Ein Lied geht um die Welt
(click here for the Romanian version)
I was about fifteen when I saw Ein Lied geht um die Welt, a German movie made in 1958 that came in the Bucharest theaters a couple of years later. It was telling the life of Joseph Schmidt, one of the great voices of the 1930's. The name was not unknown for me. Frau Paranici, a good friend of my parents, was from Bukovina, the native region also of Joseph Schmidt. Like so many Bukovinians born before WWI, she knew German well and was somehow familiar with the German universe, expressions and jokes, funny stories for kids or grown-ups, songs and singers, movies and actors, and the like. On the other hand my father had lived in the 1930's for a couple of years in Czernowits, the city where Joseph Schmidt had started his artistic career. So the Bukovinian tenor came several times in the discussions between my father and Frau Paranici. They referred to him using the Romanian form of the name, Iosif Schmidt, and it was this way, Iosif rather than Joseph, that he remained in my mind.
For me the name of Iosif Schmidt had a special aura and I can tell you why: I had just discovered a passion for opera and for the great voices, and I knew about Iosif Schmidt virtually nothing, only that he had been in the class of great tenors of his epoch, he had been born in my country (in the North of Bukovina, a region that has later been taken away from Romania by the Soviet Union), and his life ended tragically in the war. So when the movie telling his life came in the Bucharest theaters I immediately wished to go and see it, to find all answers. And it was a good movie, recreating his life, and offering us all his musical successes, those wonderful songs composed by Hans May.
Iosif Schmidt was indeed one of the great voices of the 1930's. His very small stature (he was only 1.5 or 1.55 m) prevented him from the opera stage. He made many records and radio broadcasts instead. Also he played in several movies, as the camera could make him look higher. There were not great movies, just frames created to make him sing. The biographical movie made in 1958 wore the same title as one of his own films, made in 1933: Ein Lied geht um die Welt. And that one, from 1933, had been watched by my father in his youth, in Czernowitz. That was really a unique event: somebody from the attendance started suddenly to accompany the singer from the screen. It was the real Iosif Schmidt who had come to the theater himself to see the movie!
His tragedy was that the artistic successes came in the years when Nazism was on the rise and as Iosif Schmidt was Jewish, soon it was was no more possible for him to find a safe country in Europe. Eventually he went to Switzerland where they put him in a camp for refugees. He died there of a heart attack in 1942: he was only 38 years old.
What remain are his records: a generous, optimist voice singing in German about what makes the plenty of life, about love, and friendship, and joy.