• 1887 — 1951
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Sigmund Romberg is best known for his operettas, among which were Blossom Time (1921), The Student Prince (1924), and The Desert Song (1926). He developed a style based on European Romantic operettas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but eventually began writing in a more American style. With his 1945 Up in Central Park he had jettisoned European influences altogether in favor of the popular style of American musical comedy. He also wrote many songs for films and adapted his operettas to film. In addition, Romberg was a conductor of his own orchestra, playing mostly his own music.
Romberg was born in Nagykanizsa (Szeged), Hungary (then Austria-Hungary), on July 29, 1887. As a child, he showed musical ability early on and would develop talent as both a violinist and organist. Despite his musical proclivities, he studied engineering in his late teens in Vienna. But he also took instruction in composition there from Heuberger. Apparently his will to take on a profession in engineering was never very strong, and he decided on a career in music by his early twenties. After a stint in the Hungarian army, he traveled to the United States in 1909, believing the level of competition in music would be lower there and thus offer him greater opportunity.
After arriving on American shores, he found it necessary to take a job briefly in a pencil factory. But he soon obtained a position as a pianist in a café, and then became leader of an orchestra at a large and fashionable restaurant in New York. He was instrumental in developing the practice of playing dance music for the patrons of such establishments. In 1914, he was hired by Jacob Shubert to compose for musical shows. That same year he produced his first significant effort, The Whirl of the World. His first great success came in 1917, however, with the operetta Maytime (story and lyrics by R. J. Young and C. Wood).
In the 1920s, Romberg had a string of hits, beginning with Blossom Time in 1921, its story based on the life of Franz Schubert. Three years later, from the German operetta Alt Heidelberg, he fashioned The Student Prince. Romberg often used the music of other composers, as in the 1920 effort, Poor Little Ritz Girl, which used songs of Richard Rogers, and the 1928 The New Moon, that featured a melody partially derived from one by Tchaikovsky.
In 1929, Romberg began writing songs for motion pictures. A few years later he moved to Hollywood and began writing scores for film. He also was involved there in the motion picture adaptation of some of his operettas.
In 1942, Romberg formed his own orchestra and went on concert tour throughout the United States. With few breaks over the next decade, he continued to lead the ensemble until his death on November 9, 1951. In the first year of its tour, the orchestra performed a program of his music entitled An Evening with Sigmund Romberg. During the war years Romberg was not very productive as a composer, but in 1945 he wrote Up in Central Park (H. and Dorothy Fields), which he helped to adapt to film three years later.
A film was made about Romberg's life entitled Deep in my Heart. It starred José Ferrer as Romberg, and was directed by Stanley Donen. The film features many of his most popular songs including "Lover Come Back to Me," "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," and "Stout-Hearted Men."