15 Mar 2011

Korngold – Much Ado About Nothing

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD – Korngold was a very popular young composer in 1920. His third opera, Die tote Stadt, premiered in Vienna that year to international acclaim and represented the zenith of his European years. With the move to Hollywood and the trailblazing success in the new world of film scoring still more than a decade away, Korngold at 23 was still a maturing prodigy who had once been referred to by Mahler as a “genius” and who’s early work also caught the eye of Strauss, Sibelius and Puccini.

THE MUSIC – No secular writer has inspired more music than William Shakespeare. The incidental music composed to accompany his plays and the various operas and concert pieces created in their image could fill an entire season (or more) of programs without the need to repeat a single work. Korngold’s addition to this considerable legacy came in the form of a commission from the Vienna Burgtheater in 1918. He wrote a total of 14 separate segments for the production of Much Ado About Nothing and immediately on display where the uncanny melodic ease, inventive orchestration and rich harmonic textures that would one day make him so famous in the movie industry. After the production was revived in 1920 at the Schönbrunn Palace, Korngold found occasion to extract two concert suites from the score, one for chamber orchestra and another for violin and piano. The movement choices are similar for both but the orchestral version includes a short overture which some have compared to the Marriage of Figaro overture for its artful concision and witty self-propulsion. The other pieces of the set move so effortlessly from nostalgia to farce to fiery animation that it is easy to see the future Korngold at work, the Korngold with the gift for translating visual drama into lush and memorable sound.

THE WORLD – 1920 saw the creation of the American Civil Liberties Union, the death of Explorer Robert Peary, the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution, the very first “Ponzi” scheme and the canonization of Joan of Arc. World population in 1920 reached a robust 1.86 billion.

THE CONNECTION – Though the Utah Symphony has recently presented the Violin Concerto of Korngold, these concerts feature the orchestra’s premiere performances of Much Ado About Nothing.

by Jeff Counts