A Maker of Tunes

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/December 13, 1910

Leo Fall, whose operetta, “The Dollar Princess,” is on view in Baltimore this week, is a little man with a paunch like Sir John Falstaff’s and a head as round, as large and as devoid of hair as a cannon-ball. He is, in brief, no beauty. He lacks altogether the romantic cadaverousness of Chopin, the hirsute magnificence of Brahms, the slick, tonsorial elegance of Johann Strauss. But not withstanding this distressing absence of comeliness there is no doubt whatever that he knows how to write extremely luscious tunes, for the Viennese say so, and the Viennese, when it comes to luscious tunes, are judges who never err.

To Elevate Vaudeville

A sort of revival of light music is in progress in Germany and Austria just now, with Fall as one of its principal heroes. His associates are Oscar Straus, who wrote the scores of “The Waltz Dream” and “The Chocolate Soldier;” Frank Lehar, who gave us “The Merry Widow;” Paul Lineke, author of “The Glow-worm” and of that fine waltz, “Ach Fruehling, wiebist du so schoen!” Victor Hollsender and Bogumil Zepler. These men are all educated musicians, but instead of sneering at light music, as most educated musicians do, they are making a sincere effort to lift it up. Some of them, notably Lineke and Hollaender, have gone to the length of writing vaudeville songs, to which, by the way, the best of the younger German poets of today have contributed the words.

The whole movement is probably without precedent, for its ultimate aim is to get an artistic quality into the popular songs of the nation. It is as if, in our own country, Robert Loveman and Frederick Converse should combine to write songs for May Irwin.

Fall is 36 years old and was born in Lemberg, the ancient capital of the Austrian crownland of Galicia. Lemberg is full of Polish folk, but Fall’s parents, it appears, were Germans. His father was bandmaster of one of the Austrian regimental bands. There were three Fall boys, and all of them were trained in music from infancy, but only Leo showed any great talent. While still a boy he was sent to the Vienna Conservatory, and there he remained until his parents moved to Berlin, where he soon followed them.

In the Prussian capital he quickly got a fiddling job in the orchestra of one of the smaller theatres, and before long he was assistant conductor and had begun to make some noise as a composer. Calls to Hamburg, Mannheim and Leipzig took him away for varying periods until he was 28 years old, when he gave up playing and conducting and resolved to devote his whole time to composition. Meanwhile he had married one of the daughters of the renowned Dr. Solomon Jadassohn, the theorist of the Leipzig Conservatory. Frau Fall, herself a skillful musician, believed in her husband and urged him on when discouragements gathered upon him.

His First Success

Before laying aside his baton he had written two serious operas, one of which, “Irrilicht” by name, was produced in Mannheim. It failed to please the public, but the critics were very kind to it and predicted that its composer would go far. There followed a group of one-act operas, little more than glorified vaudeville numbers, and then came an opera comique called “The Rebel.” This was produced at the Theatre an der Wien, one of the principal playhouses of Vienna. The libretto was so weak that it did not enjoy a long run, but the music pleased the Viennese vastly, and the director of the theatre at once commissioned the composer to do another opera. The result was “The Dollar Princess.”

Unluckily for Fall, various accidents delayed the production of this piece for three or four years. Fate seemed, for a time, to be against the young man. At the end of a year or more of delays rehearsals were called and the first performance was in prospect, when the director of the theatre decided to try out another new opera instead. This other new opera was “The Merry Widow,” and for two long years it held the boards of the Theatre an der Wien, while “The Dollar Princess” languished. But the later work, which has been mistaken by some for an imitation of “The Merry Widow,” was really completed and ready for rehearsal before Lehar began writing his famous tunes.

His Opportunity Came At Last

Meanwhile Fall was busy upon another score, that of a little piece called “The Merry Peasant,” with a book by Victor Leon, one of the librettists of “The Merry Widow.” It saw the light at Mannheim in July, 1907, and was an immediate success. Within a few months it was being played in a score of German and Austrian towns, and though Berlin and Vienna have never given it approval it is still a favorite elsewhere. When “The Dollar Princess” finally got to the stage in Vienna it repaid Fall for his long wait by making him famous overnight.

Since “The Dollar Princess” Fall has written “Die Geschiedene Frau” and “Bruederlein Fein,” both of which have been very successful. His music, in general, shows artistic qualities which appear in light opera music but seldom. Like Johann Strauss and Arthur Sullivan, he is a master of effective orchestration. The banal note is seldom, if ever, struck in his scores. However trivial his tune, he always manages to write it in the manner of a good musician.

The Personality Of The Composer

Personally, according to those who know him, Fall is a fine fellow. A more devoted husband or son it would be impossible to imagine. Wherever he goes, whether to London, Monte Carlo, to Marienbad, to his estate in the Salskammergut, he always takes his parents and his wife along. Frau Fall is his principal adviser in his business affairs, which, naturally, assume big proportions, for he is simply inundated with offers from librettists, managers, and publishers. Fortunately, he is a very keen business man, although at the same time he is a great deal more sentimental than he likes the world to believe. He dotes on dogs, more especially bulldogs. He has the finest collection of bulldogs and Irish terriers in Austria.


(Source: University of North Texas, Microfilm Collection)

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