Franz Lehár the son of a German-Moravian father and a German-Hungarian mother, was born on April 30 th 1870 in Komorn (in today’s Slovakia). His father was a military bandmaster, so young Franz was a ‘military brat’, moving from post to post along with his family. At the age of 15, he was admitted to the Prague conservatory of music studying violin and composition. It was here that Antonin Dvorák gave him this sage advice:
“Hang up your violin, my boy and compose!”
Franz Lehár Austrian composer 1870-1948
After graduating, he joined the army, even playing in his father’s band, sharing a desk with Leo Fall. At age 20, he became the youngest bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian army in East Slovakia, then at the naval base in Pula.
His first opera, “Kukuschka” enjoyed a moderate success in 1896, but his “Gold and Silver” waltz attracted much attention in Vienna for a ball in honor of Princess Pauline von Metternich. His first operettas were composed in 1902 (“Der Rastelbinder” and “Winder Frauen”) for the Carl-Theater in Vienna. In 1903, he began his life-long love affair with Bad Ischl, where he later bought a villa.
The director Wilhelm Karczag engaged him at the Theater an der Wien where his hugely successful operetta, “The Merry Widow” premiered on December 30th, 1905 with more than 400 performances. No more army life for the composer of this beloved piece, which swept the world like wildfire. In London, it played more than 800 times; it was then filmed in Hollywood by Ernst Lubitsch with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier (1934), and has delighted audiences for over one hundred years.
Franz Lehár composed more than 40 works for the stage, among them “The Count of Luxembourg”, “Paganini”, “The Tsarevitch”, “Friederike”, “Eva”, “Frasquita”, “Schön ist die Welt”, “The Land of Smiles” and “Giuditta”, and is recognized as the undisputed master of the “Silver Age of Operetta.”
In 1924, he began a close friendship with the great tenor, Richard Tauber, for whom he wrote many of his operettas. When friends from the opera world asked Tauber—also renowned as a Mozart singer— why he wasted his time singing operetta, he replied:
“I don’t just sing operetta—I sing LEHÁR!”
During the second World War, he stayed in his villa in Bad Ischl and became an honorary citizen of the city. (“I always get the best ideas when I am in there…it must have something to do with the Ischl air!”) It is here he left all his papers, compositions, manuscripts and it is here that he is buried. He died on October 24th, 1948 in Bad Ischl. His villa, which he bequeathed to the city is now a museum and monument, dedicated to the great composer.