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EMMERICH KÁLMÁN 1882-1953

Born in Siofok on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary, Kálmán’s interest in music and theatre developed from an early age by family music-making and surreptitious attendance at rehearsals and performanmces at the local summer theatre. His family moved to Budapest when he was 14 after his father’s business collapsed and the consequent harsh economic circumstances through which they lived transformed Kálmán into a cautious, rather gloomy person.

He began composition lessons at the Budapest Academy of Music with Hans Kössler when still at school and, although his parents insisted he study law, he abandoned his legal studies to write music criticism for one of the leading Budapest newspapers. His colleagues at the Academy of Music included Bartók, Kodaly and Leo Weiner and his music was performed with theirs in a student concert in 1903. He won the Robert Volkmann composition prize in 1906 but irritated at his failure to have his music published, he approached Karl von Bakonyi, a successful librettist, and suggested they write an operetta together. The subject, the army manoeuvres that were a regular feature of life in pre-1914 Austria-Hungary, was Kálmán’s and after persuading a small Budapest theatre to stage the piece (Hertbstmanöver), news of its quality spread to Vienna and the directors of the Theater an der Wien came to Budapest to see it. Liking what they saw, the signed up the rights and produced it in Vienna in 1909, following which it was staged the same year in Hamburg, Stockholm, New York and London.

Kálmán thereafter focused his energies on writing operetta for the Capital City of operetta, and he became world-famous as a result. In 1915, Die Csardasfürstin appeared and it remains his most popular and commercially successful work. The war disrupted life, but Kálmán took up where he had left off, producing Gräfin Mariza in 1924 and Die Zirkusprinzessin in 1926. The Great Depression of the late 1920s affected theatre life greatly and Kálmán never again repeated his earlier successes. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, his music was banned first in Germany, then in Austria and he emigrated to America with his family in 1940, where he remained until after the war. The Kálmans returned to Europe in 1949 and Kálmán completed his last operetta, Arizona Lady, though sadly, he did not live to see it staged. He died in Paris.

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