On December 11, Ronald Leopoldi will present the double album “Wiener Bonbons” (“Vienna Sweets”) with songs of his legendary father Hermann in the Jewish Museum in Vienna.
An der schönen roten Donau herrscht jetzt wieder Lust und Scherz, wir ham schließlich kan Charakter, doch wir ham a gold'nes Herz“ (“By the beautiful red Danube pleasure and fun hold sway again, we have no character, but we have a golden heart”) Hermann Leopoldi, the piano-playing humorist who was forced to emigrate to New York, gibed already in 1945.
Leopoldi, who was closely linked with the Viennese mentality, could even land hits abroad, thanks to Helly Möslein, a young singer who translated Leopoldi’s classics, such as “In einem kleinen Cafe in Hernals“ (“In a little café in Hernals”) and “Ich bin ein stiller Zecher“ (“I’m a quiet reveller”) into English. At that time, their world was limited to emigrant-establishments like the Old Vienna and Eberhardts Cafe Grinzing at the Upper East Side.
Lured by then city councillor for culture, Viktor Matejka, the artists, who were also a couple in private life, returned to Vienna in 1947. For two years, Möslein and Leopold lived in a pension close to the town hall square, before Möslein acquired a small apartment close to the Kennedy Bridge. The memories which the nearly 62 year old son has of his father are limited to that apartment.
“He used to play me his new compositions and paid close attention to my reaction.” Ronald Leopoldi is a classic divided personality in the sense of Nestroy. In his soul, artistic impulses and economic calculation have always been fighting for dominance. While the father threw his money around and merrily sang about the dreaded Dalles (Jewish for shortage of money), Ronald Leopoldi handled the financial resources more carefully. However, he shows understanding for the attitude of his father. “That was due to his loss experiences. He said to himself why should I save something that can be taken away from me at any time. The Nazis stole everything from him – from the piano to his wife’s jewelry.”
After the sudden death of the father in June 1959, a difficult phase of life began for Helly Möslein and her son Ronald. “He had not made any provisions for the future. Due to his sudden passing, my mother was without money and without a partner for her performances. So I soon got involved in her arts. I already performed with her at the age of eight or nine.
I remember an event on Mother's Day 1965 in the Viennese City Hall in which also Renate Holm performed.” He was also a frequent guest in shows hosted by Heinz Conrads. However, he wanted to complete a commercial education, since the precariousness of the artist's existence daunted him already early on. Yet, after his apprenticeship as industrial clerk he attended classes at the conservatorium, where he studied with Alfons Haider and Gaby Bischof.
Waiting for the “Schinkenfleckerl” (“ham pasta”)
For the following seven years, he moved throughout Austria. He especially liked to play in operettas by Lehár in Bad Ischl, but performed also in Vienna, Salzburg and St. Pölten. In 1985, he eventually returned to the economic sphere. Yet, the successful estate agent maintained relations with artists.
“The commercial management of a theater would have been my dream job. But that opportunity has never arisen.” Instead, he administers his father’s legacy. It was only recently that the author Susanne Wolf made an operetta-folk-play-revue out of the dramatic life story of Hermann Leopoldi. “It would be nice if this play could be premiered in Vienna”, he hopes.
With the recently edited double album „Wiener Bonbons“, a chronologically ordered collection of both classic and rare songs of his father, he will be heading off towards the Holy Land in February 2018. The association “Vienna – Tel Aviv” hosts Austrian Culture Days which bring the traditional Viennese culture to Old Austrians and their descendants. “We will pick up people from retirement homes and kibbutzim in order to give them pleasure. Only recently, a 101 year-old told me that she will not leave this world before having heard Hermann Leopoldi’s ,Schinkenfleckerl‘ one more time.”