A Witty Violin Concerto Written in Hollywood

Morning light. © Charles Thibo
Morning light. © Charles Thibo

Perhaps you remember my post about Boulez? The story about me in a godforsaken South American airport with a fast Wifi hot spot? Well, on the same trip, through the UK-based writer Jessica Duchen, I discovered the Austrian-born American composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). And what a a discovery it was! The piece I would like to focus on today, is his violin concerto in D major (op. 35),  written in 1946.

Another Austrian child prodigy

Korngold was the son of the music critic Julius Korngold and revealed himself as a child prodigy at a very early age. He was ten years old when he composed his first cantatas for voice and piano. And quickly word reached Gustav Mahler, who recommended him to Alexander von Zemlinsky as a pupil. Aged 11, he composed a ballet under the title “The Snowman”. The young man astonished the audience and Vienna’s musical experts by his emotional maturity and his post-romantic expressiveness. A poll of 1928 revealed that along with Arnold Schönberg, Erich Korngold was considered the most influential composer of Austria. A year earlier, he had been appointed professor at the Vienna State Academy.

However, this brilliant career suffered a blow delivered by European politics. In 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and antisemitism was growing virulent. The Führer and his National-Socialist party had thousands of sympathizers in Austria. An invitation to come to the USA reached Korngold in 1934. He was to adapt Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a film score. He made a smart move: He stayed in Hollywood and focused until the end of World War II on writing film music.

Feel the Friday morning bliss

I am extremely happy that in 1946 Korngold returned to absolute music as his Violin Concerto in D Major is an true delight. It is lyrical and soulful (first and second movement),  joyful and  witty (third movement), a treat from the beginning to the end. And 4 minutes and 33 seconds into the third movement, close your eyes and… a Disney movie appears before your eyes! I can’t say which one, but I am pretty sure that some clever director picked this tune for a motion picture. Hollywood!

I rediscovered the piece a month ago on an early Friday morning. It had rained for days, but now the sky was clear, shimmering steel-blue, the rising sun already glaring, and an incredible serenity lay over the vineyards behind my house. Beautiful! Korngold’s music encapsulated all the bliss I felt that moment. And I sincerely hope to share this with you through the music, e.g. through the recording of Philippe Quint and the Mexican Orquesta di Sinfonica de Mineira.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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