Leo Fall was one of Vienna’s most prodigious operetta composers and a true rival to Franz Lehár at the turn of the 20th Century. Both were born in the provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire– Fall in what is now the Czech Republic, Lehár in Hungary; their fathers were both military bandmasters and composers; both attended major conservatories while still in their early teens (Fall in Vienna, Lehár in Prague); for a brief period, they both played the violin in the orchestra of the 50th Austrian Infantry Regiment under the direction of Lehár’s father. Fall’s father had settled in Berlin, where young Leo joined him, playing in his father’s café orchestra. Soon, he was working in cabarets as a piano accompanist. After serving as an operetta conductor in Hamburg and Cologne, he returned to Berlin, where he composed and conducted for revues and cabarets. In 1906, after a few unsuccessful attempts to compose opera and operetta, he gave up conducting and moved to Vienna to focus on operetta composition. The decision quickly paid off.
In 1907 and 1908, he made a name for himself with three hit shows: Der Fidele Bauer (The Merry Peasant) and Die Dollarprinzessin (The Dollar Princess) in 1907, and Die Geschiedene Frau (The Divorcée, later produced in England as The Girl in the Train) the following year. The Girl in the Train is one of the forgotten gems of Leo Fall. Featuring an infectious musical score, this contemporary story about a divorce gone awry, has all the hallmarks of what made Leo Fall one of the most important and brilliant operetta composers of his generation. The libretto was created by Victor Léon (the author of Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) and is a screwball comedy par excellence. We were thrilled to present the American premiere of this show in 2008, but due to limited resources, we presented the show with a piano and a three-piece chamber group. To celebrate our 10th anniversary season we will re-mount a completely new production for a six show run.Fall’s next large-scale successes were The Eternal Waltz and Der Liebe Augustin in 1911 and 1912. However, with the outbreak of World War 1, Fall’s popularity took a tumble. He continued to write throughout the War, most notably Die Rose vom Stambul (which we premiered to critical-acclaim in 2011) and Die Kaiserin in 1916; unfortunately the shows were only hits in Germany and Austria. He wrote a few more operettas after the war, including Die Spanische Nacthigall and Die Strassensängerin; both shows played only for a limited time in Germany. It wasn’t until 1922, when he wrote Madame Pompadour, that Fall’s fortunes once again turned for the better. Set in historical times during the court of Louis XV, Madame Pompadour is considered to be Fall’s operetta masterpiece. Madame Pompadour’s witty story, exquisite music and bouncy feel, manages to keep the pace brisk and the mood cheerful, seldom descending into the syrupy sentimentality that could occasionally plague his contemporaries. The swirling romantic waltzes Fall composed for the show were soon being played by ensembles in cafés, dance halls, and similar venues throughout Europe. The show was extraordinarily successful in Berlin, Vienna, London and even the United States. Fall, once again, regained the international fame that he had enjoyed prior to World War I. He died of cancer two years later at the young age of only 52.
Article from the Operetta Research Center Amsterdam on Leo Fall Back to Home Page
Leo and Richard Fall Author: Kurt Gänzl
Source: Enyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (with permission of the author)
14 January 2009 FALL, Leo[pold] (b Olmütz, 2 February 1873; d Vienna, 16 September 1925). Arguably the most distinguished and, in any case, one of the most successful composers of the 20th-century Viennese Operette stage.
Leo Fall was born in what was, at that stage, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of musician and military bandmaster Moritz FALL (1840-1922), himself the composer of several Operetten (Prinz Bummler,Mirolan, Robin Hood, the 1-act Das Modell mounted by the Berlin Theater Unter den Linden in 1892, Leuchtkäfer, produced at Magdeburg’s Wilhelm-Theater in 1899) and theatre music for numerous Possen and other musical plays (Berliner Raubthiere 1895, Berliner Spezialitaten Theater des Westens 1898 etc).
A fresh posting for his father meant that the boy was brought up in Lemberg and there, from an early age, he was given a sound musical education, one which prepared him, by the age of 14, to complete his studies at the Vienna Conservatoire. His first professional work was as a violinist in a military orchestra, but he soon returned home to work with his father, who was now retired and running a coffee-house orchestra in Berlin, and doing a little of the composing his earlier duties had limited. Fall supplemented this work by giving music lessons, as he had during his Vienna student days, until at the age of 21 he won his first theatre job as a junior conductor at Berlin’s Centraltheater. He quickly rose to improved positions at the Belle-Alliance-Theater and at Hamburg’s Centralhallen-Theater where, at the age of 23, he was engaged as principal conductor. At Hamburg, he composed his first original music for the stage in the form of incidental music and songs for the Lokalposse Lustige Blätter, and the musical accompaniment to a Zeitbild by the prolific playwright and librettist Georg Okonkowski.
After two seasons in Hamburg he returned to Berlin, where he held successive conducting posts at the Centraltheater and the Metropoltheater before taking what seems to have been a decided step downwards to become musical director in a cabaret, the Intimes-Theater. There, alongside his principal duties, he provided songs and, on one occasion, a comic opera, Paroli, for house production. The piece was successful enough to warrant publication, with its soprano `Nachtigallenlied’ and the tenor `Soldatenlied’ picked out as singles. During this period, Fall worked on writing a grand opera, but his ambitions in operatic directions were kneecapped when the resultant Irrlicht, written with the librettist of Paroli and produced at Mannheim in 1905, turned out to be a failure.
Fall had, however, started working in a different direction even prior to Irrlicht’s stage première, and, shortly afterwards, he succeeded in placing his first Operette with no less a house than the Theater an der Wien. Der Rebell (1905) gave him his second resounding failure within a year. His first operettic success was, however, not too long in coming. Der fidele Bauer, produced less than two years later at Mannheim, was an enormous success and just a few months after its première — and before it had yet made its appearance in Vienna — his next piece, Die Dollarprinzessin, was produced at the Theater an der Wien. It roundly confirmed Fall’s new reputation as one of the rising stars of the European Operette, alongside Lehár, currently basking in the incomparable success of Die lustige Witwe, Oscar Straus, who had arrived hot on his heels with Ein Walzertraum, and Bruder Straubinger’s Edmund Eysler.
On the wings of the post-lustige Witwe craze for Viennese Operette, Die Dollarprinzessin was soon on its way to splendid successes in Britain and in America and Fall was quickly established as an international favourite. That favouritism was vastly increased by his next work, Die geschiedene Frau. A splendid success at the Vienna Carltheater, this lively, tuneful ‘French’ musical comedy also travelled the world in various tongues (La Divorcée,The Girl in the Train, Az elvált asszony etc) and it repeated its German and Austrian success almost wherever it went.
Of his following Operetten, Das Puppenmädel and Die schöne Risette had fine successes in Vienna and central Europe without winning comparable fame overseas, and Die Sirene, produced in America as The Siren, and the one-act Brüderlein fein, which was played on the music halls in Britain and elsewhere, only confirmed the esteem in which their composer was held, but the next piece to win him a major international success was nothing more than a rewrite of the originally ill-fated Der Rebell. Its rearranged score was matched up with a fresh libretto and fresh lyrics, and the new show staged under the title Der liebe Augustin. One of those relyricked songs, the waltz `Und der Himmel hängt voller Geigen’, proved to be one of the most popular amongst all Fall’s Operette melodies, and the show itself (played in Britain, notably, with great success as Princess Caprice) perhaps his most delightfully melodious and light-hearted to date.
Fall’s popularity in Britain was such that he was commissioned to write an original piece for the well-paying London Hippodrome, but his activity on the home front was too great to leave him time, and the little The Eternal Waltz was put together from his leftovers. It was to be the last Fall musical to be seen in Britain for some time, as the coming of the war brought down the shutters on Germanic shows on the London stage, and writers such as Fall and Jean Gilbert, for whom London had been a superb showplace for the international market, found themselves at the end of a very lucrative half-dozen years as the darlings of the world’s musical theatre.
It Fall’s outlets, thus, shrunk his output did not and, between 1913 and 1916, he wrote and saw staged in Berlin and Vienna a half-dozen further full-scale Operetten which, if they had, owing to circumstances, lesser international careers than the pre-war works, nevertheless included two of his musically most outstanding shows — the brilliant Die Kaiserin (Fürstenliebe), which he claimed later as his own favourite amongst his works, and the swirlingly romantic and extremely long-running Die Rose von Stambul with its ultimate star tenor rôle and its ringing star tenor music.
After the First World War, he had two works produced at Dresden, one of which, Der goldene Vogel, he described as an opera, and he continued a regular more than one-per-year supply of splendid scores to the Berlin theatre. Both Die spanische Nachtigall and Die Strassensängerin (with its third-act jazz band) played some 140 performances in Berlin, but none of this series of shows won the same enormous success as Die Rose von Stambul had done until his 1922 offering, a deliciously comical piece written around the fictional amours ofMadame Pompadour, was produced at the Berliner Theater. Madame Pompadour brought him once again not only European attention, but the kind of international response he had first won 15 years earlier. London welcomed the composer back with rabid enthusiasm and Madame Pompadour went round the world, engraving herself into the permanent repertoire at home and into international popularity for many years.
Regarded by many as Fall’s most complete work, it is a piece which is as far from the deliciously frisky, up-to-date Die Dollarprinzessin or the winningly rural Der fidele Bauer as Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns is from his early Die lustige Witwe. Unlike the later Lehár works, however, the pieces of Fall’s maturer period — and most specifically the two most enduring shows of that period, Die Rose von Stambul and Madame Pompadour — contain a substantial and genuine comic element in both their music and text. Happily placed alongside their richly romantic musical part, in classic proportions, this contrasting element helps give these shows a very different feeling and flavour to the wilfully darkened tones of the pieces with which Lehár would, a few years later, take the Operette into more pretentious areas.
What Fall, some of whose own best work had been tempered by writing for a singular star in the person of prima donna Fritzi Massary, would have made of the Tauberesque fashion in musical theatre in the late 1920s and early 1930s would, on the evidence of Die Rose von Stambul alone, have been worth hearing, but the composer did not live that long. After just one more stage work, Der süsse Kavalier, produced in Vienna in 1923, he fell ill, and in 1925 he died of cancer at the age of 52. A posthumous Jugend im Mai was produced in Dresden the following year and in 1929 the Theater an der Wien, which had staged Fall’s first Operette, staged his last — a compilation made from 16 pieces of music which the composer had left behind him, attached to a libretto by the experienced Willner and Reichert and played as Rosen aus Florida.
The years since his death have not treated Fall as kindly as they should have. Madame Pompadour and Die Rose von Stambul have held a place in the standard repertoire in Germany and Austria, but scarcely with the kind of prominence allotted to other, contemporary composers’ works, and whilst Die Dollarprinzessin, Der liebe Augustinand Der fidele Bauer loiter on the fringe of that repertoire, Die geschiedene Frau, such an enormous hit in the wars prior to the Great War, and Die Kaiserin seem wholly forgotten. Perhaps through lack of an interested party to plug his works to producers of the second half of the 20th century in the style which has so profited other writers, the man who was, in the opinion of many, the most outstanding Operette composer of his period has ended up deeply in the shadow of Lehár, Straus and Kálmán, and unknown to the modern public at large.
1896 Lustige Blätter (Franz Fuchs) Centralhallen-Theater, Hamburg 25 July
1897 1842 (Der grosse Brand in Hamburg) (Georg Okonkowski) Centralhallen-Theater, Hamburg 1 August
1899 Der Brandstifter (Okonkowski) Ostendtheater, Berlin 1 January
1900 Die Jagd nach dem Glück (Carl Weiss) Carl Weiss Theater, Berlin 30 January
1901 ‘ne feine Nummer (w Victor Holländer/Julius Freund) Metropoltheater, Berlin 26 December
1902 Paroli (Frau Denise) (Ludwig Fernand) 1 act Intimes-Theater 4 October
1905 Der Rebell (Rudolf Bernauer, Ernst Welisch) Theater an der Wien 29 November
1906 Der Fuss (Bernauer) 1 act Centraltheater, Chemnitz 18 September
1907 Der fidele Bauer (Victor Léon) Hoftheater, Mannheim 27 July
1907 Die Dollarprinzessin (A M Willner, Fritz Grünbaum) Theater an der Wien 2 November
1908 Die geschiedene Frau (Léon) Carltheater 23 December
1908 Brüderlein fein (H E Falschholz) Bernhard-Rose- Theater, Berlin 31 December
1909 Die Schrei nach der Ohrfeige
1909 Brüderlein fein (Julius Wilhelm) 1 act Hölle 1 December
1910 Das Puppenmädel (Willner, Leo Stein) Carltheater 4 November
1910 Die schöne Risette (Willner, Robert Bodanzky) Theater an der Wien 19 November
1911 Die Sirene (Willner, Stein) Johann Strauss-Theater 5 January
1911 The Eternal Waltz (Austen Hurgon) 1 act London Hippodrome 22 December
1912 Der liebe Augustin revised Der Rebell Neues Theater, Berlin 3 February
1913 Die Studentengräfin (Léon) Theater am Nollendorfplatz, Berlin 18 January
1913 Der Nachtschnellzug (Léon, Stein) Johann Strauss-Theater 20 December
1914 Jung England (Bernauer, Welisch) Montis Operetten-Theater, Berlin 14 February
1915 Der künstliche Mensch (Willner, Rudolf Österreicher) Theater des Westens, Berlin 2 October
1915 Die Kaiserin (aka Fürstenliebe) (Julius Brammer, Alfred Grünwald) Metropoltheater, Berlin 16 October
1916 Tantalus im Dachstuberl 1 act Stadttheater, Würzburg 26 March
1916 Seemansliebchen (w Franz Ferdinand Warnke/Karl Hermann, Max Berger) Walhalla-Theater, Berlin 4 September
1916 Die Rose von Stambul (Brammer, Grünwald) Theater an der Wien 2 December
1920 Frau Ministerpräsident revised Jung England Residenz-theater, Dresden 3 February
1920 Der goldene Vogel (Wilhelm, Paul Frank) Staatsoper, Dresden 21 May
1920 Die spanische Nachtigall (Schanzer, Welisch) Berliner Theater, Berlin 18 November
1921 Die Strassensängerin (August Neidhart, Lo Portem) Metropoltheater, Berlin 24 September
1921 Der heilige Ambrosius (Willner, Arthur Rebner) 1 act Deutsches Künstlertheater, Berlin 3 November
1922 Madame Pompadour (Schanzer, Welisch) Berliner Theater, Berlin 9 September
1923 Der süsse Kavalier (Schanzer, Welisch) Apollotheater 11 December
1926 Jugend im Mai (Schanzer, Welisch) Zentraltheater, Dresden 22 October, Städtische Oper, Berlin 1927
1929 Rosen aus Florida (arr Erich Wolfgang Korngold/Willner, Heinz Reichert) Theater an der Wien 22 February
1935 Der junge Herr René revised Der süsse Kavalier (ad Michael Krasznay-Krausz/ad Welisch)
Fall’s brother Richard FALL (b Senitsch, 3 April 1882; d Auschwitz, 1943) had a regular if unspectacular career in the wake of Leo’s dazzling one. He worked as a conductor, notably at Vienna’s Apollotheater, and was the composer of a number of Operetten and revues, principally for Viennese theatres, of which Der Weltenbummler, also staged in Budapest (as Világjáro ad Zsolt Harsányi) and in Germany; Das Damenparadies, given in Hungary as Borbäla Kisasszony; and Die Puppenbaronessen were the most successful.
1909 Goldreifchen (Paul Wertheimer, Mia Ewers) 1 act Johann Strauss-Theater 11 December
1911 Das Damenparadies (Julius Brammer, Alfred Grünwald) 1 act Wiener Colosseum 1 November
1912 Der Wiener Fratz (Ernst Klein) 1 act Hölle 1 January
1912 Arms and the Girl (Austen Hurgon) London Hippodrome 29 April
1913 Leute vom Stand (Bodanzky, Grünbaum) 1 act Hölle 1 March
1915 Der Weltenbummler (Fritz Löhner-Beda, Carl Lindau) Montis Operetten-Theater, Berlin 18 November
1917 Die Dame von Welt (Löhner-Beda, Hans Kottow) Apollotheater 31 January
1917 Die Puppenbaronessen (Alexander Engel, Grünbaum) Apollotheater 1 September
1920 Grossstadtmärchen (Bruno Hardt-Warden, Erwin Weill) Carltheater 10 January
1921 Im Alpenhotel (Julius Horst, Ernst Wengraf) 1 act Apollotheater 6 August
1922 Der geizige Verschwender (Richard Kessler, Arthur Rebner) Deutsches Künstlertheater 24 February
1927 Die Glocken von Paris (Paul Knepler, Ignaz M Welleminsky) Carltheater 14 October
Biography: Zimmerli, W: Leo Fall (Zurich, 1957)