The Korngold Festival rediscovers a composer straddling two worlds

The University of Chicago will celebrate the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold during a 10-day festival, which will examine how his life and work show a transformational shift in late Romantic composition in classical music in Vienna, Hollywood film music in Los Angeles. Angels.

From April 1, Korngold rediscovered will host a variety of events at UChicago’s Reva and the David Logan Center for the Arts, including musical performances, a symposium of lectures and panels, the US premiere of Korngold’s latest opera and a film screening. The festival will end on April 10 with a performance by the French string quartet Quatuor Diotima, which will play music by Korngold and other composers.

Ticket prices vary depending on each specific event. The festival is a collaboration between Chicago Folks Operetta production company and the University of Chicago, including UChicago Presents and the Division of Humanities.


Behind the scenes, Professor Philip V. Bohlman played a pivotal role in planning this complex event. He also co-stars as artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society performance on April 6.

“Korngold was a very talented composer who could create songs, operas and concertos from the age of 11, but he was not considered a genius in Vienna,” said Bohlman, professor emeritus Ludwig Rosenberger. at the UChicago Music Department. “Like Joseph Haydn, Korngold was trained to be a musician from his earliest years. The most fascinating part of his life and work is how he made the transition to America and Hollywood film music.

The Korngold Festival examines the big picture of this historical period and how to reconsider the relationship between Korngold’s pre-film and film compositions. For example, Bohlman thinks that the performance of Korngold’s Forgotten Opera, Die Catherine, April 7 and 9 is significant because it marks the end of a musical tradition. After writing the opera, Korngold moved on to composing film scores such as the Oscar-winning score for The Adventures of Robin Hoodaired April 8.

In this edited Q&A, Bohlman discusses how Korngold’s work and life fit into and define the complicated period after the end of World War I through the troubles of World War II and the Cold War.

When did you become intrigued by the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold?

During my extensive research on Jewish music and exiles from Europe to the United States, I heard of Korngold. I became interested in him because Korngold was so different from other modern composers. After starting out as a composer of late romanticism in Vienna, he worked his way into Hollywood sound.

In fact, Korngold has undergone a drastic change in his style. His transition from composing operas and concerts to film music was rapid. His opera Die Catherine stands on one side and his Oscar-winning music for The Adventures of Robin Hood on another side. Once Korngold made the transition, however, he could not find his way back to composing operas and songs. For example, his most famous American composition, the Violin Concerto, mirrors the sound of his Hollywood films.

How would you define the golden age of Jewish film music? How does Korngold fit into this era?

The golden age of Jewish film music began with the first talkie, The jazz singer, in 1929 because it combined synchronized sound with cinema. This film’s star, Al Jolson, plays the son of a Jewish cantor, and the film depicts Jewish life in immigrant New York City. The talking pictures allowed the music to shine. Many composers were Jewish, either exiles from Europe or immigrants.

As an exile and then an American citizen, Korngold canonized a certain style in Hollywood films. His music transforms the role of music in cinema. Today, when we hear film scores created by Korngold, we think we’ve heard them before. A current film composer, John Williams, carries on the musical tradition of the Star Wars and Harry Potter films, for example, which Korngold and his contemporaries developed.


How does Korngold’s music for The Adventures of Robin Hood and several other successful Hollywood films change the importance of music in cinema?

Its style of music was a major departure from previous films, creating a different structure. For example, in The blue angel (1930, German version), the characters talk then they sing like a musical. On the other hand, Korngold’s music is present from the beginning to the end of the film. He composes film music throughout the films, not individual songs. This transition for film music begins in the 1930s as the major motion picture studios were evolving. In less than a decade, movies have gone from separate music to synchronized music. Korngold was one of the first composers to successfully create this new style suitable for Hollywood film.

What can visitors expect at this festival?

There’s a lot of great music out there, and music is important to us. Together, these Korngold Festival events allow us to understand the historical sweep of one of the most complicated periods in history, from the end of World War I through World War II to the Cold War. The Korngold Festival offers us both musical performances from this era and scholars analyzing what was happening during the Symposium which was held from April 6th to 8th. This offers participants new dimensions to the art, music and film of this pivotal time.

For more information on performances, symposium and registration, visit the Korngold Festival website.

—This story was first published by the Humanities Division.

Comments are closed.