Leon Jessel,(January 22, 1871 – January 4, 1942) was a German composer of operettas and light classical music pieces. Although if it had been up to his parents Samuel and Mary Jessel, he would have become a textile sales man.His Father however was a gifted violinist.
Today Leon Jessel is best known internationally as the composer of the popular jaunty march The Parade of the Tin Soldiers, also known as The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.
Jessel was a prolific composer who wrote hundreds of light orchestral pieces, piano pieces, songs, waltzes, mazurkas, marches, choruses, and other salon music. He achieved considerable acclaim with a number of his operettas — in particular Schwarzwaldmädel (Black Forest Girl), which remains popular to this day.
Because Jessel was a Jew by birth (he converted to Christianity at the age of 23), with the rise of Nazism in the late 1920s, his composing virtually came to an end, and his musical works, which had been very popular, were suppressed and nearly forgotten.
Jessel was a Jew who converted to Christianity at the age of 23 in order to marry a Christian woman. They moved to Berlin in 1911, where Jessel continued his composing. He and his wife divorced and Jessel remarried in 1921. All through the 1920s and into the 1930s, his operettas were popular. The music was light but robust, and the plots fed the nostalgia for turn-of-the-century German imperial enthusiasm—such catchy songs, for example, as “We Wander through the Wide, Wide World” from The Girl from the Back Forest.
In fact, that operetta was one of Hitler’s favorites. In 1930 the writing on the wall in Germany was perhaps still unclear. Maybe Jessel thought that his conversion to Christianity and his sense of nationalism would stand him in good stead. His second wife was even a member of the NSDAP (the Nazi party). Yet, none of that helped. None of it. His works were banned in 1933. (Ironically, in that same year the German post office issued a commemorative stamp on the occasion of the first filming of Jessel’s Black Forest operetta!).
His wife was expelled from the Nazi party in 1934; Jessel was forced out of the Reichsmusikkammer (State Music Bureau) in 1937 and the recording and distribution of his music was prohibited. In 1939, he wrote to a friend: “I cannot work in a time when hatred of Jews threatens my people with destruction, where I do not know when that gruesome fate will likewise be knocking at my door.” The Gestapo came calling in 1941 and arrested Jessel for spreading Greuelmärchen (“horror stories”) about the state.
The Gestapo took him to their infamous torture chamber at Alexanderplatz in Berlin. He was then taken to a hospital where he died on January 4, 1942.
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