Mischa Spoliansky

Mischa Spoliansky (28 December 1898 28 June 1985) was a Russian-born composer who lived for many years in Britain.


Spoliansky was born into a Jewish, musical family in Białystok, then part of the Belostok Oblast of the Russian Empire. His father was an opera singer and his sister would later become a pianist and his brother a cellist. After the birth of Mischa the family moved to Warsaw, and later Kalisz. After the early death of his mother, the family moved to Vienna.

Spoliansky's early musical education in piano, violin and cello was continued in Dresden under Professor Mark Guensberg. At the age of ten Spoliansky made his public debut. Shortly thereafter, his father died and Spoliansky moved to Königsberg (Prussia) where he had relatives. In 1914 however as a result of the war he had to flee to Berlin, where his brother worked as a cellist.

Spoliansky worked in a coffeehouse as a pianist in order to continue his musical education at the Stern'sches Konservatorium. Spoliansky's first compositions were played by the UFA-Filmtheaterorchester in Friedrichstraße. In addition he worked as a composer and pianist in a Russian émigré cabaret. There Friedrich Hollaender and Werner Richard Heymann heard him and invited him to write and play for the literary cabaret "Schall und Rauch" in the basement of the Große Schauspielhaus, which Max Reinhardt had founded in 1919. Spoliansky set the texts of Kurt Tucholsky, Klabund, Joachim Ringelnatz, and accompanied stars such as Gussy Holl, Paul O'Montis, Rosa Valetti and Trude Hesterberg. In 1920 under the pseudonym "Arno Billing" he composed the melody for the first homosexual anthem called Das lila Lied, which he dedicated to Magnus Hirschfeld. It was published with other texts such as Sei meine Frau für vierundzwanzig Stunden.

In 1922 he met the poet Marcellus Schiffer and the diseuse Margo Lion. He married the dancer Elsbeth (Eddy) Reinwald in the same year. In 1927 Spoliansky accompanied Richard Tauber in a recording of 12 songs from Schubert's "Winterreise", having recorded an album of 12 German folk-songs with the tenor in the previous year. In 1928 Marlene Dietrich performed in his Revue Es liegt in der Luft (text by Marcellus Schiffer). One year later she would be "discovered" in Spoliansky's "Zwei Krawatten" (text by Georg Kaiser) by Josef von Sternberg, who was searching for the leading actress for The Blue Angel.

There followed in 1930 "Wie werde ich reich und glücklich?", in 1931 "Alles Schwindel", in 1932 "Rufen Sie Herrn Plim" and "Das Haus dazwischen", and in 1933 "100 Meter Glück".

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Spoliansky, like all Jewish artists in Germany, was no longer allowed to work in the now "Aryan" entertainment business. He was forced to emigrate to London, where he began a second career as a film composer. He was taken under wing by the expatriate film community as well as British producers and directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, who had made films in Berlin in what had been, until Hitler, the international centre for film production. His naturalization as a British national succeeded in large part thanks to Schlagers "Heute Nacht Oder Nie" from the film Das Lied einer Nacht (1932), which made Spoliansky world-renowned.

In London, he was hired by Zoltan Korda to compose the music for Sanders of the River, which was being shot on location in Nigeria. This included songs that were meant to be "authentic" Nigerian music, performed by star Paul Robeson, and the local Nigerian cast members and extras—but they were composed in London by Spoliansky. Many years later, Zoltan Korda was delighted to discover, in a remote river in the Congo, Spoliansky's theme song for the movie being sung by Congolese fishermen as they paddled their boats upriver. Spoliansky had never been to Africa, but his work was so authentic that it became, in a sense, genuinely authentic.[1]

Sanders of the River began a collaboration with the great Paul Robeson. Among his very best songs were the four that he wrote for Robeson featured in Sanders of the River in 1935 (The Canoe Song, Love Song, Congo Lullabye and The Killing Song) and King Solomon's Mines in 1937 (Ho, Ho and Climbing Up!). Another of his songs was performed by Elisabeth Welch in 1937 (Red Hot Annabelle).

Hitchcock remembered Spoliansky and hired him to write the song "Love Is Lyrical (Whisper Sweet Little Nothing to Me)", performed by Marlene Dietrich in Hitchcock's film Stage Fright.

In later years he composed scores for films such as Trouble in Store (1953), Saint Joan (1957), The Whole Truth (1958), North West Frontier (1959), The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965), The Best House in London (1969) and Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), on which he clearly had a personal perspective.

Ever since that time, works by Spoliansky have occasionally been produced in theatres, for example in the 2004/2005 season "Zwei Krawatten" in Dortmund, and "Rufen Sie Herrn Plim" in the Städtischen Bühnen Münster (2002/2003) and later in a theater in Kassel. Spoliansky died in London.

Works (selected)

Selected filmography


  1. Charmed Lives (1979) by Michael Korda, p. 209

A critically acclaimed Album of Spoliansky songs on the Nimbus Alliance label

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