Heinz Gerlach (1910 – 1943), a German musician and composer, became world famous by his harmonica polka “Dancing Fingers”.
Heinz Gerlach was descended from a working class family in Berlin. Shortly before World War I, his parents emigrated to Uruguay. As they weren’t able to make a living in the back-country, his mother returned home to Berlin-Wedding, together with Heinz and his three elder sisters. Heinz Gerlach became a precision mechanic by profession, but all the time he moonlighted as a passionate dancing musician. Miss Charlotte (1910 – 1996), a passionate dancer, fell in love with the blond musician and they got married. Three children resulted from this marriage: Karl-Heinz (1931 – 1992), Gerhard (1934 – 1991) and Ursula (1940), who had a hand in this biography. During World War II Gerlach, in spite of being extremely far-sighted, was called up for military service and killed at the east front shortly afterwards. His widow with her 3 children was bombed out several times during the war, and lost all her goods and chattels, but she remained in her home city Berlin-Wedding for many more years. The brave, vital woman was able to pull her family through partly by means of author’s fees for her husband’s compositions. She was good friends with music publisher Martha Czichon (Edition Metropol) who assisted her in issuing these works.
We don’t know whether Heinz Gerlach ever got musical lessons; he probably took lessons in music theory during his period of apprenticeship together with his best pal Heinz Munsonius. But Heinz had an amazing musical talent. From an early age Heinz learned with ease every musical instrument he could get in his hands. He is reported to have got about forty ones over the years; asides piano and violin among them guitar, balalaika, banjo, saxophone, xylophone, “singing saw”, bandonion and accordion, of course. Before the war he conducted an accordion ensemble and a balalaika band – he himself acting as bandoneon soloist. (Photo documents)
Heinz was unbelievably creative and took every opportunity to note his permanently emerging musical ideas. 58 dance music pieces have been documented during his short life. Unfortunately, most of them got lost during the war, a few may still lie dormant in some publisher’s archives; at present one can only obtain the small part of sheet music which has been published by Edition Metropol. Titles of lost pieces suggest that he didn’t only compose polka, foxtrot and musette waltz, but also tango and other dances which were modern at that time. For some of these pieces he also composed lyrics.
A group of musicians gathered around Heinz Gerlach. They were crazy for swing style music, which at that time was very popular, but not considered suitable by the Nazi government. Jazz was regarded to be “undeutsch” and frowned upon as “negro music”. Among his comrades were Heinz Munsonius (1910 – 1963) – of the same age as and musically closely related to Gerlach – , the accordion virtuoso Horst Wende (1919 – 1996) and the jazz violinist Helmut Zacharias (1920 – 2002).
Heinz Gerlach recorded his compositions himself and pressed the recordings in-house on red schellack discs. Regrettably, his home-studio-workshop and all his material were destroyed during the bomb war; but interpretations by his friend Munsonius should represent Gerlach’s style. Virtuosi Joe Alex (1895 – 1973), Will Glahé (1902 – 1989), Johnny Meyer (1912 – 1992) and Horst Wende also performed Gerlach’s charming pieces and made them well known to a broader public. Gerlach’s masterpiece, the lively harmonica polka Dancing Fingers, became the best known accordion solo piece and was among the repertoire of every skilled accordionist. This accordion trump incited to various arrangements, even unexpected ones like such for brass band, mandolin ensemble or children choir. On this website I present my own version for three-handed accordion. May it have sounded like this when Gerlach and Munsonius made music together?
Heinz Gerlach passed his musical talent on to his son Gerhard Gerlach (1934 – 1991), who studied music in Trossingen and then worked in Flensburg as an accordionist, organist, music teacher and composer; he conducted an accordion orchestra and a church choir. Gerhard Gerlach composed several pieces for accordion and the incidential music for the Low-German comedy “Around Cape Horn” by Fritz Wempner (1910 – 1994).
The accordionist, conductor and composer Kurt Gerlach is not related to Heinz Gerlach – though he bears some noticeable resemblance to him. Kurt Gerlach issued an accordion tutorial (1954); together with Günter Schönfeld he wrote several pieces for accordion ensemble.
24 pieces for accordion
- Tanzende Finger (Dancing Fingers) – Polka (1938) Tanzende Finger
- Tausendkünstler (Juggler) – Foxtrot (1943 ?) Tausendkünstler
- Frischer Wind (Fresh Breeze) – Polka (1943) Frischer Wind
- Edelsteine! (Gemstones!) – Valse Musette (1943) Edelsteine!
- Der Draufgänger (The Go-Getter) – Polka (1944) Der Draufgänger
- Maskottchen (Mascot) – Intermezzo (1943) Maskottchen
- Viel Spaß! (Have Fun!) – Polka (1943) Viel Spaß!
- Tastenzauber (Fascinating Keys) – Foxtrot (1942) Tastenzauber
- Lustige Streiche (Frolicsome Pranks) – Polka (1938) Lustige Streiche
- Glücksträume (Dreams of Happiness) – Waltz (1943) Glücksträume
- Prickelnder Sekt (Sparkling Wine) – Foxtrot (1942) Prickelnder Sekt
- Frisch und munter (Fresh and brisk) – Polka (1939) Frisch und munter
Annotation: Sheet music of the 12 items above is still available from original publisher Edition Metropol.
- Nächtliche Promenade (Nightly Promenade) – Intermezzo (1941) Nächtliche Promenade
- Zärtlichkeiten (Caresses) – Waltz (1942) Zärtlichkeiten ♫♫♫
- Luftschlösser (Castles in the Air) – Foxtrot (1940) Luftschlösser ♫♫♫ info
- Koboldspiele (Goblin’s Games) – Intermezzo (1943) Koboldspiele
- Goldrichtig (Right on the Money) – Polka (1941) Goldrichtig
- Pußtaträume (Puszta Dreams) – Czárdás (1941) Pußtaträume
- Zottelköpfchen (Shaggy Moppet) – Intermezzo (1941) Zottelköpfchen
- Florentine – Polka (1943 ?) Florentine ♫♫♫ info
- Strahlende Laune (Splendid Mood) – Intermezzo (1941) Strahlende Laune
- Auf der Drehscheibe (In the Circle of Fifths) – Easy waltz for learners (1939) Auf der Drehscheibe ♫♫♫
- Zierpüppchen (Figurine) – Intermezzo (1942) Zierpüppchen
- Spanischer Marsch (Spanish March) (1942) Spanischer Marsch
- Ursula Krenz (Daughter), private communivation
- Hans-Jürgen Gerlach (Nephew), private communication
- Hofmeisters musikalisch-literarische Monatsberichte from the years 1936 to 1947
- Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Musical Archive