30 Oct 2012

Korngold – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubles English horn), 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons (2nd doubles contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, cymbals, bass drum, celesta, strings.

Duration: 24 minutes in three movements.

THE COMPOSER – ERICH KORNGOLD (1897-1957) – Korngold moved to Hollywood in 1934 and, along with other fellow émigrés, spent the years leading up to the war breaking important ground in the nascent art of film scoring. His best efforts from that period included The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Kings Row. Korngold believed he was creating music for “operas without singing” and endeavored to craft scores that could pass the concert hall test.

THE MUSIC – Korngold’s focus changed after the war to music of a more “serious” nature. His youthful work had already earned him at least one “genius” comment (from Mahler, no less) and his highly artistic movie scores gained him many new admirers in America. But his productivity as a composer of non-commercial orchestral music had been fallow long enough that he needed to rekindle his reputation with a success in a traditional genre. The first effort in that regard was a good one. The violin concerto was written in 1945 and exists now as the perfect synthesis of Korngold’s two lives as a musician. The music is unapologetic in both its Romanticism and its acknowledgement of Hollywood’s charms. Korngold had clearly learned much during the ‘30s about how to establish and maintain contact with an audience. His concerto displays all of the rigorous craftsmanship and masterful instrumental facility of his Viennese training but also the flair for emotional directness he perfected while at Warner Brothers. It was common in Korngold’s day (and remains so in ours) to assume that film composers and “serious” composers were made of mutually exclusive parts. The error of this thinking is embodied by Erich Korngold and his proof is implicit in the knowledge that the premiere performance of his excellent concerto was handled by none other than Jascha Heifetz, an unquestionably “serious” artist that Korngold referred to as “Caruso and Paganini in one person.”

THE WORLD – World War II ended in 1945. Also that year, Ebony Magazine had its beginnings, Korea split into two nations, Columbia joined the United Nations and E.B. White published the children’s book Stuart Little.

THE CONNECTION – The Utah Symphony last performed the Korngold Violin Concerto in 2009 under Keith Lockhart. Viviane Hagner was soloist.