Friday, March 23, 2012

Magyar szivar dohányos

The Hungarian Jewish composer Emmerich (Imre) Kálmán (1892-1953), was a composer of various genres, including a symphonic poem, some pieces for string, and lieder of various kinds, but became most famous for his operettas which were very popular in his day. Born in Siófok, on the southern shore of Lake Balaton, in Hungary, Kálmán studied to become a concert pianist. Unfortunately, early-onset arthritis barred his ability to continue his plans. As a result, he turned to composition, studying at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music. He was a fellow student with the famous Béla Bartók.

His first great break was with his operetta Tatárjárás, which is known as Ein Herbstmanöver in German, meaning 'Autumn Maneuver', although in English the work is known as The Gay Hussars. His fame caused him to move from Budapest to Vienna, and it was there, through a series of operettas--Der Zigeunerprimas, Die Csárdásfürstin, Gräfin Mariza, and Die Zirkusprinzessin, etc.--that he achieved international fame. He eventually wrote twenty-two of such works.

Statute of Kálmán in Pest

Die Csárdásfürstin has been particularly popular, as it is said to have been performed more than 100,000 times since its premiere in 1915. Some of his operettas were put into film by Louis B. Mayer of M-G-M. He worked on some operettas in English, and at least one of his completed operettas was in English, in particular his last one, Arizona Lady.

Despite being Jewish, his music was enjoyed by Hitler, who offered to make him an honorary Aryan. He refused the offer, moved to Paris, and eventually ended up in the United States (in California). Many of his family who stayed behind were killed in Nazi death camps. After the victory of the Allies, he returned to Vienna in 1949. He moved to Paris two years before his death in 1953.

But the reason I have selected our Hungarian composer is that--you guessed it--he enjoyed cigars. A picture portrait of the composer taken in his later years is shown in this posting, as is a statue of him in Pest, arm stretched out over a park bench, cigar in hand. Clearly, he appeared to have been an ambidextrous smoker.

There is quite a charming story about and incident between Kálmán and his much-younger-wife Vera Makinska, by whom he bore three children. When he first rejected her (thinking himself much too old) during a meal at a restaurant, she retrieved the composer's cigar band from the ashtray, slipped it on her finger, and cried her way to sleep. Eventually, the young Vera was successful in her suit.

About as much as you would ever want to know about Kálmán can be found here: "A Survey of the Operettas of Emmerich Kálmán.

By the way, in case you are curious, "Szivar" is the way you say cigar in Hungarian.

Portrait of Kálmán