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ClassicsOnline Home » Violin Recital: Joseph Lin
Erich Wolfgang von Korngold (1897-1957)
Music for Violin and Piano
Together with Mozart, Mendelssohn, Busoni and Enescu, Erich
Wolfgang Korngold was a notable prodigy as a composer. Born in Brünn (now Brno)
on 29th May 1897, the second son of the music critic Julius Korngold, he
impressed Mahler with his music when he was only nine, and consolidated this
with the score for the ballet-pantomime Der Schneemann (The Snowman), first
given at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. A series of orchestral, chamber and
operatic works followed, culminating with the dual première in 1920 in Hamburg
and Cologne of his opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) (Naxos 8.660060-61).
The work brought him international fame at the age of 23. The success of his
next opera Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane) was blighted,
however, by the worsening political situation, while Die Kathrin was not heard
in Vienna because of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
In 1934 Korngold moved to Hollywood at the invitation of Max
Reinhardt. There he embarked on a series of film scores over the next decade,
including Captain Blood (1935) (Marco Polo 8.223607), The Adventures of Robin
Hood (1938) and King’s Row (1941), bringing his music to an audience of
millions. After the Second World War Korngold returned to the concert hall,
but, apart from a Violin Concerto (Naxos 8.553579), championed by Jascha
Heifetz, his effulgent late-Romantic style found little favour in post-war
Europe, and his death on 19th November 1957 attracted little attention. Recent
decades, however, have seen a resurgence of interest in his music, with a
number of performances and recordings marking the centenary of his birth in
A pianist by training, Korngold, like his older contemporary
Richard Strauss, clearly identified the violin with the human voice, and the
instrument features prominently in his operas and orchestral works. At the
prompting of the violinist Carl Flesch and the pianist Artur Schnabel, in 1912
he wrote his Violin Sonata in G major, with the première being given by these
musicians in Berlin the following year. The first movement, Ben moderato, ma
con passione, opens with a suave melody shared between the instruments. A
second theme, following at much the same tempo, is more wistful and
inward-looking. An interesting feature of the development is the piano’s taking
over the rhythm of the first theme in the left hand, over which the violin has
snatches of sul ponticello. The recapitulation is mainly allotted to the second
theme, before the movement tapers off in a gentle coda. The lengthy Scherzo,
Allegro molto, con fuoco, opens with cavorting passage-work, followed by a
capricious subsidiary theme and much wide-ranging motivic transformation. The
trio, Moderato cantabile, features an expressive melody taken from the Vier
kleinen fröhlichen Walzern for piano. Marked ‘with deepest feeling’, the Adagio
initially has a slightly rhetorical feel, the muted second theme and its
lapping piano accompaniment providing subtle contrast. A passionate climax is
reached, before the music glides to an ethereal close. The Finale, Allegretto
quasi Andante, con grazia, is a sequence of variations on an amiable theme
taken from the 1911 song Schneeglöckchen (Snowdrops). Reference to earlier
movements is made as the finale reaches its expressive apotheosis, and the work
ends in quiet understatement.
In 1918, Korngold composed incidental music for a production
of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at Schönbrunn Castle in May 1920.
Realising that the orchestra would be required elsewhere before the run had
been completed, the composer collaborated with the violinist Rudolf Kolisch in
an arrangement of the score for violin and piano. Four numbers published from
this version quickly entered the repertoire of some of the greatest virtuosi of
the day. Mädchen im Brautgemach (Maiden in the Bridal Chamber) depicts Hero
preparing for her wedding with uncertainty, yet with undeniable emotion.
Holzapfel und Schlehwein (Dogberry and Verges) is a humorous march for the two
drunken night-watchmen, while the expressive Gartenscene (Garden Scene)
underlines the reluctant but growing love of Beatrice for Benedick.
Mummenschanz (Masquerade) concludes the incidental music in robust good
The remaining pieces on this disc are all arrangements made
to further the appeal of some of Korngold’s biggest successes, though not all
of them enjoyed currency in his lifetime. The Serenade from Der Schneemann is a
simply lyrical piece whose bitter-sweet nostalgia made it an ideal salon item.
Surprisingly, a similar success was not enjoyed by the Caprice fantastique,
Korngold’s scintillating 1932 arrangement for Rózsika Révay of the piece
Wichtelmännchen (The Goblins) from his 1910 set of piano miniatures
Märchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), which remained unheard until recent years.
Ich ging zu ihm (I went to him) is one of the high-points in
Korngold’s fourth opera Das Wunder der Heliane. Here the heroine vainly
protests her innocence with regard to the young Stranger, who has brought hope
to a dictatorship where all manifestations of love have been banned.
Of the two transcriptions from Die tote Stadt, Pierrots
Tanzlied finds a member of Marietta’s dance troupe singing of his unrequited
love for the dancer, and became a favourite of Fritz Kreisler. Little known in
this arrangement, Mariettas Lied is an enchanting aria of self-expression, and
helped to keep Korngold’s name alive in the unfavourable cultural climate of
the years either side of his death.
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