Korngold – Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

by Max Derrickson

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
(Born in Brünn, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (present-day Brno, Czech Republic) in 1897; died in Los Angeles in 1957)

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
1. Andante nobile
2. Romanze
3. Allegro assai vivace

Born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic), Korngold grew up in a household filled with music and musicians.  His father, Julius, was the music critic who inherited Edouard Hanslick’s position at the Neue Freie Presse in Vienna.  Erich was a piano prodigy of exceptional talents and began impressing the music world by the age of seven.  By the age of nine, he had already composed several works, prompting his famous father to ask none other than Gustav Mahler to assess his son’s talents.  Mahler was so astonished that he called young Erich a genius of the likes of Mendelssohn and Mozart, [. . .] In Europe, Korngold was poised to own the music world.

In 1934, his colleague Max Reinhardt invited Korngold to visit Hollywood to write a film score for the movie adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Korngold accepted, as Hollywood movies were all the rage in Europe.  While there, however, Hitler began his ugly part in history, and Korngold soon found it impossible to return home to Austria.  As Korngold recalled, “We thought of ourselves as Austrians, until Hitler made us Jewish.”  Korngold vowed in protest not to write [. . .]

But during this time another great virtuoso and fellow émigré, violinist Bronislav Huberman (1882 – 1947), [. . .]   He threw himself into writing his Violin Concerto, and it premiered the same year, but with Jascha Heifitz (not Huberman) as the soloist with the St. Louis Symphony.  Korngold dedicated the work to his mentor’s widow, Alma Mahler.

Like Rachmaninoff, Korngold’s musical inclinations lay in the Romantic style.  Immediately, climbing and gorgeous, the violin soloist leads us through a rhapsodic theme [. . .]   Particularly unusual is the prominent part for the vibraphone (a metal-barred keyboard percussion instrument) which is almost a co-soloist with the violin, lending a richly hued shimmer to the score.

The middle movement is a luscious nocturnal love song – it’s not hard to imagine [. . .]  soloist must soar romantically but with great dignity.

The finale is an all-out joyful [. . .] wonderful excursion through song and music making.

Ironically, given Korngold’s resentment over his dismissal as a film composer, the Concerto borrows heavily from his film scores:  the lovely opening theme comes from the film Another Dawn (1937); the first movement’s second theme from Juarez (1939); the solo clarinet theme in the second movement was borrowed from Anthony Adverse (1936); and the jig (and lovely slow rendition of it) in the finale came from The Prince and the Pauper (1937).  The premiere was fairly well received, but according to one critic the Concerto contained more “corn than gold,” and Korngold’s reputation [. . .].