Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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 Brünn (Brno), Austria-Hungary (now in 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.

Korngold 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's Night's Dream" (1935), the Max Reinhardt version of the Shakespeare comedy released by Warner Brothers. This was followed by his first original film score, for "Captain Blood" (1935) 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 Brothers to come back to Hollywood and compose a score for their new (and very expensive) film "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), 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. (See the "Robin Hood" Collectors Edition on DVD for details.) He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film. Among other things, it features some quotation of the third movement theme in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Korngold was later nominated for "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939) and "The Sea Hawk" (1940).

In 1943, Korngold 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. Korngold died in Hollywood on November 29, 1957.


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 album and other classic film scores by Hollywood composers were later issued by RCA on CD in Dolby Surround Sound.) 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.

In 1973, Warner Brothers released special LPs featuring excerpts from the original soundtracks of films scored by Korngold, which had actually been conducted by Warner's music director Leo Forbstein, as a well as a rare recording of Korngold playing the main theme from "Kings Row" on the piano. In addition, a KFWB radio broadcast from 1938 with Korngold conducting the studio orchestra in excerpts from "The Adventures of Robin Hood", narrated by actor Basil Rathbone, was released on LP.

There have also been a number of new digital recordings of Korngold's film scores, as well as some of his concert works, especially his violin concerto and his symphony. RCA Victor was the first to record a complete Korngold opera (in stereo), "Die Tote Stadt", conducted by Erich Leinsdorf in Germany. His complete orchestral works have been recorded by the German conductor Werner Andreas Albert.

Further recognition came in the 1990s; two full-scale biographies of him appeared almost simultaneously. One is Jessica Duchen, "Erich Wolfgang Korngold" (Phaidon Press, 20th Century Composers series, 1996). The other is Brendan G. Carroll, "Erich Korngold: The Last Prodigy" (Amadeus Press, 1997). Carroll is President of the International Korngold Society.


While watching the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rhapsody Rabbit", Korngold fell out of his chair laughing at the gags portrayed in the cartoon.


Orchestral and vocal works

*"Der Schneemann" (a Pantomime). Composed and first performed 1910
*"Schauspiel-Ouvertüre" (Overture to a Play), Op.4, composed and first performed 1911)
*"Sinfonietta", Op.5, (composed 1912, orchestrated and first performed 1913)
*"Der Sturm" ("The Tempest") for chorus and orchestra, after Heinrich Heine, composed 1913
*"Kaiserin Zita-Hymne" for solo voice, choir and piano / orchestra, composed 1917
*"Military March" in B major, composed 1917
*"Much Ado About Nothing", Op.11, (Incidental Music to the play by Shakespeare 1918–1919. First performed 1920
*"Sursum Corda". Op.13, (Symphonic Overture, composed 1919, first performed 1920
*"Piano Concerto" in C Sharp for the left hand alone, Op.17, (composed 1923; first performed 1924]
*"Baby Serenade", Op.24, composed 1928–1929, first performed 1932
*"Tomorrow", Op.33, tone poem for mezzo-soprano, women's choir and orchestra, for the movie "The Constant Nymph". First performed in concert 1944
*"Violin Concerto", Op.35, (composed 1945; first performed 1947)
*"Cello Concerto" in C major, Op.37,(1946, expanded from a work written for the 1946 film "Deception"
*"Symphonic Serenade" in B flat major for string orchestra 1947–48; First performed 1950
*"Symphony in F sharp major", Op.40 (composed 1947–52; first performed 1954)
*"Theme and Variations", Op.42 (composed and first performed 1953)
*"Straussiana", for orchestra, (composed and first performed 1953)

*"So Gott und Papa will" (If God and daddy agree), Op.5, composed 1911
*"Einfache Lieder" (Simple Songs), Op.9, composed 1911–13
*"Lieder des Abschieds" (Songs of Farewell), Op.14, (composed 1920; first performed 1921; orchestral version first performed 1923)
*"Drei Lieder" (Three Songs), Op.18, composed 1924, first performed 1926
*"Drei Lieder" (Three Songs), Op.22, composed 1928–29, first performed 1930
*"Narrenlieder" (Songs of the Clown), Op.29, from "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare, composed 1937, first performed 1941
*"Vier Shakespeare-Lieder" (Four Shakespeare-Songs), Op.31, composed 1937–41, first performed 1941
*"Fünf Lieder" (Five Songs}, Op.38, composed 1948, first performed 1950
*"Sonett für Wien" (Sonnet for Vienna), Op.41, composed 1953, first performed 1954

Spiritual Music
*"A Passover Psalm", Op.30, hymn for solo voice, chorus, and orchestra. Composed and first performed 1941
*"Prayer", Op.32, for tenor, women's choir, and organ. Composed and first performed 1941

Piano music and Chamber works

*"Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor" with concluding passacaglia, (composed 1908; first performed 1908–09)
*"Don Quixote". Six characteristic pieces for piano, composed 1909
*"Was der Wald erzählt" (What the Forest tells). Suite for piano, composed 1909
*"Piano Sonata No. 2 in E major", Op.2, in four movements (composed 1910; first performed 1911)
*"Sieben Märchenbilder" (Seven Fairy-Tale Pictures, Op.3, for piano, composed 1910, first performance 1912
*"Vier kleine fröhliche Walzer" (Four little cheerful Waltzes), composed 1912
*"Vier kleine Karikaturen für Kinderr" (Four little caricatures for children), composed 1926
*"Geschichten vom Strauß" (Tales from Strauss), Op.21, for piano solo, composed 1927
*"Suite for 2 violins, cello & piano left hand", Op.23, composed 1930; first performed 1930
*"Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major", Op.25 (composed 1931; first performed 1932) ( [] )

*"Piano Trio in D major", Op.1 (composed and first performed 1910)
*"Violin Sonata in G major", Op.6 (composed 1912; first performed 1916)
*"String Sextet in D major", Op.10 (first performed 1917)
*"Quintet for two violins, viola, violoncello and piano in E Major", Op.15 (composed 1920–21; first performed 1923)
*"String Quartet No.1 in A major", Op.16 (composed 1923; first performed 1924)
*"String Quartet No.2 in E-flat major", Op.26 (composed 1933; first performed 1934)
*"String Quartet No.3 in D major", Op.34 (composed 1945; first performed 1946)
*"Romance-Impromptu" for cello and piano. Composed for the film "Deception" (but not used) 1948


*"Der Ring des Polykrates", Op.7 (1916)
*"Violanta", Op.8 (1916)
*"Die tote Stadt", Op.12 (1920)
*"Das Wunder der Heliane", Op.20 (1927)
*"Die Kathrin", Op.28 (1939)
*"Die stumme Serenade", Op.36 (musical comedy) (1954)

Arrangements for operettas

*"Eine Nacht in Venedig" ("A Night in Venice"), Johann Strauss II (1923)
*"Cagliostro in Wien" ("Cagliostro in Vienna"), Johann Strauss II (1927)
*"Rosen aus Florida" ("Roses from Florida"), Leo Fall (1929)
*"Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"), Johann Strauss II (1929)
*"Walzer aus Wien" ("Waltzes from Vienna"), Family Strauss (1930)
*"Die schöne Helena" ("The Beautiful Helena"), Jacques Offenbach (1931)
*"Das Lied der Liebe" ("The Song of Love"), Johann Strauss II (1931)
*"Die geschiedene Frau" ("The divorced Woman"), Leo Fall (1933)
*"Rosalinda" (= "Die Fledermaus"), Johann Strauss II (1942)
*"Helen Goes to Troy" (="La belle Hélène") Jacques Offenbach (1944)
*"The Great Waltz" (= "Walzer aus Wien"), Johann Strauss II (1949)

Film Scores

*"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) (a re-orchestration of music composed by Felix Mendelssohn)
*" Captain Blood" (1935)
*"Give Us This Night" (1936)
*"Hearts Divided" (1936)
*"The Green Pastures" (1936)
*"Anthony Adverse" (1936)
*"The Prince And The Pauper" (1937)
*"Another Dawn" (1937)
*"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)
*"Juarez" (1939)
*"The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939)
*" The Sea Hawk" (1940)
*"The Sea Wolf" (1941)
*"King's Row" (1942)
*"The Constant Nymph" (1943)
*"Between Two Worlds" (1944)
*"Devotion" (1946)
*"Of Human Bondage" (1946)
*"Deception" (1946)
*"Escape Me Never" (1947)
*"Magic Fire" (1956) (after Richard Wagner)

Rerecorded film scores

*"Sea Hawk: Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold" - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonoic Orchestra - 1972 - RCA Victor
*"Elizabeth & Essex: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold" - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1973 - RCA Victor
*"Captain Blood: Classic Film Scores For Errol Flynn" - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1974 - RCA Victor
*"King's Row" - Charles Gerhardt and National Philharmonic Orchestra - 1979 - Chalfont
*"The Adventures of Robin Hood" - Varujan Kojian and Utah Symphony Orchestra - 1983 - Varese Sarabande
*"The Sea Hawk" - Varujan Kojian and Utah Symphony Orchestra - 1987 - Varese Sarabande
*"Anthony Adverse" - John Scott and Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra - 1990 - Varese Sarabande
*"The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' - Carl Davis and Munich Symphony Orchestra - 1992 - Bay Cities
*"Captain Blood" - Richard Kaufman and Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra - 1994 - Marco Polo
*"Another Dawn" - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 1995 - Marco Polo
*"Devotion" - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 1997 - Marco Polo
*"Tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold" - James Sedares and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - 2000 - KOCH
*"Previn Conducts Korngold" - Andre Previn and London Symphony Orchestra - 2002 - Deutsche Grammophon
*"The Adventures of Robin Hood" - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2003 - Marco Polo
*"The Sea Wolf" - Rumon Gamba and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra - 2005 - Chandos
*"The Sea Hawk" - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2007 - Naxos
*"The Sea Hawk" - Rumon Gamba and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra - 2007 - Chandos
*"The Prince and the Pauper" - William Stromberg and Moscow Symphony Orchestra - 2008 - Tribute Film Classics

Reference and further reading

* "The Last Prodigy. A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold" by Brendan G. Carroll. ISBN 9781574670295 (Hardcover - October 1997)
* "Erich Wolfgang Korngold (20th-Century Composers)" by Jessica Duchen. Phaidon Publication - ISBN 0-7148-3155-7 (Paperback - July 1996)
* "Erich Wolfgang Korngold" by Luzi Korngold (wife). Verlag Elisabeth Lafite, Vienna, 1967. In German. Hardcover, 112 pages.
* "Erich Wolfgang Korngold: early life and works". Doctoral thesis by David Ian Kram. Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (

External links

* [ Unofficial Korngold Society]
* [ Korngold: Maestro for the Movies]
* [ The Sounds of Korngold: A Short Survey of Recordings] by Jens F. Laurson for WETA-FM

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  • Korngold,Erich Wolfgang — Korn·gold (kôrnʹgōld , gôlt ), Erich Wolfgang. 1897 1957. Austrian born American composer and pianist whose works include operas, such as Die tote Stadt (1920), symphonies, chamber music, and scores for motion pictures, including Anthony Adverse… …   Universalium

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