Versatile composer of grand spectacle music and intimate musical comedies, remembered almost entirely outside Germany for his songs for Im weissen Rössl.
Born in Moravia, the young Benatzky moved to Vienna to join the army as a 15 year-old officer cadet after being summarily dismissed from his Leitmaritz school for insubordination. His military career was ended in similar fashion to his school one, when he was dishonourably discharged from the corps, allegedly for fighting a duel, but apparently for more medical reasons. He was subsequently educated in Vienna, Prague and Munich, achieving a PhD degree in philology at the same time as he pursued his musical studies. Benatzky was in his mid-twenties before he opted seriously for a career in music, making his mark at first as a songwriter, in a highly successful team with his first wife, chanteuse Josma Selim, and, from 1910, in the theatre. He began this latter life as a conductor at the Kleines Theater in Munich.
As he moved on from this first engagement, through musical direction posts in several cabaret-theatres, he supplemented his songwriting (`Ich muss wieder einmal in Grinzing sein', `Draussen im Schönbrunner Parke', `Ich weiss auf der Wieden ein kleines Hotel') with the composition of the scores, and often the texts as well, for a number of short cabaret musicals and Operetten, several of which (Laridon, Kokettchens Mission, Das blonde Abenteuer) were produced both in Germany and in Vienna, where Benatzky ultimately became musical director at the Kabarett Rideamus. The little vaudeville Prinzchens Frühlingserwachen was played by Fritzi Massary and Max Pallenberg at Vienna's Apollotheater, and one of his little pieces was also adapted to the British variety stage as The Frolics of Gabrielle (Tivoli 25 March 1912, ad A Grey-Venne) following the success there of Reinhardt's similarly small-sized Die süssen Grisetten.
An early full-length Operette, Der lachende Dreibund, was staged at Berlin's Theater am Nollendorfplatz in 1913, but Benatzky had his first significant success with the Operette Liebe im Schnee, produced by Oscar Straus and staged by Miksa Preger at Vienna's Établissment Ronacher in 1916, with Mizzi Günther starred, before going on to other productions in other countries. Liebe im Schnee was followed by several other successes: Yuschi tanzt, which played a 109-performance run and a fortnight's revival at Vienna's Bürgertheater before productions in Germany and Hungary; Apachen (1920), first produced at the Apollotheater with Louis Treumann starred, which ended up in another celebrated variety theatre, the London Palladium; Pipsi (1921) which confirmed Yuschi's run with 104 performances in its first run at the Wiener Bürgertheater before moving on to Budapest; and the 1922 Ein Märchen aus Florenz which played a hundred nights at Vienna's Johann Strauss-Theater (14 September 1923) and a run at Berlin's Deutsches Opernhaus with Richard Tauber as star.
Following this profitable run of Viennese productions, Benatzky moved to Berlin, and there became attached to the staff at the Grosses Schauspielhaus, providing music for their revues (An alle, Für Dich) and -- after one further Viennese success with Adieu Mimi, which played a fine first run of 159 performances at the Johann Strauss-Theater in 1926 -- for a series of the extravagantly staged musical plays for which the Schauspielhaus became famous. His Johann Strauss pasticcio Casanova (1928) with its famous `Nuns' Chorus' went on from Berlin to successes on other stages, but both it and a vast version of Die drei Musketiere (1929), for which he composed and arranged the score, were thoroughly eclipsed by his and the theatre's most famous work, Im weissen Rössl (1930). A hit as oversized as its staging, Im weissen Rössl -- for which Benatzky's basic score (`Es muss was Wunderbares sein', `Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee', `Im Salzkammergut' etc) became encrusted with a whole variety of interpolations as time went on -- moved on from its initial triumph at the Grosses Schauspielhaus to an international career as White Horse Inn, L'Auberge du cheval blanc, Feher lo, Al cavallino bianco and so forth, a career which would make it one of the most popular musical plays the world had ever seen.
Parallel to his work in the world of the opérette à grand spectacle, Benatzky kept his hand in in the world of the small-sized musical comedy which had been his earliest area of work, and 1930 gave him a second international hit when he adapted the French comedy Ma soeur et moi (1928) to the musical stage as Meine Schwester und ich. Another little musical comedy, Cocktail, also did well in Berlin and was tried out without a tomorrow by the Shuberts in America, whilst Zirkus Aimée followed its German production with a Vienna one, as Benatzky continued a prolific output of Operette, revue (Wien lacht wieder, Alles aus Liebe etc), musical comedy and film scores from which the 1933 Bezauberndes Fräulein, a German musicalization of Paul Gavault's oft-adapted little comedy La Petite Chocolatière, proved the most individually successful in the theatre.
The composer won good notices for the `taste and delicacy' with which his scores underlined the action and the mood of these light, comic pieces (`a rare combination of tickling comedy selvaged by a most personal fabric of melody and rhythm...I am at a loss whether to hand the palm to Benatzky the scribe or Benatzky the composer') and one of the foremost critics of the time asserted that `[he is] one of the small group of composers who have the stuff to step into the shoes of the old guard'. But at the height of his success came the rise of the Nazi party and Benatzky joined the general exodus of musical theatre talent from Germany, moving his centre of operations successively to Vienna, Paris and, with the dawning of war, to America and Hollywood.
Vienna's Theater an der Wien mounted his Hollywood tale of Axel an der Himmelstür with Zarah Leander and Max Hansen starred and with some considerable success whilst, in a Paris still dazzled by the Théâtre Mogador's all-conquering production of Im weissen Rössl, he provided the music for another opérette à grand spectacle, Deux sous de fleurs, a period Scots piece produced by Léon Brigon at the Théâtre de l'Empire. Rita Georg, the prima donna of the Empire's previous success, Katinka, starred opposite tenor Charles Friant of the Opéra-Comique and the highly popular comedian Dranem, supported by 60 Max Rivers Girls, Dorothea Bachelor and the 12 Highland Queens, Major Simpson and his four bagpipers and Noni Prager, `the marvellous skating dancer'. A probable success was aborted when the notorious Stavisky affair broke, for it was said that the fraudulent Russian had financed both of the Empire's shows.
Benatzky continued, as before, simultaneously to work on smaller-scale pieces, and, in the wake of Meine Schwester und ich and Bezauberndes Fräulein, he adapted a number of further French comedies as the kind of genuine musical comedy for which -- rather than his large-stage work -- he was known and appreciated: Tristan Bernard's Le Petit Café became Das kleine Café, de Flers and de Caillavet's Le Roi was turned into Majestät-privat and one of Armont and Gerbidon's comedies became Benatzky's Pariserinnin in Vienna and Parizsi n*o*k at Budapest's Belvárosi Színház. Following his departure for America, Der Silberhof, a musical adaptation of Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer's celebrated play Grille, for which he wrote both text and music, was produced in Mainz.
Benatzky returned to Europe after the war, and spent his later years in Switzerland, continuing to write, rewrite and compose up to the last years of his life.
In the course of his highly active and varied career, Benatzky also wrote the libretti for Karl Kaskel's opera Die Schmieden von Kent (Dresden 1916) and for Max Ast's one-act Die Blinde (Volksoper, Vienna, 12 March 1927 aka Aria Appassionata), and adapted Porgy and Bess into German.
In the cinematic world, he composed a part-replacement score for a film of Eysler's Operette Der unsterbliche Lump, as well as musically illustrating such other films of the early 1930s as Die letzte Kompagnie, Arm wie eine Kirchenmaus, Chauffeur Antoinette and Ihre Durchlaucht, die Verkäuferin. He adapted Im weissen Rössl for its 1935 film, re-adapted La Petite Chocolatière as a film under the title Wer wagt gewinnt! (w Siegftied Schulz) and worked on both the script and the musical portion of the musical films Die Puppenfee (`Ich bin gut aufgelegt') and Mädchenpensionnat, and the scores of Zu neuern Ufern ('Yes, Sir!', 'Ich steh' im Regen') and Der ganz grossen Torheiten. He was also briefly at one stage contracted to MGM, but found their ways untenable and swiftly returned to Europe. His own Meine Schwester und ich (ad Friedrich Schröder) and Bezauberndes Fräulein (ad Georg Hantzschel) were both adapted to the screen by other hands in the 1950s.
1910 Die Walzerkomtesse (Ludwig Bruckner, Julius Friedrich) 1 act Kabarett Fledermaus, Vienna 1 October
1910 Der Walzer von heute Nacht (Adolf Klein) Walhalla-Theater, Wiesbaden 16 October
1911 Laridon 1 act Intimes-Theater, Hamburg 21 February, Kabarett Fledermaus, Vienna 1 March 1912
1911 Cherchez la Femme 1 act Künstlertheater, Munich 28 July
1911 Kokettchens Mission 1 act Künstlertheater, Munich; Kabarett Fledermaus, Vienna February 1912
1911 Das blonde Abenteuer 1 act Künstlertheater, Munich; Kabarett Fledermaus, Vienna February 1912
1913 Der lachende Dreibund (Leopold Jacobson) Theater am Nollendorfplatz, Berlin 31 October
1914 Prinzchens Frühlingserwachen 1 act Apollotheater, Berlin 16 March
1914 Anno 14, drei Bildern aus unsern Tagen (w Fritz Grünbaum) 1 act Kabarett Rideamus, Berlin 22 September
1914 Das Scheckbuch des Teufels 1 act Kabarett Rideamus, Berlin 18 November
1914 General Wutzikoff (Grünbaum) 1 act Budapester Orpheum 1 December
1915 Fräulein Don Juan (Paracelsus) 1 act Gartenbau 1 February
1916 Du, goldige Frau 1 act Budapester Orpheum 1 September
1916 Liebe im Schnee (w Willy Prager) Ronacher 2 December
1918 Die tanzende Maske (w Alexander Engel) Apollotheater 1 December
1919 Liebesreigen (w Karl Zimmer) Theater am Lietzenfee, Berlin 30 August
1919 Die Verliebten (Julius Wilhelm) Raimundtheater 29 March
1920 Graf Cheveraux (Fanfaron ie Armin Friedmann) 1 act Rolandbühne 1 March
1920 Yuschi tanzt (Jacobson, Robert Bodanzky) Wiener Bürgertheater 3 April
1920 Bluffodont 1 act Apollotheater 31 July
1920 Apachen (w Ignaz M Welleminsky) Apollotheater 20 December
1921 Pipsi (Julius Horst, Engel) Wiener Bürgertheater 30 December
1922 Ein Marchen aus Florenz (w Oscar Friedmann, Toni Schwanau) Johann Strauss-Theater 14 September 1923
1926 Adieu Mimi (Engel, Horst) Johann Strauss-Theater 9 June
1926 Die Nacht von San Sebastian (Hans Bachwitz) Operettenhaus am Dittrichring, Leipzig 23 December
1927 Alles auf Liebe (Ernst Marischka, Karl Farkas) Stadttheater 30 September
1928 Casanova (Johann Strauss arr/Ernst Welisch, Rudolf Schanzer) Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin 1 September
1929 Die drei Musketiere (Schanzer, Welisch) Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin 28 September
1929 Mit dir allein auf einer einsamen Insel (w Arthur Rebner) Residenztheater, Dresden 31 December; Metropoltheater, Berlin August 1930
1930 Meine Schwester und ich (Robert Blum) Komödienhaus, Berlin 29 March
1930 Im weissen Rössl (w others/Robert Gilbert/Hans Müller) Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin 8 November
1930 Cocktail (Karl Vollmöller) Komödienhaus, Berlin 15 December
1931 Morgen geht's uns gut (Buchbinder ad Hans Müller) Lessingtheater, Berlin 31 December
1931 Zur gold'nen Liebe (w Max Wolff, Martin Zickel) Komische Oper, Berlin 16 October
1932 Zirkus Aimée (w Kurt Gotz) Stadttheater, Basle 5 March
1932 Flirt in Nizza (w Robert Blum)
1933 Bezauberndes Fräulein Deutsches Volkstheater, Vienna 24 May
1933 Deux sous de fleurs (Saint-Granier/Paul Nivoix) Théâtre de l'Empire, Paris 6 October (?)
1934 Das kleine Cafe Deutsches Volkstheater, Vienna 20 April
1934 Die Prinzessin auf der Leiter revised Meine Schwester und ich Theater in Josefstadt 3 August
1934 Büxl (Arno Holz ad) Deutsches Volkstheater, Vienna 15 March
1935 Der König mit dem Regenschirm Theater in der Josefstadt 18 April
1935 The Flying Trapeze (pasticcio w Mabel Wayne/Douglas Furber, Desmond Carter, Frank Eyton/H Müller ad Furber) Alhambra, London 4 May
1936 Der reichste Mann der Welt (H Müller) Deutsches Volkstheater, Vienna 3 April
1936 Axel an der Himmelstur (Paul Morgan, Adolf Schutz, Hans Weigel) Theater an der Wien 1 September
1936 Egy lany, aki mindenkie (Wer gewinnt, Colette?) (Tamás Em*o*d ad) Müvész Színház, Budapest 19 December
1937 Pariserinnin Theater in der Josefstadt 7 May, revised version Lucerne 22 December 1964
1937 Herzen im Schnee (Robert Gilbert/w H Gilbert, Armin Robinson) Volksoper 8 September
1937 Majestät-privat (ad w Karl von Hellmer) Theater an der Wien 18 December
1939 Landrinette Stadttheater, Berne 17 December
1940 Angielina (Domeinica) Basle 17 February
1941 Der Silberhof Stadttheater, Mainz 4 November
1947 Kleinstadtzauber (Nikolai Gogol ad) Zürich 7 September
1950 Liebesschule (aka Don Juans Wiederkehr) Deutsches Theater, Göttingen 1 October
1951 Mon Ami René revised Büxl Karlsruhe 9 September
Biography: Benatzky, R.: Triumph und Tristesse. Aus den Tagebüchern von 1919 bis 1949, edited by Inge Jens and Christiane Niklew (Parthas, Berlin 2002); Hennenberg, F: Es muß was Wunderbares sein: Ralph Benatzky: Zwischen "Weißem Rößl" und Hollywood (Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna, 1998)