Korngold Quartet No. 3
In 1928, the year following the completion of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 3, the Neue Wiener Tageblatt conducted a poll of Viennese music lovers to identify the greatest living composers. The winners were fifty-four-year-old Arnold Schoenberg and thirty-one-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Korngold, at age 9 proclaimed a genius by Mahler, had been celebrated before reaching his 20th year as the greatest child prodigy since Mozart. By the time Korngold first went to Hollywood, he had written a substantial oeuvre, including his operatic masterpiece, "Die Tote Stadt" (1920). Several works were praised or performed by celebrated musicians such as Puccini, Richard Strauss, Felix Weingartner, Artur Schnabel and others. It was, in fact, partly his established reputation in Europe as a “serious” composer that attracted Warner Brothers.
Max Reinhardt, the famous theater director, was responsible for bringing Korngold to the United States. In 1933 (coincidentally the same year that Schoenberg left Austria), he invited the composer to arrange Mendelssohn’s music for a production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" at the Hollywood Bowl, and subsequently for a film version produced by Warner Brothers. Korngold stayed on to write original music for other films, including two that won the Oscar: "Anthony Adverse" (1936) and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1935). Barely escaping the Anschluss in 1938 (the annexation of Austria to the German Reich) and its inevitable consequences for Jews, Korngold moved his father and the rest of his family to Hollywood. Thus began his long association with Warner Brothers, which established him as the most important (and best paid) composer of modern symphonic film music during Hollywood’s Golden Years.
Korngold was unapologetic about his film music. In a 1946 interview he said, “It is not true that cinema places a restraint on musical expression. Music is music whether it is for the stage, rostrum or cinema. Form may change, the manner of writing may vary, but the composer needs to make no concessions whatever to what he conceives to be his own musical ideology.” Korngold vowed not to compose concert works again until Hitler was defeated. In December 1945, he surprised his wife with a Christmas present-the final sketch of the new String Quartet No. 3 in D major, his first post-World War II classical work and last string quartet. His wife later wrote, “Erich had come back to himself.”
Dedicated to the famed conductor Bruno Walter (another émigré who lived in Beverly Hills at the time), the String Quartet No. 3 in D major, op. 34, is written in the traditional four movements. Like the fifth interval in Haydn’s Quintenquartett, the seventh interval is the unifying element in Korngold’s quartet. First performed in Los Angeles in 1946 by the Roth Quartet, the work borrows thematic material from his film scores. The trio of the second movement is based on a melody from "Between Two Worlds" (1944); the main theme of the sostenuto movement, marked “like a folk tune,” comes from the movie classic "The Sea Wolf"; and the second theme of the last movement is derived from "Devotion" (1943), a film about the Brontë sisters.
Hoping to regain his former prominence, Korngold returned to Vienna in 1947. He quickly realized that he had been “forgotten by audiences destroyed by seven years of Nazi rule and four years of Allied bombings; ridiculed by the music intelligentsia, who regarded his tonal music as hopelessly outdated; and resented by a populace who had endured bombings and starvation while Korngold and his family had safely exiled themselves to Hollywood and a life of luxury.” He went back to Hollywood in 1954 to score "Magic Fire," a film about the life of Wagner, incorporating the latter’s music. Korngold died in oblivion three years later.
Postscript: The release of the "Classic Film Score" albums beginning with "The Sea Hawk" in 1972 first reawakened interest in Korngold, eventually leading to the rediscovery of his classical works. This is rather ironic, considering that it was because of his film music and the use of material from it in his late works that critics denigrated him as a “serious” composer. Moreover, as Jessica Duchen suggests, since the modern symphony film score is “a direct descendant of the passionate melodies and chromatic harmonies, the dramatic fanfares and atmospheric mood painting in the music of Korngold … is known to far more people the world over than the vast majority of contemporary classical music, that, paradoxically, makes Korngold one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.”
-Tomás C. Hernández, Music Division, Library of Congress
Explore What's Behind the Music
Aron Quartet: Vienna's Aron Quartet was formed in 1998 by Ludwig Müller, Barna Kobori, Georg Hamann and Christophe Pantillon. Read More
Sabine Meyer: Clarinetist Sabine Meyer is regarded as one of the most outstanding soloists of our time. It is thanks to her that the clarinet, previously underrated as a solo instrument, has reclaimed the concert stage. Read More
The Aron Quartet players studied with Vienna's great Alban Berg Quartett, as well as Ernst Kovacic and Heinrich Schiff, and also worked with Isaac Stern, Max Rostal, William Primrose, Mischa Maisky, Ralph Kirshbaum and Sandor Végh. They regularly appear in prestigious venues throughout Europe, the U.S., and Mexico, in major venues that include Wigmore Hall and Vienna's Musikverein, and at the Vienna Festival, the Biennale di Venezia, Schoenberg Festival, and Finland's Kuhmo Festival, among others. They are Quartet in Residence at the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna.
Clarinetist Sabine Meyer is regarded as one of the most outstanding soloists of our time. It is thanks to her that the clarinet, previously underrated as a solo instrument, has reclaimed the concert stage.
In her 20s she had already achieved notable success as a brilliant soloist with virtuosic technical command. She began her career as a member of the Bayerische Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra. She subsequently played with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as solo clarinettist, a position she left as she became increasingly in demand as a solo artist, with concerts each season that take her to the world's major musical centers, and to appearances with leading symphony orchestras, including those of Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo, and St.Petersburg.
In addition to her work as a soloist, Sabine Meyer is a committed player of chamber music, whose colleagues include Gidon Kremer, Lars Vogt, the Vienna String Sextet and the Hagen Quartet, as well as the Cleveland Quartet, the Alban Berg Quartet and the Tokyo String Quartet. She also devotes a great deal of time to her own two ensembles, the Trio di Clarone and Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer.
Sabine Meyer has been awarded the prestigious Echo Prize on six occasions (more often than any other classical artist to date) by the Deutsche Phonoakademie, including four awards for Instrumentalist of the Year.
In addition to numerous musical awards, Sabine Meyer has also received the Niedersachsen Prize and is a member of the Hamburg Academy of Arts.
Notes on the program
Darius Milhaud: Scaramouche, for clarinet and piano
French composers have had a special affinity for the particular timbre of woodwind instruments. They seem to have felt instinctively a resonance with the subtle and restrained natures of these instruments, qualities as inherent to French cultural traditions as to the French language itself. Perhaps this affinity is due to France’s long history of constructing and developing such instruments, dating at least as far back as the early 17th century, and to the groundbreaking efforts of six generations of the Hotteterre family of woodwind instrument makers, instrumentalists, and composers. The rich spectrum of tone colors that characterize woodwind instruments was also explored by French composers from the 17th century forward, establishing a tradition which, by the beginning of the 19th century, had produced a substantial number of instrumental works.
Among French composers, writing styles for woodwind instruments and the art of orchestration in general attained an unprecedented sophistication during the 19th century, ranging from the astonishing contributions of Hector Berlioz during the first decades of the century to the understated works of Gabriel Fauré, Charles Koechlin, Erik Satie, and Claude Debussy, partly a reaction to the inflated rhetoric of romanticism that dominated musical styles at the century’s end. Despite their individual stylistic perspectives, each of these and other French composers of the time shared a common tradition of subtlety and economy of musical expression. By the middle of the 20th century, a specifically French “sound” or concept of tone color had become firmly implanted in the mind and ears of performers and audiences worldwide (although in practice, this particular sonority was rarely cultivated beyond France’s borders). Performance techniques and the construction of musical instruments themselves were adapted to reflect this ideal.
-Kevin LaVine, Music Division, Library of Congress