Korngold, Erich Wolfgang

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KORNGOLD, Erich Wolfgang

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Brno (now Czechoslovakia), 29 May 1897; son of the music critic Julius Korngold; became American citizen, 1943. Family: Married Luzi von Sonnenthal, 1924; two sons. Career: Precocious musical talent: early stage works performed successfully in Vienna; served in Austrian army as musical director of his regiment; 1919–22—conductor at Hamburg Opera House; taught opera and composition at Vienna City Academy from 1927; 1934—accompanied Max Reinhardt to Hollywood for production of A Midsummer Night's Dream on stage (and did film version, 1935); worked for Paramount and MGM as film composer; 1949–51—worked in Vienna. Awards: Academy Award for Anthony Adverse, 1936, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938. Died: In Hollywood, California, 29 November 1957.

Films as Composer:


Rose of the Rancho (Gering) (song); Give Us This Night (Hall); Anthony Adverse (LeRoy); Hearts Divided (Borzage) (co; uncredited)


The Prince and the Pauper (Keighley); Another Dawn (Dieterle)


The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz and Keighley) (+ music for trailer)


Juarez (Dieterle); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz)


The Sea Hawk (Curtiz)


The Sea Wolf (Curtiz)


Kings Row (Wood)


The Constant Nymph (Goulding)


Between Two Worlds (Blatt)


Devotion (Bernardt—produced 1943) (+ bit ro); Of Human Bondage (Goulding)


Deception (Rapper); Escape Me Never (Godfrey)

Films as Arranger:


A Midsummer Night's Dream (Reinhardt and Dieterle); Captain Blood (Curtiz)


The Green Pastures (Connelly and Keighley) (co—uncredited)


Magic Fire (Dieterle) (+ ro)


By KORNGOLD: article—

In Film Score, edited by Tony Thomas, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1979.

On KORNGOLD: books—

Hoffmann, R. S., Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Vienna, 1922.

Korngold, Julius, Child Prodigy, New York, 1945.

Korngold, Luzi, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Vienna, 1967.

Carroll, Brendan G., Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Paisley, Scotland, 1984.

Carroll, Brendan G., Erich Korngold 1897–1957: His Life and Works, Paisley, Scotland, 1987, 1989.

Duchen, Jessica, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, New York, 1996.

On KORNGOLD: articles—

Films in Review (New York), March 1962.

Thomas, Anthony, in Films in Review (New York), February 1965.

Behlmer, Rudy, in Films in Review (New York), February 1967.

Films and Filming (London), March 1972, corrections in April 1973.

Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.

International Film Collector, February 1973.

Dale, S. S., in The Strand (London), August 1976.

Positif (Paris), November 1976.

24 Images (Longueuil, Quebec), September 1981.

Rivista del Cinematografo (Rome), November 1981.

Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood, Paris, 1983.

Films in Review (New York), May 1989.

Palmer, Christopher, in The Composer in Hollywood, New York, 1990.

Walsh, M., "From High Art to Hollywood," in Time, 28 June 1993.

Brown, Royal S., "Film Music: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," in Cineaste (New York), Winter-Spring 1995.

Teachout, Terry, "I Heard it at the Movies," in Commentary, November 1996.

Deutsch, D.C., "The Warner Bros. Years," in Soundtrack (Mechelen), March 1997.

Faulkner, Dewey, "Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Warner Bros. Years," in Yale Review, July 1997.

Classic Images (Muscatine), March 1998.

James, Jamie, "Songs by Korngold, Mahler, and Alma Schindler-Mahler," in Stereo Review, April 1998.

Carroll, Brendan, "From Around the World: Trier, Germany," in Opera News, November 1999.

* * *

Of the many Austrian and German talents who migrated to America because of the Nazi regime, Erich Wolfgang Korngold rates among the most important and influential. He was the first composer of international stature to sign a contract with a Hollywood studio. Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, the son of Julius Korngold, one of the most powerful music critics of the time, the boy was a prodigy of astonishing talent, writing piano and chamber pieces while still a child and enjoying success with his pantomime-ballet Der Schneemann at the age of 11. A year later his piano trio received performances by top musicians, as did all the following works, with much comment on how a boy could write music of such complexity and maturity. Korngold was 18 when his two one-act operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, were staged, and 23 when Die tote Stadt, one of the few greatly successful operas of the 20th century, had its first performance. He followed it with other works, including two more operas, but he never again matched the success of Die tote Stadt. In 1929 he began an association with the famous director and producer Max Reinhardt, for whom he rescored a number of operettas by Johann Strauss, Jr., Leo Fall, and Jacques Offenbach. Their biggest success was a restructured version of Die Fledermaus, titled Rosalinda.

In 1934 Reinhardt was signed by Warner Bros. to film his celebrated staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and he brought Korngold with him to arrange, expand, and conduct the music Mendelssohn had written in 1827. The film fared better with the critics than the public, but Korngold had made an impression on the film community. He was brought back from Vienna in 1936 to write, with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II the score for Paramount's quickly forgotten musical Give Us This Night, but while doing it he was asked by Warners to score their production of Captain Blood, starring the newcomer Errol Flynn. The film made a vivid impact, particularly the richly textured, lilting score. Korngold won an Oscar with his next score, Anthony Adverse, and another two years later with The Adventures of Robin Hood.

By now it was impossible to return to Vienna and he settled in the Toluca Lake district of North Hollywood, within walking distance of the Warners studios. Of his other scores, The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex and The Sea Hawk were also nominated for Oscars. Korngold worked on only 20 films, and ceased scoring them in 1946 to return to absolute music. Being referred to as a film composer had become a little bothersome to him and he also felt the films being offered him were of lesser quality. At the beginning he felt excited by the possibilities of bringing music to vast audiences but with time he felt disillusioned. "A film composer's immortality lasts from the recording stage to the dubbing room." He died in 1957, believing that both his serious works and his film scores had been largely forgotten. Sadly he never lived to see the resurgence of interest in both, with recordings and performance of most of his best works, and the acknowledgment of his place in the history of film composition.

—Tony Thomas