Gerhard Bronner

Eminence grise of Viennese cabaret


Gerhard Bronner, cabaret artist, actor, director and producer: born Vienna 23 October 1922; three times married (three sons, one daughter); died Vienna 19 January 2007.

Gerhard Bronner was a leading proponent of Vienna's noble tradition of witty musical cabaret laced with political satire, and was active in many aspects of musical theatre in Austria for more than 50 years.

He wrote comedies for the stage, created scores of television entertainments, made many recordings and himself listed his various careers in the arts as musician, performer, actor, artistic director, theatrical producer, and film producer. Yet it may well be for his legacy of cabaret songs and as éminence grise behind one of Vienna's best-known post-war cabaret venues - the Marietta Bar in the Spiegelgasse - that he will be remembered most fondly.

Born in Vienna in 1922, he grew up in the working-class district of Favoriten, with a childhood he evoked in one of his most poignant songs, "Das Favoriten-Lied", and during which his family often afforded refuge to a youthful local activist who was excluded from his own home for his socialist affiliations - the young Bruno Kreisky, who went on to become Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor from 1970 to 1983.

Bronner was in turn forced to seek refuge in order to escape Nazi anti-Semitism. Other members of his immediate family perished as a result of persecution; he himself escaped only by risking a hazardous journey towards the Black Sea, in the course of which he had to swim the Danube from Bulgaria to Romania, losing a comrade who drowned before he could reach dry land. Bronner continued to Palestine, where his skill as a pianist secured him employment entertaining British forces. He was asked to join an Ensa concert party that had lost its pianist, and was thus automatically recruited into the British army, acquiring official papers that described him as a British subject, and, as part of the "Cliff Gordon Show" playing at El Alamein a week before the battle.

After the Second World War he stayed on in Haifa running the musical programming of British Forces Radio, before, in 1948, being offered a job in London with the BBC. On his way there he stopped in Vienna, for his wife to visit relatives, and stayed - in part as a result of seeking refuge, this time from the weather, by entering the Marietta Bar to shelter from a shower.

Having faced the unenviable decision whether to remain in a city from which he had barely escaped with his life, he began to produce controversial political numbers for the radio station Rot-Weiss-Rot, and to arrange his renowned cabaret shows at the Marietta Bar, which he later acquired as owner. This period, during which Bronner appeared with performers such as Helmut Qualtinger, Georg Kreisler, Luise Martini and Peter Merz as the "nameless ensemble", has been described, not just by Bronner himself, as the golden age of post-war Viennese cabaret.

Shows were produced with names such as Blattl vorm Mund, with ironic echoes of a German phrase that expresses the outspokenness to which cabaret has traditionally aspired. The dialogues that Bronner performed with Qualtinger based on the character of Herr Travnicek have had lasting fame; similarly, in creating an outlet for Georg Kreisler, who returned to Vienna from exile in the United States in 1955, he provided opportunities for this extraordinary talent to find its voice in the German-speaking world. Kreisler went on to rival Bronner himself as one of the great figures in German-speaking musical cabaret; sadly, their relationship soured after their initial collaboration.

Some of Bronner's cabaret numbers from the time have had enduring appeal. They range from what has become almost a signature piece about a party to celebrate the end of a course of dancing lessons - an ostensibly respectable occasion that descends into a knife-fight when brawling Viennese teddy-boys quarrel. Another recounts the attitude of Vienna's jeunesse dorée, who feel they have free rein in their personal behaviour, confident in the knowledge that whatever goes wrong, daddy will sort things out. One of the most biting is the ditty in lilting Viennese dialect in praise of the "Angel-Maker" - in Bronner's explanation of the term, the local back-street abortionist.

Bronner's many achievements in musical theatre include a translation of My Fair Lady that arguably surpasses the original in verbal craftsmanship, and, fittingly perhaps, a version of Cabaret. This underlines how Bronner, who spoke fluent English and lived in the US for some years, was willing to act as artistic broker between nations.

A great anglophile, he was particularly pleased with a version of Die Fledermaus that he provided for Covent Garden in 1977, and he also translated Gilbert and Sullivan. His love of English music encompassed admiration for Elgar, Holst, Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams, but he also regarded Flanders and Swann as an influence, as indeed was Noël Coward, who, according to Bronner, once made a pass at him.

In 1996, in an echo of his projected journey to London in 1948, he brought his English-language version of a production by Alexander Waechter, Kamp!, to the city as part of the Festival of Austrian-Jewish Culture. This was a programme of cabaret songs based on texts recovered from archives compiled at Theresienstadt concentration camp. Bronner had provided replacement music for many of these songs, and in so doing gave a London audience an opportunity to experience the wit and the charm of this typically Viennese medium in an emotive historical context with which he was himself only too familiar. One can only be grateful that Bronner escaped the fate of Fritz Grünbaum, the cabaret performer who died in Dachau.

Bronner subsequently worked with Grünbaum's artistic partner Karl Farkas, and their joint presence on stage embodied the passing of a cultural baton from one generation of Viennese Jewish performers to the next; from the veteran to the "upstart". No one could have done more than Bronner to ensure that the medium retained its vibrancy; he composed or contributed to more than 2,500 songs over the course of his career.

His last stage appearance, broadcast by the Austrian station ORF, was on New Year's Eve.

Colin Beaven

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore