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Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)


Son of an eminent music critic in Vienna, Korngold showed great precocity and impressed even Mahler by his abilities. He had his first public success as an eleven-year-old, with a ballet staged at the Vienna Court Opera. He moved to America at the invitation of Max Reinhardt in 1934 and made a career there as a film-composer, returning after the war to his original métier as a composer for the concert-hall, but unable to win a place now in the opera-house in a changed world.

Korngold won success in 1916 with his operas Violanta and The Ring of Polycrates. Still more successful was the opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) staged on the same evening in Hamburg and Cologne in 1920. The work is a dream-story, suggesting the work of Maeterlinck or Edgar Allan Poe, haunted by ideas of death. The opera was internationally successful and has recently been revived.

Equally precocious in other genres of music, Korngold wrote his first piano sonata at the age of twelve, adding a second soon after, with a third in 1930. The greater part of his chamber music was written before he left Germany. The middle period of his life, in America, established him as a respected composer of film music. The music that he wrote for the cinema, following his practice for the composition of opera, has a distinction of its own, apart from the films for which it was written, and on occasions provided him with material for later use in another context. His music for The Adventures of Robin Hood and for Anthony Adverse won Oscars, and the second of these, with his music for Captain Blood and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, provided thematic material for his Symphony, Op.40. His Violin Concerto, eventually written after the war, as the demands of Hollywood diminished, is romantic in style and a popular element in repertoire, since its first performance by Heifetz in 1947.


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