Erich Wolfgang von Korngold (1897-1957)
Music for Violin and Piano
Together with Mozart, Mendelssohn, Busoni and Enescu, ErichWolfgang Korngold was a notable prodigy as a composer. Born in Br??nn (now Brno)on 29th May 1897, the second son of the music critic Julius Korngold, heimpressed Mahler with his music when he was only nine, and consolidated thiswith the score for the ballet-pantomime Der Schneemann (The Snowman), firstgiven at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. A series of orchestral, chamber andoperatic works followed, culminating with the dual premi?¿re in 1920 in Hamburgand 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 hisnext opera Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane) was blighted,however, by the worsening political situation, while Die Kathrin was not heardin Vienna because of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
In 1934 Korngold moved to Hollywood at the invitation of MaxReinhardt. There he embarked on a series of film scores over the next decade,including Captain Blood (1935) (Marco Polo 8.223607), The Adventures of RobinHood (1938) and King's Row (1941), bringing his music to an audience ofmillions. After the Second World War Korngold returned to the concert hall,but, apart from a Violin Concerto (Naxos 8.553579), championed by JaschaHeifetz, his effulgent late-Romantic style found little favour in post-warEurope, and his death on 19th November 1957 attracted little attention. Recentdecades, however, have seen a resurgence of interest in his music, with anumber of performances and recordings marking the centenary of his birth in1997.
A pianist by training, Korngold, like his older contemporaryRichard Strauss, clearly identified the violin with the human voice, and theinstrument features prominently in his operas and orchestral works. At theprompting of the violinist Carl Flesch and the pianist Artur Schnabel, in 1912he wrote his Violin Sonata in G major, with the premi?¿re being given by thesemusicians in Berlin the following year. The first movement, Ben moderato, macon passione, opens with a suave melody shared between the instruments. Asecond theme, following at much the same tempo, is more wistful andinward-looking. An interesting feature of the development is the piano's takingover the rhythm of the first theme in the left hand, over which the violin hassnatches of sul ponticello. The recapitulation is mainly allotted to the secondtheme, before the movement tapers off in a gentle coda. The lengthy Scherzo,Allegro molto, con fuoco, opens with cavorting passage-work, followed by acapricious subsidiary theme and much wide-ranging motivic transformation. Thetrio, Moderato cantabile, features an expressive melody taken from the Vierkleinen frohlichen Walzern for piano. Marked 'with deepest feeling', the Adagioinitially has a slightly rhetorical feel, the muted second theme and itslapping piano accompaniment providing subtle contrast. A passionate climax isreached, before the music glides to an ethereal close. The Finale, Allegrettoquasi Andante, con grazia, is a sequence of variations on an amiable themetaken from the 1911 song Schneeglockchen (Snowdrops). Reference to earliermovements is made as the finale reaches its expressive apotheosis, and the workends in quiet understatement.
In 1918, Korngold composed incidental music for a productionof Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at Schonbrunn Castle in May 1920.Realising that the orchestra would be required elsewhere before the run hadbeen completed, the composer collaborated with the violinist Rudolf Kolisch inan arrangement of the score for violin and piano. Four numbers published fromthis version quickly entered the repertoire of some of the greatest virtuosi ofthe day. Madchen im Brautgemach (Maiden in the Bridal Chamber) depicts Heropreparing for her wedding with uncertainty, yet with undeniable emotion.Holzapfel und Schlehwein (Dogberry and Verges) is a humorous march for the twodrunken 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 goodspirits.
The remaining pieces on this disc are all arrangements madeto further the appeal of some of Korngold's biggest successes, though not allof them enjoyed currency in his lifetime. The Serenade from Der Schneemann is asimply 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 Rozsika Revay of the pieceWichtelmannchen (The Goblins) from his 1910 set of piano miniaturesMarchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), which remained unheard until recent years.
Ich ging zu ihm (I went to him) is one of the high-points inKorngold's fourth opera Das Wunder der Heliane. Here the heroine vainlyprotests her innocence with regard to the young Stranger, who has brought hopeto a dictatorship where all manifestations of love have been banned.
Of the two transcriptions from Die tote Stadt, PierrotsTanzlied finds a member of Marietta's dance troupe singing of his unrequitedlove for the dancer, and became a favourite of Fritz Kreisler. Little known inthis arrangement, Mariettas Lied is an enchanting aria of self-expression, andhelped to keep Korngold's name alive in the unfavourable cultural climate ofthe years either side of his death.