Rotary Hymne, part of Rotary’s history of Music, provided 6 October 2007 by RGHF Senior Historian Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler
The Forgotten Rotary Hymn*
Though the hymn is widely unknown, it nevertheless exists. No less a person than Franz Lehár, the great master of the operetta, has composed a hymn for the Rotary community. In 1926, a year after the Rotary Club of Vienna was founded, whose world famous member Lehár was, he dedicated a Rotary Hymn to his club. Originally it was composed for baritone and piano. Later the text was written by Dr. Fritz Loehner-Beda.
The times were anything else but rosy. From the very start, the young Vienna club was engaged in community service. At times, the members distributed 300 meals a day to needy people. The hymn was born in times of severe social problems and a common feeling of hopelessness not only in Germany, but also in Austria. The text by Fritz Loehner-Beda must be understood regarding this background:
“Brothers of Rotary, forward to work […], friendship and love are forgotten; great is the grief of mankind today! Sow the seed! Turn the wheel around the world happily in service! Help with advice and deed! Endless turns the big wheel!”
In Vienna and Berlin, the author of the text was known from a totally different side. People were used to chansons written by him, which survived for decades: “Just Bananas” (“Ausgerechnet Bananen”), or “What Do You Do with Your Knee, Dear Hans” (Was machst du mit dem Knie, lieber Hans”). In addition, libretti including “Land of Smile”, “Flower of Hawaii” were written by the Bohemia born Loehner-Beda. He had studied law in Vienna, but favoured the cabaret and the operetta. Loehner-Beda was of Jewish origin. From biographies of Lehár we know, that Loehner-Beda was a close friend of the composer.
“The Forgotten Rotary Hymn by Franz Léhar”. The caption reads: A picture from better days (1930) and one of the few, which shows Fritz Loehner-Beda (above left): Franz Léhar (lower left) with the singers Gitta Alpar and Richard Tauber and the librettist Ludwig Herzer (above right).
|“The Forgotten Rotary Hymn by Franz Léhar”. The caption reads: A picture from better days (1930) and one of the few, which shows Fritz Loehner-Beda (above left): Franz Léhar (lower left) with the singers Gitta Alpar and Richard Tauber and the librettist Ludwig Herzer (above right).|
There is historical proof, that Lehár tried more than once to protect Loehner-Beda from prosecution and especially from the concentration camp. Though Lehár’s connections in Germany were excellent, he couldn’t prevent that… the librettist of the “Merry Widow” – the operetta which Hitler liked most – died in 1942 in the concentration camp of Auschwitz after four and a half years of imprisonment.
The date of the first performance of the Rotary Hymn is not known. Very likely the hymn was played during the World Convention in Vienna in 1931, when Lehár donated a signed orchestra version to the Rotary community. The Lehár hymn was not such a spectacular success as “Land of Smile”. Nevertheless, the hymn is considered by experts as “worth listening to”. In 2001, Rotarian Cord Garben, a pianist and leader from Hamburg, went on tour with a Polish-German Youth Orchestra. They played music from the second decade of twentieth century, including a newly adapted version of the Rotary Hymn by Cord Garben**.
Is there any reason, why Rotary should not adopt this hymn written by a world-famous composer as the “Official Rotary Hymn” to be played on special occasions?
*The article is based on an article in the German Rotary Magazine “Der Rotarier”, December 2001, by Hans-Gerd Bruns, RC Oldenburg-Ammerland (District 1850, Germany).
**The CD “The Classical Saloon” by the Polish-German Youth Orchestra is still available from Richard Pyritz, RC Ratzeburg (District 1940, Germany, ph. +49-4541-2444, fax +49-4541-4261).
Final part of the orchestra version of the Rotary Hymn signed by Franz Lehár.