The 1920s heralded a ‘Golden-Age’ of German cabaret (Kabarett), with clubs such as Max Reinhardt’s Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke) and Trude Hesterberg’s Wilde Bühne (Wild Stage) in Berlin, and Die Elf Scharfrichter (Eleven Executioners) in Munich offering hedonistic, avant-garde, risqué entertainment. German cabaret was celebrated for its political satire, which put cabaret artists at risk after 1933 when the Nazis suppressed any form of political criticism.

Jewish composers, who dominated the cabaret scene, were particularly at risk, and many chose to flee for Paris where cabaret was still thriving. Many of the Jewish cabaret composers also worked for the UFA (Universum Film Aktien Gesellschaft), Germany’s largest film studio. Run by the right-wing Alfred Hugenberg, the UFA implemented antisemitic policies such as dismissing Jewish employees, even before the Nazis implemented these policies themselves. Kurt Weill, Werner Richard Heymann, Friedrich Hollaender, Mischa Spoliansky and Franz Waxman were among those Jewish cabaret composers that fled Berlin, eventually making successful careers for themselves outside Germany.


Werner Richard Heymann (1896-1961)

Werner Richard Heymann worked as a cabaret, film and theatre composer in Berlin before escaping Nazi Germany for Hollywood via Paris. Born in Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia) to musical parents, Heymann was a musical prodigy, learning the piano from the age of three, violin from six, and beginning to compose at age eight. He served in the Prussian Army during the First World War.

His early theatre compositions included writing the music for Wandlung (Transformation), a play by Ernst Toller about a Jewish man who serves in the First World War. Heymann’s cabaret career began at Reinhardt’s satirical cabaret club, Schall und Rauch, where he played the piano along with Friedrich Hollaender, and set texts by satirist Walter Mehring. He also worked for Trude Hesterberg at the Wilde Bühne. He composed music for silent films and musicals, becoming the musical director of 120 cinemas in 1926. With the advent of sound films, or ‘talkies,’ Heymann began a career as a film composer, writing for films such as Der Kongress tanzt (The Congress Dances, 1931).

Heymann was forced to leave Germany in 1933. In America he worked on 40 Hollywood films, including some for émigré German directors such as Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges. He returned to Germany in 1951 and continued his career as a stage and film composer, working on the stage version of Der Blaue Engel, starring Trude Hesterberg.

Friedrich Hollaender (1896-1976)

Friedrich Hollaender was born to German parents in London but grew up in Berlin. He studied composition at the Stern Conservatory with Engelbert Humperdinck, later serving in the German Army as a musical director. After the war he worked as a pianist and composer at clubs such as Schall und Rauch, Wilde Bühne and Grossenwahn, collaborating with lyricists Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, Marcellus Schiffer and Rudolf Nelson on satirical revues and songs. He also played with the jazz band the Weintraub Syncopators.

His film composing career took off in 1930 when he wrote ‘Falling in Love Again’ for Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel. He also directed three versions of the film Ich une die Kaiserin – in French, German and English – for the UFA. Hollaender opened his own cabaret theatre, Tingel Tangel, in 1931 and performed anti-Hitler revues such as Spuk in der Villa Stern (Spook in the Stern Villa), which included the satirical song ‘An allem sind die Juden schuld’ (It’s all the fault of the Jews), to the tune of the ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s Carmen.

Hollaender fled Germany for America in 1933 where he continued to write songs for Marlene Dietrich. He returned to Germany in 1956 where his music was revived and performed in revues. He died in Munich in 1976. A square in Berlin, Friedrich Hollaender Platz, is named after him.

Mischa Spoliansky (1898-1985)

Mischa Spoliansky is famous for his work on British films including The Happiest Days of Your Life, The Private Life of Don JuanSanders of the River and King Solomon’s Mines, though he is remembered in Germany for his Kabarett and satirical revue songs. In 1998, the centenary of his birth prompted the reissue of many of his songs on CD.

Spoliansky was born to a musical family in Bialystok, Russia (now in Poland). The family left Bialystok for Warsaw after the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1905, eventually settling in Dresden. Spoliansky learned the piano, violin and cello, and played his first public concert aged ten. He moved to Berlin to study piano and composition at the Stern Conservatory. Whilst playing piano in a café, he was overheard by Friedrich Hollaender’s father, Victor, and Werner Richard Heymann. He joined Schall und Rauch as a composer and pianist, and wrote for the erotic dancer Anita Berber whilst playing at other cabarets including Die Rackete, Wilde Bühne, and Kurt Robitschek’s Kabarett der Komiker (Kadeko). It was there that he met Marcellus Schiffer who would become his writing partner. Together they wrote a revue called Es liegt in der Luft (It’s in the Air, 1928), which starred the young Marlene Dietrich in her first big role. At the advent of sound films Spoliansky began working as a film composer, and he later wrote a ‘cabaret opera,’ Die erse Kabarettoper (The First Cabaret Opera) with Schiffer in 1932, before Schiffer died later that year.

Spoliansky was forced to leave Germany for England in 1933. He obtained British citizenship and during the war wrote for a team – led by actor Marius Goring – of ex-Berliners who had fled Germany. They broadcast information about what was happening on the continent, and Spoliansky wrote songs and music for the broadcasts. He continued to work as a film composer, and his credits include The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936), written by H. G. Wells. He also wrote for Paul Robeson, Elisabeth Welch and Marlene Dietrich.

He died at home in London in 1985. His cabaret opera Rufen Sie Herrn Plim! (1932) was translated in to English as Send for Mr. Plim, and performed at the Covent Garden Festival in 2000; his works are still performed in Germany today.

Franz Waxman (1906-1967)

Franz Wachsmann (later Waxman) was a composer, conductor and impresario. He wrote the scores for 150 films in his lifetime and received twelve Academy Award nominations.

Born in Königshütte, Upper Silesia, Germany, Waxman was the only musical person in his family, starting to learn the piano at the age of seven. He briefly worked as a banker before moving to Dresden then Berlin to study music, playing piano in nightclubs with the Weintraub Syncopators during the 1920s. He orchestrated the music for some early German films, including Hollaender’s score for The Blue Angel, which he also conducted. Producer Erich Pommer asked Waxman to compose for Fritz Lang’s Liliom (1933), which was filmed in Paris after Waxman was forced to leave Germany.

Waxman followed Pommer to the US, and enjoyed a successful career as film composer, arranger and conductor for Universal, MGM and Warner Brothers. Some of his credits include arranging the music for Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Music in the Air (1934), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), and Spencer Tracy films such as Captain Courageous (1937) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). He won an Oscar for Best Music for Sunset Boulevard in 1950.

Waxman founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival in 1947, inviting composers such as Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Kabalevsky to premiere their works. He also guest-conducted Symphony orchestras in Europe and the US, and composed concert music. Waxman was featured on a US postage stamp in 1999, and a street was named after him (Franz Waxmanstrasse) in his birthplace, Königshütte.


‘Biography: Franz Waxman’ Fidelio Music Publishing Company Accessed 1/6/2017

Bade, P. (2009) Berlin-Paris ‘Cabaret in Exile’ [CD Liner notes] Malibran

Cornforth, P. (2012/2017) ‘Mischa Spoliansky: A Brief History’ The Mischa Spoliansky Trust Accessed 30/5/2017

Finler, J. (2014) ‘The remarkable story of the Jewish film-makers in Germany during the early sound years, 1929-33’ The Association of Jewish Refugees  Accessed 30/5/2017

Hollander, M. ‘Frederick Hollander alias Friedrich Hollaender’ Frederick Hollander Music  Accessed 31/5/2017

Hollander, M. (2008) ‘Biography: Frederick Hollander’ Cinema Exiles from Hitler to Hollywood, PBS Accessed 31/5/2017

Jelavich, P. (1997) Berlin Cabaret (US: Harvard University Press)

Prawert, S. S. (2005) Between Two Worlds: The Jewish Presence in German and Austrian Film, 1910-1933 (New York: Berghahn Books)

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