Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Luckiest man ever?

Tonight, Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House! But first something cheering. A few years ago I was walking in Dahlem in Berlin, and saw a monument to a composer I'd barely heard of: Robert Stolz 1880-1975. How that man was blessed under a lucky star! Born in Vienna, he moved in the right circles. As a boy he played the piano in a concert with Brahms in attendance. He met Strauss, Humperdinck and many others. He started a prosperous career in music theatre but lost all in the First World War. Off he moves to Berlin and starts another prosperous career in Weimar Berlin (hence the monument in Dahlem).

He made and lost several fortunes and went through four traumatic divorces. Then the Nazis came and he lost everything again. He started up once more in Vienna, but they came there, too. When he fled to Paris, his latest wife took his money and papers and left him high and dry. So there he is, bald, broke, stateless and 60. But what should happen? Weeks before his internment by the French as an enemy alien, he'd met a beautiful 19-year-old heiress. She fell in love with him, sprang him from prison and married him. They went to Hollywood where he started yet another successful career writing for movies.

Being echt Viennese he returned to Austria in 1946 where he became the embodiment of Viennese light music and operetta, a living symbol of a former age. His wife still lives in Vienna, aged 90, continuing to devote her life to promoting his work. There's lots of Stolz's music around and it's still regularly performed. Last night at the Wigmore Hall, at Imogen Cooper's 60th birthday celebration (she looked radiant!), Wolfgang Holzmair, passionate promoter of things Austrian, sang one of Stolz's 2,000 or so songs, about dancing and happiness, from one of his hit operettas in the 1920's. I'll do more on Stolz later, but what a lucky man!

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