Monday May 29th marks the 120th birthday of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-197=57), whose journey took him from the life of a Wunderkind prodigy barnstorming Mozart-like through the back roads of Central Europe, to the Hollywood backlots, where he became one of the most successful film composers of all time. But Korngold never abandoned the concert stage, and in the mid-1940s produced what is arguably his most famous score: the Violin Concerto in D, premiered in 1947. As the Kennedy Center’s annotator observes:
At this point in Korngold’s career, the two aspects of his creative world-concert and film music-had become completely intertwined. His movie scores (of which the most famous are Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood) were symphonic, even operatic, in their scope. The Violin Concerto, on the other hand, owes much to Korngold’s work in the film industry. Many of the major themes were taken over from film scores, and there are moments where the instrumentation and the thematic development also bring back Hollywood memories.
The opening theme of the concerto comes from a score written for a film that failed and was quickly forgotten (Another Dawn, 1937), the second from the historical movie Juarez (1939). The folk-dance theme of the last movement originated in the film adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (1937), and became the starting point for a set of brilliant variations. These different sources form a completely new entity in the Violin Concerto, quite independent from the screen originals.
Korngold’s swordplay-turned-bowstrokes is played out here in three separate performances from our Heifetz summertime stage. First up is the Moderato Nobile first movement here, played by Heifetz 2016 student Roberta Yee and faculty pianist Jun Cho:
The gorgeous Romanze second movement was played at the 2015 Festival of Concerts by Heifetz student Maya Ramchandran and faculty pianist Hui-Chuan Chen:
And Roberta and Jun, back a few weeks later at the 2016 Festival of Concerts to play the furious Finale: