WORSHIPPED, IGNORED, FORGOTTEN:

ABOUT ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD AND ‘DIE TOTE STADT’.

Przyslala Basia Jaworski

 


kORNGOLD kindHe was a child prodigy. At the age of twenty he was already world-famous and established as a composer. He wrote several operas, songs, concertos, symphonies, quartets, quintets and some more. His compositions were performed by prominent musicians such as Arthur Schnabel, Carl Fleisch, Bruno Walter, Rose and his quartet, Böhm, Tauber, Lotte Lehmann, Strauss…

He was the inventor of the famous Hollywood sound, which in reality was nothing more than a combination of the Viennese schmalz (including the waltz) and a healthy dose of tension and a sense of drama. Worshipped before the war, totally ignored afterwards.

Korngold, the son of a leading Austrian music critic, was destined to to become a musician – a genius! His father had not called him Wolfgang for nothing.

On the recommendation of Mahler, who became quite impressed by the boy’s talent, he was taught composition by Zemlinsky. After eighteen months (Korngold was then 12 years old) his teacher thought it was pointless to teach him anything.

An amusing anecdote also dates from that time. Zemlinsky was appointed chief conductor in Prague. When he heard that Korngold studied counterpoint with Hermann Grädener (then a famous music teacher), he sent him a telegram: “Dear Erich, I heard that you are studying with Grädaner. And, is he already making progress?”

Below: Korngold plays ‘Der Schneeman’ (piano roll):

 

Korngold was eleven years old when his ballet pantomime Der Schneeman premiered at the Vienna State Opera and at the age of eighteen he presented two operas: Ring des Polykratesand Violanta. The last one starring Maria Jeritza. Both achieved enormous success. “Meister von Himmel gefallen”, headlined one of the newspapers.

Korngold Jerirza Violanta

Maria Jeritza as Violanta

 

In 1934 Korngold left for Hollywood. His friend Max Reinhardt, a world-famous stage director, asked him to write music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a film he worked on at the time. Thanks partly to the beautiful music it became a great success and the directors of Warner Bros. offered Korngold a fantastic contract.

Below is a promotional film about making A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

 

Korngold lived between two worlds. Literally and figuratively. In the years 1934-1938 he commuted between Hollywood and Vienna. In the winter he worked on film music, the summers he spent on his more ‘serious’ works.

At that time his last opera, Die Kathrin, was created. The premiere (originally planned for January 1938) had to be postponed several times. Richard Tauber, who had taken over the leading role from Jan Kiepura, was working on a film in England and was only available in March.

On 22 January a telegram arrived: whether Korngold could be back in Hollywood within ten days, to start the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood as soon as possible. Korngold considered it an omen and with the last ship he left Europe on 29 January 1938. On 3 February he arrived in New York, together with his wife and one of his two children (the rest of the family followed a month later).

Below is a trailer of Robin Hood:

He was doing well in America and was very successful (two of his films won an Oscar), but still he didn’t feel at home there. His heart and soul had stayed behind in Vienna. In 1949 he travelled back to Vienna, but nobody knew him anymore. In Salzkammergut he visited his villa, where he had once been so happy. What a pleasure that you have returned”, was said to him. And when will you leave again? Disillusioned he returned to Hollywood, where seven years later he literally died of a broken heart.

Calosc TUTAJ

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