Otto Harbach

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Otto Harbach
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Background information
Birth nameOtto Abels Hauerbach
Born(1873-08-18)August 18, 1873
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
DiedJanuary 24, 1963(1963-01-24) (aged 89)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s) Lyricist, librettist

Otto Abels Harbach, born Otto Abels Hauerbach (August 18, 1873 – January 24, 1963) was an American lyricist and librettist of about 50 musical comedies. He was Oscar Hammerstein II's mentor and believed that librettists should integrate songs into the plot. He is considered one of the first great lyricists, and helped raise the status of the lyricist in an age concerned more with music, costumes, and stars. Some of his more famous lyrics are for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "Indian Love Call" and "Cuddle up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine".


Early life and education

Harbach was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Danish immigrant parents Adolph Christiansen and his wife Sena Olsen. His parents changed their name when they immigrated to the United States, and took the name of the farm they worked on (common practice at the time), and their new last name was Hauerbach.

He attended the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute, transferring to Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois, where he was a friend of Carl Sandburg, joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and graduated in 1895. Knox has since named its 599-seat Harbach Theatre in his honor. He obtained his master's degree in English from Whitman College [ clarification needed ] in Walla Walla, Washington, and attended Columbia University in New York with the goal of becoming an English professor. In the early 1900s, complaining of eye difficulties making prolonged reading uncomfortable, he became a newspaper reporter. He also worked at various advertising agencies, at an insurance firm, as a copywriter in advertising, and later as a journalist. He would have to pull out of Columbia when he could not financially support himself.

Early career (1902–1911)

In 1902, he spotted an advertisement with a picture of Fay Templeton for a new Joe Weber and Lew Fields musical. He had not been interested in theatre but more in literary classics, but after seeing the show, realized he liked the lighthearted genre. In the same year, he met Karl Hoschna. They wrote a comic opera together, but no producer would pick it up, so they wrote songs to put in other Broadway shows. Isidore Witmark then contacted Hoschna, his employee, and told him he wanted to turn Mary Pacheco's play Incog into a musical. Hoschna then contacted Harbach, and so began the partnership. The result, with Whitmark and Charles Dickson writing the libretto, was Three Twins, which opened in 1908 and ran for 288 performances (Harbach was paid a hundred dollars for his work). The show starred Clifton Crawford.

Their next collaboration was Madame Sherry in 1910, adapting a 1902 German operetta with Jack Gardner in the lead role. The show featured a song that was not theirs: the Albert von Tilzer and Junie McCree song "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" was put into the score because it was popular. They would collaborate for four more shows until Hoschna died in 1911, at the age of thirty-four.

Career (1912–1924)

After working with Hoschna, his works had given somewhat of a name for himself. Arthur Hammerstein asked Harbach in 1912 to write the lyrics to an operetta with Rudolf Friml, called The Firefly . Victor Herbert was originally supposed to write the music, but he refused to work with the star of the show, Emma Trentini, because in his last show, she had refused to sing a song for the encore, and Herbert walked out refusing to ever work with her again. Hammerstein could not find anyone as talented as Herbert, but settled on the unknown Friml because of his classical training. The result was a huge success, and it would spell eleven more musicals, including High Jinks (1913) (which featured the song "All Aboard Dixieland" by Jack Yellen and George L. Cobb) and Katinka (1915). Most of the shows they wrote together ran for over 200 performances. In 1914, he contributed the libretto only to the Percy Wenrich musical The Crinoline Girl .

In 1917, he shortened his name from Hauerbach to Harbach to avoid anti-German sentiment caused by World War I. [1]

He would also work with composer Louis Hirsch during this time, and would score his biggest success so far in 1917 with Going Up . [2] This was his first attempt at a musical comedy, as opposed to an American operetta. [1] The show was based on the 1910 comedy by James Montgomery, who co-wrote the libretto with Harbach. The show ran for 351 performances, toured nationally, and was an even larger hit in London.

Other works

He collaborated as lyricist or librettist with Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, Louis Hirsch, Herbert Stothart, Vincent Youmans, George Gershwin, and Sigmund Romberg. He was a charter member of ASCAP in 1914, serving as its director (1920–1963), vice president (1936–1940), and finally president (1950–1953).

Harbach was also an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He died in New York City. [3]

Notable songs

He was lyricist for many songs including:


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<i>The Firefly</i> (operetta)

The Firefly was the first operetta written by composer Rudolf Friml, with a libretto by Otto Harbach. The story concerns a young Italian girl, who is a street singer in New York. She disguises herself and serves as a cabin boy on a ship to Bermuda, where she falls in love. Complications arise, and eventually, she becomes a grand opera diva.

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The Firefly is a 1937 musical film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones. The film is an adaptation of the operetta of the same name by composer Rudolf Friml and librettist Otto A. Harbach that premiered on Broadway in 1912. The film used nearly all of the music from the operetta but jettisoned the plot in favor of a new storyline set in Spain during the time of the Emperor Napoleon I. It added a new song, "The Donkey Serenade", which became extremely popular, as was one of the Friml songs, "Giannina Mia". The original release prints of the film were elaborately tinted with Sepia-Blue, Sepia-Orange and Sepia-Blue-Pink.

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<i>Wildflower</i> (musical)

Wildflower or The Wildflower, is a musical in three acts with book and lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Herbert Stothart and Vincent Youmans. The plot concerns a pretty Italian farmgirl, Nina, who has a fiery temper. She stands to inherit a fortune provided that she can keep her temper under control for six months. If she fails, the money goes to her cousin Bianca, who tries to provoke her. She manages to do it, and gets the money, as well as her man, Guido. Several of the songs were published, among which "Bambalina" and the title song were the most popular. The musical proved to be Day's last Broadway show before moving to London.


  1. 1 2 Bloom, Ken (2003). Broadway: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge. p.  217 . Retrieved 24 August 2015. All Aboard for Dixie otto harbach.
  2. 1 2 Parker, Bernard S. (2007). World War I Sheet Music - Volume 1. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 191, 230. ISBN   0-7864-2798-1.
  3. "Harbach, Otto, 1873-1963 @ SNAC". Retrieved 2018-09-13.