Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Golden Music

By David Luhrssen
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Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the stellar names in movie music during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Those were the years before producers slapped a few pop oldies onto the soundtrack and called it musical direction. In the 1930s and ‘40s studio orchestras, adding emotional cues to the screenplay with original arrangements and compositions, accompanied even modest movies.

A prodigy composer in Vienna before World War I, Korngold fled the spread of Nazism in the 1930s and found work in Hollywood, first with refugee stage director Max Reinhardt’s take on Shakespeare’s A MidsummerNight’s Dream (1934). In the next few years he won Oscars for his musical contributions to Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Korngold never stopped composing for the concert hall. His Violin Concerto in D major (1945) has been released on a new CD by Nikolaj Znaider, Brahms Korngold Violin Concertos (RCA Red Seal). The accomplished young violinist, born to Polish-Israeli parents in Denmark, may have found the lovely, challenging Brahms piece more interesting. But Korngold wrote under the spell of Brahms and the coupling makes good sense. Korngold’s highly evocative concerto includes much encouragement for a lead violinist to play on the strings of human emotion and incorporates themes originally composed for Hollywood movies. It will provide TCM fans with much pleasure in spotting their origins.

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