About this Recording
8.110866 - ROMBERG: Romberg Conducts Romberg, Vol. 1 (1945-1951)

Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)

Blossom Time • Blue Paradise • Maytime • The Student Prince • Rosalie
The Night is Young • Desert Song

The composer Sigmund Romberg was a colourful and gregarious character in that bygone era of show business when melodic content really counted. He was also a man who never had any overblown illusions about his work. He always said his songs and shows were distinctly middle-brow and he was happy to supply them to an equally middle-brow audience that obviously approved. When some critics said his shows were too sweetly melodic, another answered, "It looks like nobody likes Rommy’s music but the public".

By his own admission, Romberg was not a composer who inhabited the same artistic heights as George Gershwin, Cole Porter or Richard Rodgers. In Romberg’s later years, after he had settled in Hollywood, he hosted musical evenings at his home that featured the work of these and other composers he admired, who regularly attended, but the parties always seemed to end with party-goers asking to hear Romberg’s music, too, usually with the encouragement of many of these more artistically respected composers.

Born in Hungary on 29th July, 1887, Romberg grew up under the influence of the two most popular composers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the younger Johann Strauss and Franz Lehár. While his heart was in the musical world, his head was in engineering, but after military service during the Balkan War, he decided to emigrate to the "promised land" of America. The promised land of New York in 1909 did not welcome the aspiring engineer with open arms and he was briefly forced to work at a mundane job in a pencil factory, but while hanging around the city’s numerous Hungarian cafés, he saw his chance to leave this depressing job by turning to his music, securing the job of pianist and conductor at Andre Bustanoby’s bistro at Broadway and 39th Street.

Romberg enjoyed that unique facility for being both modest and aggressive in business. From the outset, he was well liked for his outgoing personality. Yet he never missed a chance to advance himself. Romberg soon began adding his own compositions to the repertoire at the restaurant. The local popularity of these waltzes and turkey trots was his springboard into a full-blown composing career, first in Tin Pan Alley and later on Broadway.

It is often said that Romberg was a link between two musical worlds. American popular music and the stage musical were both evolving at the time he became professionally active. The taste for opulent and richly melodic operettas was giving way to a more American sound that musically articulated the country’s business-fuelled ascendancy into world power and dominance. With one foot in the old European camp and the other firmly rooted in the New York of those pre-First World War days, Romberg blazed his trail and sky-rocketed to prominence. The engineer became a musical bridge builder instead of a structural one.

When producer J.J. Shubert commissioned Romberg to write the score for his 1914 Winter Garden Theatre show, The Whirl of the World, the composer’s career trajectory was set. He laboured away on routine material for Shubert shows for the next seven years, but then hit the big time with his score for Blossom Time. Over the next thirty years, Romberg would write more than nine hundred songs for 66 stage shows and seven screen musicals. Of the Broadway shows, at least five became standards. Until the popularity of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows of the 1940s and 1950s eclipsed them on the touring and stock circuits, Romberg’s shows were the undisputed kings of this field. Well into the 1950s, it was said that the sun never set on a Blossom Time or Student Prince company, referring to the fact that those two shows were being performed by professionals and/or amateurs somewhere in the world every night.

Romberg’s apex was the 1920s. He was so successful in this period that he achieved the then unheard of feat of having two companies simultaneously performing Maytime across 44th Street from each other. Curtain times for the two shows were scheduled ten minutes apart so he could dash from one theatre to the other to conduct both overtures.

Romberg’s output decreased in the 1930s, as the Broadway musical began to undergo change yet again. As the musical became grittier in content and the structure shifted to deeper integration of book and music, Romberg’s style began to date and seem more like a throwback to a vanished era. Many forgot that he had self-produced a 1919 musical that had integrated his music more deeply into the plot and featured not a musical comedy star, but the legitimate actress Julia Deane. The show flopped. This approach would not succeed until the 1940s, finally proving Romberg had not been wrong, just ahead of his time.

As Romberg’s output decreased to a show every two years, the melodic content remained high and he did, in fact, have some successes. His work on the

M-G-M film musical, The Girl of the Golden West, was perfectly suited to box-office champion Jeannette MacDonald. Romberg also helped fill M-G-M’s corporate coffers when MacDonald, teamed with Nelson Eddy, appeared in the screen versions of his old stage hits, New Moon and Maytime.

Further, Romberg managed to have what would now be called a "chart hit." When I Grow Too Old to Dream, written with Oscar Hammerstein II for M-G-M’s The Night is Young, sold in the millions on 78 rpm discs in 1935. It remains one of his best songs.

As the times changed, however, so did Romberg. He capitalised on the considerable nostalgia market for his music, coupling it with his easy-going warmth and charm to shift into radio and concert work. He also gave freely of his time to entertain American troops during the Second World War. He was still busy when he died on 9th November, 1951, in New York. In fact, the Student Prince Ballet Music track heard on this disc was part of a recording session Romberg conducted only a few weeks before his death.

It was in this period of golden sunset that he recorded the tracks that make up this first Naxos disc of Romberg conducting Romberg. Recorded in New York between 1945 and 1951 for RCA Victor, they instantly became the kind of records people wanted as part of a basic home library of pleasant popular music. "Better music" was how they were described back in the 1940s and 1950s, implying that much of the pop music of the time was becoming less than admirable.

Under Romberg’s baton, a first rate cast of New York studio instrumentalists, vocalists and the Robert Shaw Chorale recreated the Romberg hits of another era, giving them a sound that sat well with listeners of the 1940s and 1950s. RCA profitably kept these recordings in its catalogue for well over a decade. Deleted when pop music underwent wrenching change in the 1960s, they are presented here on this first of two Naxos discs as a reminder that there really was a gentler time; a time when Sigmund Romberg and others wrote music that was charming, delightful, melodic and appreciated, music that made the world sing a different tune than today.

Greg Gormick

Producer’s Note

These recordings of Romberg favourites were originally issued in five volumes of "Gems from Romberg Operettas", between 1945 and 1951, and one instrumental album, "Waltzing With Romberg". The first two "Gems" albums and the Waltz album were issued initially on 78RPM; the remaining sets were on LP and 45RPM, with only Volume 3 also appearing on 78. The Student Prince Ballet Music was issued on 45RPM and also as part of an LP titled "Dinner Music".

Close the window