The Adventures of Robin Hood in Vienna, by Troy O. Dixon

Sunday, 25 November 2007 – Vienna, The Film Musuem, Augustiner Strasse 1.

It should come as little surprise that non-German films would not have been played in German speaking countries during the Hitler years.  What might come as a surprise is that when American films began playing on German television and in German cinemas, their original sound track was typically completely  cut in favor of dubbed languages rather than subtitles.  This meant that the original music was lost as well and replaced with “stock” music.  Not until the last couple of decades did native Germans and Austrians hear the stunning scores that Erich Wolfgang Korngold had composed for his Warner Brothers films.  Enough years have passed, so there might not have been any people in the theater who had not seen “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) with Korngold’s original score, but there’s still a chance someone hasn’t.

As part of the Korngold memorial events, the Film Museum in Vienna has been presenting since November 16th a different Warner Bros. film featuring the original music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  By the end of their presentations on November 30th, they will have shown twelve of Korngold’s films, with more than half of those shown on two different days.

Tonight’s movie was “The Adventures of Robin Hood”.  Immediately before the show started, the staff took a moment to acknowledge the presence of some special guests in the audience of not quite 60 people: Kathrin Korngold Hubbard,, Leslie Korngold, members of their families, and Korngold biographer Brendan G. Carroll.  Also in the audience were the pianist Alexander Frey and his wife, and Bernhard Pfau, a representative of Korngold’s publishers, Schott Music.

The unedited film was played direct from actual reels without dubbing or subtitles, and was probably as close to an “opening night” reception as we might experience today, complete with cheers, applause, and laughter, as the audience responded to this classic film.  Korngold would have been pleased to know that his work is still admired so well, even 70 years after its first release.


Note: Below is a scanned copy of the brief opening essay contained in the Film Museum’s monthly guide book, which preceded the listings of the various Korngold films being showcased.  My translation of this essay is also below.  Any errors in translation are purely my own, and are not necessarily a reflection on the original essay.


Film Museum Translation:

November 16th thru 30th

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Film Music for Warner Bros.

For the first time in its history the Film Museum presents a monographic exhibition of the work of a film composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s work in Hollywood-exile, from 1935 to the middle of the 1940s, formed an essential/fundamental mark in the development of film music.

Korngold, the musical “wunderkind”, was already established as a creator of opera and orchestral works, before he arrived in Hollywood – he was the first “serious” composer with an international reputation who became involved in a contract with the American film industry.  In common with colleagues such as Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Hans Salter, or Miklós Rózsa, who stemmed from the middle European music tradition and like him were stamped from the late-romantic [style], Korngold created that symphonic idiom, that came to be regarded as the epitome of the classic “Hollywood sound” and is still found in active use in the practice of film music today.

Within the framework of a special contract with Warner Bros., Korngold could (in contrast to his colleagues) concentrate on selected projects: Korngold’s fame rests on a relatively small number of scores, which he worked out with unusual complexity and detailed precision.  After his much admired Hollywood debut, with the arrangement of Mendelssohn’s music for Max Reinhardt’s film version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Korngold concentrated above all on adventure films and historical subjects, which offered an opportunity to work-out [to the last detail] an opera-like music.  His score would be compared with the music of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, his romantic themes for the pirate film The Sea Hawk (1940) were on a par with Wagner’s “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde.
The exhibition presents all the big Korngold-films from Hollywood – from the classic pirate film Captain Blood (1935) through the dark, small-town-drama Kings Row (1942), from the celebrated and Oscar-winning scores for Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to the literary-films The Prince and the Pauper (1937), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and The Sea Wolf (1941).  Teamwork in the studio-system was important, and as a result it should therefore be obvious, that in many of these films the same participants stood again and again in front of and behind the camera: actors/actresses such as Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn, cameramen Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio, and time after time a director – Michael Curtiz, who much like Korngold came to Hollywood via Vienna and found his artistic home with Warner Bros.

The exhibition of the Film Museum is also aimed at comparing the appreciation of Korngold’s creations for the cinema with a universal aspect: film music is never autonomous, but always applied music.  Its special character does not show itself until interaction with other means of expression – the picture, sound, and interior design, the plot handling, the acting dynamics.  It seems reasonable therefore, that film music is not isolated, but perceived as a part of the overall cinematographic experience.  Korngold’s scores for Warner Bros. must be regarded as prime examples.  The point being: one must see his music, in order to hear its richness and its entire emphasis.

Other events for Korngold’s 50th Todestag: concert-gala “Hollywood in Vienna” on Nov. 29 in the Wiener Konzerthaus (Radio-Symphonieorchester, directed by John Mauceri), for members of the Film Museum there is a 10% price-reduction; on Nov. 25 a Korngold-Matinee and Round Table with Korngold experts at Haus der Musik; from 28 Nov 07 through 18 May 08 an exhibit “The Korngolds – Cliché, Critic, and Composition” at the Jewish Museum, Vienna.

click to enlarge