Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Erich Wolfgang Korngold 01.jpg
Born (1897-05-29)May 29, 1897
Brünn (Brno), Moravia,
Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic)
Died November 29, 1957(1957-11-29) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American (naturalized citizen 1943)
Occupation Composer, conductor, pianist
Years active 1909–1957
Spouse(s) Luzi Sonnenthal (1924–1957)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (May 29, 1897 – November 29, 1957) was an Austro-Hungarian composer who adopted US nationality. [1][2] While his late Romantic compositional style was considered well out of vogue at the time he died, his music has more recently undergone a re-evaluation and a gradual reawakening of interest.[3] 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 (as had occurred, for example, with Korngold's award-winning score to Anthony Adverse in 1936).


He was born in a Jewish home in Brünn (Brno), Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic), 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.[3] 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.[citation needed]

Max Reinhardt, who invited Korngold to Hollywood to collaborate on the film A Midsummer Night's Dream

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.[3]

Max Reinhardt, with whom Korngold had collaborated on the operettas Die Fledermaus and La belle Helene, 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. He agreed and returned by ship. 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 stated, "We thought of ourselves as Viennese; Hitler made us Jewish."[4]

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 his 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.[5] 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.[5] Korngold stopped writing original film scores after 1946. His final score at Warner Bros. was for 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 André 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. He died in North Hollywood on November 29, 1957, and was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[3]


Despite his achievements, 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.[citation needed]

In 1973, Warner Brothers released special LPs featuring excerpts from the original soundtracks of films scored by Korngold, as 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.[6]

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), in 1975: Die tote Stadt, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf in Germany. In 1980, CBS Masterworks recorded the opera Violanta under the baton of Marek Janowski; this recording has been re-released by Sony Classical in 2009. In 1993, Decca released a recording of Das Wunder der Heliane conducted by John Mauceri in their Entartete Musik series. Korngold's two remaining operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Die Kathrin have both been recorded (in 1996 and 1998 respectively) by the German record label CPO. This company also released four CDs of Korngold's orchestral works with Werner Andreas Albert conducting the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie. The American conductor-pianist Alexander Frey is currently recording Korngold's complete original piano works for Koch International Classics. In 2001, ArtHaus Musik released a documentary DVD Erich Wolfgang Korngold – The Adventures of a Wunderkind.[7] Double bass soloist Joel Quarrington recorded a transcription of the "Garden Scene" from Korngold's incidental music to Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 on his 2008 CD, also entitled "Garden Scene." Quarrington won a Juno Award for the album. In 2009, Korngold's Violin Concerto was released on the Naxos Records label, along with Overture to a Drama, Op. 4, and the concert suite from Much Ado About Nothing, performed by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mineria and violinist Philippe Quint.

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.[8] Carroll has released excerpts of acetates with Korngold conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra in music from his film scores, some possibly taken from KFWB radio broadcasts. In addition, the soundtrack recordings of Korngold conducting some of the film scores have been issued on CDs. On British television, in the 1970s, André Previn conducted one movement from the violin concerto, and then told the story of the "famous" American music critic who declared that "Korngold's violin concerto is more corn than gold". Previn then pointed out that the critic is no longer remembered whereas Korngold is.

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 the following films were also nominated for the list:

On 6 August 2013, Korngold's Symphony in F major was given its first Proms performance, at the Royal Albert Hall in London.[9]

Selected list of works[edit]

  • Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor with concluding passacaglia, (composed 1908; first performed 1908–09)
  • Piano Trio in D major, Op. 1 (composed and first performed 1910)
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 in E major, Op. 2, in four movements (composed 1910; first performed 1911)
  • Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (Overture to a Play), Op. 4 (Composed and first performed 1911)
  • Sinfonietta, Op. 5 (Composed 1912, orchestrated and first performed 1913)
  • Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 6 (composed 1912; first performed 1916)
  • Der Ring des Polykrates, Op. 7 (1916)
  • Violanta, Op. 8 (1916)
  • String Sextet in D major, Op. 10 (first performed 1917)
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 (Incidental music to the play by Shakespeare) (Composed 1918–1919, first performed 1920)
  • Die tote Stadt, Op. 12 (1920)
  • Sursum Corda, Op. 13 (Symphonic Overture (Composed 1919, first performed 1920)
  • 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)
  • Piano Concerto in C for the left hand alone, Op. 17, (Composed 1923, first performed 1924)
  • Das Wunder der Heliane, Op. 20 (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])
  • String Quartet No. 2 in E major, Op. 26 (composed 1933; first performed 1934)
  • Die Kathrin, Op. 28 (1939)
  • Tomorrow, Op. 33, tone poem for mezzo-soprano, women's choir and orchestra, for the movie The Constant Nymph. (First performed in concert 1944)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34 (composed 1945; first performed 1946)
  • Violin Concerto, Op. 35 (Composed 1945, first performed 1947)
  • Die stumme Serenade, Op. 36 (musical comedy) (1954)
  • Cello Concerto in C major, Op. 37 (Composed 1950, expanded from a work written for the 1946 film Deception)
  • Symphonic Serenade in B major for string orchestra, Op. 39 (Composed 1947–48, first performed 1950)
  • Symphony in F major, Op. 40 (Composed 1947–52, first performed 1954)
  • Theme and Variations, Op. 42 (Composed and first performed 1953)


  • The Last Prodigy. A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold by Brendan G. Carroll. ISBN 978-1-57467-029-5 (Hardcover, October 1997)
  • Das Letzte Wunderkind' by Brendan G Carroll – Revised edition of Carroll's biography of Korngold The Last Prodigy, in German translation, published November 2012. Hardcover Boehlau-Verlag, Vienna
  • 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, second edition (London: Macmilian, 2001), 29 vols. ISBN 0-333-60800-3. (Carroll, Brendan G., "Korngold, Erich Wolfgang.")


  1. ^ "Korngold, Erich Wolfgang". Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 29 September 2013. (subscription required)
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, December 4, 1957, page 79.
  3. ^ a b c d Carroll, New Grove (2001), 13:823.
  4. ^ Bernardi, Daniel. Hollywood's Chosen People: The Jewish Experience in American Cinema, Wayne State Univ. Press (2013) p. 48
  5. ^ a b "OREL Foundation. Erich Wolfgang Korngold. (2009). Robert Kingston". 
  6. ^ Carroll, New Grove (1980), 10:210.
  7. ^ Ian Lace (June 2003). "The Adventures of a Wunderkind". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 28 July 2010. ... a splendid record of the life and music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. 
  8. ^ see korngold centre
  9. ^ "Prom 31 (part 2): Walton, Rubbra, Bruch & Korngold". 6 August 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 

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