Comedian Harmonists

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Comedian Harmonists
New Years greetings from the Comedian Harmonists, 1930 (from left): Robert Biberti, Erich A. Collin, Roman Cycowski, Erwin Bootz, Ari Leschnikoff and Harry Frommermann.
New Years greetings from the Comedian Harmonists, 1930 (from left): Robert Biberti, Erich A. Collin, Roman Cycowski, Erwin Bootz, Ari Leschnikoff and Harry Frommermann.
General information
Genre (s) Vocal music
founding 1928
resolution 1935
Last occupation
1st  tenor
Ari Leschnikoff
2nd tenor
Erich A. Collin (from 1929)
3rd tenor
Harry Frommermann
Roman Cycowski
Robert Biberti
Erwin Bootz
Early members
2nd tenor
Walter Nussbaum (until 1929)
Later members
Rudolf Zeller (after 1935)
Hans Rexeis (after 1935)
Rudolf Mayreder (after 1935)
Ernst Engel (after 1935)

The Comedian Harmonists were an internationally known Berlin vocal ensemble from 1928–1935. There were two direct successor groups, the master sextet in Germany and the Comedy Harmonists in Europe and elsewhere.



The members of the group were:

Ari Leschnikoff (1897–1978) 1st  tenor
Erich A. Collin (1899–1961) 2nd tenor
Harry Frommermann (1906–1975) 3rd tenor
Roman Cycowski (1901-1998) baritone
Robert Biberti (1902–1985) bass
Erwin Bootz (1907-1982) pianist


Memorial plaque : Founding of the Comedian Harmonists in Berlin-Friedenau , Stubenrauchstrasse  47

The Comedian Harmonists were founded in Harry Frommermann's apartment in Berlin-Friedenau . At the house at Stubenrauchstrasse  47 a plaque commemorates the singing group.

Inspired by the recordings of the American group The Revelers , an advertisement appeared in the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger on December 18, 1927 , in which Harry Frommermann was looking for singers for a new group:

" Caution. Rare. Tenor, bass (professional singer, not over 25), very musical, beautiful-sounding voices, wanted for a unique ensemble with indication of the daily available time. Ej. 25 Scherl branch, Friedrichstr. 136. "

The Frommermann, who had just come of age, had no academic training in singing or music. At least 70 men responded to his advertisement in the difficult economic situation at the time. Among them was Robert Biberti, the only one who was accepted at Frommermann's audition. Not only did he have an extraordinary bass voice, but he also shared Frommermann's enthusiasm for the Revelers .

Only a few days later, Biberti brought two choir colleagues with him from the Großes Schauspielhaus , the Bulgarian Ari Leschnikoff and the Polish Roman Cycowski. In the initial formation, Walter Nussbaum sang as the second tenor, who was replaced by Erich A. Collin in March 1929. In March 1928, Ari Leschnikoff brought his piano- playing friend Erwin Bootz with him. The finished music student Bootz was the only one of the six who had a good income. The group called itself initially and from April 1, 1928 contractually Melody Makers .

The first rehearsal of this formation took place on January 16, 1928 in Frommermann's attic apartment. Later, the silent film actress Asta Nielsen made the music salon of her apartment on what was then Kaiserallee available as a rehearsal room. It turned out that there were many months of tough trials ahead for which there was no income. Choral singing or other odd jobs were instead the source of income.

In June 1928 the six singers sang for the first time at the Scala in Berlin . That failed because her style did not match the musical ideas of this entertainment venue. Finally, in late summer, there was a second audition for the agent Bruno Levy, to whom Frommermann was related. Levy listened to the lecture, picked up the phone and called the Berlin vaudeville king Erik Charell , where the sextet performed its entire repertoire again. Charell made an offer which Levy refused, to the surprise of the young men. He went with them to see Charell's greatest competitor, the operetta director Herman Haller , who had been director at the Admiralspalast since 1923 . In the end they ended up with Charell, who paid an evening fee of 16  Reichsmarks . He suggested the name Comedian Harmonists .

First appearances

Comedian Harmonists 1930. Standing from left: Roman Cycowski, Robert Biberti, Ari Leschnikoff; standing far right: Erich A. Collin; sitting left: Erwin Bootz; sitting right: Harry Frommermann.

On September 1, 1928, the first appearance in the revue operetta Casanova was in Haller's large theater with an audience of 5,000 seats. The revue operetta was planned until the end of February 1929. A few weeks later, the Comedian Harmonists had several engagements, and soon all the renowned organizers in Berlin engaged the group. The first guest performance outside of Berlin followed on March 1, 1929 at the Hansa Theater in Hamburg , and soon afterwards it also went to other German cities, to Cologne and at the end of 1929 to Leipzig . It was here that the sextet at the Leipziger Schauspielhaus on Sophienstrasse had its breakthrough. The sold-out evenings took place in front of an enthusiastic audience. Until then, the Comedian Harmonists were only part of a larger revue program.

A first radio appearance took place on December 18, 1929 in the radio hour Berlin . For all their popularity, which was promoted by gramophone records and numerous radio appearances, they were not yet known nationwide. Therefore, a concert tour of its own meant a greater risk for the organizers, so that the ensemble had to rent halls for the performances themselves and to bear all the organizer risks. Leipzig was chosen as the first venue for one's own performance, because it had been celebrated here four weeks earlier. This was repeated at the premiere on January 26, 1930. The popularity had increased rapidly, and from 1930 a newspaper notice was sufficient that the Comedian Harmonists would perform; Elaborate advertising was no longer necessary, the halls were mostly sold out.

Concerts, record sales and appearances in the still young sound film produced a high income level for everyone. In their prime, Roman Cycowski later recalls, each individual member had an annual income of 40–60,000 marks to pay tax. Long before the first performance, the members of the ensemble had signed a contract that guaranteed everyone an equal share of the income.

In 1932, the Comedian Harmonists performed in the Berlin Philharmonic , which was not exactly designed for light music. The rather conservative music audience did not seem to have any problems with this “desecration”, as 2700 visitors applauded enthusiastically. From then on, the group's concerts were considered art: No entertainment tax had to be paid to the local authorities from the income.

First recordings and breakthrough

Just a few months after the group was founded, the first recordings were made by Deutsche Grammophon on May 10, 1928, but they remained unreleased. The next recordings were made for Electrola , a subsidiary of the Gramophone Company , in August 1928 as part of the Casanova operetta stage revue for Charell. The sextet then received a one-year record deal with Odeon , the parent label of the Carl Lindström Group , on October 28, 1928 , but after 15 records it was not renewed in October 1929.

Subsequently, on October 31, 1929, they signed a favorable exclusive contract with Electrola for a guaranteed 30 titles per year. They also appeared on the radio and made guest tours with the Tempo-Varieté program . In January 1930 they made a guest appearance at the Leipziger Schauspielhaus. There they achieved their final breakthrough - sold out performances, rave reviews, also on the following tour of Germany. They became an attraction.

A total of 69 records were made by Electrola until the separation in spring 1935. Electrola's first record was the single Puppenhochzeit / Musketiermarsch (EG # 1647), recorded on November 11, 1929 , which was released in November 1929. This was followed on December 16, 1929 with the recordings of the hit potpourri Hallo , consisting of the titles Poor little girl from the choir / Beautiful gigolo / Once in a lifetime love blooms for us / I don't have a car , which is listed as EG # 1685 in January Came on the market in 1930. The classic A friend, a good friend / darling, my heart lets you greetings (EG # 2032) was recorded on August 22, 1930 and was released in September 1930. The classic Veronika, spring is here / weekend and Sunshine (EG # 2033), also published in September 1930.

Here was weekend and sunshine her first cover , from the title Happy Days Are Here Again , in which the German text to the music of Milton Ager of Charles Amberg was written. The Comedian Harmonists seldom wrote their own songs, an exception to this is the court serenade as B-side by Marie, Marie! (EG # 2204), taken on January 19, 1931 and published in February 1931. Almost all of the recordings took place in Berlin, but some also in Paris , e.g. B. the French version of Das ist die Liebe der Sailors (EG # 2382), published in Germany in September 1931. The French version was recorded as Les Gars de la Marine on August 24, 1931 in Paris. Their repertoire developed from pure revue songs and daily hits to witty lyrics and classic adaptations to German and European folk songs and Goethe's Sah 'ein Knab' ein Röslein stand ' (EG # 2483), which was recorded on January 29, 1932 . On September 17, 1932, the humorous masked ball was recorded in the Gänsestall / Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier (EG # 2642), which was brought onto the market in October 1932.

The Comedian Harmonists were now at the height of their careers - their vocal style was fully developed; they sang their big hits in several languages ​​and were able to celebrate success abroad. After the takeover of the NSDAP the cover of was on September 4, 1933 Harold Arlen's Stormy Weather under the German title without you , along with the B-side night and day (German version of Cole Porter's Night And Day ) was added (EC # 2848) which appeared in September 1933. In May 1934, Komm 'im Traum / Das alten Spinnrad (EG # 3047), recorded on May 5, 1934, was published. One of the classics, My little green cactus / Farewell, have a good trip (EG # 3204), was created on November 15, 1934 and was released in December 1934.

time of the nationalsocialism

With 150 concerts a year, the musical career of the Comedian Harmonists reached its peak in 1933. At first nothing seemed to change. However, since three of the six members of the Comedian Harmonists, Collin, Frommermann and Cycowski, were Jews , the first contractually agreed concerts were canceled as early as 1933. The Reich Chamber of Culture Act of September 22, 1933, which u. a. the establishment of a Reich Chamber of Music provided for musicians to be a member in order to exercise their profession, and was founded specifically for the purpose of the so-called cultural “ conformity ”. The situation worsened after Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels issued the ordinance on compulsory membership from March 5, 1934, which was linked to the Aryan certificate . In the end, however, the group received a special permit until May 1, 1934, in order to be able to fulfill their concert obligations on the current tour, which were in part accompanied by organized protests by National Socialist groups.

Concert poster by the Comedian Harmonists for the farewell concert in the Oslo University Hall , April 25, 1934

Concerts abroad were an option. In the last months of their existence from April 1934 they traveled to Denmark , Norway and the USA , where the group appeared in the New York harbor in front of the assembled Atlantic and Pacific fleet on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and more than 30 times on the radio. Sometimes they performed together with the Boswell Sisters and the leading orchestra of Paul Whiteman at the time. After returning to Berlin in August 1934 and making further recordings, a tour of fascist , but not anti-Semitic Italy followed in November . In February 1935 the Comedian Harmonists made their last public appearance in Norway. On February 13, 1935, they recorded the telling title Tomorrow I must go away from here / Am Brunnen vor dem Tore (EG # 3282) in the Electrola studio in Berlin - their last legal joint record production. On March 1, 1935, another, already illegal, studio session followed with Jacques Offenbach's Barcarole and Brahms ' Hungarian Dance No. 5 (EG # 3303).

Days before, the unmolested members, Biberti, Bootz and Leschnikoff, had been admitted to the same chamber by a letter from the Reichsmusikkammer dated February 22, 1935, although they were prohibited from “continuing to make music with these non-Aryans . However, you are free to practice your musical activity with other Aryan musicians after adding a German name instead of the term Comedian Harmonists . "

At the same time, with this letter, the remaining three singers Collin, Frommermann and Cycowski were expressly banned from professions due to their Jewish origin. A short time later, the group agreed to form two separate groups from the ensemble, which was now forced into two parts, but both of which would continue to perform under the same previous name: one in Germany, the other only abroad.

The master sextet (1935–1941)

The master sextet in the Berlin Scala , 1937

On November 21, 1935, the singers who remained in Germany were given permission by the Reichsmusikkammer to call themselves master sextets, formerly Comedian Harmonists . The remaining members hired replacements for the emigrated singers. The new singers were not, however, equal members of the ensemble, but employees. During the period of its existence, the composition of the master sextet changed frequently.

The first recordings were made by Electrola on August 20, 1935, of which I was a thousand times in my dream with you / over in the home (EG # 3417) was the first to be released. On December 17, 1937, an enacted record order forbade the further distribution of all previous records by the Comedian Harmonists - Electrola had archived almost one hundred recordings by the Original Harmonists in the catalog - which also resulted in a significant loss of fees.

Her version of I wanted 'I would be' a chicken (EG # 3723), which was recorded on August 28, 1936 and marketed from September 1936, became known. It was a cover version of the UFA film hit from the film Glückskinder (1936).

At the end of 1938, after artistic differences, especially with Biberti, the pianist and musical director Bootz left the group and switched to the Berlin cabaret as a composer / lyricist and musical director . Rudolf Zeller became the new pianist, with Bruno Seidler-Winkler in particular , who later worked as the conductor of Lale Andersen 's soldier song Lili Marleen .

The decline of the sextet was unstoppable. After a last tour through Italy on May 26, 1939, Electrola refused to publish the songs Bel ami and Penny-Serenade on the grounds: "These recordings lack the liveliness and lecture-like differentiation and balance". As Biberti increasingly articulated himself as the founder and artistic director, the conflicts with the only remaining founding member Ari Leschnikoff and the new members, such as Hans von Bachmayr-Heyda for a short time, grew. After the beginning of the Second World War , the group's situation became more and more confusing, and in the end Biberti had terminated all contracts. This confused situation was sealed by a performance ban by the Reichsmusikkammer on November 24, 1941 and ended the existence of the master sextet.

The Comedy Harmonists (1935–1941)

This Viennese group in exile had consisted of Collin, Cycowski and Frommermann, who had gone abroad, since May 1935, who also hired Hans Rexeis (tenor), Rudolf Mayreder (bass) and Ernst Engel (piano) to complete the work. At first she carried on the name Comedian Harmonists , from 1937 she called herself Comedy Harmonists . The first recordings were made for the Gramophone Company (Disque Gramophone) in Paris on July 19, 1935, which probably remained unpublished. The recordings of Continental / Guitare d'amour (Disque Gramophone K-7584), made in a review session on September 30, 1935 , were the first to be published. Has been handed down u. a. also the recording of Sous le Ciel d'Afrique , which they made together with Josephine Baker in Paris in August 1935. After very successful tours in Europe (excluding Germany), Australia and South America, the group disintegrated in 1941 and disbanded.

The American successor group (1948–1949)

In the spring of 1948, Collin founded a new group with American members under the name Comedian Harmonists , with whom he now acted as a baritone. A European tour followed in the summer of 1948, from September 1948 Harry Frommermann worked again as Harry Frohman. There are only six commercially made recordings of this group, which were made on February 8, 1949 for the Swiss label Le Chant du Monde / Tell Record in Basel .

All six members of the Comedian Harmonists survived the Second World War, but no longer appeared together. In 1998 they were posthumously awarded the Echo Music Prize for their life's work.

Singing style and repertoire

The Comedian Harmonists belonged to the category of a cappella vocal groups, which managed without instruments except for piano accompaniment and whose singing was coordinated with close harmony effects. Their role model was the American Revelers . The ever-growing repertoire of the Comedian Harmonists included some titles composed by Bootz based on texts by Gerd Karlick (I ordered a flowerpot for you , good afternoon, madam , beautiful Isabella from Castile) , rearranged jazz titles (hello, what are you doing Today, Daisy is the cover of You're Driving Me Crazy ; Ohne Dich is from the original Stormy Weather , Tag und Nacht is from Night and Day) and variety and operetta hits ( Veronika, spring is here , weekend and sunshine , Flower of Hawaii) also numerous popular songs from films in which they have not participated or are sung on the screen by other artists (We are from head to toe for love from The Blue Angel ; A friend, a good friend from The three from the gas station or Baby from The Song of Life) . So they worked closely with the composer Werner Richard Heymann . Their biographers Peter Czada and Günter Große wrote about the musical style of the Comedian Harmonists - especially in comparison to their role models, the Revelers: “Hot and swing elements take a back seat with the Comedian Harmonists compared to vocal guidance based on euphoria and melody. This allowed them to sing folk songs and even Christmas carols quite simply in perfect, intimate harmony. Her interpretation of hits and dance music was extremely quick, rhythmically precise and often characterized by parodic wit, but at the same time always kept in such a way that even banal melodies were 'refined'. "

Films with the Comedian Harmonists as contributors

The Comedian Harmonists first stood together in front of the film camera on July 19, 1930. For the up-to-date UFA film operetta Die Drei von der Gasstelle they played bartenders and sang - accompanied by the Lewis Ruth Band - A friend, a good friend and, at a nightclub appearance, the hit darling, my heart sends its regards to you . Her daily wage was 1,500  marks . On March 4, 1931, the film Her Highness Orders was released .

More movies

  • Gassenhauer , April 2, 1931
  • The unfaithful Eckehardt , September 21, 1931
  • Bombs on Monte Carlo , August 31, 1931
  • The winner , March 21, 1932
  • The gala performance of the Fratelinis (spies in the Savoy Hotel) , November 4, 1932
  • I by day and you by night , November 29, 1932
  • Little man - now what? , June 1933

In addition, the successor group, which later called itself Comedy Harmonists , appeared in the Austrian film Katharina die last in 1936 .



Comedian Harmonists in film and on stage

  • In 1976 the documentary filmmaker Eberhard Fechner had the opportunity to interview the four members of the Comedian Harmonists who were still alive at the time. The result was the highly acclaimed two-part documentary The Comedian Harmonists - Six Biographies that contributed greatly to the renaissance of the Comedian Harmonists.
  • In 1997 Joseph Vilsmaier made the feature film Comedian Harmonists , which freely took the history of the vocal group as a model.
  • In 1997, Franz Wittenbrink (music) and Gottfried Greiffenhagen (text) wrote the musical play The Comedian Harmonists Part 1 - Veronika der Lenz is there about the rise and fall of the ensemble.
  • In 1997, Barry Manilow's musical Harmony premiered in San Diego , California ; it deals with the fate of the group.
  • In 2005 Jörg Daniel Heinzmann (music) and Gottfried Greiffenhagen (text) wrote the musical drama Die Comedian Harmonists Part 2 - Now or Never from the disintegration of the ensemble in 1934 via the successor groups Comedy Harmonists and Meistersextett a. a. and the further résumés of the six founding members up to the end of their lives.
  • Since September 28, 2012, a play about the work of the Comedian Harmonists has been performed in the Vienna Volkstheater. Several of the group's songs are performed live with piano accompaniment.
  • Since 2012 Comedian Harmonists in Concert under the direction of Ralf Schurbohm and Götz van Ooyen have been touring German-speaking theaters with a concert version of the history of the Comedian Harmonists.

Web links

Commons : Comedian Harmonists  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Eberhard Fechner: The Comedian Harmonists. Heyne, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-453-87315-7 , p. 156.
  2. The successful revue "Casanova" ended 90 years ago today ,
  3. The Story of the Comedian Harmonists ,
  4. Andreas Schmauder: Somewhere in the world. The records of the Comedian Harmonists and their successor groups. Self-published, Freiburg 1999, p. 5.
  5. Andreas Schmauder, as above, p. 35 ff.
  6. ^ First regulation for the implementation of the Reich Chamber of Culture Act. In: February 20, 2004, accessed March 27, 2019 .
  7. ^ Tomasz Kurianowicz: The music dictatorship. In: Der Tagesspiegel , July 6, 2013, accessed on May 12, 2017.
  8. ^ A b Hans-Michael Bock: Comedian Harmonists - Vocal Ensemble, Performers: Biography. In: CineGraph - Lexicon for German-language film. Retrieved March 27, 2019 .
  9. ^ Letter from the Reichsmusikkammer dated February 22, 1935, reference number: 3531/34, Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, illustrated by Fechner, as above, p. 245.
  10. Master sextet ., accessed on February 23, 2018.
  11. Andreas Schmauder, as above, p. 63 ff.
  12. Horst H. Lange: Comedian Harmonists . In: The German "78er" Discography of Hot Dance and Jazz Music 1903–1958 , Panther Verlag, Berlin 1992, pp. 215–223.
  13. Andreas Schmauder, as above, p. 81 ff.
  14. Andreas Schmauder, as above, p. 93 ff.
  15. Peter Czada, Günter Große: Comedian Harmonists - A vocal ensemble conquers the world . Berlin 1993, p. 183 ff.
  16. The scenes with the Comedian Harmonists were not shown. You also sing the title song Little Man, what now? , which they had previously recorded on May 11, 1933.
  17. Staatstheater Braunschweig: Comedian Harmonists in Concert, program, 2016.