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Robert Stolz

Robert Elisabeth Stolz (25 August 1880 in Graz – 27 June 1975 in Berlin) was an Austrian songwriter and conductor as well as a composer of operettas and film music.

Stolz was born of musical parents in Graz. His father was a conductor, his mother a concert pianist, and he was the great-nephew of the soprano Teresa Stolz. At the age of seven, he toured Europe as a pianist, playing Mozart. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Robert Fuchs and Engelbert Humperdinck. From 1899 he held successive conducting posts at Maribor (then called Marburg), Salzburg and Brno before succeeding Artur Bodanzky at the Theater an der Wien in 1907. There he conducted, among other pieces, the first performance of Oscar Strauss's Der tapfere Soldat (The Chocolate Soldier) in 1908, before leaving in 1910 to become a freelance composer and conductor. Meanwhile, he had begun to compose operettas and individual songs and had a number of successes in these fields.

After serving in the Austrian Army in World War I, Stolz devoted himself mainly to cabaret, and moved to Berlin in 1925. Around 1930, he started to compose music for films, such as the first German sound film Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt (Two Hearts in Waltz Time), of which the title-waltz rapidly became a popular favourite. Some earlier Stolz compositions, such as "Adieu, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier" from his operetta Die lustigen Weiber von Wien, became known to wider audiences through the medium of film, after it was interpolated into Im weißen Rößl (The White Horse Inn).

The rise of Nazi Germany led Stolz to return to Vienna, where his title-song for the film Ungeküsst soll man nicht schlafen gehn was a hit. He remained active in Berlin as well. He used to travel by car between the two cities, so he smuggled Jews and political refugees across the German-Austrian border in the trunk of his limousine. He managed to do so 21 times. Then came the Anschluss, and he moved again, first to Zürich and then to Paris, where in 1939 he was interned as an enemy alien. With the help of friends he was released and in 1940 made his way to New York.

Bust of Robert Stolz in the Viennese City Park

In America, Stolz achieved fame with his concerts of Viennese music, starting with "A Night in Vienna" at Carnegie Hall. As a result, he received many invitations to compose music for shows and films, and he received two Academy Awards nominations: "Waltzing in the Clouds" for Spring Parade was nominated for Best Original Song in 1941, and his score for It Happened Tomorrow was nominated for Best Dramatic or Comedy Picture Score in 1945.

In 1946 Stolz returned to Vienna, where he lived for the rest of his life. In the 1960s and 1970s he made numerous recordings of operettas by composers such as Johann Strauss, Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, and Leo Fall, whom he had known previously.

In 1952, he began to compose for the Vienna Ice Revue. He dedicated his first of 19 ice operettas ("Eternal Eve") to European Champion Eva Pawlik. In 1970, to mark his 90th birthday, he was made an Honorary Citizen of Vienna. He was also awarded Vienna's Grand Medal of Honour, being only the second musician ever to be so honoured (after Richard Strauss). He also appeared on a series of commemorative Austrian postage stamps.

In later years he used a baton inherited from Franz Lehár, which had been originally owned by Johann Strauss and contained Strauss's initials engraved in silver.

After his death in Berlin in 1975, Robert Stolz received the honour of a lying-in-state in the foyer of the Vienna State Opera House. He was buried near Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss II in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof, and a statue to him was erected in the Wiener Stadtpark. A street is named after him - just off the Opernring in Vienna, close to the State Opera.

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