Robert Stolz
Click for photo of Robert and Einzi Stolz

Robert Stolz
1880 - 1975

Robert Stolz is one of the composers of Vienna's "Silver Age of Operetta." He shares this distinction with Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálman, Leo Fall and Oscar Straus. His operettas "Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt" and "Wenn die kleinen Veilchen blühen" are known around the world, and the songs "Servus, Du" and "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume" are two among his evergreens. The Washington Saengerbund has performed some of his songs, including "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume," in years past and is planning to perform more Robert Stolz favorites later this year. This is a review of his life and his music.

Born on August 25, 1880, in Graz, Robert Stolz was his parents' twelfth child. From birth, music accompanied Robert Stolz throughout his life. His father Jakob Stolz (1832-1919) was director of the public music school in Graz, and his mother, the pianist Ida Stolz (née Bondy), gave music lessons. Robert showed early musical talent, and his pedagogically experienced parents recognized that their youngest would become a musician.

With his scholastic achievements reportedly far less than his musical performances, he pursued a career as musician. In 1896, at the age of 16, he graduated from the conservatory of Vienna, having studied under Robert Fuchs and Engelbert Humperdinck, the composer of the opera "Hänsel und Gretel." In 1898 Stolz became assistant rehearsal conductor at the municipal theater of Graz, where the foundations for his stage experiences were laid. In 1899, Stolz took up his first position as conductor in the city of Marburg (today's Maribor in Slovenia). His orchestra was composed of six roma (gypsies) who were excellent musicians despite their not reading music. Here Stolz put his operetta "Studentenulke" on the stage. Following one season in Marburg, Stolz became second conductor at the theater of Salzburg in 1902, after spending a year and a half as a soldier until he received an early discharge mediated by his uncle, a medical officer.

Stolz won the favor of the critics as conductor in Salzburg. He was also successful as composer with the operetta "Sch&oum;n Lorchen." Stolz enjoyed a successful Russian tour with an operetta company in summer 1902, but circumstances led to a financial disaster. When Stolz reached Berlin without money, he earned his living for some time as a bar pianist at a brothel. The pianist Alfred Grünfeld found him there and gave him needed financial support. After an interlude as conductor of a circus company, Stolz in 1903 became first operetta conductor at the German theater in Brünn (Brno in the Czech Republic). Br?nn had an excellent reputation as theater city in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and was known as stepping stone for young talents, such as the tenor Leo Slezak. Here Stolz gained practice and competence in conducting, laying the foundations for his later international reputation as orchestral conductor. In Brünn, Stolz composed the operetta "Manöverliebe" and married the singer Grete Holm. She accompanied him to his next position at the Theater an der Wien, the leading operetta stage in Vienna. This engagement was for Robert Stolz the height of his career at that time. Here he conducted the immensely popular operetta "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehár.

Stolz also staged his own works at smaller Viennese theaters. At the variety theater "Colosseum" at Nussdorferstrasse he premièred "Die Lustigen Weiber von Wien" (1908), with libretto by the experienced writers Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald. The "Lustige Weiber" was performed in the course of a variety program at the theater, between acrobatic numbers, an usual form of presentation at that time. Eight of his pieces were published, which gave welcome supplementary earnings to the composer. A year later, Stolz's one-act operetta "Die Commadeuse" (libretto by Egon Dorn) was performed again at the "Colosseum." In the meanwhile, Stolz planned to write a three-act, full-length work. He composed "Das Glücksmädel" (libretto by Friedrich Thelen and Robert Bodanzky); it was performed for the first time in 1910 at the Raimundtheater, with Robert Stolz himself conducting.

At that time, the private life of the composer was contrary to the public successes. His infidelity with the cabaret singer Franzi Ressel, who later became his second wife, was exposed, and Stolz's marriage with Grete Holm went to pieces.

The compositional successes of the early years in Vienna encouraged Stolz to take the risk to leave his safe post at the Theater an der Wien in late 1910 and to live on his earnings as composer and on short-term engagements. One year after the "Glücksmädel" another Robert Stolz operetta -- "Die eiserne Jungfrau" -- was performed for the first time at the Raimundtheater. Although the libretto for this operetta was by Viktor Léon, who wrote the libretto of the "Merry Widow," "Die eiserne Jungfrau" was not a success until four years later when it was put on stage in Stuttgart -Bad Cannstatt in a revised version as "Das Lumperl."

Not an operetta, but a song in three stanzas, "Servus Du" (1912), was the most popular of Stolz's works at that time in Vienna. Stolz often and with pleasure told its history of origin. One evening, as he and his friend, the author Benno Vigny, spent time in a disreputable establishment in the Bäckerstrasse, he asked Vigny to prove his skill as poet by writing a poem on the spot. A few minutes later, Vigny handed his friend the three stanzas of the chanson "Servus Du," written on a little bag for lack of paper. On another paper bag Stolz reciprocated with the setting to music. Around this time the major part of the composer's activities concerned the cabaret. He married Franzi Ressel and accompanied her on the piano when she performed as a cabaret singer.

Always open to new things, Stolz took an interest in the young medium of the record. Pre-World War I recordings of chansons sung by Franzi Ressel and accompanied by Stolz are still preserved. The cinema also gave a composer of light music new opportunities. In 1913, Stolz was commissioned to compose the music for the silent film "Der Millionenonkel." Contrary to the usual movie music of that time, which was played by one pianist, this music was to be incidental music played by a great orchestra. The film was conceived as particular tribute to Alexander Girardi and showed the star in thirty of his most successful stage parts. Stolz used music of these works, tying them together.

When the First World war broke out in 1914, the composer was drafted again into the army. To his delight he was transferred to the band and was as assistant conductor of the "Deutschmeister," the most famous band of the Austrian army. He found working with military music fascinating, noting that "it was typical of the old monarchy to go to the front in the dark days of its fall with antiquated, badly equipped armies, which were accompanied by the best bands of the world...." Stolz's musical life flourished during World War I: in the daytime he played marches and dance music with the Deutschmeister; in the evening he composed topical Viennese songs and music-hall songs. He composed three of his most beautiful songs in the middle of the war, "Wien wird erst sch?n bei Nacht" (text by Wilhelm Sterk), "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume" (text by Kurt Robitschek), and "Das ist der Frühling in Wien" (text by Arthur Rebner).

Stolz seized every opportunity to compose new operettas. His music for the play "Prinzessin Revue" (Budapest 1916) is largely forgotten, but his operetta "Der Favorit," performed for the first time in 1916 at the Komische Oper Berlin with himself conducting, included a song which still ranks with the best known Stolz evergreens, "Du, du, du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein."

After World War I Austria went from a great European power to a small state. The years after 1918 were a period of general hardship, privation, and hopelessness. The influenza epidemic of 1919 claimed many casualties including the father of Robert Stolz; this was heavily felt by him. His father's death meant for Stolz the end of an epoch.

The composer devoted himself now mainly to the cabaret and particularly to the enrichment of the repertoire of his wife Franzi. In 1919 he and Otto Hein founded the Boheme-Verlag (publishers) and the same year they published the hit song "Hallo, du süsse Klingelfee." (The telephone operator at Boheme was called "Klingelfee.") The song was soon sung in Russian, Czech, English, French, and Italian. In Paris, Jean Gabin integrated it into his repertoire. "Salome, schönste Blume des Morgenlands," an "oriental fox-trot," was also successful. Arthur Rebner wrote the texts of both songs.

After World War I jazz and American rhythms were celebrated in Europe. Robert Stolz did not close his eyes to this trend. In April 1919, he composed his first Valse Boston, the "Klingelfee" was a one-step, the "Salome" a fox-trot. But this was not a complete departure from operetta. In 1920 "Das Sperrsechserl" was performed at the Wiener Komödienhaus (it had about 2,000 performances at various Viennese theatres) and "Der Tanz ins Glück" at the Raimundtheater. In 1921 "Die Tanzgräfin" and "Eine Sommernacht" were performed for the first time at the Johann-Strauss-Theater, and in 1922 "Die Liebe geht um" at the Raimundtheater. Stolz's first opera attempt also came at this time, the one-act opera "Die Rosen der Madonna."

The desire to run his own theater ended in 1924 in a financial catastrophe for Stolz. He had taken over the variety theater "Max und Moritz," which had had no valid theater license. A regular seating, a new lighting system, fire protection facilities and additional investments swallowed up enormous sums, which Stolz called in retrospect "the greatest fiasco of my whole career." Domestic problems intervened again. Stolz had separated from his second wife Franzi in 1923; the marriage with his third wife Josephine Zernitz failed only a year later. Stolz had been a well-off and distinguished man, but now he had lost both his fortune and his third wife. To escape creditors, he bought a ticket to Berlin to build himself a new life.

In November 1925 Robert Stolz arrived in Berlin, where he was already known. He had long-standing relations with the Drei-Masken-Verlag (publisher). The first place he visited in Berlin was the "Kabarett der Komiker", founded by Kurt Robitschek, who had written the libretto for "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume." Robitschek commissioned a composition from Stolz, and on December 1 that same year "Märchen im Schnee" was performed for the first time. The stars Max Pallenberg, Paul Morgan, and Max Hansen as well as the rousing music helped the small work to become a success. The Drei-Masken-Verlag offered the composer a permanent contract. A generous advance put Stolz in a position to pay his old debts, and Vienna was now open to him again. Nevertheless, he opted to remain in Berlin, for the German capital had surpassed Vienna in support of operetta. In his early years in Berlin, Stolz composed "Der Mitternachtswalzer," which was performed for the first time in Vienna in 1926. In 1927 "Eine einzige Nacht" was also put on the stage in Vienna and his success continued.

Sound film replaced silent film around 1928. For the composers of the musical entertainment genre, this meant a colossal challenge. Stolz showed again his instinctive reliability in taking up new means of musical expression. In 1929 the Super-Film-AG asked him to compose the music for the film "Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt." The title waltz is one of the Stolz melodies know world wide. In the latter half of the century a polling institute in the US found it to be one the most popular waltzes of the world, with "Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt" in second place behind Johann Strauss's "An der schönen blauen Donau." From 1930 to 1932 Robert Stolz composed and conducted the music of seventeen films. Many of his evergreens were heard at in movies and became known associated with them, such as "Heute Nacht - eventuell" (film title and main song), "Ich will deine Kameradin sein" (from "Hokuspokus"), "Musikant, Musikant, wo ist deine Heimat" (from "Ein Tango für dich"), "Adieu, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier" (from "Die lusitigen Weiber von Wien"), and "Mein Herz ruft immer nur nach dir, o Marita" from the film "Mein Herz ruft nach dir."

Although Ralph Benatzky composed the music for the operetta "Im Weissen Röss'l", which was staged in 1930 at the Gro?es Schauspielhaus in Berlin, it included interludes by other composers, which became hits and brought the great success of the work. "Was kann der Sigismund dafür, da? er so sch?n ist" is written and composed by Robert Gilbert, and "Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau" and "Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein" by Robert Stolz. (Stolz's consent to flat-rate royalties cost him a fortune.) Zurich was the scene of two successful Stolz operetta premières in 1932, "Wenn die kleinen Veilchen blühen" and "Venus in Seide."

On January 30th 1933, Hitler seized power in Germany and the persecution of Jews and political dissenters began. Stolz, though Aryan according to the racial laws, loathed the National Socialist terrorism from the very beginning. At first, Stolz continued to commute between Berlin and Vienna and to compose film music. Titles such as "Die Nacht der grossen Liebe", "Hochzeit am Wolfgangsee" and "Frühjahrsparade" did not betray the tensions and the conflicts of their date of origin. In the Stolz movie "Herbstmanöver" (1935) Leo Slezak sang one of the songs, which (like "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume") entered almost into the folk song repertoire: "Auf der Heide blühn die letzten Rosen".

But political convictions were not only a lip service for the composer. Twenty-one times he smuggled persecuted persons from Germany to Austria in the trunk of his car, at high risk to himself. A big swastika on the hood of his car served as cover, and his popularity and an autograph for the border official were effective.

In 1936, Stolz left Hitler's Germany and returned to Austria. Stolz wrote the music to forty sound films during the years 1930 to 1937. On the night of March 11, 1938, Stolz heard in his apartment at Elisabethstrasse the famous radio address by the Austrian federal Chancellor Dr. Kurt Schuschnigg announcing that Austria had stopped to exist. Warned by one of his brothers, a National Socialist, the composer left Austria for Zurich that same night. He realized that he would not return to the annexed Austria, and that this meant that he would to have to leave an important fortune behind.

From Zurich he traveled to Paris, where he settled down for the next two years. The German government and the Reichsmusikkammer tried several times to urge him to return. If he would not come back, the German copyright company STAGMA would not look after his rights any longer. The London publisher Boosey assisted Stolz to induce the STAGMA to release him from copyright agreements. Stolz carried on work with undiminished energy in Paris. In 1939 he composed the operetta "La montagne bleue." But at the end of 1939 his fourth wife Lilli left him and stole his whole fortune, along with his Carte d'identité, his residence permit. Stolz went from being at the height of his creative power and a millionaire to an undesirable alien without money and papers. He was arrested by the French police on November 30, 1939, and taken to the internment camp of Colombe, where 70,000 people were crowded together in the open air.

In Colombe, Stolz, now 59 years old, was stricken with pneumonia. He was saved by a chance acquaintance made in Paris just months earlier. The nineteen-year-old daughter of a French banker, Yvonne Louise Ulrich, who was studying in Paris for her law degree, learned that he had been interned. She gathered several thousand francs as a bribe for Robert Stolz's freedom, nursed him back to health, and married him. She became Stolz's fifth wife. The Parisian emigrants gave her the nickname "Einzi," because she was the only (einzige) helper to offer her services.

In 1940 Stolz arrived in New York. In spite of not speaking English, he started to build himself a completely new existence with his new companion Einzi.

His first attempts as a composer in the USA were not successful. But when the violinist Jack Fischberg asked him if he was willing to substitute for Bruno Walter in a Johann Strauss concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he was a great success. Stolz had been unknown as conductor in the US, and he had had no experience in conducting symphony orchestras. The evening "A Night in Vienna" at Carnegie hall met with a smashing success. Record companies and radio stations commissioned Stolz to compose music for film, stage performances, and concerts. Einzi had invited the manager of one of the greatest American concert agencies to Carnegie hall, with the result that "A Night in Vienna" went on tour through the US. The second concert with works by Johann Strauss, Franz Lehár, Oscar Straus, Emmerich Kálman and Robert Stolz played to a full house of 20,000 concert goers. Several large American cities organized Robert Stolz concerts in grand style, eager to repeat them each year.

Stolz acted not only as a musician in the US, but also as representative of Austria. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have said to Stolz on the occasion of a gala dinner in New York, "Austria has no ambassador in the USA and nevertheless there is an ambassador in the United States, and that's you, Mr. Stolz."

By finding private sponsors, Robert and Einzi Stolz succeeded in staging a German language "Fledermaus" in New York in 1942 and making it a success, covering the costs of production - an enterprise, which experts of the musical scene of New York had labeled as impossible. The "Fledermaus" was followed by the "Zigeunerbaron," "Bettelstudent," and finally "The Merry Widow."

Stolz about the end of the war in retrospect: "... And then came spring 1945. I was just conducting my concert "A Night in Vienna," when we received the news: The war is over! From this moment on, I had only one single idea - back to Vienna!"

But this return meant giving up the comfortable American living conditions and moving to a city which lay largely in ruins and could hardly secure the most basic necessities of life. But this could not divert Stolz from his intention: "I was convinced that Austria and Germany, if they have ever needed me, needed me more than ever in this moment. When someone you love is ill, you have to rush to his help. He needs your assistance much more than when he is healthy. I was convinced that my music would be able to make a little contribution to the recovery of Austria and Germany after National Socialism, after war and destruction."

Robert and Einzi Stolz were the first civilian travelers who were allowed to fly from the USA to Austria. They had visa numbers 1 and 2. On October 30,1946, they arrived at Vienna international airport, where they were given an enthusiastic reception. The mayor of Vienna was present and the Austrian newsreel recorded the event.

Already before his departure from the USA, Stolz began to work on a musical comedy, with text written by Karl Farkas: "Schicksal mit Musik." The Apollo-Kino was adapted as performance place. But "Schicksal mit Musik" turned out to be unsuccessful and suffered the same fate as the stage play "Drei von der Donau" (text by Robert Gilbert). The restitution of the apartment at Elisabethstraße to Stolz was welcomed; Soviet officers had lived there until then. The first great honorable distinction of his late creative period ensued in 1947: The Austrian government conferred the title of professor to him.

On August 25, 1950, Robert Stolz celebrated his seventieth birthday. What some people might have taken as the end of an artistic life was for him just a stopover: a creative period lasting twenty-five more years followed; Stolz never retired into private life.

From 1950 to 1970 Stolz was a presence in Austrian and European musical life. In 1951, the operetta "Der Tanz ins Glück" was adapted for the screen with Johannes Heesters, in London the musical "Rainbow Square" and in Vienna the operetta "Das Glücksrezept" were performed for the first time. Every year from 1952 on, Stolz composed the music for the "Wiener Eisrevue," which had a run of 19 productions. In 1953, the arcade court of the town hall of Vienna was the scene of the first performance of the Singspiel "Der liebe Augustin" with Paul Hörbiger. The operetta "Signorina" was put on the stage in 1954 in Nuremberg. The new star Romy Schneider dominated in the movie "Die Deutschmeister" of 1955. In 1957, Stolz presented his "March of the United Nations," in 1958 his film "Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume," in 1959 the musical comedy "Kitty und die Weltkonferenz." The operetta "Trauminsel" was performed for the first time in 1962 in the festival of Bregenz, Hans Weigel was the librettist of the musical comedy "Ein schöner Herbst" of 1963 and in 1965 Stolz was the conductor of the New Year's Eve performance of the "Fledermaus" at the opera house of Vienna. In 1967, Stolz was in the center of the centenary of Strauss' waltz "An der schönen blauen Donau." In 1969, a new première was performed at the lake stage of Bregenz: "Hochzeit am Bodensee."

The ninetieth birthday of the composer in 1970 occasioned celebrations, honors and a great television gala night with the still hale and hearty Robert Stolz.

Five years later, the news of Stolz's death on June 27, 1975 spread around the whole world. Not only did innumerable friends and fans of the composer send letters of condolence, but so did leading figures of politics, the economy, and culture, heads of state. The observances in Vienna included a state ceremony: Stolz lay in state at the foyer of the opera house of Vienna. Thousands of people took leave at his coffin. On all Austrian office buildings the flags flew at half-mast. His tomb of honor at the central cemetery of Vienna is near the tombs of the great Austrian musicians, whose personal acquaintance Stolz had made in his youth: Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss.

It's been said that Robert Stolz had three spiritual homes: Graz, the city of his birth; Vienna, the cradle of his art; and Berlin, the golden metropolis of the twenties and thirties, for whose theaters, cabarets, and cinemas he composed some of his world-famous melodies.

During his life, Robert Stolz was showered with more honors than many other musicians: the city of Vienna made him an honorary citizen; the Austrian government appointed him as professor; as a film music composer he was twice nominee for an Oscar; monuments were raised for him; and streets and places were named after him. Austria has two Robert Stolz museums. In 1963, Robert Stolz received the well-deserved Große Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany] from the German Federal President. On the occasion of his 100th birthday in 1980, special stamps were issued and commemorative medals were minted. A "Robert-Stolz-Express" travels the rails between his native Graz and Vienna.

Travelers to Austria have numerous opportunities to see museums, monuments, commemorative tablets, and other rememberances of Robert Stolz not only in Vienna, but also in Bad Hall (Upper Austria), Bad Ischl (Upper Austria), Graz (Styria), Oberwart (Burgenland), St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut (Upper Austria), Trofaiach (Styria) , and Wiener Neustadt (Lower Austria). In Germany, Berlin's Robert Stolz Park has a monument that reads:

"The years 1924 to 1936, which Robert Stolz spent in Berlin, were happy and busy ones. Here the gifted composer and conductor created a large number of his immortal melodies, helped many of his fellow citizens in those troubled times and after the last war did much to bring about a reconciliation among people."

Austrian stamp
honoring Robert Stolz

German stamp
honoring Robert Stolz

Viennese Operetta Series
Zwei Herzen in Dreivierteltakt

Sources

Robert Stolz Austrian Department of Tourism.

Robert Stolz Erich Schulze on the documentation compiled by the Austrian Ministry for Economic Affairs of the life and work of Robert Stolz.

Robert Stolz by Bob January.

[Stamps Honoring the Silver Age of Operetta]

From: Dr. Peter Eppel: Österreicher im Exil - USA 1938-45 (Austrians in Exile)

This brief biography (at http://www.oocities.com/Vienna/Strasse/1945/WSB/stolz.html), compiled by Carol Traxler   (caroltraxler@mail.com) and Herbert Traxler from several internet and other sources in German and English, appeared in two parts, in the March 2000 and May 2000 issues of Quarter Notes, the newsletter of the Washington Saengerbund edited by Walter Mueller.

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