PE0361. COMEDIAN HARMONISTS: 26 of the Comedian Harmonists’ Legendary Recordings. (Germany) Hänssler PH10021. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 881488100211
“The Comedian Harmonists were a German singing sensation of the 1920s and '30s. The elegant sextet, five vocalists and a pianist - all dressed in tails, had a repertoire that encompassed many vocal styles, ranging from folk songs to sentimental hits accompanied by banter and even silliness on stage. But they were perhaps best known for their close harmony delivered with humor and style in such songs as ‘Veronika, der Lenz ist da’, ‘Mein kleiner, gruener Kaktus’, ‘Liebling, mein Herz laesst dich grüssen’, ‘So schön wie heut',’Wochenend und Sonnenschein’, ’Musik! Musik! Musik!’, and ‘Mit Musik geht alles besser’, along with their captivating vocal imitation of musical instruments.
Their story began in 1927, when 20-year-old acting student Harry Frommermann put an ad in the Berlin newspaper Berliner Lokalanzeiger shortly after Christmas 1927 to found a singing group. Frommermann was a highly talented drama student and musician who enjoyed an uncanny ability to imitate several musical instruments. He had already completed 11 vocal arrangements for the not-yet-existant singing group. Many applicants answered his ad, but only one, Robert Biberti, who sang bass in the chorus of the Charell-Revue, suited him. Both Frommermann and Biberti had admired the music of the American a capella group The Revellers, whose singing was marked by close harmony, rhythm, and precision, and whose records had been producing great excitement in Europe since 1925. By the beginning of 1928 the ensemble was complete: from the Charell-Revue chorus came the Bulgarian Asparuch ‘Ari’ Leschnikoff as first tenor, and the Pole Josef Roman Cycowski as baritone. The second tenor, the multilingual former medical student Erich Abraham Collin, had been singing with an operetta company. Frommermann himself sang tenor. The sixth man, Erwin Bootz, was a highly accomplished and gifted pianist fresh from the music academy. The hard work could begin. The mixture of musicians was right. Their resolve, musical flexibility, discipline, and hard work would let them achieve artistic heights and even international recognition with their unique musical style.
They became stars. A great variety of audiences found them irresistible, and the Comedian Harmonists were at home in theaters all over Europe. In 1934 they were a huge success in New York. They were popular on radio and in recordings. Including the legendary hit comedy DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE, they appeared in as many as 13 films in the early days of the movie industry; unfortunately, none of their films have been found since the war.
But the picture-book career of the apolitical Comedian Harmonists did not survive the changing political climate in Germany. Their songs - most were by Jewish composers - were criticized by the Nazis as early as 1932, when they were not yet in power, as ‘Jewish-marxist noise’. Indeed, three of the group - Frommermann, Collin, and Cycowski - were Jews. Cycowski's wife Mary had converted to Judaism, and Bootz's wife Ursula was Jewish. The popular, politically naive musicians ignored all the warning signs. But then in 1934 the unapproved Jewish members of the group were forbidden to perform, and the Comedian Harmonists were given Auftrittsverbot by the Reichskulturkammer. The Comedian Harmonists split up. They gave their last concert in Munich on 25 March, 1934.
Whether or not you agree with those words from [Josef Roman] Cycowski, you will have to agree with him that the Comedian Harmonists were ‘a bright light in a dark time’."
- Carol Traxler, QUARTER NOTES, 1998