Music Notes

MUSICAL NOTES: FRANZ LEHAR (1870 – 1948)

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One of the most surprising discoveries for me was to learn that Franz Lehár, whose operas and waltzes match those of the celebrated Strauss family, lived in my own lifetime. Much as I love the melodies and waltzes from The Merry Widow and Wiener Frauen (Viennese Women) I was ignorant of the fact that Lehár was a contemporary of The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Lehár’s music was primarily associated with the blissful interlude of peace that reigned throughout Europe before the cataclysmic outbreak of war in 1914, a war that was to change everything.

Best known as a composer of operettas the composer’s output was extraordinary. During his 35 years career as a composer and conductor, Lehár wrote nearly 40 operettas. Hungarian born of German ethnicity, Lehár’s greatest and most enduring success was The Merry Widow, which was first played at Theater-an-der-Wien in 1905.

It had more than 5,000 performances. Such was its popularity that at one time it was playing simultaneously in five different languages in five different theatres, and this in one city alone, Buenos Aires.

It was impossible not to admire and enjoy Lehár’s operettas, marches, dances, and even symphonic poems. His music was thoroughly enjoyed by Adolf Hitler (1933-1945). Germany’s President-Chancellor awarded the composer the distinguished Goethe Medal. To the German leader, it mattered not that the composer was married to a Jewish woman. It is one of the quirks of history that Lehár was born on the 30th of April and the German chancellor died on the same date.

Of his many waltzes, most of us find his Golden and Silver Waltz irresistible. Many a mum (and dad) has spun their child around the kitchen table to the waltz’s lilting melody. At least my mum did to me, much to my embarrassment.

I am sure I was her heart’s delight. This happened to be the name given to one of Lehár’s most famous operetta songs. Wherever and whenever You Are My Heart’s Delight is played, it brings audiences to their feet.

In July 2004 the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, as always, held its end of the season concert at the Berlin Waldbuhne Stadium, one of the parks situated just outside Berlin was created as an open-air entertainment auditorium by the National Socialists.

On this occasion Rolando Villazon, the world-famous Mexican tenor was joined by Madrid-born Placido Domingo and Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko. Anna has since been excluded from all European Union operas ~ because the world’s most popular soprano is Russian.

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Together they sang Lehár’s You Are My Heart’s Delight ((Dein ist mein ganzes Herz). The effect on the 20,000 theatre-goers was electrifying.

Is it possible that songs written today will be bringing rapturous applause from vast audiences in 90-years’ time? I doubt it. There is a saying: ‘To live in the hearts of those you leave behind, is not to die.’ The music of this former military musician will live on in our hearts – and our feet, for centuries to come.

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