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Remembering the tenor Joseph Schmidt: »Ein Lied geht um die Welt«

Film by Richard Oswald (Germany, 1933)


Wed, 12 Jun 2013 6 p.m.



Joseph Schmidt (1904–1942) had a successful yet brief career – despite his small stature – though more as a radio, recording and film artist than in the opera house and concert hall. Born and bred in Bukovina, he was a singer and then a cantor in the synagogue in Chernivtsi. His talent was quickly recognised. He was discovered by the Dutch baritone Cornelis Bronsgeest, who was director of Berliner Rundfunk at the time, when he was performing in Berlin. From 1929, Schmidt’s fame quickly grew through radio and records.

As a Jew, he was banned from performing in Germany after the Nazis seized power. He performed abroad and found a temporary home in Paris. In 1940, he attempted unsuccessfully to emigrate to the USA, then fled to Switzerland. There he was interned in a refugee camp, where he died. “Just as Caruso made records popular, and in turn was made popular by records, Schmidt sought out an imaginary stage in the studio – and millions could not only hear him, but felt him, loved him, suffered with him.

The fact that the singer’s tragic fate could well be a sentimental screenplay for film and radio programmes, is thanks to the expressive quality of the voice itself, an expressive quality that we know from Caruso’s late recordings, or from the records of the English alto Kathleen Ferrier.” (Jürgen Kesting, Die Großen Sänger). Ein Lied geht um die Welt was Joseph Schmidt’s most famous (non-Classical) song; the film, remade in English as My Song Goes Round the World, draws freely on the singer’s life story.

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