Korngold's "decision" to focus on film music durin

General questions regarding E.W.Korngold

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Bob Kingston
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Korngold's "decision" to focus on film music durin

Post by Bob Kingston » Wed Sep 06, 2006 6:30 pm

Hi all,

My love of Korngold's film music is second to none, but one aspect of his career that has always puzzled me was his "decision" or "choice" to focus almost exclusively on film composition during the war years. Some sources imply that he did so out as an act of artistic "protest" against the situation in Europe, while others seem to suggest that performance opportunities in the US for his works were limited or non-existent, or that his busy schedule in Hollywood precluded him from writing anything other than film scores.

I've never found any of these reasons terribly convincing, so I'm wondering if there's something more to the story, or if Korngold ever stated for the record why he wrote so little new music for the concert hall or opera house throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

I suppose the real question for me is this: Would Korngold's postwar reputation have been substantially different had he continued to turn out orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and vocal pieces on a more or less regular basis while living in Hollywood?

Something to ponder...
Bob Kingston
Portland, Oregon
brendan g carroll
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Post by brendan g carroll » Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:24 am

Tricky question Bob. The short answer is that Korngold never really verbalised his reasons, except in a letter to a friend when he once observed pithily "Why write music in times likes these?".

I think the most likely answer is artistic depression. Korngold was profoundly depressed by WW2 and often sat for hours doing nothing or listening to radio reports. Composers react in different ways and in the trauma of enforced exile, some composers were unable to work - their muse deserted them, if you like.

Korngold poured his energy into film music because - like the movies he composed for - it was an escape and a means of suppporting his family and friends.

Then there was the huge disappointment that having spent 5 years composing his opera Die KATHRIN, he could not get it performed, try as he might.

With a major work sitting on the shelf, unwanted and unknown, I am sure he felt that it was relatively futile composing even more works that would languish in a similar manner.

It is, perhaps, significant that he only started to return to writing concert music again as the war drew to an end in 1944, a sure indication that he saw light at the end of the tunnel. In truth, without a European market for his works, he really did feel that he was in a musical cul-de-sac in America - classical music outside of the big cities was almost non-existent at that time and in Los Angeles, aside from the Hollywood Bowl & LA Philharmonic, there was really no platform for a composer like Korngold, compared to say, Vienna or Berlin.

I do not believe his post-war reputation would have been different had he continued composing chamber & orchestral works. His reception in the 1950s would have been just as hostile because firstly he had been successful in Hollywood (God forbid!) secondly, he was unashamedly romantic and never embraced atonality or serialsm which were en vogue in the 50s, thirdly he was the son of Julius Korngold and many were still smarting at the memory of HIM!, and lastly (and perhaps most shockingly) there were still plenty of Nazis in high positions in the cultural institutions of Germany & Austria and determined to keep Jewish exiles from renewing their careers. There was also resentment that by having been conveniently marooned in Hollywood by the Anschluss in '38, Korngold had somehow had a "safe" war. At the passport control, on his return in 1949, the official looked at him and said "Ach yes, ........Professor Korngold! WHEN DO YOU GO BACK?"

So while I wish there WERE at least 3 more quartets, and maybe a piano concerto or 2, I do not believe such treasures would have countered these problems at all.

Hope this helps.
peter hodgson
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Post by peter hodgson » Tue Sep 12, 2006 1:20 am

Maybe a composer needs to feel hunger or need knocking at the door. Korngold didn't need to write anything in Hollywood except film music (but he did write a few odd bits). Film music paid better. Think Sibelius: once he got a generous state pension, he more or less packed up composing! Think Rossini: once he was wealthy, no more operas needed.

Sad though.
An Anonymous Musician
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Post by An Anonymous Musician » Thu Sep 21, 2006 1:03 am

It certainly seemed like Korngold had some sort of depression, and oftentimes, depression makes it enough of a struggle to just get through the day, let alone to sit down and to have the energy to write out so meticulously all of those little black dots. Also, remember that when you write a film score, you're writing to a tight deadline, so whenever Korngold did a film, he had to go on a kind of composing "marathon" for at least a few weeks (Steiner used to inject himself with stimulants so he could compose through the night). I think it's just asking too much of a person to want them to churn out other pieces of music after they've exhausted themselves both physically and mentally like that.
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