April 22nd, 2012
Our town is given to amateur theatrics, as many were back in the day (and too few are now). In a couple of weeks my sweetheart and I will take part in a musical revue featuring songs from the turn of the 20th century. He — a professional musician — is going to sing “In the Good Ol’ Summertime” accompanied by his own guitar. I — who usually refrain from singing publicly out of respect for the rest of humanity — decided to be grandiose and volunteered to sing “The Merry Widow Waltz.”
This lilting waltz is the grande finale of an operetta by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár called “The Merry Widow,” or “Die lustige Witwe.” Based on a mid-19th century play about a rich widow being wooed for her bank roll, the production made its Vienna debut in 1905. In 1934 it became a Hollywood musical under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch with new English lyrics by Tin Pan Alley’s own Lorenz Hart. Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier starred.
Believe it or not, I’d already decided to sing the song when I came across this sheet music in one of my moving boxes. It belonged to my grandmother, who dated it 1935 in the upper right corner; presumably the year she purchased it. She also had three other lead sheets from “The Merry Widow” — more than she owned for any other musical. What does that say about genetics? Of course I immediately discarded my old arrangement and opted to use this one, along with the new lyrics (I’d been using a 1930 arrangement and translation published in the Maxwell House Showboat music book).
Luckily, a supremely talented friend who is accompanying the rest of the revue has offered to play my music as well. I was trying to both sing and play, but kept forgetting to breathe. Which will be especially important since I’m going to do all this in an outfit that requires a Grecian-Bend corset…