Romberg, Sigmund , versatile Hungarian-born American operetta composer, conductor, and pianist; b. Nagykanizsa, Hungary, July 29, 1887; d. N.Y., Nov. 9, 1951. Perhaps the most prolific Broadway composer of the 1910s and among the most successful of the 1920s, Romberg resurrected the Viennese operetta style of musical theater pioneered by Victor Herbert in the long-running (and frequently revived) shows The Student Prince, The Desert Song, and The New Moon, which contained such standards as “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Lover, Come Back to Me,” and “Stouthearted Men.” But he also was able to adapt to the different demands of Hollywood and the hit parade in a string of film scores and in such pop hits as “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and “Close as Pages in a Book.”
Romberg was the son of Adam and Clara Romberg. His mother was a novelist who wrote under the name Clara Berg. His father, who worked in a chemical factory, was an amateur pianist and gave him his first piano lessons; he also took violin lessons from the age of seven. He graduated from the Univ. of Bucharest and studied civil engineering at the Polytechnische Hochschule in Vienna from 1904 to 1907. At the same time he was assistant manager of the city’s leading opera house, the Theater-an-der-Wien, and he studied music with Richard Heuberger for three years. He left school in 1907 to join the army, serving in the 19th Hungarian Infantry Regiment for 18 months.
Romberg moved to London, then immigrated to the U.S. in 1909, later becoming an American citizen. Initially he worked at the Eagle Pencil Co. in N.Y., then played background music in Hungarian restaurants. In 1912 he formed an orchestra to play at Bustanoby’s Restaurant, which became a popular night spot. He began to publish songs in 1913 and had his first song interpolated into a musical with the mounting of the German show Die Mitternachtsmadel, later presented in English as The Midnight Girl (N.Y., Feb. 23, 1914). This led him to a job as staff composer for the Shubert Organization and his first Broadway show, the revue The Whirl of the World.
During the next six years Romberg wrote or cowrote 25 Broadway shows for the Shuberts (and had interpolations into several more), including the 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1919 editions of The Passing Show revue and the Al Jolson vehicles Dancing Around, Robinson Crusoe Jr., and Sinbad. His major successes of this period were both adaptations of Viennese operettas: The Blue Paradise, based on Ein Tag im Paradies, which featured “Auf Wiedersehen” (lyrics by Herbert Reynolds), a record hit for Harry Macdonough and Alice Green (Olive Kline) in November 1915, ran more than 350 performances; and Maytime, based on Wie Einst im Mai, which featured “Will You Remember?” (also known as “Sweetheart”; lyrics by Rida Johnson Young), a record hit for Alice Green and Raymond Dixon (Kline and Lambert Murphy) in January 1918, ran for nearly 500 performances. Maytime was made into a film in 1937, which led to a hit revival of “Will You Remember?” by Victor Young and His Orch.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Romberg left the Shuberts to form his own production company with Max Wilner. Their productions included Romberg’s next two musicals, The Magic Melody and Love Birds, but these and the team’s other efforts were only modestly successful, and Romberg returned to his job with the Shuberts, writing another 21 shows for them during the next seven years. (In 1924 he began to work with other producers as well as the Shuberts.) As before, these included annual editions of The Passing Show in 1923 and 1924 as well as Al Jolson’s Bombo. But Romberg’s first assignment was Blossom Time, based on the Viennese operetta Das Drei Mädelhaus, a stage biography of Franz Schubert. Romberg adapted Schubert’s music to Broadway, resulting in the longest running musical of the 1921–22 season and the hit “Song of Love” (lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly; based on a theme in the first movement of the Unfinished Symphony), most successfully recorded by Lucy Isabelle Marsh and Royal Dadmun, though there were also popular records by Edwin Dale and Prince’s Orch. (A perennial touring success, Blossom Time returned to Broadway in 1931, 1938, and 1943.)
In addition to the three shows he wrote for the Shuberts in 1922, Romberg found the time to compose the score for his first film, Foolish Wives, and to contribute interpolated songs to another Shubert production, The Lady in Ermine (N.Y., Oct. 2, 1922), including “When Hearts Are Young” (lyrics by Cyrus Wood, music also by Alfred Goodman), which spawned hit records for the orchestras of Paul Specht and Paul Whiteman in March 1923.
Romberg’s next major success, his longest-running show and frequently cited as his single greatest work, was The Student Prince, based on the play Old Heidelberg. The hit of the show was “Deep in My Heart, Dear” (lyrics by Donnelly), which became a popular instrumental for Benny Krueger and His Orch. in July 1924 and a vocal hit Franklyn Baur in November, both recordings preceding the show’s N.Y. opening. In addition to its two-year run in N.Y., The Student Prince became a continual touring success, and it was brought back to Broadway in 1931 and 1943, finally being added to the repertoire of the N.Y.C. Opera in 1980. There was also a film version that used Romberg’s music in 1954, leading to a Top 40 hit recording of “Drink, Drink, Drink” (lyrics by Donnelly) for Mario Lanza, who dubbed the song onscreen.
Romberg married Lillian Harris in March 1925. He composed two modestly successful shows that year, then produced The Desert Song, with a libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel, lyrics by Hammerstein and Harbach. A long-running success, the show produced the hits “One Alone,” “The Riff Song,” and the title song (also known as “Blue Heaven”), all recorded by Nat Shilkret. Another touring warhorse, The Student Prince, returned to Broadway in 1946 and 1973 and was filmed three times, in 1929, 1943, and 1953.
My Maryland, based on the Civil War play Barbara Fritchie, was one of the stage hits of the 1927–28 season, and it brought Whiteman a two– sided record hit with the songs “Your Land and My Land” and “Silver Moon” (both lyrics by Donnelly). During the same season The New Moon (lyrics by Hammerstein) began an extended tryout run in Philadelphia, leading to a N.Y. opening the following year, when it became the biggest musical hit of the 1928–29 season. It was also Romberg’s most successful score as far as record covers went—five songs became hits. “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “One Kiss” made up the two sides of a disk by Shilkret that sold well in January 1929; “Marianne” was a hit for the Arden–Ohman Orch.; “Stout-Hearted Men” was a hit for Perry Askam; and the show’s biggest hit, “Lover, Come Back to Me,” its melody partially drawn from Tchaikovsky’s June Barcarolle for piano, was recorded most successfully by Whiteman, though the Arden-Ohman Orch., Rudy Vallée and His Connecticut Yankees, and Askam all did well with it, too. The show returned to Broadway in 1942 and 1944 and was first performed by the N.Y. State Opera in 1986. There were film versions in 1930 and 1940, and Nat “King” Cole revived “Lover, Come Back to Me” in 1953 for a Top 40 hit.
Romberg moved to Hollywood in 1930 and thereafter divided his time between writing for the theater and the screen, following the modestly successful show Nina Rosa with the films Viennese Nights and Children of Dreams, then returning to Broadway for the less successful East Wind and Melody. In 1933 he went to Paris for the specially commissioned musical Rose de France, which was produced by the Société Anonyme Française Chappell. In 1934 he began doing radio shows for Swift and Co.
The Night Is Young, on which Romberg collaborated with Hammerstein, was a flop at the box office, but its songs were successful in the record stores. The title track was a hit for Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orch. and for Smith Ballew and His Orch.; “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” was on the hit parade in April and May 1935 for Gray and was also a hit for Nelson Eddy. Later that year May Wine became Romberg’s biggest Broadway hit since The New Moon, its standout song being “I Built a Dream One Day” (lyrics by Hammerstein), which became a hit for Ray Noble and His Orch. in January 1936.
Romberg continued to balance Broadway and Hollywood projects, following with another show, Forbidden Melody, then the films They Gave Him a Gun and The Girl of the Golden West, then the stage musical Sunny River. The failure of his last two shows may have convinced him that his operetta approach had lost favor in N.Y., since in 1942 he launched a new career as an orchestra leader, taking a 50–piece ensemble on tour for up to 100 concerts a year for the rest of his life and making recordings of his own work and that of other composers for RCA Victor. The records sold, and the concerts played to audiences in the tens of thousands.
In 1945 he brought “An Evening with Romberg” to radio. He also demonstrated that he was able to compete with the new generation on Broadway by writing Up in Central Park, which had the second-longest N.Y. run of any of his shows, generating the hit “Close as Pages in a Book” (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), which charted for Benny Goodman and His Orch. in May 1945.
The show was revived in 1947 and made into a film the following year.
Romberg composed “Zing Zing-Zoom Zoom” (lyrics by Charles Tobias) for his 1950 Christmas card, which led to a recording on which his orchestra backed Perry Corno. When the song was released on the flip side of Como’s chart-topping single “If,” it also became a chart hit, Romberg’s last in his lifetime. The Girl in Pink Tights, mounted more than two years after his death, was only a modest success onstage, but it produced “Lost in Loveliness” (lyrics by Leo Robin), which generated chart records for Billy Eckstine and Dolores Gray. Deep in My Heart was a screen biography.
(only shows for which Romberg was credited or cocredited as composer are listed): Musicals/Revues/ Operettas (openings are in N.Y. unless noted otherwise): The Whirl of the World (Jan. 10, 1914); The Passing Show of 1914 (June 10, 1914); with Harry Carroll, Dancing Around (Oct. 10, 1914); with Harry Carroll, Maid in America (Feb. 18, 1915); Hands Up (July 22, 1915); with Edmund Eysler, The Blue Paradise (Aug. 5, 1915); A World of Pleasure (Oct. 14, 1915); Ruggles of Red Gap (Dec. 25, 1915); with James E Hanley, Robinson Crusoe Jr. (Feb. 17, 1916); with Otto Motzan, The Passing Show of 1916 (June 22, 1916); with Robert Winterberg, The Girl from Brazil (Aug. 30, 1916); with Otto Motzan and Herman Timberg, The Show of Wonders (Oct. 26, 1916); Follow Me (Nov. 29, 1916); with Emmerich Kalman, Her Soldier Boy (Dec. 6, 1916); with Otto Motzan, The Passing Show of 1917 (April 26, 1917); with Oscar Straus, My Lady’s Glove (Jurte 18, 1917); Maytime (Aug. 16, 1917); with Herman Timberg, Doing Our Bit (Oct. 18, 1917); with Herman Timberg, Over the Top (Nov. 28, 1917); Sinbad (Feb. 14, 1918); with Zoel Parenteau, Follow the Girl (March 2, 1918); with Jean Schwartz, The Passing Show of 1918 0uly 25, 1918); The Melting of Molly (Dec. 30, 1918); with Jean Schwartz, Monte Cristo Jr. (Feb. 12, 1919); with Jean Schwartz, The Passing Show of 1919 (Oct. 23, 1919); The Magic Melody (Nov. 11, 1919); Love Birds (March 15, 1921); Blossom Time (Sept. 28, 1921); Bombo (Oct. 6, 1921); The Blushing Bride (Feb. 6, 1922); with Leo Fall, The Rose of Stamboul (March 7, 1922); Springtime of Youth (Oct. 26, 1922); The Dancing Girl (Jan. 24, 1923); with Jean Schwartz, The Passing Show of 1923 (June 14, 1923); with Jean Schwartz, Innocent Eyes (May 20, 1924); with Herbert Stothart, Marjorie (Aug. 11, 1924); with Jean Schwartz, The Passing Show of 1924 (Sept. 3, 1924); Artists and Models (Oct., 15, 1924); with Harry Tierney, Annie Dear (Nov. 4, 1924); The Student Prince (Dec. 2, 1924); Louie the 14th (March 3, 1925); Princess Flavia (Nov. 2, 1925); he Desert Song (Nov. 30, 1926); Cherry Blossoms (March 28, 1927); My Maryland (Sept. 12, 1927); My Princess (Oct. 6, 1927); The Love Call (Oct. 24, 1927); The New Moon (Philadelphia, Dec. 22, 1927; N.Y., Sept. 19, 1928); Nina Rosa (Sept. 20, 1930); East Wind (Oct. 27, 1931); Melody (Feb. 14, 1933); Rose de France (Paris, Oct. 23, 1933); May Wine (Dec. 5, 1935); Forbidden Melody (Nov. 2, 1936); Sunny River (Dec. 4, 1941); Up in Central Park (Jan. 27, 1945); My Romance (Oct. 29, 1948); The Girl in Pink Tights (March 5, 1954). FILMS: Foolish Wives (1922); The Desert Song (1929); Viennese Nights (1930); New Moon (1930); Children of Dreams (1931); The Night Is Young (1935); Maytime (1937); They Gave Him a Gun (1937); The Girl of the Golden West (1938); New Moon (1940); The Desert Song (1943); Up in Central Park (1948); The Desert Song (1953); The Student Prince (1954); Deep in My Heart (1954).
E. Arnold, Deep in My Heart: A Story Based on the Life of S. R. (N.Y., 1949); J. Koegel, The Film Operettas of S. R. (thesis, Calif. State Univ., 1984).
ROMBERG, SIGMUND (1887–1951), composer. Born in Nagykanizsa, Hungary, Romberg began his musical career as a child prodigy. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Austrian army, and then studied music in Vienna with Victor Heuberger. In 1909 he went to the United States and worked in various restaurant and theater orchestras. In 1911 he wrote his first successful song, "Memories," and then began to compose musical shows and operettas. Romberg composed over 70 operettas, in a tuneful vein indebted equally to the Viennese tradition and to Victor Herbert, the founder of the genre in the U.S. His best-known works include The Student Prince (1924), The Desert Song (1926), The New Moon (1928), and Up in Central Park (1945). Many of his operettas were filmed, and Romberg himself also adapted other composers' operettas and even operas for the film. He was president of the Song Writers' Protective Association. A fictionalized biography of Romberg, Deep in My Heart, was written by E. Arnold (1949).
Baker, Biog Dict.