LEON JESSEL, verweigerte Heimat
Written by Albrecht Dumling

(Léon Jessel) (Albrecht Dumling)

192 pp  www.lukasverlag.com   2012

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67 years after the ending of the Nazi horrors more and more books are being written about the influence the period had on music. The distance enables us to get a sharper analyses of it all yet on the other hand eye witnesses are getting scarcer by the day. Some of the books written on the period are good and were based on excellent research, quite a few of them though consist of rehash and copy and paste material without ever having done personal research.
The name of Stefan Frey stands for quality (Kalman, Lehar, Fall) and so does the name of Albrecht Dumling. 20 years ago Dumling wrote the first biography on the life of Léon Jessel (1871-1942).  This year he found a publisher in the Lukas Verlag for an updated version. In spite of the lack of  research material (lots of the Jessel archive has disappeared) he managed to write an excellent account of the composer’s tragic life. Everything you want to know about the composer’s personal life ànd his musical output is there. From Jessel’s first triumphs with the “Parade of the tin soldiers’ till his greatest success “Schwarzwaldmadel” nothing escapes Dumling’s eye.

(Léon Jessel)

Jessel's operettas were popular, nationalistic -and very German — Schwarzwaldmädel was a great favorite because of its "Volksstummliche" character and even some nazi authorities were in a dilemma about whether or not to forbid the operetta; some of his music was performed as late as 1937. Because of this, and because of his own conservative nationalistic ideology, his conversion to christianity as early as 1894 and because his second wife joined the Nazi party in 1932, Jessel expected acceptance in Germany even during and after the Nazis' rise to power. Of course this proved to be wrong.
Jessel was forced out of the Reichsmusikkammer (the State Music Institute) in 1937 and recordings and distribution of his works were prohibited. In 1941 a house search in Vienna turned up a 1939 letter to his librettist William Sterk , in which Jessel had written: "I cannot work in a time when hatred of Jews threatens my people with destruction, where I do not know when that gruesome fate will likewise be knocking at my door." On December 15, 1941 Jessel was arrested and delivered to the Gestapo in Berlin. Maltreatment by the Gestapo led to his death on January 4, 1942 in the Berlin Jewish Hospital; his last words being 'Gestapo, Gestapo, Gestapo'....Léon Israel Jessel's 'Totenschein' has been retraced by the author and is printed in the book. The author pays the necessary attention to Jessel's heritage and his music after the ending of the war, the fate of his wives and daughter Eva Maria, the establishment of the Jessel Foundation and the role Norbert Schultze played in it. Schultze was the composer of the famous "war tune" Lili Marleen and a prolific war song composer, he also had a pretty active love life which included three marriages and six children by two wives. Schultze the composer of 'Bomben auf Engelland' was initially also involved in getting the Jessel biography published and became an ardent advocate of Jessel's music. Dumling devotes a whole chapter to this also painful episode.

The book is illustrated with several photos but personal ones of the composer are missing, five official portraits are included though. It has an appendix with all his compositions, a chronological table and an index. Regrettably the book does not have a discography yet Dumling’s achievement cannot be praised enough and it is a great and welcome addition to the history of operetta. Maybe the time is now ripe for a re-write of the Edmund Eysler story?