Franz Lehár (30 April 1870 – 24 October 1948) was an Austro-Hungarian composer. He is mainly known for his operettas of which the most successful and best known is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe).
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Lehár was born in the northern part of Komárom, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Komárno, Slovakia), the eldest son of Franz Lehar (senior) (1838–1888), an Austrian bandmaster in the Infantry Regiment No. 50 of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Christine Neubrandt (1849–1906), a Hungarian woman from a family of German descent. He grew up speaking only Hungarian until the age of 12. Later he put a diacritic above the "a" of his father's name "Lehar" to indicate the long vowel in Hungarian phonology.
While his younger brother Anton entered cadet school in Vienna to become a professional officer, Franz studied violin and composition at the Prague Conservatory, where his violin teacher was Antonín Bennewitz, but was advised by Antonín Dvořák to focus on composing music. After graduation in 1899 he joined his father's band in Vienna, as assistant bandmaster. In 1902 he became conductor at the historic Vienna Theater an der Wien, where his first opera Wiener Frauen was performed in November of that year.
He is most famous for his operettas – the most successful of which is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) – but he also wrote sonatas, symphonic poems, marches, and a number of waltzes (the most popular being Gold und Silber, composed for Princess Pauline von Metternich's "Gold and Silver" Ball, January 1902), some of which were drawn from his famous operettas. Individual songs from some of the operettas have become standards, notably "Vilja" from The Merry Widow and "You Are My Heart's Delight" ("Dein ist mein ganzes Herz") from The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns).
Lehár was also associated with the operatic tenor Richard Tauber, who sang in many of his operettas, beginning with Zigeunerliebe (in 1920) and Frasquita (1922), in which Lehár once again found a suitable post-war style. Between 1925 and 1934 he wrote six operettas specifically for Tauber's voice. By 1935 he decided to form his own publishing house, Glocken-Verlag (Publishing House of the Bells), to maximize his personal control over performance rights to his works.
Lehár's relationship with the Nazi regime was an uneasy one. He had always used Jewish librettists for his operas and had been part of the cultural milieu in Vienna which included a significant Jewish contingent.1 Further, although Lehár was Roman Catholic, his wife, Sophie (née Paschkis) had been Jewish before her conversion to Catholicism upon marriage, and this was sufficient to generate hostility towards them personally and towards his work. Hitler enjoyed Lehár's music, and hostility diminished across Germany after Goebbels's intervention on Lehár's part.2 In 1938 Mrs. Lehár was given the status of "Ehrenarierin" (honorary Aryan by marriage).3 Nonetheless, attempts were made at least once to have her deported. The Nazi regime was aware of the uses of Lehár's music for propaganda purposes: concerts of his music were given in occupied Paris in 1941. Even so, Lehár's influence was limited: it is said that he tried personally to secure Hitler's guarantee of the safety of one of his librettists, Fritz Löhner-Beda, but he was not able to prevent the murder of Beda in Auschwitz-III.4
He died in 1948 in Bad Ischl, near Salzburg, and was buried there.
His younger brother Anton became the administrator of his estate, promoting the popularity of Franz Lehár's music.
- He was elected an honorary citizen of Sopron in 1940.
- In 1940 Hitler awarded him the Goethe-Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft.
- There is a street in Vienna named after him. Additionally, several towns in the Netherlands have named streets after him (e.g. in The Hague, Leidsche Rijn, Utrecht, Eindhoven and Tilburg).
In 1947, Lehár conducted the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich in a series of 78-rpm recordings for English Decca (released in the U.S. by London Records) of overtures and waltzes from his operettas. The recordings had remarkable sound for their time because they were made using Decca's "full frequency range recording" process, one of the first commercial high fidelity techniques. These recordings were later issued on LP and CD. A compilation of his recordings has been released by Naxos Records.
- Informationen des Kulturpolitischen Archivs im Amt für Kulturpflege. Berlin 9. Januar 1935; cited in Stefan Frey; Was sagt ihr zu diesem Erfolg. Franz Lehár und die Unterhaltungsmusik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt/M./Leipzig 1999, ISBN 3-458-16960-1. pp. 305f.;
Fred K. Prieberg: Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933–1945. CD-ROM, self published, Kiel 2004, p. 4166.
- Elke Froehlich (Hrsg.): Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Teil I Aufzeichnungen 1923–1945 Band 5. Dez 1937 – Juli 1938. K.G. Saur, München 2000, S. 313.
- Stefan Frey, ibid., S. 338f.
- Peter Herz: "Der Fall Franz Lehár. Eine authentische Darlegung von Peter Herz". In: Die Gemeinde 24 April 1968.
- Bordman, Gerald. American Operetta. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
- Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre (3 Volumes). New York: Schirmer Books, 2001.
- Grun, Bernard. Gold and Silver: The Life and Times of Franz Lehár. New York: David McKay Co., 1970.
- Traubner, Richard. Operetta: A Theatrical History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1983
- Paul Melchior, Franz Lehár musical, Pascal Maurice éditeur, Paris, 2012, ISBN 978-2-908681-27-7 (in French, German and English).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Franz Lehár|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Lehar, Franz.|
- Recording Alfie Boe's Franz Lehár: Love was a Dream
- Free scores by Franz Lehár at the International Music Score Library Project
- Musical Theatre Guide page
- Franz Lehár at the Internet Movie Database
- Recording by Lotte Lehmann of "So war meine Mutter…Wär es nichts…" from Eva in MP3 format
- Vocal score to Alone at Last (1915)
- Vocal score to Gypsy Love (1911)