Perfect Harmony

István Kardos

In mid-1932, Hungarian István Kardos founded a vocal ensemble in Berlin. He had been living in Germany for several years with his wife, an opera singer, and had worked as a conductor at various theatres before taking over the the well-known Abel Quartet around 1930. The Abels, an all-Hungarian group, had begun recording in Berlin in the style of the American Revelers even before the Comedian Harmonists in August 1928. After their founder and musical director, Pál Ábel, left Berlin, István Kardos and young composer and conductor Rudolf Goehr shared the duties of pianist and arranger for the group, which now performed mainly as the „Five Songs“.

Even though the Five Songs were in high demand and doing well in the recording industry, Kardos put together his own ensemble in the course of 1932. He was certainly ambitious to realise his own ideas with a group that bore his name and musical signature, and financial considerations may also have played a role: as permanent leader of his own ensemble, his earning potential was higher than in his position with the Five Songs. He may also have been aware that the Five Songs‘ time in Berlin was coming to an end due to political developments, as all the members of the group were Jewish. In German-speaking countries he mostly used the Germanised version of his name, Stephan Kardosch, so he called his group simply: the Kardosch Singers.

He found a group of talented young singers who, like so many ambitious artists from all directions, had made their way to Berlin:

Paul von Nyiri
Fritz Angermann
Zeno Coste

Like Kardos, Paul von Nyiri came from Hungary and had already performed as a bass on opera stages in Prague and Budapest. Zeno Coste, a 25-year-old Romanian from Banat, had already made several records as a solo singer and with the vocal group „Die Parker“. He had also sung in three films. Baritone Fritz Angermann was the son of a teacher from Leipzig.

The second tenor of the initial line-up – his name is not known

The career of the Kardosch singers actually began with a film that is now lost: „Ja, treu ist die Soldatenliebe“ , which premiered on 3 August 1932 at the Titaniapalast and Primuspalast in Berlin. It was only five days later, on 8 August, that they made their first record with Hans Schindler and his orchestra: „Einfach fabelhaft!“, a medley of hits of the day. More recordings with the orchestras of Hans Schindler and Adalbert Lutter followed in the next few months, for example:

„Bei dir weiß man nie“ (Schindler), „Du du dudl du“ (Lutter), „Was fang ich an mit meiner Sehnsucht“ (Lutter), „Kleine Frau, was nun?“ (Schindler, vocals by Eric Helgar and the Kardosch singers), „Margarete“ (Lutter) and „Wir kurbeln an“, another Schlager medley with Hans Schindler’s orchestra, featuring the Kardosch Singers with two popular chorus singers, Erwin Hartung and Eric Helgar.

In October 1932 they recorded their lively version of the Heymann-Gilbert hit „Irgendwo auf der Welt“, which certainly does not need to fear comparison with the Comedian Harmonists‘ version (and perhaps even wins). Incidentally, the song was also recorded by the Five Songs in July 1932, before the Comedian Harmonists. The Kardosch Singers‘ version is quite different from that of the Comedian Harmonists.The proof that they were by no means a copy of the Comedian Harmonists, but rather pursued their very own style, was thus provided early on. The inventive arrangements and piano accompaniments by István Kardos gave the Kardosch songs their very special, individual quality with a high recognition value. There is also a stirring recording from the same session as „Irgendwo auf der Welt“ in which the Kardosch singers accompany an American jazz singer named Louise Gordan: „Dir möcht ich gern mich gerne anvertrau’n.“

Other films to which the Kardosch singers contributed vocals in 1932 were „Moderne Mitgift“ and „Grün ist die Heide“ with premieres in August and November 1932.

Vorwärts, 20 November 1932, source: Library of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

From 23 November 1932, the Kardosch singers appear on stage at the Kurfürstendamm Theatre for Eduard Kuenneke’s operetta „Glueckliche Reise“ under the musical direction of Hans Schindler, together with actors Lizzi Waldmueller and Ernst Verebes („The Kardosch singers have an impactful number,“ writes the Vossische Zeitung on 24 November 1932). They are also involved in the later film version of the play starring Max Hansen, Magda Schneider and Adele Sandrock.

For a recording session on 24 October 1932 (at 6.30 pm) they receive 180 Reichsmark (RM) per title. One day after the National Socialists came to power, on 31 January 1933, they sign an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon: by May 1933 they are to record „at least 8 solo recordings at RM 250“ as well as at least eight chorus recordings (for which they receive RM 75 each). In addition, there are to be a few medleys at RM 100 each. The group is allowed to make chorus recordings – but not solo recordings – for other companies, but they must first offer the titles to Deutsche Grammophon.

István Kardos acted as manager for the group: he handled the correspondence, took care of contracts and tour planning and, of course, provided all the arrangements. 28% of the income went to him, while the four singers received 18% each. The Kardosch Singers‘ business address in 1932 and 1933 was Uhlandstrasse 49, at the time the private address of István Kardos and his wife Olga, and later a Pension Kranzler at Joachimsthalerstrasse 9. However, there was a Café Kranzler there but no pension with that name. There was, instead, a Pension von Eberswald, which is presumably what was meant by Pension Kranzler.

On tour 1932 or 1933: Paul von Nyiri, Fritz Angermann, István Kardos, Zeno Coste, the as of yet nameless second tenor

In 1933 the Kardosch singers are involved in several more films: „Tausend fuer eine Nacht“, „Keinen Tag ohne dich“, „Roman einer Nacht“ and „Glückliche Reise“. Unfortunately, most of these films are lost or, at best, extremely difficult to find. In „Roman einer Nacht“ we see the only surviving film recording of the Kardosch singers: they sing the titles „Roman einer Nacht“ and „Ein kleines bisschen Liebe“ at a ball, accompanied by the Lewis Ruth Orchestra (which had since been „re-Germanised“ as „Kapelle Ludwig Rüth“). Between Zeno Coste and Fritz Angermann, we see the as yet unnamed first second tenor of the group.

The filming of „Roman einer Nacht“ took place in Munich on 16 June 1933 and the group received a fee of RM 400. The contract, as a special agreement, contains the clause: „We will be named in the advertisement“. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Illustrierter Filmkurier (issue 655)….

For the premiere of the film, the Kardosch singers are on stage at the Berlin Capitol on 22 August 1933:

Throughout 1933 they continued to be in the recording studio for chorus recordings with well-known orchestras but also for numerous solo recordings. For example, they recorded their version of „Stormy Weather“ or Dvořák’s „Humoreske“ – two more titles that can be directly compared to the Comedian Harmonists‘ versions. Especially the „Humoreske“ is a masterpiece by the Kardosch singers, with the highlight starting at minute 1:10 where Angermann and Nyiri prove their qualities:

On 9 September they perform at a variety show with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, which is broadcast on the radio.

In October 1933, the first and only line-up change in the group’s history takes place: 20-year-old Rudi Schuricke replaces the nameless second tenor. There are various versions of how Rudi Schuricke came to join the Kardosch Sängern. In the most well-known one, Schuricke stood in for the sick second tenor at short notice for a radio broadcast in Königsberg. Schuricke himself recounted that István Kardos had heard him on a radio programme with his singing quartet, „Schmidts Harmonisten“, invited him to Berlin for an audition and subsequently gave him singing lessons and admitted him to his group.

In any case, and not wanting to offend his unknown predecessor, Schuricke’s entry was an asset to the group.

Between Angermann and Nyiri the two tall tenors, Schuricke and Coste

The first recording with his participation was probably „Hallo, kleines Fräulein“ with Barnabás von Géczy and his orchestra in early October 1933. Barnabás von Géczy, like so many other successful musicians in Berlin in the 1930s, was of Hungarian descent and, like Kardos, a graduate of the Academy of Music in Budapest. Without the many Hungarian musicians, the much-admired „sound“ of late 1920s and early 1930s Berlin would have been a different one.

Over the next few months they recorded, among others, „Ade zur Guten Nacht“ (with István Kardos conducting the accompanying orchestra), „Die Sonja vom Ural“ and the enchanting „Schmetterlinge im Regen“ (Butterflies in the Rain), in which bass Paul von Nyiri and tenor Zeno Coste excel, but also István Kardos with an arrangement full of wit and good ideas.

In addition to Germany, the Kardos singers also toured the Netherlands and Denmark, and appeared on the radio there.

In the winter of 1933, the Kardosch Singers have an engagement at the Wintergarten in Berlin:

The Berlin Wintergarten in the 1930s

They were then engaged by Willy Reichert for his artists‘ tour. From 1932 onwards, the Swabian Comedian toured Germany with an entertainment programme for which he recruited artists from various genres, such as tenor Herbert Ernst Groh, pianist Hubert Giesen, dancer Lydia Wieser, pianist Aleida Montijn, and the Kardosch Singers. Oscar Heiler, Willy Reichert’s long-time sketch partner, was also already involved by the early 1930s. The events were organised by the concert agency Oscar Angerer of Stuttgart. The Reichert troupe was on the road for the first three months of every year until 1941, with many dates in southern Germany.

Advertisement in the „Badische Presse“ on 29.12.1933. Digital collections of the Baden State Library.

Mittelbadischer Kurier, 4 April 1934. Digital Collections of the Baden State Library

The Badischer Beobachter wrote on 6 January 1934 about their performance in Karlsruhe:

„The Kardosch singers‘ path has led them via London, Brussels and the Berlin Wintergarten to Karlsruhe. A modern vocal quartet with humorous finely tuned performances. They have something of the Don Cossacks and the Comedian Harmonists about them in their vocal versatility. It hums and sings, the human voice becomes a musical instrument, seemingly effortlessly everything blends into perfect harmony.“

Of all publications, Der Fuehrer, the organ of the Baden NSDAP, wrote enthusiastically about the same performance on 6 January:

„The excellently singing Kardosch singers performed in a very distinguished and elegant manner, it is a pleasure to listen to them, the Schubert Serenade was a real musical delight, the Russian imitation ‚Die Sonja vom Ural‘ was also original“.

The Freiburger Zeitung also reacted enthusiastically to their performance on 8 January:

„In front of a sold-out audience, Willy Reichert took the stage on Friday to let Swabian humour shine warmly […] Interspaced between his presentations were performances by various other guests, consistently gifted, even exceptionally high-level singers, a piano artist, a dancer [… ] The Kardosch Singers under the direction of Professor Kardosch, a virtuosically skilled quartet, approach […] the Leipzig Singers formerly hailed by all of Germany, i.e., the best, the most perfect of these travelling artists…“

Advertisement for one of the Willy-Reichert-tours

The following excerpt from Horst Jaedicke’s biography of Reichert, Er wollte alles außer Schwaebisch (He wanted everything but Swabian), offers an interesting insight into how such a tour went:

„For his annual city tours, Reichert had developed a very unusual concept, which reveals his character as ‚contemplation and cheerfulness‘ […] For example, there were the Kardosch singers, generally regarded as successors to the Comedian Harmonists, who, as is well known, had been put out of business by the Nazis. A music professor from Hungary had put together a troupe of artists under his name, in which the powerful bass of a Paul von Nyiri contributed the low notes and a storybook tenor, always with a monocle in his eye, the high notes. The young man’s name was Rudi Schuricke (who later laid the Germans at his feet with his ‚Capri-Fischer‘). This quartet of men contributed a lot of melancholy in addition to upbeat tunes, after which the following fireworks of punchlines were particularly magnificent. Agent Oskar Angermann had the planning and execution of artist tours down to a tee.“

And it goes on to say:

„Early bookers, it was known, got the best venues, but at hefty prices. Latecomers paid far less, but the venues were usually accordingly. It was exactly in between that the optimal solution had to be found. Unfortunately, the venues did not do the artists the favour of being nicely situated next to each other. The Reichert tours zigzagged wildly through Germany […] and not only on comfortable motorways, but on imperial roads that were of the first order, but because of the frost they often turned out to be roads of the first dis-order. On arrival at the venue, the stage and dressing rooms were immediately inspected…“

(from: Horst Jaedicke: Willy Reichert. Er wollte alles außer Schwaebisch. A Biography, Hohenheim, 2010)

Willy Reichert between Fritz Angermann and Paul von Nyiri. With many thanks to Julia Reichert!

The repertoire of the Kardosch singers included German dance tunes and sound film hits, folk songs and parodies, but also German versions of international titles such as „Waitin‘ at the gate for Katy“ (Käti) and the odd Schlager medley. One of their most interesting recordings is undoubtedly „Wer hat Angst vor dem bösen Wolf“ (Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf“) with Hans Bund and his Orchestra.

A page from Zeno Coste’s souvenir album

The Comedian Harmonists had been unable to perform in Germany since March 1934 and also quietly „disappeared“ from radio and record shops in the course of the Nazis‘ infamous extermination campaign against any kind of Jewish participation in cultural life. The Kardosch Singers were supposed to replace them – they were considered „racially unobjectionable“ since the Jewish background of their founder and leader was still unknown.

At the beginning of 1934, while the Kardosch singers were on tour with Willy Reichert, the last concert of the Comedian Harmonists planned for 8 March in the Berlin Philharmonie was quietly cancelled with no reason given – on 25 March they gave their last concert in Germany in Hanover. An appeal by the Reichspropagandaminister appears in the Vossische Zeitung at the beginning of March, reminding the state governments that non-Aryans are still performing on German stages. This is followed by an admonition for strict controls of the professional ID cards necessary for public appearances, and the Minister concludes with a sentence almost unsurpassable in hypocrisy: „It must not come to the point that the audience defends itself against the appearance of elements from which it believed it was already liberated, by means of self-help.“

A contract with the concert management Erich Knoblauch for three concerts in Dresden in December 1934 thus dutifully asks whether all the gentlemen are in possession of „the identity card of a professional association“.

Advertisement in the Dresdner Neuesten Nachrichten. Digital Collections SLUB Dresden

The artist’s fee for each of the three planned performances in Dresden was 40% of the gross income (after deduction of taxes), guaranteed at RM 300 per evening.

The Dresdner Neuesten Nachrichten wrote about the first Dresden concert on 15 December 1934:

Furthermore, Director Knoblauch inquires whether he should book „three days for five gentlemen at artists‘ prices“ at the Europahof and whether the Herr Professor“ was bound to a certain make of piano?

„The Kardosch Singers

The genealogy is clear and easy to grasp; they come from the Comedian Harmonists, who in turn go back to the Revellers. Such a fine lineage ensures them the interest of the audience, but also a high standard.

Well, The Kardosch Singers can take it. Much as they sing like those, they sing well and some in their own way.

The Comedian Harmonists have to be used as a comparison because they were very popular and because there is still no proper classification for this kind of male choir with piano. The Kardosch Singers will make that redundant and those forgotten with the growing popularity that is assured for them because of their skills. They will soon become a household name in popular music.

They are brilliantly attuned to each other, they glide over the most daring harmonic shifts like fish over rapids, they are so rhythmically relaxed that they can perform small and large acrobatic pieces of free performance with elegance, and they also have a bit of comedianship in them, which they use to illustrate what they are singing with gestures. Stephan Kardosch sits at the grand piano, who as musical arranger puts words and tunes into their mouths and illustrates them with a delicate touch.

There are only minor objections to the folk songs, which are stripped of all naivety and whose arrangements resemble a cocktail to which water has been added. This spoils the delicious purity of the fresh water and, on the other hand, damages the cocktail. One can completely agree with the hits, the dances and the parodies. It is a pleasure to listen to this cultivated cabaret art.

The Kardosch Singers showed up at the Künstlerhaus, which was shaken by the applause. You can meet them there again today and tomorrow. K.L.“

Another predominantly enthusiastic review of the same concert appears in the Sächsische Volkszeitung on 15 December 1934. Here too, of course, we see the dutiful criticism typical of the time of the performance of folk and classical songs, although it is noticeable that the tone is considerably less scathing than in similar reviews of the Comedian Harmonists. The Kardosch Singers are judged favourably as a supposedly „purely Aryan“ ensemble, where the Comedian Harmonists were mercilessly slated in similar instances.

„Guest performance by The Kardosch Singers

For three days, the Kuenstlerhaus is home to a funny quintet, The Kardosch Singers, who were a stormy success at their first appearance on Thursday. Four singers, one on the grand piano, sing a colourful array of songs and hits, even (unfortunately) art songs by Schubert and Mozart, and entertain the audience in the best possible way. In the manner of the Comedian Harmonists, they support their singing, which shows considerable musicality (despite all the nonsense!), with lively facial expressions – above all the hilarious bass singer – and by imitating instruments, so that sometimes you think you can hear saxophones and other jazz instruments. Irresistible in their cheerful moods, and doing a fabulous job with their voices, they make the time fly by. Because they are really funny and avoid becoming silly because of their good taste. So anyone who wants to get to know Frau Musica at her most cheerful can only be advised to go to The Kardosch Singers. Only songs like Schubert’s „Staendchen“ or even Mozart’s „Wiegenlied“ are difficult to bear when sung in this manner. To each their own, and The Kardosch Singers, with their inexhaustible repertoire of hits, have no need to trivialise such songs. Of the folk songs, some worked splendidly, but others did not belong in this boisterous setting either. Laughter – applause – encores. Dr. W.“

The group was frequently involved in Variety shows, which were often broadcast on the radio, as for example in December 1934 on Radio Hilversum, or on 20 January 1935 on Reichssender Königsberg. For such an evening they received a fee of 450 RM at the height of their career. The Karlsruher Tagblatt wrote on 25 November 1934 about their performance at such an evening of entertainment in November 1934:

„The best, however, was undoubtedly offered by the Kardosch Singers, four people with an astonishing mastery of the technical and with a distinctly individual attitude. Even graciously parodied folk songs found the liveliest echo through these artists of distinction, for whom Prof. Stephan Kardosch is a deliciously coquettish accompanist.“

Commercial for the „September Novelties of the Lindström Group“, 1934

On 7 January 1935, The Kardosch Singers signed an exclusive contract with the international concert touring agency Oscar Angerer in Stuttgart, which offers interesting insights into the group’s business and artistic situation. According to István Kardos, Angerer knew of his Jewish origins but still seemed to believe in a future for the group. The contract covered „the whole of Europe“, initially for a period of one year with „the right of prolongation for another year under the same conditions“.

Angerer guaranteed Kardos (as commercial and artistic director of the „modern vocal quintet Kardosch Singers“) a tour of at least 6 months for the year 1935 with a guaranteed evening fee of RM 120. In addition, at least 40 full-length concerts at a fee of RM 250. The remaining time of the year was to be filled up with full-length concerts or touring guest performances. Travel expenses (railway – 3rd class express train -, car or bus) were covered by the Angerer Concert Agency. Afternoon performances were remunerated with half the daily fee, but two full concerts per day were to be avoided in the interest of „artistic efficiency“ and were only to take place on a maximum of 10% of the dates.

Among other things, it said: „It is known to Mr. Kardosch that almost daily Mr. Kardosch and his gentlemen are travelling. All gentlemen travel at their own risk with regard to their person and luggage.“

The programme of the concerts was to be arranged in consultation with Oscar Angerer, and cancellations and changes in the line-up were also to be discussed with him. Kardos guaranteed that in the event of one of his gentlemen quitting, he would „replace the position within the quartet on an equivalent basis“.

And again: „Mr. Kardosch expressly undertakes to ensure that Mr. Kardosch and his gentlemen are organised with the relevant professional body of the Reich Chamber of Music and are in possession of the necessary identification.“

The notice period between „Herr Kardosch and one of the Herren Saenger, or vice versa“ was six months.

The „Herren Saenger“ agree to these conditions on 7 January.

At the beginning of 1935 they are on tour with Barnabas von Géczy and his orchestra, and again with Willy Reichert:

The Kardosch Singers gave two guest performances with Willy Reichert in Karlsruhe within one week in February 1935. One week before the public performance on 10 February, there was a performance on 3 February at a Kameradschaftsabend for the civil servants, employees and workers of the city of Karlsruhe, an occasion at which István Kardos must have sat at the piano with some stomach ache, because „The large festival hall was festively decorated with fir greenery and the symbols of the new Reich…. “ and representatives of NSDAP, SS and the organisation Kraft durch Freude were present in abundance. Before the performances of Reichert and his artists, there were speeches, Sieg Heil shouts, and Deutschland- and Horst Wessel-Lied were sung. One can hardly imagine the feelings with which Kardos, the „Jew in disguise“, entered the stage.

In view of their tight touring schedule, one almost wonders how The Kardosch Singers still found the time to go into the studio to make records, and in fact they made fewer records in 1935 compared to 1934. Two of them, Zeno Coste and Paul von Nyiri, got married that year, Nyiri in Florence, Coste in Berlin. In an affidavit for the compensation office in Berlin written in July 1956, Kardos expresses his conviction:

„…. in view of the high standard, popularity and recognition enjoyed by The KARDOSCH SINGERS, it is highly probable that I could have continued to work in Germany for many years with at least as much material success“.

As is well known, this was not to be the case. In the course of 1935, for example, they recorded titles such as „Der Kleine Postillon“, „Kleine Rosmarie“ and „Marietta“ (great examples of how Kardos knew how to let his singers shine as soloists), the cheekily ironic „Wenn der Bobby und die Lisa“ and two recordings with Peter Kreuder, including their only title sung in English, „Lookie lookie lookie, here comes Cookie“. The last recordings to be made were „Sie trägt ein kleines Jäckchen in Blau“ and „Ich schwöre nur auf Liese“ on 29 November 1935. By that time, István Kardos had already left his flat in Nuernberger Straße 3 and registered with his wife at „Pension von Eberswald“ in Joachimsthaler Straße 9 (the famous Kranzler Eck, which had been the business address of the Kardosch Singers from January 1935 at the latest). From there, the couple secretly fled Berlin and went back to Budapest.

The rest of the Kardosch Singers were caught by surprise when he fled. The newly married Nyiri couple also went back to Budapest in 1938. Coste initially remained in Berlin, sang with the „Meistersextett“ for a time, made a few records as a chorus singer, and tried in vain to get an engagement at the Opéra Comique in Paris before circumstances finally forced him to return home as well. Angermann and Schuricke remained active in the entertainment scene of the Nazi era, with Angermann turning more to opera, operetta and lieder singing, while Schuricke concentrated entirely on light entertainment music. Kardos and Nyiri may have met occasionally in Budapest after the war, and on at least one of Nyiri’s frequent radio appearances he was accompanied on the piano by Kardos who worked for Hungarian radio. Coste tried to find out what had become of the others through Willy Reichert in 1969. At least initially, he still followed Schuricke’s career.

In Denmark, November 1933