Jean Gilbert, Walter Kollo and Berlin Operetta After 1914

N.N.
Operetta Research Center
17 June, 2014

They were two of the most successful and influential operetta composers in Berlin: Jean Gilbert and Walter Kollo. One Jewish, the other not. They each ruled over different theater empires, had their own star systems and their mass following. After 1933, one was erased from memory, the other arranged himself with the new political powers and thus saved his oeurve from being forgotten.

Composer Jean Gilbert. (Photo: Stefan Frey Archive)

Composer Jean Gilbert. (Photo: Stefan Frey Archive)

Now, the German operetta researcher Stefan Frey will devote a radio feature to these two men and the operetta scene in Berlin the WW1 years (and after). The feature entitled “Zwei Herzen und ein Schlag” will be broadcast on June 18, at 21.03h, on SWR2. You can listen to it via internet and podcast.

The press release states: 1914 waren die Komponisten Jean Gilbert und Walter Kollo zweifellos Berühmtheiten. Sie hatten in den Jahren zuvor nicht nur der Berliner Operette einen unwahrscheinlichen Aufschwung beschert, sondern auch wesentlich dazu beigetragen, den Ruf der Reichshauptstadt als moderne Unterhaltungsmetropole zu begründen. Heute weitgehend vergessen, blieben sie auch nach 1914 exemplarisch für die deutsche Populärmusik – bis hin zu ihrem Tod in Nazideutschland, bzw. im Exil.

Composer Walter Kollo. (Photo: Stefan Frey Archive)

Composer Walter Kollo. (Photo: Stefan Frey Archive)

Und um eben diese Epoche soll es im zweiten Teil ihrer musikalischen Parallelbiographie gehen, die nicht umsonst im August 1914 beginnt, als, wie sich Rudolf Bernauer, der Direktor des Berliner Theaters erinnerte, “die für die Spielzeiteröffnung geplanten Stücke plötzlich unzeitgemäß geworden waren. Die alte Welt war zusammengestürzt. Es musste etwas Neues aus dem Ärmel geschüttelt werden…”

Just to refresh your memory: Walter Kollo wrote the pre-WW1 hits Drei alte Schachteln and Wie einst im Mai, Jean Gilbert wrote Kinokönigin and Die keusche Susanne, amongh many other internationally successful shows. But had fanous sons: Walter’s son Willi Kollo re-worked many Kollo titles while he was a successful composer in Nazi times, his best-known work is probably the revue version of Wie einst im Mai written towards the end of WW” for the Theater des Volkes.

Jean’s son was Robert Gilbert, an outstanding lyricist who wrote the texts for Im weißen Rössl, Die Drei von der Tankstelle and Der Kongress tanzt, but also the ‘communist’ “Stempellied” for Hanns Eisler.

Three members of the cast of the first Swedish performance of "Die keusche Susanne" at the Oscarsteatern in Stockholm, 1911. Swedish acresses Manetta Eriksson (later Ryberg) and Lisa Holm are surrounding Norwegian actor Thorleif Allum.

Three members of the cast of the first Swedish performance of “Die keusche Susanne” at the Oscarsteatern in Stockholm, 1911. Swedish acresses Manetta Eriksson (later Ryberg) and Lisa Holm are surrounding Norwegian actor Thorleif Allum.

Today, Jean Gilbert’s works are completly forgotten, even though Robert Gilbert tried saving Die keusche Susanne by adapting it in the 1970s. If played at all, that cheeky show is performed in France these days as Chaste Susanne. The Kollo titles are being heavily promoted by the grandchildren of Walter, tenro Rene Kollo and his sister Marguerite Kollo.

While they made sure that the autobiography of their father Willi was edited and published, and various other books and CDs with the music of Kollo & Kollo remain in circulation, the shows of Jean Gilbert – not to mention his life – remain something to be rediscovered.

As a footnote: A new critical biography of the Kollos, father and son, is coming our way soon, written my Wolfgang Jansen and openly adressing the Nazi aspects of their careers.

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