Composers Datebook®

Of froth and Friml

Composer's Datebook - September 21, 2022


Today’s date marks the premiere in New York City, in 1925, of a classic operetta “The Vagabond King” by Rudolf Friml, the source of many once-popular sentimental tunes, including “Love Me Tonight,” and “Only a Rose.”

Friml was born in Prague in 1879, and he studied composition there with no less a master than Antonin Dvorak. He started his career as a piano accompanist to the famous Czech violinist Jan Kubelik, then emigrated to the U.S. in 1906. In 1907, he appeared as a soloist in his own First Piano Concerto with the New York Symphony, and decided to make America his home.

Friml wrote two piano concertos, a symphony, solo piano pieces—and three film scores for Hollywood. But he’s remembered today chiefly for 24 stage works, beginning in 1912 with “The Firefire,” his first big musical success, and continuing with many others, including the 1924 operetta “Rose Marie” — which in 1936 was made into a successful film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Their rendition of Friml’s “Indian Love Call” has become a campy cult classic.

Even Friml was occasionally embarrassed by the success of some of his flufflier pop works, and would publish some of these under the pseudonym of Roderick Freeman. He died in Los Angeles in 1972, aged 92.

Music Played in Today's Program

Rudolf Friml (1879-1972): Song of the Vagabonds, from The Vagabond King –Eastman-Dryden Orchestra: Donald Hunsberger, cond. (Arabesque 6562)

Rudolf Friml (1879-1972): Chanson "In Love" –New London Orchestra; Ronald Corp, cond. (Hyperion 67067)

On This Day


  • 1698 - French violinist and composer François Francoeur, in Paris; He was one of the "24 violins du roi" and collaborated with François Rebel in the production of several works for the Paris Opéra;

  • 1737 - American statesman and composer Francis Hopkinson, in Philadelphia; He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and also composed some songs;

  • 1874 - English composer Gustav Holst, in Cheltenham; He was born Gustavus Theodore von Holst, and his early works were published under the name "Gustav von Holst," but removed the Germanic "von" after World War I broke out in 1914;


  • 1953 - English composer Roger Quilter, age 75, in London;


  • 1795 - revised version of Haydn: Symphony No. 103 ("The Drumroll"), conducted by the composer, in Vienna (Haydn had conducted the first version of this symphony at the King's Theater in London, on March 2, 1795;

  • 1925 - Rudolph Friml's operetta, "The Vagabond King," in New York City;

  • 1966 - Havergal Brian: Symphony No. 6 ("Sinfonia Tragica") in London; This work was composed in 1948;

  • 1966 - Maliperio: Symphony No. 9 ("Hélas") at the "Warsaw Autumn" Festival of Contemporary Music in Poland;

  • 1972 - Piston: Flute Concerto, with Dorothy Anthony Dwyer the soloist and the Boston Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas;

  • 1988 - Peter Maxwell Davies: Trumpet Concerto, in Hiroshima (Japan), by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting, with soloist John Wallace;

  • 1994 - James MacMillan: "Britannia" for orchestra, at the Barbican in London by the London Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting;


  • 1880 - The International Mozart Foundation is established in Salzburg;

  • 1962 - Igor Stravinsky returns to the Soviet Union for the first time in 48 years; He visits Moscow, Leningrad and Oranienbaum.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®