Richard Tauber - biography

Richard Tauber was one of the most celebrated and versatile tenors of the 1920s and 30s, who like no one else thrust aside the barriers between classical and popular music, between serious and trivial genres. Tauber was not only unsurpassed as a Mozart stylist, he also ennobled the operettas that Franz Lehár composed especially for him through his infallible musicianship and the melodious timbre of his voice; he fashioned sentimental love songs, Viennese "Heurige" (winegrower's tavern) songs, and chansons with just as much artistic credibility as he did Schubert's Winterreise. The discographical legacy documenting this artistry is enormous: Tauber made over seven hundred recordings.


Tauber op 21-jarige leeftijd las Tamino in 'Die Zaberflöte'

Richard Tauber was, without any doubt one of the most important tenors of the past century with, rightly, a host of admirers in record collecting circles and probably even more detractors because of the popular type of title he was reduced to recording in his later years, but this was as much of necessity as of choice. Undoubtedly Caruso is the best known tenor to have recorded; Tauber must be next, the only other contender being McCormack. He and Caruso somewhat earlier, still in the period when the famous singer had not been replaced by the film star as the public idol. Caruso remained an operatic tenor throughout his career. McCormack for the first ten years of his, before the gradual changeover to more lucrative concert work, when he sang mainly the more popular type of song required by his mass audiences, but which he leavened with classical items. He appeared on the silver screen, but few would claim he was an actor with anything other than his voice. Tauber sang in opera and the better class operetta for well over thirty years, was also a good actor, made many films, and at one time owned his own company. As a recording tenor he was most prolific, with over 730 published sides to his credit. Caruso had about 250 and McCormack 800. Tauber had phenomenal sales in places as far apart as Poland and South America, caused no doubt by his film and operetta hits- tunes which can be whistled in any language. And once an artist has gained the esteem of the public, it buys his next record, sure that it must be good listening.

Of them all Tauber was the most comprehensive all round musician; apart from his vocal prowess he composed two operettas - Der singende Traum (The Singing Dream) and Old Chelsea - a suite and many songs. What is nearly forgotten today is that he also won acclaim as a conductor. He had spells at the rostrum of the Volksoper in Vienna, during the last war he took the London Philharmonic Orchestra on tour, took over Beecham's Sunday Concerts at the Albert Hall and conducted operettas at the London Lyric and Palace Theatres. As an artist this all round ability distinguishes him from any other tenor.

The key to this universality? Conductor Josef Krips acknowledged:
"Tauber was certainly a great singer, but a still greater musician."

Tauber was born on May l6th 1891 at Linz, Austria, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Seiffert, née Denemy, a soubrette at the local theatre who, at the age of 43, was not long to be able to take parts of this type. His father was a Hungarian straight actor, Richard Anton Tauber, who was half Jewish; this fact was to have unfortunate consequences for his son, even though both practised the Catholic faith. The father was for long unaware of his fatherhood being on tour in the U.S.A. at the time of birth. Young Richard did not suffer as a result of this unfortunate start in life. For most of his first seven years he was tended by his mother, who accepted more matronly parts and, mainly, took him on tour with her. When things became financially stringent she appealed to the father. He immediately assumed responsibility for the boy's upbringing and at first placed him with a rich admirer in Graz, with the intention that he should be trained for the priesthood. This life did not suit the boy, who missed the bustle of the theatre, so his father took him to share his bachelor life, firstly for a three year engagement in Prague, then a similar one in Berlin, at both of which Richard attended schools. In 1903 the father was appointed to the theatre at Wiesbaden and Richard went to the local Gymnasium, proving an indifferent pupil, but making progress with music. He haunted his father's theatre and after his boy soprano broke took to hero worshipping the Heldentenor Heinrich Hensel and endeavouring to emulate him. His father sent Richard to Demuth in Vienna and to the Wiesbaden principal conductor Prof. Schlaar, but both reported him as hopeless. As a result Richard was sent to the Frankfurt Conservatory to study piano, composition and conducting.

This lasted until 1911 when fortune smiled in an unexpected manner. Richard formed an attachment to one of the ballet dancers and to break it his father sent him to stay with friends at Freiburg and to attend the Basle Conservatory. Here he was introduced to Professor Beines, a well known vocal teacher, whose pupils included G. Pistor, Josef Hermann and H.E. Groh. Instead of his trying to bellow Wagner arias, Beines made Richard sing piano for a change, was impressed with the natural quality of the voice and promised a fine career as a Mozart tenor. After only one year he was good enough to give a concert, and offered a four year contract by both Mannheim and Wiesbaden theatres, but the father was against rushing things and sent him back to Beines for a further year. In 1912 the father was appointed intendant for the two theatres at Chemnitz and arranged for Richard to make his début there on March 2nd 1913 as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. A few days later he played Max in Der Freischütz, to which performance Baron Seebach of Dresden had been invited; he immediately offered a five year contract. Dresden was one of the leading opera houses with a large artist roster, an ideal situation under the Baron, who knew how to nurse along immature artists. One of his ploys was to encourage them to accept guest engagements at smaller houses, where the voice would not be subjected to strain but invaluable experience gained. Richard's actual début at Dresden was as the Prince in Masaniello on August ist 1913.

By reason of his thorough musical training he was an exceptionally quick student and never refused any opportunities offered. If a work was new to him, two or three days' notice was all he asked and he acquired a reputation as the S.O.S. tenor from Dresden. He sang his first Faust at Breslau at 48 hours' notice and Bacchus for Strauss at Berlin after just one hour's rehearsal with the composer at the piano. But his most famous exploit was to undertake the unknown role of Calaf for the German première of Turandot at three days' notice when the selected tenor, Curt Taucher, felt ill. By the time the five year contract was finished Tauber had over sixty roles to his credit. His bosom friend at Dresden was the Dalmatian tenor, Tino Pattiera, at whose concert recitals Tauber often acted as accompanist. Another young developing star there at the time was Elisabeth Rethberg.

At the end of his first contract Tauber was re-engaged for a further one, but after guest appearances at the Berlin State Opera and at Vienna, he in 1922 accepted a contract with the Vienna State Opera, as this also gave him the opportunity to conduct at the Volksoper, but incurred the usual penalties for contract breaking at Dresden. He had hardly arrived in Vienna when he accepted an offer to sing Armand in Frasquita at the Theater an der Wien, to the displeasure of the Director at the senior house, but Tauber was not breaking any rules. This is often quoted as Tauber's slip into lighter music, though an Austrian would not regard it as such, since the better operettas were sung regularly in opera houses, it being a matter of financial judgement on which works would pay in which houses. Tauber became one of the star tenors at both the Vienna and Berlin State Operas and managed to arrange his contracts for about four months at each, with four left for tours and operetta. As usual, when not required to sing at his major house he made guest appearances at others, notably at Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Dresden. Whilst in Vienna he also conducted at the Theater an der Wien and in 1924 there met the Hamburg soprano Carlotta Vanconti, who was making her début in Countess Maritza. She soon divorced her Italian husband and married Tauber. When he was available they toured in operetta together. Though they seemed ideally suited, their mutual interests must have been solely musical, for they parted in 1928 and divorced two years later.

Tauber reached his peak, vocally, in the mid-twenties, and his two main engagements entailed about thirty to thirty-five performances in a dozen operas at each house. He was the greatest Mozart tenor of his time. Of his Don Ottavio on March 5th 1924 the critic of "Die Zeit" wrote "Tauber's performance reached its climax in Don Giovanni. It had never happened before that Don Ottavio, a figure who usually remains in the background, was received with such a storm of applause and that Don Giovanni himself should have been overshadowed." Of the same performance in "Die Deutsche Allgemeiner Zeitung":"He is the polished fine musician who not only knows his part, but the whole score,and creates from the complete ....... He sings the two arias incomparably; how he gives by the power of his cantilena at the end of the G major aria a soaring poised line to that baroque, octave leaping melody; how he fills the coloratura of the B flat major aria with dramatic life is quite unprecedented."

It cannot be said there was any great deterioration in Tauber's voice subsequently, but his use of it forced a different approach. From the same mid-twenties period he was increasingly engaged with Lehar, being often at Bad Ischl with suggestions and help in finishing the operettas with which eventually the pair took the world by storm. There was a 'Tauberlied' in each and they all became best-sellers. But his radical changeover from singing opera once every few days to an operetta every night required a different approach, husbanding his resources. Operetta heroes are not required to produce heroic tones, but melting love lyrics and here Tauber's floating head tones produced dividends. The public loved it and Tauber was able to sing two, even three, encore versions of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," differently each time, night after night, without strain. Film hits and operetta music took over more and more in his concert programmes; it was what his public expected and is reflected in the recordings he made from the advent of electrical recording.
Max in "Der Freischutz"

On 30 January 1926, with the Berlin premiere of Franz Lehár's Paganini, did the unique career of the Richard Tauber begin, who went down in the history of singing as the "German Caruso" and the "star among the stars." From this point of time onwards, the singer developed into a social, cultural and historical phenomenon. For all that, Paganini flopped at the Viennese premiere on 30 October 1925. In Berlin, however; the title hero had to repeat the number "Gern hab' ich die Frau'n geküsst" (With Pleasure I Kissed the Women), later dubbed "the Tauber song," five times. Overjoyed and amid abundant tears, Lehár embraced "his" tenor; and stammered: "Richard, in this moment I was born artistically for the second time." From now on Tauber was on ever body's lips, and through his records and the radio, which already reached a million listeners, in ever body's ears. At first, he became a name, then a cult.

The year 1926 also brought the opera singer Richard Tauber an important assignment: the German premiere of Giacomo Puccini's last opera Turandot in Dresden. Even later the singer repeatedly returned to opera, admitting, however; that it was not least for financial reasons that he had increasingly turned to operetta. The next four triumphs of the winning team Lehár-Tauber followed in quick succession, all taking place in Berlin: in 1926, Der Zarewitsch; in 1928, Friederike; in 1929, Das Land des Lachelns (The Land of Smiles); and in 1930, Schöne ist die Welt (Beautiful is the World). The highlight in each of these operettas was the big "Tauber song" in the second act. The tenor "garnished" these "custom-tailored" songs each time differently with his "little Tauber jests," i.e., ornaments and coloraturas, in the numerous encores that had become a ritual. In 1931, when Tauber; again in Berlin, launched Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Das Lied der Liebe (The Song of Love), one spoke only of the latest "Tauber operetta" - the name of the composer was a matter of minor importance when Tauber stood on the stage. Thanks to Tauber; operetta even found its way into the Vienna State Opera, in 1934 with Lehár's Giuditta. How inseparably the name "Richard Tauber" and "operetta" had become fused to an identity, was demonstrated by the premiere, also in 1934, of the operetta Der singende Traum (The Singing Dream) at the Theater an der Wien: The principal role was sung by Richard Tauber; the music also being composed by Richard Tauber.Tauber had long since discovered the sound-film, which had been introduced in 1929. Also for his first film Ich glaub' nie mehr an eine Frau (I'll Never Again Believe in a Woman), made in 1930, he wrote the music himself. And for the subsequent film productions he founded his own "Richard Tauber Sound-Film Company."

In May 1931 Tauber came to London for his first season in operetta, which with filming also in England, became quite regular. 1931 also saw his first U.S.A. concert tour. In March 1933 he was accosted by Brownshirt rowdies and left Germany for his native Austria, where he continued his remaining grand opera contract at the Vienna State, in seasons running roughly December-March, singing his beloved Mozart and works like La Bohème', Butterfly and Evangelimann, averaging some 25 performances. This continued until the Anschluss in 1938. The remainder of these years was spent in various tours and filming. In 1935 he met the English starlet, Diana Napier and married her the following year. His London début in grand opera was in Die Zauberflöte under Beecham in 1938, followed by Die Entführung. He was back in 1939 with The Bartered Bride, followed by his first ever Ottavio in Italian. With the loss of his Austrian domicile, Tauber and his wife, under then existing laws, had become stateless and applied for British naturalisation. Tauber was in South Africa when war broke out. He returned to Switzerland and sang there until his papers were in order, arriving in a blacked-out England early in 1940. It says much for his principles that, despite attractive American offers, he elected to remain in the country that had adopted him, either singing or conducting throughout the war.

The ex-international star now had to work hard to keep solvent under war-time conditions. The tone of his concerts went down, as did the titles he recorded, to suit the new-type, often provincial, audiences. As EMI's main tenor asset Tauber was called to sing cover versions of popular' hits (Decca tried using Piccaver for the same reason, but with less success) and this was a welcome addition to his income. Twice he had been forced to leave his assets behind, first in Germany, then Austria and, contrary to popular belief, had no royalty income from the recordings that had originated in those countries, having elected there to be paid by the performance. It was not until he recorded for the British branch of Parlophone-Odeon that he signed royalty contracts.

When the war ended Tauber went to New York, in an Americanised version of Land of Smiles, which was a flop. He then toured central and south America. Back in London he took to conducting to rest his voice, which had a bad cough. His complaint was eventually diagnosed as cancer, with one lung already useless. But the Vienna State Opera was in London for a guest season and invited their old colleague to sing a performance. So on September 27th 1947 he sang Ottavio at Covent Garden, to great acclaim, a remarkable feat in his condition. Those who attented the performance or listened to the broadcast can attest that Tauber remained a great and dedicated artist to the very last. So he ended his career, as he had begun, with Mozart. His left lung was removed the following week, but the other was already affected and Tauber died on January 8th 1948.

The grave of the opera singer Richard Tauber is beautifully maintained by someone.
Londen's Brompton Cemetery.
'Richard Tauber
Born in Linz Austria
Died in London
"A golden singer with a sunny heart
The hearts delight of millions was his art
Now that rich, roaring, tender voice beguiles
Attentive angels in the land of smiles." A.P. Herbert.'