Robert Stolz was one of the more successful composers of Viennese operetta and popular song in the early 20th century, ranking somewhere behind Franz Lehár and Oscar Straus. He was also among the relative handful of European composers of operetta to find a home in Hollywood, where he worked during the '40s.
The son of Jacob Stolz, a music teacher, and Ida Bondy, a concert pianist, music came naturally to Stolz as a child -- he made his recital debut at age seven with Johannes Brahms, a family friend, in the audience. Stolz attended the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied under Joseph Fuchs, and later with composer Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin. He held various low-ranking musical posts in Graz, Marburg, and Salzburg, but at this time, his aspirations were directed toward serious classical music. A meeting with Johann Strauss II in 1899 turned Stolz's attention toward the writing of operetta and songs, and he wrote his first light opera that year, Studentenulke, which was premiered in Marburg.
Beginning in 1907, Stolz was the conductor of the Theatre an der Wien, where he became associated at the podium with several successes by other composers, most notably Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow. His own success was initially confined to songs such as "Servus, Du!" -- one of his later songs, "Hallo du Susse Klingelfee," was sung by Jean Gabin in Paris. Stolz's first major hit in the field of operetta was Der Tanz ins Gluck, which came to the United States as Sky High in the early '20s. His work in the '20s consisted principally of writing and conducting cabaret songs in Berlin, and he also achieved some notable popularity writing movie musicals during the early sound era. Stolz remained in Germany right up until the late '30s, writing operettas and movie scores until 1937, when the country's Nazi politics became untenable. He came to the United States in 1940, and a year later was working in Hollywood, conducting for the screen and also composing the scores for movies such as Spring Parade and It Happened Tomorrow.
He returned to Vienna in 1946, and among his other musical endeavors in the decades that followed, Stolz wrote the music for the ice revues, as well as conducting numerous concerts and making dozens of recordings of both his own and other composers' light operatic material. Among the best of these was his recording of Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, for Decca/London Records. Stolz also recorded highlights from many of his most beloved works, including Himmelblaue Traum, Fruhjahrsparade, and Venus in Seide. He became a much-loved musical figure in Europe, particularly in the German-speaking world -- he was made an honorary citizen of Vienna, and was honored in 1972 with a statue in Graz, where he was born.
Stolz's music is not quite of the quality of Lehár or Johann Strauss, but his operettas and songs still have a rich melodic allure. They evoke some measure of wistful nostalgia today, but otherwise remain as powerful as they were in the '20s and '30s. ~ Bruce Eder