ISBN 978-3-906212-05-0

Weltbuch Verlag , 568 pp (September 2014)

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Anything you wanted to know about Richard Tauber ? When and where did he sing what role ? What was he paid ? What did he record ? What are the names of his many loves and how long did they last ? etc. etc.

All that and even more is meticulously researched by the author who is an encyclopaedic source on the tenor and his life. And now an important question:  is there a volunteer to write a biography of Tauber based on this research as the author’s pedestrian way of publishing his facts is stunningly clumsy.  278 pages  and six of the eleven chapters plus a lot of appendixes  are devoted to Tauber’s life and career and half of them don’t belong in these 6 chapters. Sollfrank has clearly never heard of such exotic things as a singer’s chronology and discography. He simply intermingles his text, already full of interesting details ( e.g.Tauber’s real name and his convoluted adoption by his father) with lists of performances in a particular theatre and recording sessions . Unless you are browsing every page of this section of the book you have difficulties in tracing the tenor’s artistic path (did he really sing only Lehar after 1929 ? No, he didn’t) By glancing for a few minutes at ten or fifteen pages of chronology with exact dates and fellow-artists (mostly their names are lacking here) you would immediately have understood Tauber’s parabola. The same can be said of Tauber’s unbelievably important and numerous recording output. Mr. Sollfrank is very complete (unpublished takes included) but oh oh oh, once more all this information is literally and chronologically strewn in between Tauber’s travels, romantic adventures, problems with Nazi-authorities,  performances and movie making. Moreover - and I understand the rage of record collectors-  Mr. Sollfrank refrains from giving us matrix numbers so that nobody can control which version of an aria or a song was recorded on a particular day. A typical page therefore reads like this: “In a secret session of the court Tauber divorced his first wife Carlotta Vanconti on the 12th March of 1936. He was now free to marry his English sweetheart Diana Napier”  which is then followed by a list of 6 performances of four roles in March and April at the Vienna Staatsoper. Then Mr. Sollfrank takes up his story once again by telling us that between these performances Tauber sang Schumann-lieder at a charity concert and then he  travelled together with Napier to London to start filming “Land without music”. The page ends with the information that on the 22the of April Tauber recorded “I hear you calling me”, Until” and “Roses of Picardy (three takes). “  And so it goes on and on and on.

Click here to see and listen to Tauber singing live (!!) with Franz Léhar

In a seventh chapter we get a look at Richard Tauber, the artist. There we read the naïve but  honest avowal that the author dearly admires the tenor but is no vocal connoisseur whatsoever. Thus we get almost 100 pages of reviews from the beginning till the end of the career, mingled with observations of current voice critics like Jens Malte Fischer and Jürgen Kesting. Not that these last ones are of great help. A pontificating politically correct writer like Kesting doesn’t hide his hatred of Lehar’s immortal melodies (Too popular for Mr. Kesting who always likes to show off his superior taste in music and therefore concentrates on Tauber’s operatic output. However it is possible Kesting couldn’t copy Anglo-Saxon authors on Tauber's singing  - his custom!-  as many American and British writers have no clue what exceptional German language operettas singing is about). As to the reviews of Tauber’s contemporaries there is a marked difference between older and later ones. A lot of later reviews belong to the species of “how lucky we are to have heard a genius and how popular he is”. More interesting are the reviews by critics of younger Tauber before he was the hysterically applauded hero of Paganini, Der Zarewich, Das Land des Lächelns etc. They applaud his intense musicality, his unbelievable sense of phrasing, his colouring of words, his wonderful use of dynamics. But they still use their ears and they simply discard any comparison between Enrico Caruso’s far richer and larger voice and Tauber’s more slender and limited sound. They too stress the vocal chink in Tauber’s armour: his lack of good strong top notes which he often magnificently succeeded in hiding though after a time it is clear he has no real high B natural, let alone a high C. What I lack too in these reviews is a certain peculiarity of Tauber, once mentioned by the Dutch critic Leo Riemens. In my ears too Tauber’s voice loses a lot of his charm and magic when he is not singing in his native language. 

Click here to see and listen to Tauber live in concert (!!) in 1932 in The Netherlands

An interesting though sometimes superfluous chapter consists of biographies of Tauber’s collaborators or fellow-musicians. Some people like Mischa Spoliansky, Käthe Dorsch or Willy Witte are worth an entry but do we really need potted biographies of Beniamino Gigli or Tino Pattiera ?  More interesting is the chapter on the man Tauber and especially on his finances and the way he spent prodigious sums of money on women, cars and hotels (he didn’t have a fixed home). Once more the author like so many before him stresses Tauber’s political naiveté in 1933. I’m not sure the tenor was really child like in political matters because performances in Germany were the main source of his richness. As a "half Jew" (his father was Jewish) he still reckoned upon his popularity to continue his German career after Hitler came to power. Painful is his letter from May 1933 where he states he is full of sympathy towards the new government and is willing to offer his services in building “eines neuen Deutsches Theaters”. Thanks to his research, once more Mr. Sollfrank breaks new ground as to Tauber’s religion. No trace was found of important catholic ceremonies in his life  though there is an entry in a parochial registry he left the catholic church. Still, he got some catholic honours and a catholic priest was at his death bed. In this chapter too the pages on Tauber’s last years in relative poverty when he had to sing to pay for his hospital bills are sad to read. The book is generously sprinkled with interesting and sometimes very rare photographs of the singer and his contemporaries. As I wrote before, literally everything a fan (and I’m a big one) of this most charming of tenors wants to know can be found in the 560 page book. What a pity no editor stimulated Mr. Sollfrank to bring a clear narrative line into this jumble.

Jan Neckers