Berlin operetta in the late 1920s. Musical Background

It is impossible to talk about German music of the early 20th century isolated from the socio-cultural context that determines the periodization of the musical culture of the time. In Germany, as opposed to the rest of Europe, the phases of music development were more clearly marked, the dynamics was more intense. This was determined by the rough conditions of the country's social development and its dramatic history.

The revolutionary situation was created in Germany after the defeat in the First World War and the Weimar Republic declaration. The Russian revolution had a tremendous impact on the course of events, being perceived by the German left forces as the political agenda. The revolutionary crisis began in November 1918 with the Kiel mutiny and lasted with varying intensity until 1923. Right-wing forces attacked Weimar democracy, but attempts to establish the military dictatorship failed.

Since 1923, the political and economic situation of the Weimar Republic had become more stable, but the world economic crisis of the late 20’s destabilized the German economy again, and as a result, the political regime in the country was destabilized. The political confrontation escalated, the stratification of social communities intensified. The influence of the Communist Party increased, militaristic-chauvinistic euphoria intensified. On January 30, 1933, the President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler the Reich Chancellor (Prime Minister). Soon all political organizations were dissolved in the country, except the dominant Nazi party, which became "the bearer of the German statehood". Democracy fell; the fascist dictatorship took the place.

The specificity of the German music of the interwar period lies in its close connection with the general cultural context of the era. In the previous century, composers cultivated the ideas of romanticism despite the fact that these ideas were exhausted long ago, in the Weimar Republic, literature and theater were closely intertwined.

The close affinity between art trends and leading social movements existed in the Weimar Republic. The aestheticism, culture of refined feelings, isolation from the external social factors were withdrawn during this period.

The musical life of Germany in the 20’s - early 30’s was intense and varied wildly. In contrast to Austria, where the capital was the center of musical and cultural life, in Germany opera theaters, orchestral and choral groups that had long-standing artistic traditions were functioning in many towns. There were three permanent opera houses, three operetta theaters and non-repertory theatre in Berlin.

Having passed a long development path, by the beginning of the 20th century, operetta gained a new look. Each turn of this genre formation, starting with the first works of the French composer Jacques Offenbach as the operetta starting point, followed by the works of the Viennese operetta classics - Franz vül Supple, Carl Millöcker, Carl Zeller, Johann Strauss II, the Neo-Viennese operetta with its new genre vision in the works by Franz Lehar, Imre Kálmán, Oscar Straus, Leo Fall, had a number of unique characteristics, often associated with the national characteristics and traditions of countries where the composers worked.

New offshoot of the genre appeared in the 20’s of the 20th century. It as the Berlin operetta, the founder of which was Paul Lincke (1866-1946). He studied in Wittenberg from 1880 to 1884, under Rudolf Kleinow, played the violin and bassoon in the dance orchestras in Berlin, and later became the conductor in the Apollo Theater. In 1897, Linсke began writing operettas. On May 16, 1896, his one-act operetta The Spree premiered at the Apollo Variety Theater stage. This work of Linke did not impressed the public and soon came out of the repertoire. However, this performance marked a new milestone in the genre development. In 1899, Linke created the key work in his musical career - the operetta Frau Luna, - a burlesque-fantastic operetta in 2 acts based on the libretto of Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers, narrating about the adventures of three young people that flew went to the Moon in the lunolet (lunar flying machine).

After the release of Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon the lunar theme came into vogue, numerous revues and operettas appeared that were based on this plot. The libretto of the famous opera extravaganza A Trip to the Moon by Jacques Offenbach was based on the plot of Jules Verne’s story. The premiere of Frau Luna was on May 2, 1899 at the Apollo Theater in Berlin; Linсke conducted. The original version included one act in four scenes, Linke subsequently expanded and refined the operetta, and in 1922, it was completed. The most famous number from the operetta was Berliner Luft, which became the unofficial anthem of Berlin. Paul Linсke also wrote such works as Lysistrata, 1902 (the number from which The Glow-Worm brought the composer the global popularity); Casanova, 1913 and Ein Liebestraum, 1940. Linke's music became an integral part of the repertoire of all cabarets after the First World War and did not lose popularity after the National Socialists came to power. The significance of Paul Linсke creative work was equivalent to the contribution of Jacques Offenbach, who lived in Paris and Strauss II, who lived in Vienna.

The particularity of the Berlin operetta trend lies in the fact that it is connected with the traditions of the German farcical theater of the 19th century and restaurant variety show. The ponderousness of drama, implementation of buffoonery with coarse jokes and gags sprang from those peculiarities. The march becomes the dominant genre here, as opposed to the waltz widely applied in Vienna, or czardas in the works of the Hungarian composers. Waltz triple meter was replaced by duple meter march rhythm. The Berlin operetta was the direct heir of the Austrian operetta, their proximity was due to the language similiarity of the libretto and the waltz elements. Hence, sharing the basic Viennese creative attitudes, Berlin operetta was nevertheless closer to the musical farcical play. The framework of the Austrian operetta was somewhat revised - the Vienna dialect was adapted to the Berlin slang; the musical interpretation became more ponderous. The plots in the overwhelming majority of cases had frankly farcical character, humor was more primitive. Starting from the first works, the differences from the Viennese trend operettas appeared as well - they contained less sentimental scenes and plot twists. Major numbers oriented for the famous artists decreased in number. Much attention was paid to the numbers for the collectives  and their quantity. After the First World War, Linke continued to develop this direction. Having worked for several years at the Folies Bergere cabaret in Paris, he returned to Berlin, where he revised his works, recognizing the increasing importance of cabarets and popular modern dances that had spread because of the cultural exchanges during the wartime. In the prewar and postwar years, the Berlin composers contributed to the introduction of foxtrot rhythms into the genre.

Young conductor Max Winterfeld served in the Apollo Theater as well. He took the stage name Jean Gilbert (1879-1942). Graduated from the Berlin Conservatory. In 1933, after the Nazis captured the political power, Max Winterfeld left Germany, lived in Spain, later - in Paris. From 1939, he lived in Buenos Aires, where he worked at the radio station. Author of more than 50 operettas, the most successful of which were Die Keusche Susanne (1910) and The Queen of Die Kino-Königin (1913).

Die Keusche Susanne was the operetta in three acts. Georg Okonkowski wrote the libretto. The premiere took place at the Wilhelm-Theater in Magdeburg on February 26, 1910. In 1912, the operetta was translated in English by Frederick Fenn and Arthur Wimperis and staged the same year in London under the title The Girl In The Taxi. In 1953, the composer's son, Robert Gilbert, moved the action to Berlin and added several hits from his father's other works.

Jean Gilbert works are stored in the Museum Collection. They are the numbers from such works as Polnische Wirtschaft, 1909 (duet Wer kann dafur), Das Autoliebchen, 1912 (Versuch's doch mal), Die kleine Sünderin, 1922 (In Berlin, and der Ecke von der Kaiser Allee) - piano transcriptions of the works by the composer on Welte Mignon and Helios. Paper music rolls for the fairground organ A. Ruth & Sohn also contain records of the popular hits of the Berlin operetta composers, including works by Gilbert, the numbers from the operettas Puppchen, du bist mein Augenstern, 1912 and Wer kann dafur, 1909.

Jean Gilbert became the most popular operetta composer in Berlin. The search for a new melodic basis was closely connected with his name. Franz von Suppé and Carl Millöcker drew inspiration for their operettas in folklore - folk songs and everyday dance rhythms. Conversely, Jean Gilbert found a new style in the street song culture; he took the plots from Berlin citizens’ common life. Some music critics evaluated the works of Gilbert as “the apotheosis of street vulgarity”. On the other hand, his music conveyed the spirit of the time and reflected the values and choices of the era.

The regime of National Socialism and its destructive policies led to the fact that over the time there was a complete break with the Viennese operetta tradition. The works of the composers of the Jewish origin (Oscar Straus, Imre Kálmán) were banned. The Berlin operetta became a completely autonomous genre, which only contributed to its degradation.

Walter Kollo (1878-1940) - a composer, one of the three founders of the Berlin operetta genre along with Linke and Gilbert. Born in the city of Nidzica in East Prussia. He received musical education at the Königsberg Sondershausen music conservatory, refusing to associate his life with trade and inherit his father’s helm. He worked in Königsberg as a conductor at one of the local theaters for a short time, and in 1899 left for Berlin, where he devoted himself to composing light music. Since 1908, Walter Kollo wrote music for the popular theaters in Berlin.

His most famous works were - the operetta Wie einst im Mai, 1913 and Filmzauber, 1912. Since 1915, he was involved in creating music for the movie. Kollo was the author of several dozen operettas, musicals and music for movies.

The name of Walter Kollo was the most well known in Germany as the light music composer for several decades. His creative work became a symbiosis of the street culture of Berlin and the simplicity and comfort of the East Prussia.

After the World War I, the mood in Berlin Musical Theater changed. The German operetta was at the crossroads, not only political, but artistic as well; traditional and new musical trends were striking a balance. The operetts by Strauss and other composers were interpreted as traditional, while the modern composers’ works for cabaret shows were considered as modern. “Berlin in the after war years was the most American like city in Europe,” said the German composer Kurt Julian Weill in the interview in 1941. “We were reading Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Theodore Dreiser. American jazz had a huge impact on our music. America was tremendously romantic country for us”. Of course, German composers re-interpreted American jazz and Tin Pan Alley music, and this interpretation allowed them to create something unique.