Operetta Research Center
28 December, 2021
It’s only a few days now, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra will be at their exercise again. Their 1 January concert will be conducted by Daniel Barenboim, which can be seen as a surprise since Barenboim hasn’t exactly shown any noteworthy affinity to waltzes or popular Viennese music the last time he conducted the New Year’s Concert. Of course, there’s a lot of Strauss, Strauss, and more Strauss on the program, including some operetta goodies such as the Fledermaus overture and the Tausend und eine Nacht waltz, op. 346. But there’s also a nod to Carl Michael Ziehrer, the occasion being the centenary of the composer’s death.
Carl Michael Ziehrer (1843-1922) was one of the fiercest rivals of Johann Strauss in the ball rooms. He also wrote many stage works that were once successful: Der Landstreicher and Fremdenführer among them.
The Nazis tried to revive interest in Ziehrer as a representative of Vienna’s supposedly “Golde Age” – before Jazz Operetta and everything they considered a “degeneration” took over. One of the results was a 1945 biopic by Willi Forst, playing Ziehrer himself. The film is entitled Wiener Mädeln and offers the “Aryan” vision of the history of the Viennese waltz. The movie climaxes in a scene where Ziehrer has to battle with an American band leader at the World Fair. (The Nazis were anything but subtle when it came to propaganda, even if some people still like to think otherwise.)
“Here, the character played by Fritz Liewehr should be mentioned,” writes the Deutsche Filmothek. “Liewehr plays the American bandleader John Cross, Ziehrer’s musical opponent on the World Fair. Forst’s original idea was to have Ziehrer go to the USA and play a band contest against the famous John Philip Sousa, but this was not accepted by Goebbels’ ministry. Not just because the US were fighting against Germany in the war, but even more so because Sousa had a Jewish background. So Forst had no other option than to replace Sousa with the invented character Cross, and to move the location to Christiania (Oslo).”
At the Vienna New Year’s Concert 2022 there will not be such a musical high noon, instead the program announces Ziehrer’s Nachtschwärmer waltz, op. 466.
The other “new” composer to be presented is Josef “Pepi” Hellmesberger (1855-1907), who was the first Hofkapellmeister of the Vienna Court Opera and principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1901 to 1903. He actually wrote 22 operettas, all of them forgotten today.
On 1 January you get to hear his gallop Kleiner Anzeiger, op. 4 and Heinzelmännchen (which roughly translates as leprechauns).
The concert will be broadcast live in TV, and Sony will release it on CD shortly afterwards.
If you want to know more about Carl Michael Ziehrer, there is a new English language biography by John Diamond.