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Erich (Wolfgang) Korngold

Erich Korngold (1897-1957)

Nationality: Austrian | Moravian | Jewish
Born: May 29, 1897, Brno
Died: November 29, 1957, Hollywood, CA (age 60)
wikipedia

Suite, Op. 23

(for 2 violins, cello and piano for one hand)
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
IV. Lied. Schlicht und innig. Nicht zu langsam
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig
Composed: 1930 (age 32-33)
Duration: 38 minutes (approximately)
5 recordings, 24 videos
8:45
ATOS Trio, Weithaas
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
6:24
ATOS Trio, Weithaas
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
9:37
ATOS Trio, Weithaas
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
4:03
ATOS Trio, Weithaas
IV. Lied. Schlicht und innig. Nicht zu langsam
8:54
ATOS Trio, Weithaas
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig
8:54
Daniel Rowland, et. al.
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
5:40
Daniel Rowland, et. al.
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
9:31
Daniel Rowland, et. al.
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
4:43
Daniel Rowland, et. al.
IV. Lied. Schlicht und innig. Nicht zu langsam
7:59
Daniel Rowland, et. al.
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig
9:47
Forsberg, et. al.
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
5:50
Forsberg, et. al.
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
9:03
Forsberg, et. al.
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
8:17
Forsberg, et. al.
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig
10:10
Prunaru, et. al.
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
6:44
Prunaru, et. al.
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
10:19
Prunaru, et. al.
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
4:45
Prunaru, et. al.
IV. Lied. Schlicht und innig. Nicht zu langsam
8:42
Prunaru, et. al.
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig
8:19
Steven Honigberg, et. al.
I. Präludium und Fuge. Kräftig und bestimmt
6:14
Steven Honigberg, et. al.
II. Walzer. Nicht schnell, anmutig
10:36
Steven Honigberg, et. al.
III. Groteske. Möglich rasch
3:59
Steven Honigberg, et. al.
IV. Lied. Schlicht und innig. Nicht zu langsam
8:48
Steven Honigberg, et. al.
V. Rondo - Finale (Variationen). Schnell, heftig

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1897-1957

Suite for two violins, cello, and piano left hand, Op. 23, 1930

Erich Wolfgang KorngoldKorngold’s astonishing Suite for two violins, cello and a pianist’s left hand is a rare chamber music treasure, a single magnificent window into a the imagination of a profoundly gifted composer who remains mostly in the shadows of his era. Born in 1897, Korngold was a Viennese child prodigy who attracted the stunned praise of such mature composers as Mahler, Strauss and Puccini who declared him a genius as the Viennese public savored his precociously emerging music for ballet, chamber music, opera and symphonic pieces.

Paul Wittgenstein, about ten years older than Korngold and of the wealthy, cultural Viennese family (including his brother, the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), trained to become a concert pianist making his successful debut in 1913 to some acclaim. He shortly left for service in WWI where he was shot in elbow and, in a Silesian prisoner of war camp, ultimately lost his right arm to amputation. Irrepressible, he resolved to develop a successful left-hand technique and commissioned concert works from numerous master composers including Ravel, Britten, Prokofiev, Strauss and Korngold. Korngold first composed a single-movement piano concerto for left hand and then the remarkable Suite, Op. 23 in 1930 when he was thirty-three years old, both commissioned by Wittgenstein.

Both Korngold and Wittgenstein were of Jewish descent and with the rise of the Nazis, both left Europe for the United States. Korngold was invited by colleagues to Hollywood, the second time to compose a film soundtrack for “The Adventures of Robin Hood” for which he subsequently won an Academy Award. He left Vienna for Los Angles just in time before the Anschluss engulfed Austria. Korngold would later say that the film project literally saved his life. He became a seminal pioneer in the genre of film scores where his inexhaustible musical imagination and gifted technique found expression in a series of cinematic tone poems that stand on their own as absolute musical narratives. Though he eventually left the film industry to compose “pure art” concerti, symphonies and more chamber music, Korngold was no longer considered very innovative nor relevant so he faded into obscurity. A re-examination of his marvelous film music sparked a Korngold revival in the 1970’s and his oeuvre has since been programmed, recorded and newly appreciated.

The Suite, unusually scored for two violins, cello and piano left hand, is a full-length, epic chamber work that belongs with the great piano quartets and quintets in the most selective canon. It’s relatively rarity can be explained by its unusual orchestration, Korngold’s relatively obscure reputation and perhaps the fact that, in the context of the 1930’s, it was considered “conservative” or at least of a recognizably romantic and even classical cast. It uses well-established forms with a primarily tonal language yet it is full of Korngold’s characteristic extended and occasionally tart harmonies, biting dissonance, modern rhythmic vitality, brilliant development and variation, all grounded in a gifted melodic lyricism throughout. Late Viennese, Neo-Classical with modern traits and a nearly Post-Modern eclecticism make the music broad and precisely unclassifiable but its ravishing success as great music is undeniable.

The suite begins with a substantial “cadenza” for solo piano highlighting the left hand in an impressive bravado introduction. Both prelude and ensuing fugue reference the august keyboard literature of Bach and Korngold employs a daringly knotted subject to create a massive ternary fugue featuring a golden lyrical section as a center contrast. The prelude and fugue also neatly establish the notion of suite of movements that include a sumptuous Viennese Waltz (deconstructed), a scherzo with the rather modern title “Groteske”, a poignant slow movement Lied (or song) and a monumental theme and variations for a pyrotechnical finale.

The “Groteske” alone is a dense and rich work: built from a driving moto perpetuo “barbaro”, the scherzo portion is a substantial sonata with contrasting themes while the “trio” expands and transcends with the luminous grace of Schubert or late Brahms. The scherzo returns with new fugal developments and a spikiness worthy of Shostakovich. The tender, yearning Lied is based on one of Korngold’s art songs and resumes the grace of the trio with the mesmerizing atmospheric poignancy of an adagio by Mahler. The theme of the finale variation set is strikingly Beethovenian and Korngold would appear have a comparable expressive and inventive fecundity in his own fresh vocabulary. For a nice touch of cyclic unity, Korngold brings the fourth movement lied melody back at a faster tempo to weave among the final variations.

If someone in 1930 were to lament, “why don’t they write gorgeous music like Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms any more?”, one could have been answered, “they do: his name is Korngold.”