Franz Lehar

Franz Lehar

Birth
Komárom, Komáromi járás, Komárom-Esztergom, Hungary
Death 24 Oct 1948 (aged 78)
Bad Ischl, Gmunden Bezirk, Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), Austria
Burial Bad Ischl, Gmunden Bezirk, Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), Austria
Plot Wall Crypt
Memorial ID 40636404 · View Source
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Composer. The most gifted and successful operetta composer of the 20th Century. His masterpiece, "Die Lustige Witwe" ("The Merry Widow", 1905), revitalized the genre and is an international favorite to this day. Lehar was born in Komarom, Hungary, the son of a military bandmaster. From 1882 to 1888 he studied at the Prague Conservatory and received encouragement from Antonin Dvorak; he then took advantage of compulsory army service to launch his own career as a band conductor. Arriving in Vienna in 1902, he turned out the popular waltz "Silver and Gold" before tackling music theatre, about which he had definite ideas. "I wanted to enlarge the framework of operetta", he later wrote. "People did not regard it as an art form, but simply as a means of entertainment, something to be diverted by, and then forgotten". He believed light opera could embrace more serious music and subject matter and sought to prove his point with "Wiener Frauen" (1902) and "Der Rastelbinder" (1902). These aroused considerable interest but his next two operettas were failures. The creation of "The Merry Widow" was wracked with intrigue. Lehar was assigned the libretto in desperation after the original composer, Richard Heuberger, failed to get beyond the first act, and he wrote the music over the Summer of 1905. The producers hated Lehar's score, which was more sophisticated than the usual operetta fare, and offered to buy out his contract and scrap the whole thing. This was declined, so they tried to sabotage the production with secondhand sets and wardrobe and a premiere date of December 30, when Viennese society would be busy preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations. But the authors had faith in their work, as did lead vocalists Mizzi Günther and Louis Treumann, who bought their own lavish costumes to wear onstage. Contrary to legend, "The Merry Widow" was not an instant smash; critics were divided and at first audience attendance was sparse. Word of mouth soon spread, however, medleys of the numbers "Vilja Song", "You'll Find Me at Maxim's", and the tender "Merry Widow Waltz" were played in Vienna cafes, and before long it was packing the house every night. Its initial run at the Theatre An der Wein lasted 15 months. By 1910 it had been performed over 1500 times in eight languages, conquering Europe, the United States, Russia, and Australia. "The Merry Widow" minted a durable new formula for operetta, one which emphasized sentimental romance over farce and frivolity. Its triumph influenced such composers as Emmerich Kalman, Oscar Straus, Leo Fall, and Edmund Eysler, and ushered in the "Silver Age" of Viennese operetta (the "Golden Age" being represented by the junior Johann Strauss, Suppe, and Millocker). Lehar cemented his reputation as leader of the group with two more international hits, "The Count of Luxemburg" (1909) and "Gypsy Love" (1910). After World War I Lehar enjoyed renewed success with a series of operettas he wrote specifically for singer Richard Tauber, a fruitful collaboration that included "Paganini" (1925), "The Tsarevich" (1927), "Friederike" (1928), and best of all, "The Land of Smiles" (1929), his most celebrated work after "The Merry Widow". The premiere of his theatrical swansong, "Giuditta" (1934), was broadcast on 120 radio stations around the world. The following year he formed a music publishing company and acquired full rights to most of his works. The composer's lifelong apolitical stance caused him great difficulties in his last years. With the Nazi anschluss of Austria in 1938, the Third Reich "suggested" that he divorce his Jewish wife, Sophie; Lehar refused, and the couple were spared persecution only because "The Merry Widow" was Hitler's favorite operetta. Nevertheless his decision to remain in Vienna and keep silent about Nazism tarnished his international reputation and at the end of World War II he was briefly investigated by Allied denazification authorities. He then went into exile in Zurich, returning to Austria only to settle his affairs shortly before his death. Lehar is buried at the spa town of Bad Ischl, near Salzburg, where he had spent many peaceful summers composing. His villa there is now a museum. In the years since, "The Merry Widow" has been performed and recorded probably more often than any other operetta. It has been filmed several times, three by MGM alone (1925, 1934, 1952), and the "Merry Widow Waltz" figures prominently in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "Shadow of a Doubt" (1942). Many legitimate opera companies include it in their repertory, a development that would have pleased Lehar the most.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 13 Aug 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 40636404
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Franz Lehar (30 Apr 1870–24 Oct 1948), Find a Grave Memorial no. 40636404, citing Friedhof Bad Ischl, Bad Ischl, Gmunden Bezirk, Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), Austria ; Maintained by Find A Grave .