Personalities | Erich Wolfgang Korngold | Modern Era | Opera
The son of music critic Julius Korngold, Erich was declared a genius aged nine by Gustav Mahler. Four years later, Korngold wrote a ballet pantomime, Der Schneemann (‘The Snowman’, 1910), orchestrated by his teacher Zemlinsky. The work drew the admiration of Puccini and Strauss, both of whom were already major influences on Korngold’s compositional style.
Munich Staatsoper produced his first two one-act operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, as a double bill in 1916. Conducted by Bruno Walter, these were stylistic forerunners of Korngold’s great late-Romantic opera, Die tote Stadt (1920), featuring a wealth of melodic material as well as a libretto by him and his father. 1927 then saw the premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane, which he considered to be his finest work despite it being eclipsed by Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf, produced the same year.
With anti-Semitism on the rise, Korngold left Vienna in 1934 to work in Hollywood, where his movie scores for Robin Hood and Anthony Adverse earned him a pair of Oscars yet tarnished his career upon returning to Austria in 1949. His opera Die Kathrin (1937), which the Nazis had cancelled before his departure to America, was a critical failure, and he returned permanently to Los Angeles. His work is currently enjoying a well-deserved resurgence in the repertoire, and a number of his arias (notably ‘Tanzlied des Pierrot’ and ‘Marietta’s Lied’ from Die tote Stadt) appear frequently on concert programmes and recital discs.
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