- Willi Kollo. Autor und Komponist für Operette, Revue, Kabarett, Film und Fernsehen 1904–1988 by Wolfgang Jansen
Von Wolfgang Jansen. Münster: Waxmann, 2020. 394 Seiten. €39,90 broschiert, €35,99 eBook.
In 1994, the widow of songwriter Willi Kollo (1904–1988) attempted to legally suppress the publication of this book by theater historian Wolfgang Jansen, although she had initially authorized and supported the research by giving access to the family archives. Even though she failed, the publisher withdrew from the project, and the manuscript was shelved. In 2010, the family again tried to suppress the author’s conference lecture in this vein. Now, over twenty years later, the lost book has finally appeared in print, with judicious updating. Wolfgang Jansen recounts a troubled career of successes, artistic compromises, and painful failures, including an ambiguous career in the Third Reich.
Willi Kollo’s best-remembered songs are probably “Warte, warte nur ein Weilchen” and “Was eine Frau im Frühling träumt” (from the 1923 operetta Marietta, with music by his father, the more famous Walter Kollo) and the pop hit “Nachts ging das Telefon” (1936), but besides writing first lyrics and then music, he collaborated on screenplays, wrote stage plays, and worked as a publisher. Jansen’s book presents two interfacing stories: it relates the development of the entertainment industry, especially in Berlin, through the twentieth century, and recounts Kollo’s biography [End Page 745] as exemplary for that history, emphasizing the versatility and genre overlap of such artists, as well as the dark underside of their careers in the Nazi era and, in some cases, after. Kollo had an unstable, unhappy family life and a love-hate relationship with the father in whose footsteps he would follow. Already as a teenager, he displayed conservative, even reactionary tendencies; he started out as a (bad) poet, and always saw himself as a writer first and musician second. His career began in 1922 in the notorious Berlin cabaret Weiße Maus, but the following year he found his calling in operetta, often working as lyricist for his father, from whose shadow he struggled to emerge. In the mid-twenties, he penned songs for opulent revues and appeared as a composer in his own right, and soon he had a brief career as a recording artist.
Kollo became a specialist in the Berlin song of the twenties through the fifties, songs characterized more by “Großstadt-Romantik” (136) and nostalgia than modernist reflections on the urban experience. He and his father both resisted the new fashion of jazz; Willi’s masterpieces were, as Jansen acknowledges, the sentimental “Das war sein Milljöh” (a 1930 memorial to artist Heinrich Zille, co-written with Hans Pflanzer) and “Lieber Leierkastenmann” (1928), which has become a classic. One forgotten operetta libretto, Nur Du! (1926), appears worthy of rediscovery as “eine intelligente und gnadenlos despektierliche Groteske auf das eigene Genre” (95). But despite the liberal tone of the cabarets he worked in, and occasional collaborations with left-wing figures, his work was marked by conservative, even reactionary sentiments throughout his life. Given his “traditionalist” inclination (26), the tension between his political concerns and the apolitical entertainment in which he specialized offers an engaging counterpoint.
Proceeding chronologically, Jansen recounts an enormous number of diverse artistic projects through Kollo’s life, from early poetry to cabaret and revue work, operettas, popular songs, film and stage work, and publishing. Considerable space is devoted to production information such as plot summaries and casting. Kollo’s biography is embedded in a kaleidoscopic account of contemporary artistic and intellectual discussions, such as German reactions to jazz, anti-democratic sentiments in Weimar Germany, the transition to sound film, student revolts of the Sixties, or reception of the Broadway musical in Germany. Kollo also appears briefly as a “pioneer” (204) of television broadcasting, though his 1937 show was admittedly only broadcast four times and is thus a curiosity, not an influential cultural accomplishment. This brief episode testifies, among others, to his ambition and his thirst to explore new artistic terrain. Each chapter is supplemented with...