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Korngold is a myth ?

General questions regarding E.W.Korngold

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Korngold is a myth ?

Postby fireatheart » Fri Nov 17, 2006 4:55 pm

A few months ago, I found a book that was published in 1993 titled (in French) “Le Printemps des Génies – Les Enfants Prodiges.” (Geniuses in their Prime – Children Prodigies).
Obviously, my interest was piqued and I bought it, expecting to find an interesting chapter on Korngold.
Well… no such luck.
Not only that, but … I could find NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of the “last prodigy”.

It gets worse: One of the chapters, written by one Pierre-Michel Menger, centers specifically on prodigy composers, going so far as to list “Early compositions by noted composers of the 20th century before their 25th birthday” !
… and still no mention of Korngold.
Just like the hero of the recent French film “Jean-Phillipe”, I had suddenly slipped into a terrifying parallel world where Korngold had never been.

This wouldn’t be so bad (and it is, isn’t it?) if the book had been produced by a second rate publisher (it wasn’t) and written by hacks, but M. Menger is an officially appointed researcher who works for the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique) a government-sponsored organization!

So, what should one make of such a goof?

I contacted Mr. Menger for his feedback, but got none.

What I keep wondering is this: Is it really possible that in 1993, a reasonably well educated music enthusiast could ignore that Korngold had ever existed, and furthermore, is it conceivable that someone who’s devoted his professional life to research could document child prodigies of the 19th and 20th Century, and not find out that in Vienna less than a hundred years ago, a young man had produced a major part of his artistic output well before his 25th birthday, amongst which 3 operas, one of which (“Tote Stadt”) is said to be one of the most celebrated of the 20th century?

In a more general manner, what I’m wondering is: before two important biographies on the subject were published in the late 90s, was information on Korngold so scarce that the above situation was in fact possible?
Last edited by fireatheart on Tue Jan 02, 2007 9:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Korngold's reputation

Postby brendan g carroll » Sat Nov 18, 2006 10:49 pm

Your post raises an interesting question and perhaps draws attention not merely to the lack of information on Korngold in 1993 but the fact that in France, he was virtually ignored, for decades. Tote Stadt did not receive its French premiere until just before the turn of the 20th century, in Strasbourg in a wretched production that is, alas, the only one available on DVD.

When I first began research over thirty years ago, there was almost nothing in English that one could consult, let alone French. More importantly, if Korngold was remembered at all after 1950, it was for his work in films, not as either a serious composer or a prodigy.

I have no idea how much reference material existed in French in the early 90s but I suspect it was pretty negligible. Moreover, the Internet had barely begun to make an impression, so research was restricted to what one could find in libraries.

Voila! This gentleman could be partly excused for barely knowing of Korngold's existence, - but only partly for as a serious musicologist, he must surely have at least looked in GROVE - where he would have found my article proclaiming Korngold's stature as a composing prodigy.

If you get a reply from him, I do hope you will post it here.
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Postby hal » Wed Nov 22, 2006 9:47 pm

Is this the Arthaus DVD performance you are referring to Brendan? I've been enjoying this opera quite a bit lately but was shocked at some changes, like the Marie emenating from the portait wasn't the way it was written, the lute song being accompanies by a Korngold-looking child at the piano, and the ending with Paul apparently committing suicide. Also the modernist second Act with the neon-lit bar was a bit strange too (and I think Paul holding Marie's corpse was a bit overdone too).

The RCA Leinsdorf CD sounds like a more restrained performance, and it's the one I prefer to listen to.
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Postby jimjennings » Wed Dec 27, 2006 11:38 pm

I explain Korngold's minimal notoriety by the fact that he came with no story of misery and suffering. He was lucky to escape much of the horrors of his time through the merits of his genius and by coming to the United States where he found a decent job in a Semitic-friendly environment. Had he produced his work while living as a pauper and dying of "Consumption" at age 29, it is probable that we would all know of him. It was his good fortune and our dumb luck that he was here and gave us so much. -- Marvelous as he was, one wonders about the fantastic minds like his who did NOT survive those awful times. Korngold stands as a musical hero but also a reminder of the prodigies we lost to wars and other human folly. He had a great sense of humor but I've heard he became discouraged about his musical success. This must be set right. If we truly believe his music is so great, we are obligated to help others discover it. *** Demand that your local orchestras and other musical ensembles include his works in their programming! They'll probably thank you for it. JHJ
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Postby fireatheart » Thu Dec 28, 2006 5:42 pm

Seriously, I don't think Korngold's lack of fame has very much to do with dying too old and ill.

I imagine it came from a variety of reasons, such as that his classical career was interrupted twice, first by focusing on arranging light stage music then leaving for Hollywood and becoming a film composer (most artists attain fame and fortune by exploding onto a scene and then exploiting that fame for the rest of their career; Korngold was not given that option), also from the fact that his father somehow stumped his career in Europe and encouraged Korngold to remain until the end a melodist and a traditionalist at a time when atonal composing was all the rage.

And finally, to parallel a subject of my other recent post, Korngold simply didn't seem very career-driven.

For instance: in Hollywood, he could have concentrated on his film career and produce 20 or 30 or even 40 times the number of scores he ended composing (by taking on 3 or 4 films a year instead of just one, and for 25 years instead of 15) and sign on for better pictures as well, and still compose "serious work"; instead of what, he severed his ties with Hollywood to discover that "serious music" wasn't really waiting for him.
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