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Paul Abraham

Biography

Born: November 2, 1892; Apatin   Died: May 9, 1960; Hamburg, Germany  
Born in Hungary as Pál Ábrahám, Abraham was educated at the Budapest Academy of Music and, upon his graduation in 1916, worked to establish himself as a composer of serious art music. His works were heard at major European music festivals, and he gained a reputation as a choral conductor in the world of Hungarian liturgical music. By chance, Abraham assumed the post of conductor of the Budapest Operetta Theater in 1927. With the dawn of European Read more sound film in 1929 Abraham began scoring German and Hungarian musical films, beginning with Melodie des Herzens (1929, starring Dita Parlo).

Abraham achieved his first success with Viktoria und ihr Husar (1930); its charming nonsense song "Mausie" became greatly popular. The film's story of a German war widow who discovers her husband alive after she has married a rich American touched a strong responsive chord with the German public. Abraham joined forces with librettist Alfred Grünwald for his next hit show, Die Blume von Hawaii (1931). This was a story about a German sailor who falls for a Hawaiian maid. Set in an exotic locale and spiked with liberal doses of "continental jazz," it was a huge success -- but attracted unfavorable attention from the emerging National Socialist regime. Abraham scored his final hit with Ball im Savoy (1932), which was made into an English-language musical in Britain in 1936. All of Abraham's popular operettas were made into films, sometimes starring Abraham's own discovery, teenage singing sensation Marta Eggerth (who later collected a few Hollywood successes). Abraham's greatest independent triumph in the German film industry was Die Privatsekretärin (1931) starring Renate Müller.

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Abraham, as the Jewish author of the degenerate Die Blume von Hawaii, was immediately targeted for expulsion. Abraham had led a popular dance band on German phonograph records in previous years; but when Hitler took charge, Abraham's entire catalog was deleted and his published music banned. Fleeing to Hungary, he left the key to a cabinet containing the manuscripts of some 300 unpublished melodies for safekeeping with his butler. The butler later made liberal use of the manuscripts, selling the tunes to less talented Nazi composers. In Vienna and Hungary, Abraham and Alfred Grünwald continued to produce operettas, the last being Roxy und ihr Wunderteam (1937), but none matched the success of the earlier productions. After the Anschluss, Abraham fled to France and then Cuba.

Abraham's years in Cuba are obscure. However, there is evidence that he worked in the Cuban film industry during this time. Abraham collected an arranging credit on the Hollywood musical Holiday in Mexico (1946), which was filmed mostly in Cuba. Abraham moved to New York after the war, but apparently never worked again. In postwar Germany, Abraham's music enjoyed a renewal of popularity. After word reached Germany that the composer was destitute and living in a mental institution, a Paul Abraham Society was founded in Hamburg; in 1956 the group succeeded in raising the funds to transport him from New York. By this time, Abraham's illness was so advanced that he was unable to compose. Abraham died on the operating table during an experimental procedure intended to restore his abilities.

We may never see all of Abraham's music revived, for the Nazis destroyed much of it. But his three most popular titles, Viktoria, Die Blume von Hawaii and Ball im Savoy, maintain their places in the repertoire of German-speaking opera houses. Toward the end of the twentieth century, Abraham's German movie musicals have also been revived to considerable acclaim, with some commentators stating that they are among the best German musical films of any period. Read less

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