acute accent above the "a" of his father's surname "Lehár" to indicate the vowel in the corresponding Hungarian orthography.

Komárno Town in Slovakia

Komárno is a town in Slovakia at the confluence of the Danube and the Váh rivers. Komárno was formed from part of a historical town in Hungary situated on both banks of the Danube. Following World War I and the Treaty of Trianon, the border of the newly created Czechoslovakia cut the historical, unified town in half, creating two new towns. The smaller part, based on the former suburb of Újszőny, is in present-day Hungary as Komárom. Komárno and Komárom are connected by the Elisabeth Bridge, which used to be a border crossing between Slovakia and Hungary until border checks were lifted due to the Schengen Area rules.

Austria-Hungary Constitutional monarchic union from 1867 to October 1918

Austria-Hungary, often referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Dual Monarchy, was a constitutional monarchy in Central and Eastern Europe from 1867 to 1918. It was formed by giving a new constitution to the Austrian Empire, which devolved powers on Austria (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) and placed them on an equal footing. It broke apart into several states at the end of World War I.

Slovakia Republic in Central Europe

Slovakia, officially the Slovak Republic, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is bordered by Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, Hungary to the south, Austria to the west, and the Czech Republic to the northwest. Slovakia's territory spans about 49,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi) and is mostly mountainous. The population is over 5.4 million and consists mostly of Slovaks. The capital and largest city is Bratislava, and the second largest city is Košice. The official language is Slovak.

While his younger brother Anton entered cadet school in Vienna to become a professional officer, Franz studied violin at the Prague Conservatory, where his violin teacher was Antonín Bennewitz, but was advised by Antonín Dvořák to focus on composition. However, the Conservatory's rules at that time did not allow students to study both performance and composition, and Bennewitz and Lehár senior exerted pressure on Lehár to take his degree in violin as a practical matter, arguing that he could study composition on his own later. Lehár followed their wishes, against his will, and aside from a few clandestine lessons with Zdeněk Fibich he was self-taught as a composer. After graduation in 1888 he joined his father's band in Vienna, as assistant bandmaster. Two years later he became bandmaster at Losonc (today Lučenec, Slovakia), making him the youngest bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian Army at that time, but he left the army and joined the navy. With the navy he was first Kapellmeister at Pola (Pula) from 1894 to 1896, resigning in the later year when his first opera, Kukuschka (later reworked as Tatjana in 1906), premiered in Leipzig. It was only a middling success and Lehár eventually rejoined the army, with service in the garrisons at Trieste, Budapest (1898) and finally Vienna from 1899 to 1902. In 1902 he became conductor at the historic Vienna Theater an der Wien, where his operetta Wiener Frauen was performed in November of that year.

Anton Lehár Austro-Hungarian officer

Anton Freiherr von Lehár was a Hungarian officer, who reached the pinnacle of his service after World War I when he supported the former Emperor Charles I of Austria's attempts to retake the throne of Hungary. His brother was composer Franz Lehár.

Violin bowed string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. Smaller violin-type instruments exist, including the violino piccolo and the kit violin, but these are virtually unused. The violin typically has four strings tuned in perfect fifths, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings, though it can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

Prague Conservatory music school in the Czech Republic

The Prague Conservatory or Prague Conservatoire is a music school in Prague, Czech Republic, founded in 1808. Currently, Prague Conservatory offers four or six year study courses, which can be compared to the level of high school diploma in other countries. Graduates of Prague Conservatory can continue their training by enrolling in an institution that offers undergraduate education.

Lehar in his apartment in Vienna (1918) Franz Lehar (1918) by Charles Scolik.jpg
Lehár in his apartment in Vienna (1918)

He is most famous for his operettas – the most successful of which is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) – but he also wrote sonatas, symphonic poems and marches. He also composed a number of waltzes (the most popular being Gold und Silber, composed for Princess Pauline von Metternich's "Gold and Silver" Ball, January 1902), some of which were drawn from his famous operettas. Individual songs from some of the operettas have become standards, notably "Vilja" from The Merry Widow and "You Are My Heart's Delight" ("Dein ist mein ganzes Herz") from The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns). His most ambitious work, Giuditta in 1934 is closer to opera than to operetta. It contains the ever popular "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß" ("On my lips every kiss is like wine"). [2]

Sonata composition for one or more solo instruments

Sonata, in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata, a piece sung. The term evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms until the Classical era, when it took on increasing importance. Sonata is a vague term, with varying meanings depending on the context and time period. By the early 19th century, it came to represent a principle of composing large-scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded—alongside the fugue—as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the musical style of sonatas has changed since the Classical era, most 20th- and 21st-century sonatas still maintain the same structure.

A symphonic poem or tone poem is a piece of orchestral music, usually in a single continuous movement, which illustrates or evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other (non-musical) source. The German term Tondichtung appears to have been first used by the composer Carl Loewe in 1828. The Hungarian composer Franz Liszt first applied the term Symphonische Dichtung to his 13 works in this vein.

March (music) musical genre, piece of music in origin was expressly written for marching

A march, as a musical genre, is a piece of music with a strong regular rhythm which in origin was expressly written for marching to and most frequently performed by a military band. In mood, marches range from the moving death march in Wagner's Götterdämmerung to the brisk military marches of John Philip Sousa and the martial hymns of the late 19th century. Examples of the varied use of the march can be found in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, in the Marches Militaires of Franz Schubert, in the Marche funèbre in Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor, and in the Dead March in Handel's Saul.

Lehár was also associated with the operatic tenor Richard Tauber, who sang in many of his operettas, beginning with a revival of his 1910 operetta Zigeunerliebe in 1920 and then Frasquita  [ de ] in 1922, in which Lehár once again found a suitable post-war style. Lehár made a brief appearance in the 1930 film adaptation The Land of Smiles starring Tauber. Between 1925 and 1934 he wrote six operettas specifically for Tauber's voice. By 1935 he decided to form his own publishing house, Glocken-Verlag (Publishing House of the Bells), to maximize his personal control over performance rights to his works.

Richard Tauber Austrian tenor

Richard Tauber was an Austrian tenor and film actor.

The Land of Smiles is a 1930 German operetta film directed by Max Reichmann and starring Richard Tauber, Mara Loseff and Hans Mierendorff. It is an adaptation of the operetta The Land of Smiles composed by Franz Lehár. Lehár himself appeared in the film in a small role.

Lehár and the Third Reich

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. [3] 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 Joseph Goebbels' intervention on Lehár's part. [4] In 1938 Mrs. Lehár was given the status of "Ehrenarierin" (honorary Aryan by marriage). [5] Nonetheless, attempts were made at least once to have her deported. The Nazi regime was aware of the uses of Lehár's music for propaganda purposes: concerts of his music were given in occupied Paris in 1941. Even so, Lehár's influence was limited. It is alleged that he tried personally to secure Hitler's guarantee of the safety of one of his librettists, Fritz Löhner-Beda, but he was not able to prevent the murder of Beda in Auschwitz-III. [6] He also tried to prevent the arrest of Louis Treumann  [ de ], the first Danilo in The Merry Widow, but the 70-year old Treumann and his wife Stefanie were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp on 28 July 1942, where Stefanie died in September and Louis died on 5 March 1943.[ citation needed ]

National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party – officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party – in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.

Joseph Goebbels Nazi politician and Propaganda Minister

Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler's closest and most devoted associates, and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent antisemitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views. He advocated progressively harsher discrimination, including the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Honorary Aryan was an expression used in Nazi Germany to describe the unofficial status of persons, including Mischlinge, who were not recognized as belonging to the Aryan race, according to Nazi standards, but informally considered to be part of it.

On 12 January 1939 and 30 April 1940 Lehár personally received awards from Hitler in Berlin and Vienna, including the Goethe Medal. [7] On Hitler's birthday in 1938 Lehár had given him as a special gift a red Morocco leather volume in commemoration of the 50th performance of The Merry Widow. [8]

Later years

He died aged 78 in 1948 in Bad Ischl, near Salzburg, and was buried there.

His younger brother Anton became the administrator of his estate, promoting the popularity of Franz Lehár's music.


Stage works

Lehár recording

External audio
Nuvola apps arts.svg The Merry Widow, Lovro von Matačić conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Eberhard Waechter and Nicolai Gedda in 1963

In 1908, the German branch of The Gramophone Company Ltd (afterwards HMV) issued twelve extracts (mostly ensembles) from Lehár's latest operetta, Der Mann mit den drei Frauen, with the composer conducting. The singers included Mizzi Günther, Louise Kartousch and Ludwig Herold. [9]

In 1929 and 1934, Lehár had conducted for Odeon Records The Land of Smiles and Giuditta , starring Richard Tauber, Vera Schwarz and Jarmila Novotná. A 1942 Vienna broadcast of his operetta Paganini conducted by the composer has survived, starring soprano, Esther Réthy and tenor, Karl Friedrich  [ de ]. A 1942 Berlin radio production of Zigeunerliebe with Herbert Ernst Groh, conducted by Lehár, also survives.

In 1947, Lehár conducted the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich in a series of 78-rpm recordings for English Decca (released in the U.S. by London Records) of overtures and waltzes from his operettas. The recordings had remarkable sound for their time because they were made using Decca's Full Frequency Range Recording process, one of the first commercial high fidelity techniques. These recordings were later issued on LP (in 1969 on Decca eclipse ECM 2012 and reprocessed stereo on ECS 2012) and CD. A compilation of his recordings has been released by Naxos Records.

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a set of discs recording the 1939 Saarbrücken concert of Lehár's works by German State Transmitter Saarbrücken conducted by Franz Lehár himself was discovered in East German state archives. This was released on CDs by Classic Produktion Osnabrück in 2000.

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  1. Komárom, the Hungarian form of the name of his birthplace, is now used for the former suburb on the south bank of the Danube in Hungary; the old town centre that was in Czechoslovakia and is now in Slovakia is called Komárno


  1. von Peteani, Maria (1950). Franz Lehár. Seine Musik – sein Leben. Vienna, London: Glocken.
  2. "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß", German text and English translation,
  3. Informationen des Kulturpolitischen Archivs im Amt für Kulturpflege. Berlin 9. Januar 1935; cited in Frey (1999), pp. 305f.;
    Fred K. Prieberg  [ de ]: Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933–1945. CD-ROM, self published, Kiel 2004, p. 4166.
  4. Elke Froehlich (Hrsg.): Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Teil I Aufzeichnungen 1923–1945 Band 5. Dez 1937 – Juli 1938. K.G. Saur, München 2000, S. 313.
  5. Frey (1999), pp. 338f.
  6. Peter Herz  [ de ]: "Der Fall Franz Lehár. Eine authentische Darlegung von Peter Herz". In: Die Gemeinde 24 April 1968.
  7. Günther Schwarberg: Dein ist mein ganzes Herz. Die Geschichte des Fritz Löhner-Beda, der die schönsten Lieder der Welt schrieb, und warum Hitler ihn ermorden ließ. Steidl, Göttingen 2000, p. 128, 157.
  8. Frey (1999), p. 326.
  9. J. R. Bennett & W. Wimmer, A Catalogue of Vocal Recordings from the 1898–1925 German Catalogues of The Gramophone Company Limited (Lingfield, Oakwood Press, 1967), pp. 86, 143, 196