Hans May

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Hans May
Born11 July 1886
Died1 January 1959 (1959-02) (aged 72)
Other namesJohannes Mayer
Years active1925 – 1958 (film)

Hans May (11 July 1886 – 1 January 1959) was an Austrian-born composer who went into exile in Britain in 1936 after the Nazis came to power in his homeland, being of Jewish descent. [1]


Born in Vienna, May studied there with Anton Door (piano) and Richard Heuberger (composition). He gave his first piano recital at the age of 10 and had qualified as an operatic conductor by 18, touring extensively from Berlin to Cairo and Istanbul. [2] He first gained attention as a composer during the 1920s and 1930s, writing German language songs such as Ein Lied geht um die Welt (1933) and Es wird im Leben dir mehr genommen als gegeben (1936), gaining considerable popularity in Europe through recordings by Joseph Schmidt and Richard Tauber. He was one of the pioneers of film music, writing scores for silent movies in Berlin and Paris, and associated with the Kinothek catalogued library of music intended to accompany silent films. [3] [2]

Initially most of his work was for short silent films as well as musicals. He arranged the music for the German presentation of the Russian silent classic Panzerkeuzer Potemkin . But May survived the change-over from silent to sound films. Two early examples (both for British International Pictures) were The Flame of Love in 1930 (starring Anna May Wong), followed by Bridegroom Widow the following year. [2] After his enforced move to the UK in 1936 he began scoring full length feature sound films for the organisations such as Boulting Brothers and Rank/Gainsborough Pictures. Notable scores include Thunder Rock (1942), Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), The Wicked Lady (1945) and Brighton Rock (1948). [4] May composed over a hundred film scores. [5]

His musicals include Carissima (book by Eric Maschwitz), which ran for 488 performances at the Palace Theatre from March 1948, [6] and Wedding in Paris (lyrics by Sonny Miller, book by Vera Caspary) which ran for 411 performances at the London Hippodrome from April 1954. [7] [8]

May returned to the European continent in 1957 and continued writing scores for film and stage productions, including Der Kaiser und das Wäschermädel (1957). His musical language and style looked back to the golden age of Viennese operetta and composers such as Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kalman. [4] He died in the South of France at the beginning of 1959.

Selected filmography

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  1. Siegbert Salomon Prawer, Between Two Worlds: The Jewish Presence in German and Austrian Film, 1910–1933, Berghahn Books (2007), p. 213
  2. 1 2 3 John Huntley. British Film Music (1947), p. 216
  3. Published between 1919 and 1933 by the Verlag Schlesinger'sche Buchhandlung in Berlin
  4. 1 2 'Hans May, Unsung Hero of the Silver Screen', at Movie Music International
  5. Bergfelder, Tim & Cargnelli, Christian. Destination London: German-speaking emigrés and British cinema, 1925–1950 (2008).
  6. 'Carissima' at The Guide to Musical Theatre
  7. 'Wedding in Paris', at The Guide to Musical Theatre
  8. Obituary, The Musical Times, Vol. 100, No. 1392, February 1959, p. 10