The New York Times
15 April, 1928
Kálmán’s ‘Duchess of Chicago’ Starts Controversy Over the Future of the Operetta./ American Influence Seen./ Composer Turns Attention to Efforts to Harmonize Invading Melodies With Old Viennese Waltzes./ Wireless to The New York Times.
[…] Should any enterprising publisher decide today to revive the thirteenth and fourteenth century vogue for picture maps of the world, the chances are that his draftsman would represent Vienna with an interrogation mark. The publisher, if at present a resident of Vienna, would be certain to give the draftsman a congratulatory slap on the back for having done a good job, for having hit the nail on the head, so to speak.
No symbol other than an interrogation mark, unless it would be the word ‘Quo Vadis,’ could suggest the feature which has been most noticeable for almost a fortnight and is most likely to remain the most noticeable thing for some months to come in this city which the Romans built and the Hapsburgs [sic] made famous.
All musical-minded Viennese, and this means a goodly portion of the entire population, have been busy for more than a week asking each other the questions: ‘What will the future bring in the operetta? Will American jazz conquer us and force into oblivion our standard of operetta forms for decades past, or will some way be found by us to humanize jazz or at least harmonize it with our litter of musical traditions?’
Operetta Starts Controversy.
The controversy was precipitated by the newest operetta by Emmerich Kálmán, which is now being performed here. ‘The Duchess of Chicago’ is the title of the piece, and the Viennese are thronging to see it and, as the final curtain falls, to exclaim in unison: ‘God help Chicago and America if the caricature of this imaginary Duchess is even partly true.’ The libretto will explain these remarks. A Chicago girl, the daughter of a millionaire who made a fortune manufacturing hot dogs, comes to Europe in search of adventure, after joining an exotic American woman’s club which had voted a prize for the member which in her European travels bought the oddest thing. In a Budapest night club the girl, chaperoned by an American minister of the Uncle Sam type, demands music of the jazz type, thereby shocking the heir to the throne of the country Sylvania, who is present with comrades. He demands that the orchestra play old Vienna waltzes and Hungarian chardas [sic] airs.
Later the Chicago girl buys the ancestral castle of this Sylvarian Grand Duke, the two having in the meanwhile fallen in love. When the Grand Duke learns that the girl cabled her father that she bought him with the castle, he rebels. Eventually, however, everything is amicably settled and they decide to live happy together ever after.
As may be surmised, Kálmán takes advantage of the night club scene for the production of a sort of potpourri of waltzes, chardashes [sic] and jazz tunes, one of which is certain to please each member of any theatre audience. Likewise he does not fail to see in the final solution of the lovers’ quarrel a chance to ‘harmonize’ the conflicting tastes of America and Europe in musical matters.
Duke Learns to Charleston.
This he achieves by having the Chicago girl, the future Grand Duchess learn to waltz [schlecht leserlich, Anm.], while the Grand Duke learns not only to Charleston but also to play the saxophone. The final curtain descends on the two dancing a slow fox-trot.
But – and here is the big question in Vienna – has Kálmán sold Austria’s musical birthright for a mess of bad American jazz pottage or has he found a way to blend the two, thus saving the best elements of both? Opinion here is about equally divided, unanimity prevailing only on the belief that Kálmán had an eye on the American market when he composed the music, though he escaped being dubbed with the ignominious title of traitor by inserting the traditional sentimentalism and sugary rhythms which the Austrians love so well.
Whether Kálmán previously questioned Vienna music houses concerning sales of various gramophone records is not known. If he did, however, herein may be found the explanation of his turning to jazz. During the past six months 8 per cent. of the records sold in Vienna have been American jazz. One of the most impolite things one can do in Vienna today when a host or hostess begins to condemn the jazz invasion of Europe is to ask permission to inspect the family gramophone record file.
Move Toward Harmonization.
Americans resident here, as well as native Viennese themselves, hope, however, that Kálmán’s apparent surrender really prosages a period when both he and his fellow-composers will studiously devote themselves to harmonizing the two. There is some probability that such is likely. Though he will not yet admit it publicly, it is an open secret among his best friends that Franz Lehár as well as Kálmán is studying jazz seriously.