Bard Music Festival's 30th Anniversary Season Explores Life And Times Of Korngold
This summer, the Bard Music Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary season with a two-week, in-depth exploration of "Korngold and His World." In twelve themed concert programs, complemented by pre-concert lectures, a film screening, panel discussions, and expert commentary, Bard examines the life and career of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), the under-sung yet hugely influential composer whose lush Romanticism would come to define the quintessential Hollywood sound. Offering an immersion in the worlds he straddled, first as a classical prodigy in fin-de-siècle Vienna and then as a prime mover in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Weekend One addresses Korngold and Vienna (August 9-11), and Weekend Two investigates Korngold in America (August 16-18). Enriched by a wealth of compositions by Korngold's predecessors, contemporaries, and successors, all events take place in the stunning Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College's idyllic Hudson River campus. There, as in previous years, the Bard Music Festival is set to provide the creative inspiration for Bard SummerScape 2019 and to prove itself once again "the summer's most stimulating music festival" (Los Angeles Times). Click here to see the only surviving footage of Korngold playing his own music.
About the Bard Music Festival
In the three decades since its inception, the Bard Music Festival has become synonymous with a new kind of concert experience, one that provides a "rich web of context" (New York Times) for a full appreciation of each composer's inspirations, significance, and legacy. To date, the festival has illuminated the worlds of Brahms, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Dvo?ák, Schumann, Bartók, Ives, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg, Beethoven, Debussy, Mahler, Janá?ek, Shostakovich, Copland, Liszt, Elgar, Prokofiev, Wagner, Berg, Sibelius, Saint-Saëns, Stravinsky, Schubert, Carlos Chávez, Puccini, Chopin, and Rimsky-Korsakov. In 2020, to launch its fourth decade, Bard looks forward to celebrating "Nadia Boulanger and Her World."
Bard's emphasis on thematic programming and its willingness to vary the traditional concert format, sometimes integrating orchestral, choral, solo, and chamber works within a single event, enables audiences to experience afresh the power of well-known works while discovering less familiar ones for the first time. Since its founding by Leon Botstein in 1990, the festival has succeeded in enriching the standard concert repertory with a wealth of important rediscoveries; as the New York Times points out, "wherever there is an overlooked potential masterpiece, Leon Botstein is not too far behind."
"One of the most remarkable figures in the worlds of arts and culture" (THIRTEEN/WNET), Botstein serves as music director of both the American Symphony Orchestra, and The Orchestra Now (T?N), a unique graduate training orchestra designed to help a new generation of musicians break down barriers between modern audiences and orchestral music of past and present. Under his leadership, both ensembles perform in the music festival each season, and the American Symphony Orchestra also anchors the annual staged opera. As in previous seasons, the Bard Festival Chorale will take part in all choral works under the leadership of James Bagwell, and this year's chamber and vocal programs will boast a comparably impressive roster of guest artists.
Korngold and His World
The subject of this season's Bard Music Festival was perhaps the greatest musical prodigy since Mozart. Before turning twelve, Erich Wolfgang Korngold had already been proclaimed a genius by both Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, while his concert and operatic works were routinely premiered and championed by the likes of Bruno Walter, Artur Schnabel, Jascha Heifetz, and Lotte Lehmann. Combining voluptuous chromaticism, soaring melodies, opulent orchestration, operatic leitmotifs, and a nostalgia for the Romanticism of his youth, Korngold's distinctive compositional voice would revolutionize film music, winning him two Academy Awards along the way. His music was performed for European royalty and at both of Ronald Reagan's inaugurations, while his influence continues to permeate the soundtracks of more recent films, like Star Wars, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In light of this, he is surely "one of the most influential composers of the 20th century" (Korngold biographer Jessica Duchen).
Yet, as the UK's Independent observes, "Korngold may just be the greatest composer you've never heard of." His classical career fell victim to a series of unfortunate events, thwarted first by his own father, Vienna's leading music critic, whose determination to advance his son's cause would spectacularly backfire. As a Jew, Korngold saw his music banned as "degenerate" by the Nazis, while he himself escaped persecution only by remaining in American exile. Perhaps most decisively, as the last of the great Viennese Romantics, his music was deemed too conservative for an establishment that embraced the innovations of Modernism. For all his Hollywood success, the composer died stunned and embittered by the cold reception that greeted him when he tried to return to the European stage.
Drawing on recent scholarship, the Bard Music Festival's signature thematic programming, multidisciplinary approach, and emphasis on context and reception history provide the perfect platform for a reappraisal of this beleaguered legacy, revisiting Korngold's neglected concert repertoire, remembering his role as an operetta adapter, and doing full justice to his achievement in synthesizing 19th-century operatic practices with those of 20th-century cinema. Through the prism of his life and career, the festival explores themes including the importance of popular music, the orchestral imagination, musical conservatism in the Modernist age, the Third Reich's impact on Jewish musicians in Europe, and the development of music for film.
The festival will feature a broad sampling of Korngold's own music, including childhood masterpieces, rare orchestral and chamber works, excerpts from iconic film scores, a special screening of The Constant Nymph, and a semi-staged production of his best-loved opera, Die tote Stadt, to draw the entire seven weeks of SummerScape to a riveting close. Music by many of his compatriots and contemporaries will also be heard, including those who dominated the Viennese music scene in his early years, such as Mahler, Strauss, Robert Fuchs, Joseph Marx, and his teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky; his fellow conservatives, such as Ernst von Dohnányi and Franz Schmidt; those with whom he was unfavorably compared, such as Franz Schreker, Ernst Krenek, and Paul Hindemith; Broadway legends such as Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein; and some of the cinematic giants he influenced, such as Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, and Miklós Rózsa, several of whom - together with Arnold Schoenberg, Hanns Eisler, Erich Zeisl, and Korngold himself - were also Jewish émigrés in Hollywood. To elucidate each concert's themes, there will be informative pre-concert talks and commentaries, supplemented by two thought-provoking panel discussions; these are free to ticket holders.
Weekend One: Korngold and Vienna (August 9-11)
The festival launches with Program One, "Erich Wolfgang Korngold: From Viennese Prodigy to Hollywood Master." Anchored by T?N, and exploiting Bard's unusual ability to integrate orchestral, choral, solo, and chamber works within a single event, this opening concert offers a broad overview of the composer's multi-faceted career. It was Korngold's ballet-pantomime, Der Schneemann, that first made him a sensation; completed when the composer was just eleven, the work is already a masterly marriage of tight construction and Viennese charm. Excerpts will be heard alongside a selection of songs; the virtuosic Piano Quintet in E, one of his early-adult successes; the Overture to The Sea Hawk, the last and best of his wartime Errol Flynn swashbucklers; Tomorrow, the tone poem he wrote for The Constant Nymph; and his Cello Concerto, an uncharacteristically modern work that began life as the climax of the Bette Davis vehicle Deception, before being expanded for concert performance in the composer's final decade.
Although better known for his large-scale works, Korngold also made invaluable contributions to the chamber genre. Program Two, "Teachers, Admirers, and Influences," pairs early examples, like the superlative Sextet in N*E*R*D he wrote at 17, with chamber and vocal music by some of the composers most prominent in the Vienna of his youth. These include such leading lights as Max Reger and Hans Gál; Korngold's great friend and colleague Joseph Marx; the legendary pedagogue Robert Fuchs, with whom he briefly took lessons as a child; and Alexander von Zemlinsky, under whose longer-term instruction the young prodigy wrote his exquisite Märchenbilder and Passacaglia for solo piano. Zemlinsky also taught Kurt Weigl and Alma Mahler, who would - decades later, and on another continent - become the dedicatee of Korngold's Violin Concerto.
Alongside its more radical developments, the first quarter of the 20th century saw a final flourishing of tonal writing for full orchestra. Marking the American Symphony Orchestra's first concert of the festival's 30th anniversary season, Program Three, "The Orchestral Imagination," presents four relative rarities. The atmospheric Overture to Der Musikant is by Julius Bittner, then one of Austria's most-performed opera composers and something of a second father to Korngold (who later supported him when diabetes left the older composer a double amputee). Paying tribute to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony is a monumental orchestral song cycle set to Eastern texts. A close contemporary of Bittner and Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker stretched tonality to its limits in Vom ewigen Leben, a lyrical pair of Walt Whitman settings for soprano and orchestra. Though of a younger generation, Korngold shared his colleagues' post-Wagnerian orchestral soundscape. His Piano Concerto for the left-hand - written, like Ravel's, for one-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the famous philosopher - is a stirring and melodically inventive tour de force.
The interwar period saw a number of classical compositions find more mainstream success, as Program Four, "Popular Music from the Cabarets, Taverns, and Salons of Korngold's Vienna" - a performance with commentary - discovers. Frühlingsstimmen was one of several works by "Waltz King" Johann Strauss II to be popularized through recordings by beloved coloratura sopranos, and the concert aria found further fame when performed onscreen in two of The Three Stooges' slapstick shorts. Similarly, "Mariettas Lied" from Korngold's Die tote Stadt reached a wider audience through the recording by Lotte Lehmann and Richard Tauber. Before being denounced by the Nazis as the epitome of artistic degeneracy, Ernst Krenek's arietta "Leb' wohl mein Schatz," from his jazz-themed opera, Jonny spielt auf, was successfully marketed and recorded in multiple arrangements as Jonny's Blues. And Marlene Dietrich's recordings brought the songs of Friedrich Hollaender, whose score for The Blue Angel featured her signature hit, "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)," to a vast and adoring international audience.
Korngold was not alone in his continued adherence to the language of late-Romanticism. Program Five, "Before the Reich: Korngold and Fellow Conservatives," presents chamber music written by the composer and some of his less revolutionary contemporaries in the decades between the wars. Based on his incidental music to the Shakespeare comedy, Korngold's exuberant Much Ado About Nothing Suite was an instant success. Less well-known, though more tonally adventurous, is his unusually scored Suite for two violins, cello and piano left-hand. This was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, as was the Toccata for piano left-hand by Franz Schmidt, under whose direction Korngold briefly taught at Vienna's Imperial Academy of Music. Schmidt's sound world owed more to Brahms, Mahler, and Reger than to the innovations of the Second Viennese School, as did those of Walter Braunfels and Josef Labor, a composer held in high regard by the Wittgensteins. By contrast, the music of Ernst von Dohnányi infused this German Romanticism with a distinctly Hungarian flavor, and tonality was stretched still further by Switzerland's Othmar Schoeck, in whose songs it sometimes comes close to breaking point.
Korngold enjoyed a second, more lucrative career as an expert adapter and expander of classic Viennese operetta, and it was he who spearheaded the Johann Strauss II revival of the 1920s. Working with famed director and producer Max Reinhardt, he achieved his greatest success with Rosalinda, a restructured version of Die Fledermaus that - with choreography by George Balanchine and initially with Korngold himself conducting from the piano - ran for more than 600 performances on Broadway. As the works excerpted in Program Six, "Operetta's America," reveal, the New World provided both new audiences and new inspiration for operetta. These include such rarities as Leo Fall's Rosen aus Florida, which Korngold recreated from incomplete sketches provided by the composer's widow; The Dollar Princess, also by Fall, and adapted by musical theater legend Jerome Kern; Emmerich Kálmán's Die Herzogin von Chicago, which mingles Viennese waltz with jazz; and Oscar Straus's Hochzeit in Hollywood, the basis for a subsequent musical film.
Weekend Two: Korngold in America (August 16-18)
It was through Max Reinhardt that Korngold first started writing for Hollywood, where he and his family joined the growing exodus of émigrés from Europe. Korngold believed that "music is music, whether it is for the stage, rostrum, or cinema," and his background in concert music, opera, operetta, and musical comedy proved invaluable in writing for film. His Academy Award-winning score for The Adventures of Robin Hood - an epic Technicolor swashbuckler starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland - integrated music from both his Sursum Corda overture and his original material for Rosen aus Florida into a taut, genre-defining masterpiece. Performed with screened excerpts from the film, selections from this score will be heard alongside music by other leading lights of Hollywood's Golden Age, including Korngold's compatriot and colleague Max Steiner, whose extensive output includes such classics as King Kong, Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind; Bernard Herrmann, whose iconic scores include Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, and Taxi Driver; Franz Waxman, of Bride of Frankenstein, Rebecca, and Sunset Boulevard fame; the Russian-born Dimitri Tiomkin, best-known for archetypically American Westerns like Duel in the Sun, High Noon, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral; and Alfred Newman, whose work includes Wuthering Heights, All About Eve, and the famous fanfare that accompanies the 20th Century Fox logo. To launch Weekend Two, T?N performs excerpts from these composers' seminal scores in Program Seven, "Robin Hood and Beyond."
Like other film composers who shared his classical background, Korngold continued to write concert music during his Hollywood years. Program Eight, "Classics in Hollywood: Film Composers in the Concert Hall," offers a sampling of some of their mid-century chamber works. These include selections for solo piano by Korngold, Alexandre Tansman, and George Antheil, and the Bartókian First String Quartet by Miklós Rózsa, better-known for Spellbound and Ben-Hur. Herrmann is represented by his final concert work, the clarinet quintet Souvenirs de Voyage, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco by his rhapsodic Serenatella on the Name of Jascha Heifetz, written in tribute to the great violinist who helped him as a new arrival in Los Angeles. Rounding out the program are concert works by Richard Hageman, who combined careers in film and opera, and by Ernst Toch, known in Hollywood for scoring the chase scene in Shirley Temple's Heidi but in the concert world for his Third Symphony, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Composed for Rabbi Jacob Sonderling, who also commissioned works from Schoenberg and other Jewish immigrants, the choral Passover Psalm represents a rarity in Korngold's oeuvre, both as a religious composition and as a large-scale concert work written during the war. Once peace was restored, however, he composed the Symphony in F-sharp that opens the American Symphony Orchestra's second concert, Program Nine, "Art during and after the Catastrophe." Dedicated to the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in gratitude to the nation that gave his family refuge, Korngold's sole symphony is one of the most demanding orchestral works in the repertoire, and only received its live concert premiere some 15 years after his death. Yet, as Greek maestro Dimitri Mitropoulos recognized, it is "an important work of original thematic substance, of a rare emotional power in a masterly symphonic form." Other composers shared Korngold's compulsion to write ambitious art music immediately after the war. Paul Hindemith combined wry humor with intensely chromatic counterpoint in his Symphonia Serena, while the Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra crowned the creative flowering of Richard Strauss's final years.
Korngold's only movie musical was Give Us This Night, set to lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and featuring Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Gladys Swarthout and Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, who had previously starred in European productions of the composer's operas. Bard's second performance with commentary, Program Ten, "The American Musical on Stage and Screen," combines excerpts from this seldom-heard score with selections by other great 20th-century masters of the movie musical and Broadway. These include Jerome Kern, whose many Hammerstein collaborations included Show Boat, and George Gershwin, whose contributions to musical comedy include Girl Crazy and Of Thee I Sing, the first example of the genre to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Threepenny Opera was the only one of Kurt Weill's numerous theater works to be adapted for the cinema, whereas all three of Leonard Bernstein's musicals - West Side Story, Wonderful Town, and On the Town - were successes on both stage and screen.
Program Eleven, "Hollywood Babylon: No Escape," turns once again to Korngold's frustrated attempts to re-establish himself as a composer of opera and concert music. The eventual postwar Viennese production of his final opera, Die Kathrin, was panned as anachronistic escapism. An excerpt from the work, which he dubbed his "folk opera," will be heard alongside the Narrenlieder, his setting of the songs from Twelfth Night; the Third String Quartet, which he intended as a return to "serious" composition; and his final song, the posthumously published Sonett für Wien, which may be heard as his farewell to the city that no longer welcomed him. These share the program with concert music by Korngold's fellow Hollywood exiles: Komm süsser Tod, an elegiac chorale setting for soprano and string quartet by Erich Zeisl; excerpts from Ernst Toch's improvisatory Profiles for piano; selections from the Hollywood Songbook, with which Hanns Eisler secured his reputation as one of the century's great lieder writers; and the poignant yet rigorously serial Fantasy for violin and piano by Schoenberg, who was then teaching at UCLA and had become, musical differences notwithstanding, one of Korngold's good friends.
In the years between the wars, Korngold was, after Richard Strauss, the most performed opera composer in the German-speaking world, due in no small part to the sensational success of his first full-length opera, Die tote Stadt ("The Dead City"). Composed in his early 20s to a libretto that he wrote under a pseudonym with help from his father, Die tote Stadt soon dominated the opera scene. Already a hit at its simultaneous premieres in Hamburg and Cologne, the work went on to triumph in Vienna, Berlin, and New York, where it was the first new German-language opera to be mounted at the Metropolitan Opera since the beginning of World War I.
Based on a novel by Belgian Symbolist poet Georges Rodenbach, Die tote Stadt is a heady, haunting story of love and obsession. It is set in a surreal version of Bruges, where protagonist Paul is mourning the death of his saintly young wife, Marie. When he meets Marietta, a seductive dancer bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marie, Paul develops an unhealthy fixation with her, and finds himself torn between temptation and the memory of his wife. This internal struggle and the story's eerie, hallucinatory setting inspired some of Korngold's most intoxicating music. Highlighted by such beloved arias as "Mariettas Lied" and "Pierrots Tanzlied," and suffusing the idioms of Mahler's Vienna with the lyricism of Italian verismo, Die tote Stadt is "sumptuously lyrical, theatrically vivid and glitteringly orchestrated" (New York Times). Program 12, "Die tote Stadt," presents the Bard Festival Chorale, The Orchestra Now, and a strong cast of soloists in a semi-staged performance of the opera, drawing Bard's probing and far-reaching festival to a ravishing close.
Supplementary events and forthcoming publication
Besides the twelve concert programs, there will be a special free screening of The Constant Nymph, which stars Joan Fontaine and features one of Korngold's finest scores, followed by a panel discussion. There will also be two free panel discussions: "Korngold and the Phenomenon of the Child Prodigy" and "Out of Hollywood: Sound Film and the 20th Century." These will be supplemented by ten informative pre-concert talks - all free to ticket-holders - to illuminate some of the individual programs' themes. Bard's highly popular European Spiegeltent will be open for lunch and dinner throughout "Korngold and His World," besides playing host to the Cage/Cunningham Music and Dance Circus - a family-friendly performance of John Cage's Musicircus - on August 11.
Bard SummerScape also presents the long overdue American premiere of the grand opera that Korngold considered his masterpiece, The Miracle of Heliane ("Das Wunder der Heliane"), in a fully staged new production by Christian Räth (July 26-Aug 4).
Since the founding of the Bard Music Festival, Princeton University Press has published a companion volume of new scholarship and interpretation each season, with essays and translated documents relating to the featured composer and his world. Scholars-in-Residence Daniel Goldmark, co-editor of Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema, and Kevin C. Karnes, whose publications include A Kingdom Not of This World: Wagner, the Arts, and Utopian Visions in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, are the editors of the forthcoming 2019 volume, Korngold and His World.