About this Recording
8.110857 - LEHAR: Lehar Conducts Lehar (1947)

Franz Lehár (1870-1948)

Musikalische Memoiren • Das Land des Lächelns • Eva • Zigeunerliebe • Der Graf von Luxembourg • Die lustige Witwe • Wiener Frauen • Gold und Zilber Walzer

The most celebrated of twentieth-century Viennese operetta composers and an authoritative arranger and conductor of his own works, Lehár was Hungarian by birth and ancestry. Born in Komórom on 30th April, 1870 of a Hungarian mother, Franz (or Ferencz) Lehár from early childhood showed an exceptional musical talent, improvising tunes on the piano at the age of six. His father, after whom he was named, (Franz Lehár: 1838-1898), a composer and military band sergeant-major in the 5th Austrian Infantry Regiment, gave him his first instruction and in 1882 Franz entered the Prague Conservatory to study violin, piano and composition. He also received private tuition in harmony and counterpoint from Fibich and Dvor├╣ák. Graduating with honours at eighteen, he played the violin in theatre orchestras in Germany and first violin in his father’s band in Vienna. Other military appointments followed in Pola, Vienna and Trieste, but the lure of the theatre proved greater for Lehár, who had already for years been composing orchestral and vocal works in various genres.

After conducting his first opera, Kukuska, a flop produced at Leipzig in 1896, Lehár temporarily resumed military service in Trieste before taking over his father’s band there, and in 1899 was appointed bandmaster of the 26th Austrian Infantry in Vienna, the scene of his future triumphs. Three of his 1901 operettas came to nothing but spurred by sales of some popular marches and waltzes, especially Gold und Silber, Op.75, composed in 1899 and published in 1902, during the following year he finally relinquished military service for musical directorship of the Theater an der Wien, where his Wiener Frauen (Vienna Women), a moderate success, was staged in November. By 1904 Vienna had seen four more Lehár operettas, most notably Der Rastelbinder in December 1902, but his chance setting in 1905 of a libretto originally intended by Richard Heuberger would change the fortunes and direction of Viennese operetta and win him international renown.

One of the world’s all-time greatest stage successes, Lehár’s early three-act masterpiece Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) was first staged in a low-budget production at the Theater and der Wien on 30th December, 1905, conducted by Robert Stolz. With book by Viktor Léon (1858-1940) and Leo Stein (Leo Rosenstein: 1861-1921) based on Meilhac’s play L’attaché, it ran initially for a record-breaking 483 performances, despite having been earlier dismissed by the theatre’s directors as "unmusical and tuneless". In London at Daly’s Theatre in 1907, it ran for 778 performances and on Broadway (New Amsterdam, 1907) a further 416 and by 1909, when it reached Paris, as La veuve joyeuse, the work had sparked new crazes in women’s fashion and altered global trends in operetta-writing, which found their reflection in subsequent works by Fall, Kálmán, Stolz and others. Subsequently, in Hollywood, it inspired three MGM film versions: in 1925 (silent), 1934 and 1952.

Four more minor essays in the Viennese genre followed, all comparative failures, before Lehár produced his next resounding hits. Brimming with lush Lehár melodies and with book by A.M. Willner (1858-1929) and Robert Bodanzky, Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909) proved a healthy money-spinner with 299 performances at the Theater an der Wien prior to entering the international repertoire. In London, in 1911, it ran for a further 340, while its 1912 Broadway production lasted for 120.

Again with book by Willner and Bodanzky, Ziguenerliebe (1910) was first staged at the Vienna Carltheater but enjoyed greater success in London at Daly’s in 1912 as Gypsy Love, with 299 performances. After only 31 showings on Broadway its later transatlantic fortunes were boosted when, in 1930, its story-line provided the basis for The Rogue Song, an early film-musical starring the opera baritone Lawrence Tibbett. From these two enduring Lehár favourites we hear, under the composer’s baton, respectively, the waltz-sequences and the overture.

Before World War 1 Lehár’s only real operetta hit was Eva, subtitled Die Fabriksmadel (The Factory Girl). Its score, first heard in November 1911, contains several tender, swaying waltz-tunes. After the armistice, however, the incursions into Europe of jazz and other new musical styles from the United States looked set to eclipse Lehár’s brand of Viennese operetta. Outstanding among his post-war creations, Die blaue Mazur and Frasquita (1922), for example, included some elements of the new dance-rhythms but aroused only modest interest. Lehár’s popularity, however, was re-established after his works, championed by the tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948), were invested with vocal charisma and a renewed élan, which captured the public’s imagination. Beginning in 1924 with Paganini, the series of Lehár-Tauber collaborations included Der Zarewitsch (1927), Friederike (1928) and in 1929 Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles).

A re-working of Lehár’s unsuccessful 1923 operetta Die gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket), this last, a three-act romance set in China with book by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner-Beda (1883-1942) and lyrics by Viktor Léon, first produced at the Berlin Metropol, proved the pinnacle of the Tauber-Lehár collaboration and Lehár’s virtual swan-song, his only substantial later score being his own favourite Giuditta, an unsuccessful opera written for Tauber in 1934. Subsequent productions of Das Land des Lächelns included the Theater an der Wien (1930) and Drury Lane, London (in English translation, 1931), both starring Tauber. Its richly melodious score contained, among the other much-loved tunes heard here in précis in the Overture, Tauber’s famous Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (You are my heart’s delight), a signature-tune as well-travelled in the tenor’s two commercial recordings as was Caruso’s Vesti la giubba.

Peter Dempsey

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