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Sigmund Romberg

Sigmund Romberg

William A. Everett
With a Foreword by Geoffrey Block
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Sigmund Romberg
    Book Description:

    Hungarian-born composer Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) arrived in America in 1909 and within eight years had achieved his first hit musical on Broadway. This early success was soon followed by others, and in the 1920s his popularity in musical theater was unsurpassed. In this book, William Everett offers the first detailed study of the gifted operetta composer, examining Romberg's key works and musical accomplishments and demonstrating his lasting importance in the history of American musicals.Romberg composed nearly sixty works for musical theater as well as music for revues, for musical comedies, and, later in life, for Hollywood films. Everett shows how Romberg was a defining figure of American operetta in the 1910s and 1920s (Maytime, Blossom Time,The Student Prince), traces the new model for operetta that he developed with Oscar Hammerstein II in the late 1920s (The Desert Song, The New Moon), and looks at his reworked style of the 1940s (Up in Central Park). This book offers an illuminating look at Romberg's Broadway career and legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13835-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Sigmund Romberg, who famously reworked melodies by Schubert in the 1920sBlossom Time, was once reputedly asked at a party whether he had composed Offenbach’s hummable Barcarolle fromLes Contes d’Hoffmann, which at that moment was playing in the background. Romberg’s alleged witty response, “Not yet,” depicts a man not overly worried about accusations regarding his lack of originality. Romberg could afford to joke about his indebtedness to a famous tune. From the late 1910s to the end of the 1920s, this master of operetta enjoyed five of the greatest hits of the era:Maytime(1917),Blossom Time(1921),The...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    (pp. 1-5)

    When sigmund romberg (1887–1951) arrived in new york in 1909 ready to embark on a musical career, few would have predicted the tremendous impact he would have on the Broadway musical. Born in Hungary in the waning years of the Habsburg Empire, Romberg played piano in restaurants until the legendary impresario and producer J. J. Shubert included his music in the 1914 revueThe Whirl of the World. From then on, the immigrant composer’s career flourished. Over a period lasting more than thirty-five years, Romberg composed more than sixty works for the musical stage (which collectively contain over eight...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Sigmund Romberg: The Man and His Music
    (pp. 6-36)

    Sigmund romberg possessed an intriguing array of cultural backgrounds. Firmly planted in the European tradition, he made his mark on American soil. The gifted composer integrated the fundamental principles of pre–World War I Viennese operetta with post–World War I American musical styles and tastes. He bridged two musical worlds, providing a direct link between nineteenth-century European musical theater and the twentieth-century Broadway musical.

    But what do we know about the man behind the music? The conventional wisdom about Romberg comes largely from his own personal reminiscences given on radio and television interviews and from a handful of articles...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Finding a Voice: Operetta, Revue, and Musical Comedy
    (pp. 37-76)

    Romberg’s distinctive operetta voice and the manner in which he approached the genre grew out of four roots: 1) his European heritage and musical training; 2) Viennese operetta; 3) the American revue, especially as envisioned by the Shuberts; and 4) the American musical comedy of the 1910s. Each of these sources played a significant role in Romberg’s development as a composer. Romberg grew up in provincial Hungary and received his most extensive musical training in Osijek (Esseg in German), which now is part of Croatia. He spent several years in Vienna, where he became enamored with the spirit of the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Staging Nostalgia: The Road to Maytime
    (pp. 77-103)

    Although romberg established himself on broadway in the 1910s as a composer of revues and, to a lesser degree, of musical comedies, he undoubtedly found his truest voice in the realm of operetta. Romberg’s close involvement with the Viennese-inspired art form began less than two years after his Broadway debut withThe Whirl of the Worldin January 1914. Knowing of his expertise and love of the genre, the ever-resourceful Shuberts asked Romberg to contribute new songs for an English-language adaptation of Edmund Eysler’sEin Tag im Paradies(A Day in Paradise, 1913), which they produced on Broadway asThe...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Continued Success: The Magic Melody and Blossom Time
    (pp. 104-123)

    After the initial success ofmaytime, romberg left the shubert fold (for a time) and founded the short-lived Wilner-Romberg Productions with Max Wilner. Thanks to the financial windfall ofMaytime, he now had enough capital to start his own business. Although Wilner-Romberg Productions ended up being a commercial failure, the enterprise gave Romberg the chance to produce original works according to his own dictates. He did not have to answer to anyone, particularly J. J. Shubert, on any aspect of the musical score. The only operetta produced under the auspices of Romberg’s company was the evocatively titledThe Magic Melody...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Young Love in Old Heidelberg: The Student Prince
    (pp. 124-154)

    In the years surrounding world war i, german elements in Broadway musicals had to be handled very carefully. InMaytime, the Shuberts were so concerned about any German associations that they completely removed all Teutonic elements from the production. After the United States entered the war, performances of German-language plays, operas, and operettas were forbidden. But by the early 1920s the situation had changed considerably.¹ German composers such as Richard Wagner were enjoying a renaissance in New York. The Metropolitan Opera, for example, mounted productions ofLohengrin,Parsifal, andTristan und Isoldeduring the 1920–21 season, after not performing...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Romance and Exoticism in North Africa: The Desert Song
    (pp. 155-180)

    The desert song(1926) was a radical departure from romberg’s established operetta mold. The show was set in French Morocco, not Europe or even New York, and its action was entirely present-day. This musically and dramatically compelling operetta was not a nineteenth-century tale, nor even one that spanned a broad expanse of time and ended up in the present. Although the title song was a waltz and there were ample marches for the male chorus, it was a long way fromThe Student Princeof just two years earlier. InThe Desert Songthere is a genuine happy ending to...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Exploring New Possibilities: From Cherry Blossoms to The New Moon
    (pp. 181-209)

    The desert songproved that operetta could be set in places other than Europe (or a substituted New York City, as inMaytime) and wholly in the present. The possibilities for the genre, at least in Romberg’s eyes and ears, expanded immensely. Romberg was liberating himself from the operetta model he had solidified with the Shuberts, where nostalgia was a powerful dramatic force and an unfulfilled love story was told through a musical palate dominated by a recurring waltz duet. He continued this shift away from his orthodox Shubert model in the works that followedThe Desert Song:four new...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Emulating the Past: Later Stage Works
    (pp. 210-244)

    Operetta was already being thought of as passé in 1928, whenThe New Moonappeared. As a critic for theBrooklyn Daily Eaglewrote: “Nevertheless, here despite its lapses is a romantic musical comedy in which music and comedy and manners are all things of grace and charm. That sort of thing was long ago supposed to have gone out.”¹ Audience tastes were definitely changing. A show likeThe Student Prince, the longest-running musical of the decade, certainly would not have had its record-breaking run if it had appeared in 1928. Audiences no longer craved nostalgic sentiment like they did...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Romberg in Hollywood
    (pp. 245-274)

    Film changed forever on october 6, 1927, when synchronized singing to on-screen images appeared in the much-publicizedThe Jazz Singerstarring Al Jolson. A new multimedia form was emerging that was the result of a symbiotic synthesis of sound and visual image. From Hollywood’s point of view, glorious film operettas, either new works or adaptations of stage pieces, were ideal vehicles to showcase the possibilities of sound on film. Cinema could also put bona fide opera scenes, familiar songs, choreographed spectacles, and much more on-screen.¹ Film operetta was the meeting place for this variety of styles—it was a place...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Building a Legacy
    (pp. 275-289)

    Romberg realized the importance of an audience and its tastes. He also knew that during the 1940s, his style of operetta was becoming outmoded. Although he proved that he could write a successful “modern” show withUp in Central Park(1945), his heart remained with the nostalgia-driven works of the teens and twenties. Romberg, ever the entrepreneur and romantic, began searching for the audience that he knew appreciated his old-fashioned melodies.¹ He accomplished this first through radio programs, and then through annual tours from 1943 through 1949 with an orchestra, chorus, and soloists, offering programs entitled “An Evening with Sigmund...

  17. EPILOGUE: Romberg’s Influence on the American Musical Theater
    (pp. 290-296)

    As a central figure in the metamorphosis of operetta from a European-based genre to its American incarnation, Sigmund Romberg made contributions to the American musical theater that are indeed significant. He wrote music for some of the finest songs of the first half of the twentieth century, and his waltzes and marches, especially the ones for large male choruses, helped define American musical theater during the 1920s. Romberg codified two different formulas for a Broadway operetta. The first, developed with the Shuberts, is centered on nostalgia:Maytime,Blossom Time, andThe Student Princeare the shows that established Romberg’s place...

  18. Appendix A: Work List
    (pp. 297-299)
  19. Appendix B: Broadcasts of The Railroad Hour Featuring Operettas by Romberg
    (pp. 300-301)
  20. Appendix C: Selected Discography
    (pp. 302-310)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 311-336)
  22. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 337-342)
  23. Index
    (pp. 343-358)
  24. Credits
    (pp. 359-362)