Although of Moravian extraction, Benatzky spent his childhood after age six in Vienna. After pursuing several other careers, he undertook composition, principally of lighter fare in the tradition of the great Viennese operetta creators such as Strauss pére and son. His facility for assembling pastiche proved profitable. In cabaret and on-stage, he concocted revues and full-length operettas that caught and held the public's fancy, first in Vienna, later in Berlin. Some popular singers, such as Zarah Leander, proved eager to champion his songs and arias. While his greatest fame outside Europe rests with one operetta, White Horse Inn, he wrote extensively for film where his craftsmanship provided the means for survival when exile became necessary.
A military career ended in 1907 when Benatzky sustained a serious injury. He then entered university to study philology in Vienna, Munich, and Prague. At the same time, he pursued composition and conducting in Munich with famed conductor Felix Mottl, remembered primarily for his Wagner affiliations. After a period in which he conducted in Munich, Benatzky turned to writing texts for musical theater and the cabaret. Upon his return to Vienna, the newly fledged musician assumed the directorship of a prominent cabaret and began composing operettas and popular songs set to his own lyrics, several of them quickly passing into Viennese iconography. One of his most persuasive interpreters was Josma Selim, whom he married in 1914.
The Berlin night life of the 1920s proved tempting and Benatzky moved to that city to achieve acclaim for his glittering productions of operetta, rich in sets and costuming and featuring songs much loved by audiences. His Casanova, pulled together from the music of Johann Strauss, proved an immense hit in 1928. Two years later, Benatzky wrote White Horse Inn (Im weissen Rössl), incorporating songs of proven cache by other composers. This came to be his most imperishable work.
After the election of the National Socialists, Benatzky left Germany, moving first to Paris, then on to Vienna. With the Anschluss, the composer traveled to Hollywood where he worked in the film industry until he returned to Europe in 1948. A well-detailed EMI recording of Im weissen Rössl and various songs recorded by Zarah Leander honorably represent Benatzky's work.