Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Friedrich Hollaender (1896-1976) was one of the most prolific composers of cabaret song literature in Berlin between 1918 and 1933. Beginning with his work at the literary-political cabarets of the early 1920s, including Max Reinhardt’s Schall und Rauch, Trude Hesterburg’s Wilde Bühne, and Rosa Valetti’s Café Größenwahn and continuing through the cabaret revues presented at Hollaender’s own Tingel-Tangel-Theater in the early 1930s, Hollaender wrote over 200 cabaret songs.
A classically trained composer who studied with Engelbert Humperdinck, Hollaender ultimately found his niche in creating cabaret songs that clearly evoked the mood and environment expressed in the texts he set. In this way, Hollaender elevated and expanded the expressive power of music in the cabaret. At the same time, Hollaender did not revolutionize the cabaret song. Instead, he worked within the traditional framework of the cabaret song, adapting his compositional style to fit the expectations of the genre. Cabaret songs privilege the clear expression and declamation of the text. Thus, most cabaret songs exhibit a simple musical framework. Performers often spoke or intoned the text rather than singing the melody, and as a result, cabaret songs often double the melodic line in the accompaniment so that it can be heard and recognized during the performance. This practice differs markedly from art song, in which the melody and accompaniment serve as equal partners in expressing the text as a unified musical work and the singer is expected to sing the melody provided by the composer.
Much of Hollaender’s work in the cabaret involved an effort to infuse the cabaret song with the expressive musical force of the art song without altering the traditional performance practice, the freedom to intone the text typical of the cabaret, and the simplified harmony and formal structure of cabaret songs. Hollaender’s ability to immediately capture the essence of the song texts in music is what ultimately made him successful. He also demonstrated an ability to adapt to the swiftly evolving tastes and expectations of cabaret audiences during the tumultuous Weimar Era. His adherence to a philosophy of music for the cabaret that would “explode in a lightning flash” and create a mood that would be “present in the first beats,“ along with his flexibility in responding to the evolving taste of the public allowed Hollaender to enjoy a sustained, successful career in the cabaret. His enormous output of cabaret songs is a testament to his effectiveness and success as a composer, writer, and producer in Berlin cabaret theatres. The purpose of the study is to understand how Hollaender’s work elevated the expressive force of the musical settings for cabaret songs through the analysis of the text and the music of his cabaret songs.
This study explores representative examples of Hollaender’s cabaret songs composed for Berlin theaters between 1919-1933. The songs were primarily selected to demonstrate the wide variety of musical expression Hollaender was able to achieve in his song settings within the confines of traditional cabaret song forms, particularly the couplet and the role chanson. A wide variety of subject matter is covered in these cabaret song settings, from political and social satire to adapted folktales, and from playful character pieces to defiant antimilitarist statements and poignant illustrations of poverty and hardship. In addition, the cabaret songs included in the study emerge from significant collaborative relationships the composer developed, most notably his early collaborations in literary-political cabaret theaters with satirist and poet Kurt Tucholsky, Dada author Walter Mehring, and performer and first wife Blandine Ebinger. Finally, songs were chosen from throughout the time Hollaender composed music for the cabaret in order to demonstrate the changing landscape of the cabaret as time progressed. As a result, a significant number of songs in the study emerge from Hollaender’s late cabaret revues, programs of songs, skits and other acts loosely organized around a theme or idea, for which the composer wrote both the text and the music.
Because the cabaret by its nature offered commentary on contemporary society, the study includes examples that demonstrate the evolving political and social climate in Germany as expressed in the cabaret song texts. For instance, Hollaender’s cabaret songs written in collaboration with Kurt Tucholsky in 1919-1920 frequently criticize Gustav Noske and the use of paramilitary Freikorps to quell dissent in the fledgling Weimar Republic. By the time of Hollaender’s 1931 cabaret revue Spuk in der Villa Stern, however, Hollaender’s political satire criticizes and lampoons National Socialist rhetoric and caricatures Adolf Hitler.
Finally, the songs included in the discussion were also chosen in part due to the availability of musical scores, texts, and recordings. Whenever possible, recordings of the original performers, including Blandine Ebinger, Paul Graetz, and Claire Waldoff were consulted in order to understand performance practices used in Berlin cabarets during the Weimar era. Recordings of modern performers, chiefly Ute Lemper, Tim Fischer, and Jody Karen Applebaum were also explored. Many of the original performers were actors rather than singers, and their style of interpreting their songs with a mixture of spoken declamation and singing demonstrates the importance of clearly expressing the text and its emotional content and creating a complete characterization in the presentation of the song. This style of performing did not diminish Hollaender’s contribution as a composer, but rather created a multilayered hybrid of speech, melody, harmony and rhythm that set for many the standard for excellence in the Weimar era cabaret song.
Literal English translations of the songs presented for the study were developed in order to facilitate the discussion of how Hollaender’s music specifically evokes the mood and expression of the text. In addition, the study includes explanations and annotations of the events, historical figures, and cultural icons that are peppered throughout these texts. Because cabaret songs are by their nature a product of the contemporary society out of which they emerge, a basic understanding of the time period is essential to fully comprehend these works. Hollaender’s cabaret songs often employ a Berlin dialect, use colloquial expressions, and assume an understanding of contemporary society in the 1920s that is no longer common knowledge nearly a century later. As a result, the detailed study and translation of the texts were essential to understanding Hollaender’s cabaret song settings.
This investigation demonstrates how Hollaender evoked a variety of specific moods and ideas in his cabaret song settings through an economy of musical means. Although his music adhered to the conventions and traditions of the cabaret song by employing simple harmonic structures and an almost exclusive use of verse-refrain song form, the composer effectively used dissonance, rhythmic motives, chromaticism, mode-mixture, melodic shape, and other compositional techniques to great expressive effect that clearly reflected the wide variety of environments and moods described in his texts. The result is that the text and music are wedded in Hollaender’s cabaret song settings in such a way that they become a unified expressive art form.
Composer, lyricist, and cabaret producer Friedrich Hollaender (1896-1976) composed over 200 songs for various cabaret theaters primarily in Berlin between 1918 and 1933. Unfortunately, the composer’s work is not widely known today. The goal of this study is to investigate Hollaender’s cabaret songs from a historical and musical perspective in order to understand how they expressed the essence of this fascinating and tumultuous time in German history.
The study explores Hollaender’s cabaret songs, beginning with his involvement in the literary cabarets of the early 1920s and concluding with songs taken from the composer’s cabaret revues of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Hollaender’s collaborations with political satirist Kurt Tucholsky, Dadaist author Walter Mehring, and performer Blandine Ebinger are discussed in detail. Because cabaret songs are rooted in contemporary culture, the texts contain references to political figures, cultural icons, important events, and colloquial expressions. As a result, this study includes literal translations of Hollaender’s song texts and explanations of these cultural references. The texts are imbued with sardonic wit, humor, sarcasm, and irony.
Although Hollaender worked within the conventional framework of the cabaret song by employing simple harmonic structures and a verse-refrain song form, the composer used dissonance, rhythm, chromaticism, mode-mixture, melodic shape, and other techniques to evoke and support the variety of environments and moods described in the texts. Using representative cabaret songs, this study explores the ways in which Hollaender developed music specifically tailored to the texts he set through an economy of musical means. From the relentless rhythmic pulse and dissonance associated with the hustle and bustle of the Berlin metropolis to the delicate descending sighing figures embodying the hopelessness of destitute orphans, and from the defiant militaristic dotted rhythms depicting an angry mother who lost everything in the war to mode mixture signifying the dichotomy between guilt and forgiveness, Hollaender's cabaret songs exhibit a sophistication of musical expression that allows the text and music to become a unified expressive art form.
Berlin, Cabaret, Hollaender, Mehring, Revue, Tucholsky
xvii, 507 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 495-507).
Copyright © 2017 Jonathon Paul Struve
Struve, Jonathon Paul. "Friedrich Hollaender and the art of writing songs for the cabaret." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2017.