Part one of three
On the morning of September 26, 1930, the following sign decorated the door of the saloon Emrich’s Braustübl inn in the Palatine town of Kusel: “Fritzchen has arrived today. Saloon closed!”. Just who was it who had “arrived”? Perhaps more importantly, who were the parents of „Fritzchen“, the new-born baby?
Paul and Anna Wunderlich
The second child of the bandmaster Paul Wunderlich and his wife Anna, Friedrich Karl Otto Wunderlich, whom everyone called “Fritz”, was born on that September day.
The environment into which Fritz Wunderlich was born was relatively modest – in terms of financial prosperity. All the richer was the Wunderlich family’s cultural tradition: first Wunderlich’s parents traveled throughout Europe as musicians. The couple met in Cyprus in 1918. Both Paul and Anna were trained musicians and settled in Kusel in 1929, where they learned from a newspaper ad that the saloon Emrich’s Braustübl (formerly Preußischer Hof ) was up for lease.
Once Fritzchen had outgrown his diapers, little Fritz was a real rascal: he regularly played billiards in his parents’ inn. To be able to play, he stole pennies from his parents’ cash register. When the cash register was locked, he plugged up all the holes in the billiard table: if he wasn’t allowed to play, then certainly neither the guests of the inn.
At the age of five, Fritz was hit by a heavy blow – he lost his father. From then on, it was up to his mother Anna to support the family, which also included Fritz’s ten-year older sister Marianne. If one follows the remarks of Fritz’s sister, the death of his father can be traced back to numerous harassments he experienced in the course of the National Socialist seizure of power.
Although those years without a father and the subsequent years of the Second World War brought many privations – his mother had to get by on a widow’s pension of 89 Reichsmark a month – Wunderlich drew his artistic energy precisely from those circumstances. His goal was to no longer be on the “fringes of society”: He wanted to be right in the middle of it, to take on his role in the truest sense of the word. What was better suited to achieving this goal than making music – the thing he enjoyed most?
Fritz stood on a larger stage for the first time at the age of 17: In a “Rumpelstilzchen” production by the Kulturring Kusel, Fritz’s natural tenor voice captivated the local audience for the first time. That production was directed by music educator Joseph Müller-Blattau, who had a name in the German music world. Because of his fears of falling from grace after the war, Müller-Blattau settled in provincial Kusel and staged several musical performances there, in which Fritz regularly took a role.
What came as a hard change for Blattau, who was used to big cities, was pure luck for Fritz: Through Blattau, Wunderlich met the Kaiserslautern radio conductor Emmerich Smola. Through various contacts Fritz got a singing teacher in Kaiserslautern: From then on, Fritz biked almost 30 miles to and fro once a week from Kusel to Kaiserslautern – for one hour of singing lessons.
Studies in Freiburg
This arrangement did not last long, because soon the question of a place to study arose. Emmerich Smola recommended the conservatory in Freiburg im Breisgau, a southern German city close to the Black Forest.
One October morning in 1950 at 9 o’clock, the entrance examination for singers was scheduled in Freiburg. The story goes that Wunderlich wanted to take the train from Kusel to Freiburg very early that day. So he got into what was supposed to be the last wagon of the train and waited for departure, but when the train started moving, the wagon with Wunderlich remained in the station. When he boarded, he hadn’t noticed that the car had been disconnected as scheduled. Career start on the siding, you might say. But help arrived in the form of a milk truck, in other words, a truck that was transporting milk cans to Kaiserslautern. But his plan to catch the connecting train from Kaiserslautern didn’t work out either – Wunderlich was late, but was still able to perform as the last singer.
So it happened that Wunderlich started to study voice and horn as a major and piano as a minor in Freiburg. Fritz Wunderlich was even given the opportunity to study voice in Margarethe von Winterfeldt’s master class – a special honor.
Margarethe von Winterfeldt
Margarethe Winterfeldt, a famous German music teacher, had been blind since childhood. However, fellow musicians used to say that she could miraculously see everything after all, because her hearing was extraordinarily trained.
She remembers Wunderlich’s entrance exam as follows:
“He sang Schubert’s ‘Wegweiser’ and he sang it with a lot of feeling, from a warm heart, but a little exuberantly, and when he finished he said, ’Was quite corny, huh?’ to which we said, ‘Oh yes, a little bit,’ and then he said, ‘That’s what I want to learn here.'”
The decisive factor for his entry to the Freiburg university and von Winterfeldt’s Master Class was probably the following recommendation by Müller-Blattau:
“The musician Fritz Wunderlich has a natural voice and natural shine, furthermore an unusual musical talent. (…) It can already be said that Fritz Wunderlich has a great future as a singer after completing his training.”
What followed – his student years – Fritz once described as the crucial phase of his life…
Simon von Ludwig
Cover picture: Portrait of Fritz Wunderlich, used by courtesy of the Fritz Wunderlich Society
The main sources are the Fritz Wunderlich biography by Werner Pfister (new edition 2005 by Schott Musikverlag) and “Mein Bruder und ich” (My Brother and I), written by Fritz’s sister Marianne Decker.
Der Bussard would like to thank the Fritz Wunderlich Society for their support.