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Frederick Loewe and “My Fair Lady”

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Frederick (original German Friedrich) Loewe (June 10, 1901-February 14, 1988), known as Fritz, was a German-born Austrian-American composer who collaborated with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner on a series of Broadway musicals, including the long-running My Fair Lady and Camelot, both of which were made into films.  Loewe was born on June 10, 1901, in Berlin, Germany, to Viennese parents, Edmond and Rosa. His father was a very famous Jewish musical star of operettas who traveled considerably, including North and South America, and much of Europe. He starred as Count Danilo in the 1906 Berlin production of The Merry Widow.  Fritz grew up in Berlin and attended a Prussian cadet school from the age of five until he was thirteen.  He was a child prodigy, playing the piano at age five.

By the age of seven or eight, Fritz learned by ear and played on piano every new song his father rehearsed for a new musical in which he was appearing. He was able to play the entire score and help his father in rehearsals. This impressed his father greatly, and Edmond suggested giving Fritz music lessons. His mother, however, was never moved by Fritz’s talent, saying; “Oh, they all do that!”  Also, he began composing songs at age seven. Fritz eventually did attend a famous conservatory in Berlin, one year behind the virtuoso Claudio Arrau, where he studied with Ferruccio Busoni and Eugene d’Albert. Both won the coveted Hollander Medal, awarded by the school, and Fritz gave performances as a concert pianist while still in Germany.  At thirteen, he was the youngest piano soloist ever to appear with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Loewe wrote a popular song, “Katrina,” at age fifteen, and more than 1,000,000 copies of the sheet music for it were eventually sold.

In 1925, Edmond received an offer to appear in New York, and Fritz traveled there with him. Deciding to go separate ways, Fritz decided he was going to “crash Broadway.”  Finding work in the German section of New York known as “Yorkville,” he made his way playing German clubs and in the movie theaters, accompanying silent pictures as they appeared on the screen. He would be given a prepared score for each film. Fritz’s first action would be to throw the score in the trash, composing his own melodies to suit the action on-screen. He discovered that he had a great facility for this type of improvisation and enjoyed his work.   When the Depression hit, Fritz was having a difficult time trying to get one of his musical pieces produced, or at least to get his songs published, so he did some odd jobs, including a stint at prize fighting.  In 1934 he contributed music to the Broadway play Petticoat Fever, and by 1936 he was writing music for Broadway revues, but he received little acclaim. Loewe collaborated with lyricist Earle Crooker on the musical plays Salute to Spring (1937) and Great Lady (1938), but they similarly failed to gain attention.

Fritz began to visit a famous New York night spot, “The Lambs Club,” frequented by theater people, stars, producers, managers, and directors. One evening In 1942 on the way to the men’s room he encountered Alan Jay Lerner at a nearby table. Fritz went up to him, saying “I understand you write lyrics.”  Alan replied “Well, I understand you write music.”  Alan was working on an idea for a show, Henry Duffy’s production of “Life of the Party,” based on Barry Connor’s farce The Patsy, for a Detroit, MI, stock company, and they decided to collaborate. It was not a major hit, but the score received favorable notices. It was the first time Fritz ever had his music reviewed. It enjoyed a nine-week run and encouraged the duo to join forces with Arthur Pierson for What’s Up?, which opened on Broadway in 1943 and ran for 63 performances.  Two years later, their next effort, “The Day Before Spring,” did a little better, and the team was beginning to receive very positive recognition.  Their first real hit was “Brigadoon”(1947), with its Scottish theme, and the combination Lerner and Loewe was finally recognized in theaters around the world. Fritz was 47 before his fame was established.

In 1952 the Lerner-Loewe Gold Rush story musical “Paint Your Wagon” hit Broadway, followed by the classic “My Fair Lady” in 1956, their adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with the leads, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, being played originally by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, becoming the longest running musical of all time until the record was broken by “Cats.”   The partnership won the Tony Award for Best Musical. MGM took notice and commissioned them to write the film musical Gigi (1958), which won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The next production, “Camelot,” received terrible reviews when it opened. The director and producer of the play got the brilliant idea of having the stars, Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and sing a few numbers from the musical, along with an appearance by Alan and Fritz. The next morning the ticket office was swamped with requests, and “Camelot” became a huge hit.   Fritz then decided to retire to Palm Springs, CA, not writing anything until he was approached by Alan Lerner with the book “The Little Prince”, by Antoine de Saint Exupery. Fritz fell in love with the story and began work on the new production at age 71.  Loewe was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and lived in Palm Springs in retirement until his death on February 14, 1988.

The following works by Frederick Loewe are contained in my collection:

Camelot: Medley.

Gigi: Selections.

My Fair Lady (1956): Selections.

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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