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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Biography

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (29 May 1897, Brno, Austria/Hungary – 29 November 1957, Los Angeles) was an American composer of Austro-Hungarian birth.

He was born in a Jewish home, the second son of eminent music critic Julius Korngold. A child prodigy, Erich played his cantata Gold to Gustav Mahler in 1909; Mahler called him a "musical genius" and recommended study with composer Alexander von Zemlinsky. Richard Strauss also spoke very highly of the youth. At the age of 11 he composed his ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman), which became a sensation when performed at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910, including a command performance for Emperor Franz Josef. This work was followed first with a piano trio, then his Piano Sonata No. 2 in E major, which Artur Schnabel played throughout Europe. During his early years Korngold also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Hupfeld DEA and Phonola system and also the Aeolian Duo-Art system, which survive today and can be heard.

Korngold wrote his first orchestral score, the Schauspiel Ouverture. when he was 14. His Sinfonietta appeared the following year, and his first two operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, in 1914. He completed his opera Die tote Stadt, which became an international success, in 1920 at the age of 23. At this point Korngold had reached the zenith of his fame as a composer of opera and concert music. Composers such as Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini heaped praise on him, and many famous conductors, soloists and singers added his works to their repertoires. He also started arranging and conducting operettas by Johann Strauss II and others while teaching opera and composition at the Vienna Staatsakademie. Korngold was awarded the title professor honoris causa by the president of Austria.

Max Reinhardt asked the composer to come to Hollywood in 1934 to adapt Felix Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music for his film version of the play. Over the next four years, he became a pioneer in composing film scores that have been recognized ever since as classics of their kind. In 1938, Korngold was conducting opera in Austria when he was asked by Warner Brothers to return to Hollywood and compose a score for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn. When, shortly after he arrived in California, the Anschluss took place, the condition of Jews in Austria became very perilous and Korngold stayed in America. Korngold later would say the film score of The Adventures of Robin Hood saved his life. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film, and was later nominated for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940). A Korngold authority wrote:

Treating each film as an 'opera without singing' (each character has his or her own leitmotif) [Korngold] created intensely romantic, richly melodic and contrapuntally intricate scores, the best of which are a cinematic paradigm for the tone poems of Richard Strauss and Franz Liszt. He intended that, when divorced from the moving image, these scores could stand alone in the concert hall. His style exerted a profound influence on modern film music.

—Brendan G. Carroll, Korngold, Erich Wolfgang

In 1943, Korngold became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He stopped writing original film scores after 1946, his final score at Warner Bros. being for Deception.

After World War II Korngold continued to write concert music in a rich, chromatic late Romantic style, with the Violin Concerto among his notable later works. While his late Romantic compositional style was considered well out of vogue at the time he died, his music has more recently undergone a reevaluation and a gradual reawakening of interest. Along with such composers as Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, he is considered one of the founders of film music. Korngold's 1938 Academy Award for his score to The Adventures of Robin Hood marked the first time an Oscar was awarded to the composer rather than the head of the studio music department. The American Film Institute ranked Korngold's score for The Adventures of Robin Hood as number 11 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for Deception, Kings Row, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Sea Hawk were also nominated for the list.


Works for Winds


References