Comedian Harmonists

Auf Wiederseh'n

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Inspired by the Revelers and sounding like a Teutonic variation on the early Mills Brothers, a German vocal group calling themselves the Comedian Harmonists came together during the last few days of 1927 and the first weeks of 1928, soon achieving enormous popularity with audiences across Europe and in the U.S.A. Noted for their amazing ability to mimic musical instruments while interpreting jazz, pop, and classical melodies, the Harmonists were endearingly sweet and at times very funny. Their all-time greatest recording, made in October of 1933, is a close cover of Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call" wherein the voices emulate the horns of Bubber Miley, Louis Metcalf, Joe Nanton, Otto Hardwick, and Harry Carney with almost eerie accuracy. The Harmonists had three tenors: Harry Frommermann (the founder of the group), Erich Abraham Collin, and the Bulgarian Ari Leschnikoff. They were joined by Polish baritone Josef Roman Cycowski, basso Robert Biberti, and pianist Erwin Bootz. After Joseph Goebbels banned the Comedian Harmonists for singing Jewish- and Afro-American-identified songs (also because three of the Harmonists were Jews and a fourth was married to a Jew), the group disbanded in March of 1934. Two short-lived singing groups were then formed; the Comedy Harmonists, with a nucleus of the three expatriated Jewish members, operated well away from Nazi Germany, while back in Die Vaterland Das Meistersextett, presumably more in line with Nuremberg specifications, were built around the other half of the original Harmonists. Neither ensemble stayed together beyond 1941. Living Era's 1997 compilation Auf Wiederseh'n packs in 25 vintage recordings dating from as early as 1929 and as late as 1937, when Frommermann and friends were operating out of London. Here is an excellent sampler containing many of their best pre- and post-exile recordings. The fact that the name of the group is here translated as "Comedy Harmonists" rather than "Comedian Harmonists" might be construed as a tribute to the expatriated group, but probably only reflects the confusion that often arises when a descriptive name is translated from one language into another. All hair-splitting aside, this disc is highly recommended for anyone who loves nice old-fashioned melodies, warm vocal harmonizing, and a measure of humor and novelty effects. Listeners are also advised to consult Eberhard Fechner's book, his 1976 documentary film, and Joseph Vilsmaier's 1997 filmic dramatization, all bearing the title "Comedian Harmonists."

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:12
2 2:02
3 2:39
5 2:41
Humoresques (8) for piano, B. 187 (Op. 101)
6 2:42
7 3:26
8 3:11
10 3:12
An der schönen, blauen Donau (On the Beautiful, Blue Danube), waltz for orchestra (with chorus ad lib), Op. 314 (RV 314)
11 3:21
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), opera
13 5:54
14 3:26
Les contes d'Hoffmann, opera in 4 acts
16 2:49
19 2:32
20 3:22
21 2:32
22 2:46
24 3:00
25 3:28
blue highlight denotes track pick