Erich Wolfgang Korngold



Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of the most gifted prodigies in musical history. Admired by Mahler, Strauss and Puccini, and virtually every other great musician of the early part of this century, he grew up as a feted wunderkind in the rich milieu of the final years of Imperial Vienna, before becoming a major operatic and symphonic composer. Because he was Jewish, the rise of Nazism resulted in his eventual exile to Los Angeles, where he became a pioneer of film scoring, winning two Academy Awards. A post-war return to Europe was unsuccessful, and he died in Hollywood aged only 60, believing himself forgotten.

Korngold is most closely associated with large-scale works - operas and film scores in particular - but throughout his career; he produced equally fine works on a smaller scale. Three piano sonatas, a number of piano miniatures, songs and chamber works for various groups make up this section of his output. Each bears hallmarks of his own individual style, bursting with original harmonic thinking and a fund of melody.

In the 1920s, Korngold was the most performed operatic composer in German-speaking countries after Richard Strauss. His greatest operatic success was Die tote Stadt, which he completed in August 1920. The Piano Quintet in E major; Opus 15, was composed a year later, and its heroic, effusively romantic melodic style owes much to the atmosphere of this legendary opera. The Quintet is dedicated to the deaf-mute sculptor Gustinus Ambrosi (a close friend) and is an elaborate work.

Conceived in three complex movements, the Piano Quintet teems with ideas. It opens in the tonic key of E major with Korngoldian expansiveness - bold, upward-leaping and intensely romantic - contrasted with a second subject of great beauty and simplicity. Korngold's development is masterly and the difficult string writing is complemented by the virtuoso piano part. Korngold performed the piano part at the world premiere of the Quintet in Hamburg on February 16,1923, and in Vienna a month later.

In the tradition of his illustrious predecessors Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and especially Mahler, Korngold often drew inspiration from his own songs for other compositions. In the case of the Piano Quintet and the later Suite Opus 23, lieder which were composed contemporaneously feature importantly.

In the Quintet, the Adagio is an ingenious set of nine variations from his song cycle Lieder des Abschieds (Songs of Farewell) completed in 1920. The third song, Mond so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, thou riseth again), is the main source of inspiration. Mahler is also a key influence, especially in the languid portamenti.

The Finale opens with a strident, declamatory theme in C# minor. It gives way to a merry Rondo theme, again in the tonic key of E major. Variations abound and the music builds from one virtuoso sequence to another before an adroit return to the opening theme of the entire work for the decisive final cadence.

In 1923 Korngold had been commissioned by the celebrated one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein to write a piano concerto for left hand--a challenge Korngold relished. He produced an extraordinary one-movement concerto that so delighted Wittgenstein he commissioned a second work, this time for chamber ensemble. The result was the Suite Opus 23, for Piano (Left Hand), Two Violins and Cello, completed in 1930.

The opening Prelude and Fugue are striking, commencing with a dramatic cadenza for piano alone. The melodic contours of the main theme of the fugue are typically Korngoldian, tensely chromatic and frequently dissonant. The eerie fugue is followed by a rapturous theme in the pure key of C major, with expressive use of the trill, before Korngold combines all of his thematic material, skillfully resolving this complex musical argument in D major - the key of the next movement.

The second movement, entitled Waltz, is wistful, nostalgic and intensely Viennese, rather like a surreal impression of a Viennese coffee house.

The Suite's third movement, entitled Groteske, is a devilish, relentless exercise--almost like a moto perpetuo. Its busy theme (which recalls in mood the witty miniature Wichtelmännchen from Korngold's early piano suite Märchenbilder Opus 3) gives way to a sonorous Trio section - at first, for the piano alone, as it muses on a simple chordal theme, before the strings gradually join in. Then the macabre groteske is repeated with a short coda. The slow movement - Lied - is based entirely on the exquisite song Was du mir bist? from Korngold's Opus 22 Lieder, completed around the same time.

The Finale is a Rondo with variations and begins with a rapid clipped motif before the cello announces one of those beguiling melodies so typical of this composer.

Korngold treats this lovely theme to a long series of highly inventive, often witty variations before ingeniously combining it with the song theme of the preceding movement, now transformed by the rapid tempo into a merry dance. A breathless coda brings this masterpiece to an emphatic conclusion.

The Suite was first performed in Vienna on October 21,1930, by Paul Wittgenstein and members of the famous Rose' Quartet. Wittgenstein performed it many times in the years which followed and gave the American premiere in Los Angeles in the winter of 1934 with the composer present. Korngold was there working on Max Reinhardt's legendary film of A Midsummer Nights' Dream, a project which opened up a new career for Korngold and which ultimately saved his life and the lives of his family when the tide of Nazism engulfed his homeland in 1938.

Copyright - Brendan G Carroll 1999

(Brendan Carroll is the author of The Last Prodigy -- a biography of Korngold, published by Amadeus Press.)

Heralded as a "sterling cellist" by the Washington Post, STEVEN HONIGBERG gave his New York debut recital in Weill Hall and has since performed to critical acclaim throughout the United States in recital, in chamber music and as a soloist with orchestra. A member of the National Symphony Orchestra, he has been featured numerous times as soloist with that ensemble. He won rave reviews for the l988 world premiere of David Ott's "Concerto for Two Cellos" performed with the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Maestro Rostropovich, with repeat performances on the NSO's 1989 & 1994 United States tours. Recent performances include a concert at the 1998 Ravinia Festival, at Weill Hall in New York and a performance of the Samuel Barber Cello Concerto with Concertante di Chicago. Mr. Honigberg is acclaimed for his explorations of important new works, such as Lukas Foss' 'Anne Frank' (1999), Robert Stem's 'Hazkarah' (1998), Robert Starer's 'Song of Solitude' (1995) & David Diamond's 'Concert Piece' (1993), written for and premiered by Steven Honigberg. Mr Honigberg graduated from the Juilliard School of Music with a Master's degree in Music, where he studied with Leonard Rose and Channing Robbins. Other mentors include Pierre Fournier and Karl Fruh. Musical America honored Mr. Honigberg in 1988 as a "Young Artist to Watch." Honigberg made his recording debut with an Albany CD of 20th century American cello works, which received the highest 5 star rating from Classical Pulse magazine. A recent release of Ludwig van Beethoven's complete works for cello & piano performed by Steven and Carol Honigberg is the first such recording by a mother and son duo. Voted 'Best New Chamber Music Series' of 1994 by the Washington Post, Steven Honigberg has been The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's chamber music series director since its inception. Steven Honigberg performs on the 'Stuart' Stradivarius cello made in 1732.

KATHRYN BRAKE, born in Washington, D.C., attended the Julliard School of Music and received her Master of Music degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Her teachers include Julian Martin, Nadia Reisenberg and Leon Fleisher. Ms. Brake has performed solo recitals throughout the United States and Canada as well as in Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain. A winner of the National Young Chopin Competition, the Beethoven Competition, the Kociusko Foundation Awards and the Elizabeth Davis Award, she has performed as soloist with several orchestras, including the Baltimore Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra. A much sought after chamber music player, Kathryn Brake has recently performed at the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Teatro Real in Madrid, and the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona.

GEORGE MARSH has been a member of the National Symphony Orchestra since 1979. Mr Marsh has performed as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Chamber Orchestra, the Catholic University Orchestra, and several other orchestras in his native midwest. As a chamber musician, he is a founding member at the Chamber Artists of Washington; he has also performed with the Vaener String Trio, the New England Piano Quartet, the Washington Chamber Society, and the Alexandria Chamber Ensemble. Recital performances include concerts at the Phillips Collection, the Organization of American States, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. Mr. Marsh has received numerous awards, including first prize in the 1985 Washington International Bach Competition. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he studied with Paul Makanowitzky. Mr. Marsh plays a 1758 J.B. Guadagnini, the "ex Joseph Silverstein."

Violinist CLAUDIA CHUDACOFF recently moved to Washington, D.C., from Louisville, Kentucky, where she was the Assistant Concertmaster of the Louisville Orchestra. An active recitalist and chamber musician, she performs extensively in a wide range of venues. In addition to her position with the U.S. Marine Band's White House Chamber Orchestra, she serves as Concertmaster of the National Gallery Orchestra, and in 1994 joined the National Symphony Orchestra on their Far East tour. Ms. Chudacoff has appeared as soloist with the Toledo Symphony, the Oakway Symphony, the Ann Arbor Symphony, the Louisville Ballet, the White House Chamber Orchestra, the National Gallery Orchestra and, most recently, the Concert Artists of Baltimore. She has been a participant in the summer seasons of the Banff Centre, the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Music Festival, the Spoleto Festival, the Music Academy of the West, and the Heidelberg Opera Festival.

NANCY THOMAS WELLER is a 1985 graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied viola with Joseph de Pasquale and chamber music with Mischa Schneider and Felix Galimir. Other teachers include Karen Tuttle, Karen Ritscher, Richard Parnas, and most recently, Richard Field. In September 1989, Nancy joined the viola section of the National Symphony Orchestra and became a member of the NSO the following year. Nancy Weller has been a soloist with the NSO, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. Ms. Weller has performed frequently as a guest artist on many chamber music series throughout the D.C. area, including the Holocaust Memorial Museum Series and National Musical Arts Ensemble.

Korngold's Suite & Quintet published by B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz.

Producer:Steven Honigberg

Recording Engineer: Ed Kelly:

Editing and mastering: Charlie Pilzer - Airshow.

Cover Art:Erich Wolfgang Korngold 1914 - 17 years of age.

Graphic Design: Dilworth Design.

Recorded 1997-1998 Harmony Hall, Fort Washington, Maryland.


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