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Rudolf Friml, c. 1932

Rudolf Friml (December 7, 1879 – November 12, 1972) was a composer of operettas, musicals, songs and piano pieces, as well as being a pianist. After musical training and a brief performing career in his native Prague, Friml moved to the United States, where he became a composer. His best-known works are Rose-Marie and The Vagabond King, each of which enjoyed success on Broadway and in London and were adapted for film.


Early life

Born in Prague, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now capital of the Czech Republic, Friml showed aptitude for music at an early age. He entered the Prague Conservatory in 1895, where he studied the piano and composition with Antonín Dvořák.[1] Friml was expelled from the conservatory in 1901 for performing without permission.[2] In Prague and later in America he composed and published songs, piano pieces and other music, including the prize-winning set of songs, Pisne Zavisovy. The last of these, Za tichych noci, later became the basis for a famous film in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1941.

After the conservatory, Friml took a position as accompanist to the violinist Jan Kubelik. He toured with Kubelik twice in the United States (1901-02 and 1904) and moved there permanently in 1906, apparently with the support of the Czech singer Emmy Destinn. His first post in New York was as a repetiteur at the Metropolitan Opera. He had made his American piano debut at Carnegie Hall in 1904, and premiered his Piano Concerto in B-Major in 1906 with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Walter Damrosch. He settled for a brief time in Los Angeles where he married Mathilda Baruch (1909). They had two children, Charles Rudolf (Jr.) (1910) and Marie Lucille (1911). After a divorce, he later married Kay Wong.

The Firefly

One of the most popular theatrical forms in the early decades of the 20th century in America was the operetta, and its most famous composer was Irish-born Victor Herbert. It was announced in 1912 that operetta diva Emma Trentini would be starring in a new operetta on Broadway by Herbert with lyricist Otto Harbach entitled The Firefly. Shortly before the writing of the operetta, Trentini appeared in a special performance of Herbert's Naughty Marietta conducted by Herbert himself. When Trentini refused to sing "Italian Street Song" for the encore, an enraged Herbert stormed out of the orchestra pit refusing any further work with Trentini.

Arthur Hammerstein, the operetta's sponsor, frantically began to search for another composer. Not finding anyone who could compose as well as Herbert, Hammerstein settled on the almost unknown Friml because of his classical training. After a month of work, Friml produced a glittering score for what would be his first theatrical success. After the success of The Firefly, Friml followed with three more operettas that were successful, though not as successful as The Firefly. These were High Jinks (1913), Katinka (1915) and You're in Love (1917). He also contributed songs to a musical in 1915 entitled The Peasant Girl.

Friml's greatest successes

Friml wrote his most famous operettas in the 1920s. In 1924, he wrote Rose-Marie. This operetta, on which Friml collaborated with lyricists Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach and co-composer Herbert Stothart, was a hit worldwide and a few of the songs from it also became hits including "The Mounties" and "Indian Love Call". The use of murder as part of the plot was unusual ground-breaking at the time.

After Rose-Marie's success came two other operettas, The Vagabond King in 1925, with lyrics by Brian Hooker and W.H. Post, and The Three Musketeers in 1928, with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Clifford Grey, based on Dumas's famous swashbuckling novel. In addition, Friml contributed to Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies of 1921 and 1923.

Friml also wrote music for many films during the 1930s, often songs adapted from previous work. The Vagabond King, Rose-Marie, and The Firefly were all made into films and included at least some of Friml's music. Oddly enough, his operetta version of The Three Musketeers was never filmed, despite the fact that the novel itself has been filmed many times - once as a musical with Don Ameche and The Ritz Brothers. Like his contemporary, Ivor Novello, Friml was sometimes ridiculed for the sentimental and insubstantial nature of his compositions and was often dubbed as trite. Friml was also criticized for the old-fashioned, Old World sentiments found in his works. By the end of the 1930s, Friml had fallen out of fashion.

Later years and legacy

Friml's last stage musical was Music Hath Charms in 1934. A few of his works have seen revivals on Broadway, these include a 1943 production of The Vagabond King and a 1984 production of The Three Musketeers. "The Donkey Serenade" from the film version of The Firefly, "The Mounties" and "Indian Love Call" are still frequently heard, often in romantic parody or comic situations. His piano music is also often performed.

In a November 1939 issue of Time magazine, Friml claimed that Victor Herbert communicated to him through a Ouija board. He said that Herbert told him, "Play five notes." After he played them he said Herbert responded, "Quite charming."[3] In 1967, Friml performed in a special concert at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He began the concert with a piano improvisation, then played special arrangements of his own compositions as well as composers who had influenced him. He even played Dvořák's Humoresque as a special tribute to his teacher. He also appeared on Lawrence Welk's television program.[citation needed]

His two sons also worked as musicians. Rudolf Jr. was a big band leader in the 1930s and 40s, and William, a son from a later marriage, was a composer and arranger in Hollywood. In 1969, Friml was celebrated by Ogden Nash on the occasion of his 90th birthday in a couplet which ended: "I trust your conclusion and mine are similar: 'Twould be a happier world if it were Frimler." Similarly, satiric songwriter Tom Lehrer made a reference to Friml on his first album, Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953). The song "The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz" includes the lyric, "Your lips were like wine (if you'll pardon the simile) / The music was lovely, and quite Rudolf Friml-y."

Friml died in Los Angeles in 1972 and was interred in the "Court of Honor" at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. On August 18, 2007, a death notice in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Kay Wong Ling Friml (born March 16, 1913), Friml's last wife, died on August 9, 2007 and would be buried with him in Forest Lawn.


  • Pisne Zavisovy (1906) and other songs
  • The Firefly (1912)
  • High Jinks (1913)[4]
  • Katinka (1915)
  • The Peasant Girl (1915) - contributor.
  • You're in Love (1917)[5]
  • Kitty Darlin' (1917)
  • Sometime (1918)
  • Glorianna (1918)
  • Tumble In (1919)
  • June Love (1921)
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 - contributor.
  • Cinders (1923)
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 - contributor.
  • Rose-Marie (1924)
  • The Vagabond King (1925)
  • Ziegfeld's Revue "No Foolin'" (1926)
  • The Wild Rose (1926)
  • White Eagle (1927)
  • The Three Musketeers (1928)
  • Luana (1930)
  • Music Hath Charms (1934)



  • Cambridge Guide to Theatre, 1992.
  • Ceskoslovensky hudebni slovnik, vol. 1, 1963.
  • Everett, William. Rudolf Friml, University of Illinois Press, 2008 ISBN 0252033817
  • Green, Stanley. Broadway Musicals Show by Show, 5th Ed. Hal Leonard, New York. 1996.
  • Green, Stanley. The World of Musical Comedy. Ziff-Davis, New York. 1960.
  • Ganzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre (3 Volumes). New York: Schirmer Books, 2001.
  • Traubner, Richard. Operetta: A Theatrical History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1983.
  • Bordman, Gerald. American Operetta. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

External links



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