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Joseph Schmidt

Joseph Schmidt

(March 4, 1904 – November 16, 1942)

Click here for recordings and performances by Joseph Schmidt.


Joseph Schmidt was an Austro-Hungarian/Romanian, Jewish, tenor.

He was born in Davideny which became part of Romania after World War I and is now part of Ukraine.

In addition to German, which was his first language, and Yiddish, he learned Hebrew and became fluent in Romanian, French and English.

His talents were quickly recognised when he was an altar boy in the Synogogue and by 1924 he gave his first solo recital in Czernowitz singing traditional Jewish songs and arias by Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Bizet.

Soon he moved to Berlin to further piano and voice studies but returned to Romania to do his military service.

In 1929 he went back to Berlin, where a famous Dutch baritone, Cornelis Bronsgeest, engaged him for a radio broadcast of Meyerbeer's L'Africaine. So began his highly successful international career.

Owing to his diminutive stature (just over 1.5 m, or 4' 9") a stage career was seen as impossible - however his voice was extremely well suited for radio. He made many records, first for Ultraphone, then for Odeon/Parlophone, and he was featured in many radio broadcasts and he acted in several movies in both German and English.

It was during the rise of the Nazis that Joseph Schmidt enjoyed his greatest successes, ironically. Subsequently they prohibited Jewish artists and writers from working.

In 1937, he toured the United States and even performed in Carnegie Hall together with other prominent singers such as Grace Moore. He was always welcome in Netherlands and Belgium where he continued to be immensely popular.

In 1939, he visited his mother in Czernowitz for the last time but when the war broke out later that year he was caught by the German invasion in France. He tried to escape to Cuba but unfortunately, this failed so he made a dash for the Swiss border, instead. He was interned in a Swiss refugee camp near Zürich in 1942.

He had already been in poor health and was treated for a throat infection at the local hospital who ignored his complaining about chest pains and they discharged him. Just two days later, on November 16, 1942, at an Inn, he collapsed, sufffered a heart attack and died - being just 38 years old. There is still a plaque at the Inn that still honours him and marks the place where he died.

Joseph Schmidt had a sweet lyric tenor voice with a very easy high register that easily sailed up to a high D. The warm timbre was perfectly suited for the melodies of Schubert and Lehár and his popular song recordings were the best-sellers of their time.

Click here for recordings and performances by Joseph Schmidt.

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