Composer. He and Franz Lehar were the outstanding figures of operetta's "Silver Age". Kalman's unique style blended lush melodies, Viennese dance tradition and the robust spirit of Hungarian folk music, especially in his rousing choruses. Of his 19 operettas, "The Gypsy Princess" (1915) and "Countess Maritza" (1924) are still heard today. Imre Kalman was born into a Jewish family in Siofok, Hungary. From a young age he trained as a pianist but stress injuries to his hands dashed his hopes of becoming a keyboard virtuoso. From 1900 to 1904 he studied under Hans Koessler at the Budapest Academy of Music, where his classmates included Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, so it's hardly surprising that a streak of Hungarian nationalism took root in his technique. At first he composed "serious" concert pieces, but the success of his first operetta, "The Gay Hussars" (1908), prompted him to move to Vienna and focus on that genre. His other notable hits included "Sari" (1912), "Miss Springtime" (1915), and "The Circus Princess" (1926). With the Nazi anschluss of Austria in 1938, Kalman rejected Hitler's offer to become an "honorary Aryan" and fled first to France, then to the United States. In 1942 he renounced his Hungarian citizenship when his homeland officially joined the German Axis. From the late 1940s he divided his time between New York, London, and Paris, where he died. Along with Lehar, Kalman helped keep Viennese operetta alive long after World War I not just with a knack for writing catchy tunes, but with a willingness to experiment with new trends and media. He contributed pop numbers to the Broadway musical "Golden Dawn" (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, 1927), incorporated jazz into "The Duchess of Chicago" (1928), and wrote an operetta directly for film, "Ronny" (1931). His final light opera, "Arizona Lady" (1954), was inspired by a fondness for B westerns he had acquired in America. Interestingly, while he never had an international hit comparable with Lehar's "The Merry Widow", Kalman's music was more consistently popular in the US than that of any of his Viennese contemporaries in the genre; during the 1920s, 10 of his shows received a total of 1650 performances on Broadway. "Countess Maritza" continues to enjoy frequent English-language revivals.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards