Lehár was born in the northern part of Komárom, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Komárno, Slovakia), the eldest son of a bandmaster in the Infantry Regiment No. 50 of the Austro-Hungarian Army.
Franz studied violin and composition at the Prague Conservatory, where his violin teacher was Antonín Bennewitz, but was advised by Antonín Dvořák to focus on composing music.
After graduation in 1899 he joined his father’s band in Vienna, as assistant bandmaster. In 1902 he became conductor at the historic Vienna Theater an der Wien, where his first opera Wiener Frauen was performed in November of that year.
He is most famous for his operettas — the most successful of which is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) — but he also wrote sonatas, symphonic poems, marches, and a number of waltzes (the most popular being Gold und Silber, composed for Princess Pauline von Metternich‘s “Gold and Silver” Ball, January 1902), some of which were drawn from his famous operettas.
Individual songs from some of the operettas have become standards, notably “Vilja” from The Merry Widow and “You Are My Heart’s Delight” (“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“) from The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns).