From Broadway to Hollywood

In doing the research, an interesting but logical correlation became apparent. In the early 1900’s most of the musicals on Broadway were operetta transplants from Europe and they also influenced American composers to write in the same mode. So not only Hungarian, but German and French operetta composers had a great impact on the American musical scene. But by the 1920’s, this started to change. Many American songwriters were creating a more local genre of music, and jazz had a lot to do with it. So much so, that in 1928 a Viennese newspaper article declared in alarm that Kalman’s Duchess of Chicago incorporating jazz elements “is ruining the operetta style!”

In the early 1900’s, the theater was the main source of entertainment and the demand for musicals and operettas was great With the advent of motion pictures, the theater was no longer the sole source of entertainment. But the demand for quality musicals still abounded and was filled by such stalwart Hungarian composers as Lehár, Kálmán, Romberg, Szirmai and Jacobi; and with lesser known songwriters such as Berény, Jarno, Rényi, Schwartz and Vecsey.

With the addition of sound to motion pictures, musicals found a new form of expression and Hollywood studios competed to have works produced for the film audience. Works like The Merry Widow by Lehar were prime material. The 1934 MGM musical with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier became a box office success. The only other composer whose works were readily adapted to motion pictures was Romberg, with very successful films including, New Moon and Maytime, and others like Student Prince and Dessert Song, which have enjoyed several productions over the years.

A note about the sheet music covers in the exhibit. During the period covered here, a song’s popularity was determined by the number of sheet music copies it sold. Publishers, who regularly hired some of our songwriters, used extensive promotion campaigns to market songs to the public in sheet music form. The volume of these presented here are a testament to the popularity and prolific output of these songwriters.

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