The singing films of tenor Joseph Schmidt. Finding a way to determine the different versions of his films. - Elisa Mutsaers 2006
In the thirties of last century Joseph Schmidt was a very famous tenor, his admirers came from the whole of Europe and North America, but they also knew him for instance in countries like Palestine. Radio tenor, film tenor, the tiny man with the big voice, Caruso in pocket size, radio-Caruso, world tenor, opera tenor, travelling tenor, record tenor, house tenor (of Dutch broadcasting company VARA), bar singer, microphone tenor, temple tenor, concerthall tenor, tenor miracle, miracle tenor, invisible tenor and the tiniest tenor were all names that indicated the same man: Joseph Schmidt.
He was born in 1904 in the Bukowina, in Romania, which has always been a crossway of Eastern and Western cultures. Romans, Barbarians, Turks, Russians, Austrians have all occupied the region. At home he got a traditional Jewish education. The family spoke German, on the street Rumanian and Yiddish were spoken and in the synagogue he sang in Hebrew. From that point of view Joseph Schmidt has been a Multiple Language Version himself since childhood.
Schmidt came to Berlin in 1925 because he wanted to become an opera singer. Unfortunately he was only 1m53cm and no opera director would dare to give him a tenor role and put him at the side of a opera diva. But Schmidt was a child of his time, he could become as famous as he was because radio and gramophone were, just like Schmidt, on their way to attract mass audiences. Schmidt profited considerably by the reach of the new mass media, and the other way round radio and gramophone profited by Schmidts wonderful voice. Beside that Schmidts voice was considered a real ‘microphone voice’. Some even say that, because of his scanty length, Schmidt could never had become famous without the technology of the microphone. In an interview in 1932 Schmidt says about the microphone:
“De vaak ten onrechte gesmade microfoon heeft een enorm voordeel boven het operatoneel en het concertpodium: hij dwingt niet alleen de uitvoerende maar ook de toehoorder tot de uiterste concentratie. Hij dwingt tevens tot een maximale prestatie omdat men door het ontbreken van de visuele ondersteuning louter en alleen op de klank is aangewezen. (...) Een ander groot voordeel van de microfoon is dat hij de fijnste nuances, die in de zaal dikwijls verloren gaan, verduidelijkt en versterkt, waardoor ik altijd het gevoel heb dat ik iedere toehoorder persoonlijk toezing. Tegelijkertijd ben ik me er voortdurend van bewust dat miljoenen naar me luisteren. (...)”
It was to be expected that that other mass medium, film, would like to profit by Schmidts popularity as well. All together he played roles in nine films and a tenth was made after his death in 1958. Another actor played his role in that film, but Schmidt’s real voice is to be heard through gramophone recordings. In his first three films, made in 1931 and 1932, Schmidt played a minor role. His first leading role came in 1933 in EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT, a tenor film directed by Richard Oswald. It was his last film in Germany. Soon after the premiere of that film in May 1933 he left nazi-Germany, like so many other Jews. Both in Austria and the United Kingdom he made five other tenor films between 1934 and 1936. In between the filming he kept continuing making records and he performed in concerthalls and in front of radio microphones all over the world. When the nazi’s made it impossible to perform in Europe after the Second World War broke out, Joseph Schmidt went to the South of France that was not yet occupied then. From there he fled to Switserland, where instead of being welcomed as he thought, he was captured and put in a working camp for refugees. He died there 1942 at the age of 38 because of a not diagnosed heart attack.