Sigmund Romberg was an Austro-Hungarian composer best known for his musicals and operettas. Over the course of his prolific career he composed nearly 60 works for musical theater as well as music for revues, and musical comedies. He developed interest in music early on in life and his talents became apparent when he was just a small child. With his father’s encouragement he started learning the violin and piano at the age of six and eight, respectively. He was very active in his high school orchestra and it did not take him long to realize that music was his calling in life. Even though his parents had supported his love for music when he was young, they wanted him to eventually pursue a career in some other more stable field. So they persuaded him to study engineering and sent him to Vienna for training. Instead on focusing on his engineering studies he immersed himself in music and eventually migrated to the USA in order to become a musician. He struggled initially to find his footing but eventually established himself as a popular and successful composer. He was a key figure of American operetta during the early 20th century and developed a new model for operetta with Oscar Hammerstein II. Eventually he also went on to compose musical scores for Hollywood films
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Siegmund Rosenberg on 29 July 1887 in Gross-Kanizsa during the Austro-Hungarian kaiserlich und königlich (Imperial and Royal) monarchy period. His parents, Adam and Clara Rosenberg were Jews.
His family moved to Belišće, which was then in Hungary, in 1889. Here he started attending a primary school.
His father loved music and Sigmund too started displaying his musical talents early on. He learned to play the violin when he was just six and the piano when he was eight.
In 1897, he was enrolled at the Osijek gymnasium from where he received his secondary education. During his high school he was active in the school orchestra.
He loved music and hoped to pursue a musical career. However, his parents wanted him to get established in a more stable and secure career. Thus they convinced him to study engineering and sent him away to Vienna for his training.
After arriving in Vienna he started studying engineering but it did not take him long to realize that this was not the right career path for him. During this time he became totally immersed in music and started taking lessons in composition, and soon became a skilled violinist and organist.
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He served a short stint spanning 18 months in the Hungarian Army, starting from 1907. Then he decided to move to the USA in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician.
He moved to the USA in 1909. His initial years in the USA were marked by struggles. His first job was in a pencil factory for seven dollars a week.
Talented and ambitious, he soon got the chance to play music at cafes and bars as a pianist. With his hard work and determination he graduated to leading an orchestra and soon became very popular on the musical scene.
He now shifted his focus to composing for the musical stage. He collaborated with lyricist Harold Atteridge to write ‘The Whirl of the World’ which opened in 1914. The same year Romberg became an American citizen.
He continued his partnership with Atteridge for several years producing shows like ‘The Blue Paradise’ (1915) and ‘Maytime’ (1917). In 1921, Romberg wrote ‘Song of Love’ for the operetta ‘Blossom Time’, which became his biggest hit so far.
He reached the peak of his career during the late 1920s, producing works such as ‘The Student Prince’ (1924), ‘The Desert Song’ (1926) and ‘The New Moon’ (1928) which went on to become his best known operettas.
During the later years of his career he wrote the scores for several movies, including two with Hammerstein, ‘Viennese Nights’ (1930) and ‘The Night is Young’ (1934), which featured the song ‘When I Grow Too Old to Dream’. He also adapted his own work for films.
His operetta, ‘The Student Prince’, based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's play ‘Old Heidelberg’ is one of his most successful works. The show ran for 608 performances and was the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s.
He composed the music for the operetta, ‘The Desert Song’, which ran for a very successful 465 performances and is a popular piece for community light opera groups. The operetta was inspired by stories of Lawrence of Arabia aiding native guerrillas.
His operetta ‘The New Moon’ was the last of his hit operettas. The show ran for 519 performances and spawned a number of revivals and two film versions, and it is still played by light opera companies.
Awards & Achievements
Romberg was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first marriage was with Eugenia. Not much is known about her except for the information that she was an Austrian, a detail mentioned in a 1920 federal census form.
He tied the knot for the second time with Lillian Harris in March 1925 in New Jersey. The couple had no children.
He died of a stroke on 9 November 1951 and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. He was 64 years old.
He was the subject of the 1954 Stanley Donen-directed film ‘Deep in My Heart’, in which he was portrayed by José Ferrer.
Starting from 1970, Belišće has been organizing musical evenings in his honor.