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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold (May 29, 1897 – November 29, 1957) was a Jewish American film and romantic music composer. While his 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.[1] Along with Max Steiner, he is often called the father of film music.


Born in a Jewish home in Brünn (Brno) (Austria–Hungary, now Czech Republic), Erich was the second son of eminent music critic Julius Korngold. A child prodigy, Erich played his cantata Gold to Gustav Mahler in 1906; 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 that Artur Schnabel played throughout Europe.[1] During his early years Korngold also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Aeolian Duo-Art system, all of 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 completed a concerto for piano left hand for pianist Paul Wittgenstein in 1923 and his fourth opera, Das Wunder der Heliane four years later. 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.[1]

Max Reinhardt, with whom Korngold had collaborated on the operas Die Fledermaus and La belle Helene, asked the composer to come to Hollywood in 1934 to adapt Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream to 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 come back to Hollywood and compose a score for their new (and very expensive) film The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn. He agreed and returned by ship. Shortly after he arrived in California, the Anschluss took place and the condition of Jews in Austria became very perilous so that he 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, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

In 1943, Korngold became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The year 1945 became an important turning point in Korngold's life. His father, who had never been entirely comfortable in Los Angeles, and who had never approved of Erich's decision to focus exclusively on film composition, died after a lengthy illness. [2] Roughly around the same time, the war in Europe drew to an end. Korngold himself had grown increasingly disillusioned with Hollywood and with the kinds of pictures he was being given, and he was eager to return to writing music for the concert hall and the stage. [3] Korngold stopped writing original film scores after 1946. His final score at Warner Bros. was Deception starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. However, he was asked by Republic Pictures to adapt the music of Richard Wagner for a film biography of the composer, released in Trucolor, as Magic Fire (1955), directed by William Dieterle from a script by Ewald Andre Dupont. Korngold also wrote some original music for the film and had an unbilled cameo as the conductor Hans Richter.

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. Korngold died in North Hollywood on November 29, 1957 and was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[1]


Despite his achievements and considerable popularity with the musical public, Korngold for years attracted almost no positive critical attention, but considerable critical disdain. Then, in 1972, RCA Victor released an LP titled The Sea Hawk, featuring excerpts from Korngold's film scores performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Gerhardt and supervised by the composer's son George. (This album and other classic film scores by Hollywood composers were later issued by RCA on CD in Dolby Surround Sound.) This was followed by recordings of Korngold's operas and concert works, which led to performances of his symphony and concertos, as well as other compositions.

In 1973, Warner Brothers released special LPs featuring excerpts from the original soundtracks of films scored by Korngold, which had actually been conducted by Warner's music director Leo Forbstein, as a well as a rare recording of Korngold playing the main theme from Kings Row on the piano. In addition, a KFWB radio broadcast from 1938 with Korngold conducting the studio orchestra in excerpts from The Adventures of Robin Hood, narrated by actor Basil Rathbone, was released on LP. In 1975 Die Tote Stadt was revived to capacity houses in New York.[4]

There have also been a number of new digital recordings of Korngold's film scores, as well as some of his concert works, especially his violin concerto and his symphony. RCA Victor was the first to record a complete Korngold opera (in stereo), Die Tote Stadt, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf in Germany. His complete orchestral works have been recorded by the German conductor Werner Andreas Albert. Korngold's complete piano works are currently being recorded by the American conductor-pianist Alexander Frey for Koch International Classics.

Further recognition came in the 1990s; two full-scale biographies of him appeared almost simultaneously. One is Jessica Duchen, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Phaidon Press, 20th Century Composers series, 1996). The other is Brendan G. Carroll, Erich Korngold: The Last Prodigy (Amadeus Press, 1997). Carroll is President of the International Korngold Society.[5]


Orchestral and vocal works

  • Der Schneemann (a Pantomime). Composed and first performed 1910
  • Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (Overture to a Play), Op. 4, composed and first performed 1911)
  • Sinfonietta, Op. 5 (composed 1912, orchestrated and first performed 1913)
  • Der Sturm (The Tempest) for chorus and orchestra, after Heinrich Heine, composed 1913
  • Kaiserin Zita-Hymne for solo voice, choir and piano / orchestra, composed 1917
  • Military March in B major, composed 1917
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 (Incidental music to the play by Shakespeare 1918–1919. First performed 1920
  • Sursum Corda, Op. 13 (Symphonic Overture, composed 1919, first performed 1920
  • Piano Concerto in C for the left hand alone, Op. 17, (composed 1923; first performed 1924)
  • Baby Serenade, Op. 24, composed 1928–1929, first performed 1932
  • Tomorrow, Op. 33, tone poem for mezzo-soprano, women's choir and orchestra, for the movie The Constant Nymph. First performed in concert 1944
  • Violin Concerto, Op. 35 (composed 1945; first performed 1947)
  • Cello Concerto in C major, Op. 37 (1950, expanded from a work written for the 1946 film (Deception)
  • Symphonic Serenade in B major for string orchestra 1947–48; First performed 1950
  • Symphony in F sharp major, Op. 40 (composed 1947–52; first performed 1954)
  • Theme and Variations, Op. 42 (composed and first performed 1953)
  • Straussiana, for orchestra (composed and first performed 1953)


  • So Gott und Papa will (If God and daddy agree), Op. 5, composed 1911
  • Einfache Lieder (Simple Songs), Op. 9, composed 1911–13
  • Lieder des Abschieds (Songs of Farewell), Op. 14, (composed 1920; first performed 1921; orchestral version first performed 1923)
  • Drei Lieder (Three Songs), Op. 18, composed 1924, first performed 1926
  • Drei Lieder (Three Songs), Op. 22, composed 1928–29, first performed 1930
  • Narrenlieder (Songs of the Clown), Op. 29, from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, composed 1937, first performed 1941
  • Vier Shakespeare-Lieder (Four Shakespeare Songs), Op. 31, composed 1937–41, first performed 1941
  • Fünf Lieder (Five Songs), Op. 38, composed 1948, first performed 1950
  • Sonett für Wien (Sonnet for Vienna), Op. 41, composed 1953, first performed 1954

Spiritual Music

  • A Passover Psalm, Op. 30, hymn for solo voice, chorus, and orchestra. Composed and first performed 1941
  • Prayer, Op. 32, for tenor, women's choir, and organ. Composed and first performed 1941

Piano music and Chamber works

  • Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor with concluding passacaglia, (composed 1908; first performed 1908–09)
  • Don Quixote. Six characteristic pieces for piano, composed 1909
  • Was der Wald erzählt (What the Forest tells). Suite for piano, composed 1909
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 in E major, Op. 2, in four movements (composed 1910; first performed 1911)
  • Sieben Märchenbilder (Seven Fairy-Tale Pictures, Op. 3, for piano, composed 1910, first performance 1912
  • Vier kleine fröhliche Walzer (Four little cheerful Waltzes), composed 1912
  • Vier kleine Karikaturen für Kinder (Four little caricatures for children), composed 1926
  • Geschichten vom Strauß (Tales from Strauss), Op. 21, for piano solo, composed 1927
  • Suite for 2 violins, cello and piano left hand, Op. 23, composed 1930; first performed 1930
  • Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 25 (composed 1931; first performed 1932) ([1])
  • Piano Trio in D major, Op. 1 (composed and first performed 1910)
  • Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 6 (composed 1912; first performed 1916)
  • String Sextet in D major, Op. 10 (first performed 1917)
  • Quintet for two violins, viola, cello and piano in E major, Op. 15 (composed 1920–21; first performed 1923)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 16 (composed 1923; first performed 1924)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 26 (composed 1933; first performed 1934)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34 (composed 1945; first performed 1946)
  • Romance-Impromptu for cello and piano. Composed for the film Deception (but not used) 1948


  • Der Ring des Polykrates, Op. 7 (1916)
  • Violanta, Op. 8 (1916)
  • Die tote Stadt , Op. 12 (1920)
  • Das Wunder der Heliane, Op. 20 (1927)
  • Die Kathrin, Op. 28 (1939)
  • Die stumme Serenade, Op. 36 (musical comedy) (1954)

Arrangements for operettas

  • Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice), Johann Strauss II (1923)
  • Cagliostro in Wien (Cagliostro in Vienna), Johann Strauss II (1927)
  • Rosen aus Florida (Roses from Florida), Leo Fall (1929)
  • Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Johann Strauss II (1929)
  • Walzer aus Wien (Waltzes from Vienna), Family Strauss (1930)
  • Die schöne Helena (The Beautiful Helena), Jacques Offenbach (1931)
  • Das Lied der Liebe (The Song of Love), Johann Strauss II (1931)
  • Die geschiedene Frau (The Divorced Woman), Leo Fall (1933)
  • Rosalinda (= Die Fledermaus), Johann Strauss II (1942)
  • Helen Goes to Troy (=La belle Hélène) Jacques Offenbach (1944)
  • The Great Waltz (= Walzer aus Wien), Johann Strauss II (1949)

Film scores

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) (a re-orchestration of music composed by Felix Mendelssohn)
  • Captain Blood (1935)
  • Give Us This Night (1936)
  • Hearts Divided (1936)
  • The Green Pastures (1936)
  • Anthony Adverse (1936)
  • The Prince and the Pauper (1937)
  • Another Dawn (1937)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • Juarez (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • The Sea Hawk (1940)
  • The Sea Wolf (1941)
  • Kings Row (1942)
  • The Constant Nymph (1943)
  • Between Two Worlds (1944)
  • Devotion (1946)
  • Of Human Bondage (1946)
  • Deception (1946)
  • Escape Me Never (1947)
  • Magic Fire (1956) (after Richard Wagner)

Rerecorded film scores

  • Sea Hawk: Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1972 - RCA Victor
  • Elizabeth & Essex: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1973 - RCA Victor
  • Captain Blood: Classic Film Scores For Errol Flynn - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1974 - RCA Victor
  • King's Row - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1979 - Chalfont
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood - Varujan Kojian and Utah Symphony Orchestra - 1983 - Varese Sarabande
  • The Sea Hawk - Varujan Kojian and Utah Symphony Orchestra - 1987 - Varese Sarabande
  • Anthony Adverse - John Scott and Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra - 1990 - Varese Sarabande
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' - Carl Davis and Munich Symphony Orchestra - 1992 - Bay Cities
  • Captain Blood - Richard Kaufman and Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra - 1994 - Marco Polo
  • Between Two Worlds - Alexander Frey, piano; John Mauceri and Berlin Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester - 1995 - Decca
  • Another Dawn - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 1995 - Marco Polo
  • Devotion - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 1997 - Marco Polo
  • Tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold - James Sedares and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - 2000 - KOCH
  • Previn Conducts Korngold - Andre Previn and London Symphony Orchestra - 2002 - Deutsche Grammophon
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2003 - Marco Polo
  • The Sea Wolf - Rumon Gamba and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra - 2005 - Chandos
  • The Sea Hawk - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2007 - Naxos
  • The Sea Hawk - Rumon Gamba and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra - 2007 - Chandos
  • The Prince and the Pauper - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2008 - Tribute Film Classics

References and further reading

  • The Last Prodigy. A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold by Brendan G. Carroll. ISBN 9781574670295 (Hardcover - October 1997)
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold (20th-Century Composers) by Jessica Duchen. Phaidon Publication - ISBN 0-7148-3155-7 (Paperback - July 1996)
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold by Luzi Korngold (wife). Verlag Elisabeth Lafite, Vienna, 1967. In German. Hardcover, 112 pages.
  • "Erich Wolfgang Korngold: early life and works". Doctoral thesis by David Ian Kram. Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (
  • Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, (London: Macmilian, 1980), 20 vols. ISBN 0-333-23111-2. (Carroll, B.G., "Korngold, Erich Wolfgang.")
  • Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (London: Macmilian, 2001), 29 vols. ISBN 0-333-60800-3. (Carroll, Brendan G., "Korngold, Erich Wolfgang.")


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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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