Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold biography

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (May 29, 1897 – November 29, 1957) was an Academy Award-winning 20th century film and romantic music composer. Born in an assimilated Jewish home in Brno, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic), Erich was the son of the music critic Julius Korngold. He studied music under Alexander von Zemlinsky and Robert Fuchs. Gustav Mahler, upon meeting the young Erich, called him a "musical genius." Richard Strauss also spoke very highly of the youth. 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.

He had success in Europe with his opera Die tote Stadt (1920), among other works, before moving in 1934 to the United States. There he composed a number of film scores that have been recognized ever since as classics of their kind, beginning with an adaptation of Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream for the 1935 Max Reinhardt version of the Shakespeare comedy for Warner Brothers; this was followed by his first original film score, for Captain Blood with Errol Flynn. For the rest of his life he continued to write concert music in a rich, chromatic late Romantic style, with the Violin Concerto among his notable later works.

In 1938, Korngold was conducting opera in Austria when he was asked by Warner Bros. to come back to Hollywood and compose a score for their new (and very expensive) film The Adventures of Robin Hood 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. 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. He was later nominated for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940).

In 1943, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. 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.

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 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.

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