Ralph Benatzky

Born - Jun 5, 1884   |   Died - Oct 17, 1957   |  

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Ralph Benatzky came to film work, like many of his European contemporaries, as a result of political adversity and as an indirect result of the rise of the Nazi Party. Born in what was then known as Moravia in 1884, he was raised from age six onward in Vienna. Although music was one of his talents, he actually directed himself toward other goals, including a military career (cut short by an injury) and study as a philologist, before deciding upon composition as his life's work. He was highly successful in the German-speaking world as a composer of songs and other light classical fare, in the tradition of Johann Strauss, and was especially skilled at the assembling of revues and operettas. One of his more notable successes in the field of pastiche was Casanova, which he built around the music of Strauss; that piece was adapted to the screen in 1928 (as a silent, no less). His facility for assembling pastiche proved profitable, and he found his own music embraced by popular singers of the day, such as Zarah Leander. Benatzky's biggest success as a composer was The White Horse Inn, an operetta that found an audience all over the world in the first half of the 1930s, and he was one of the most popular light classical composers in Berlin during this period. Although he was not Jewish, the notion of Benatzky working under the Hitler regime was patently absurd. His first wife, who passed away in 1929, had been Jewish, and he subsequently married another Jewish woman; he was forced to move to Paris after the rise of the Nazis in 1933. He subsequently returned to Vienna, and the annexation of Austria by the Germans made it necessary for Benatzky to emigrate to America in 1938. His work was the basis for several screen adaptations, and he frequently collaborated with Irving Caesar during his American period. He contributed to several Hollywood films during the 1940s, in the form of songs rather than full scores, and returned to Europe in 1948. The White Horse Inn has proved to be his most durable work, filmed in numerous different adaptations across the decades and staged (and recorded, usually in excerpts) countless times.