The Sea Hawk – Suite
Escape Me Never – Suite [UK premiere]
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Suite
The Constant Nymph – Tomorrow [UK premiere]
Casablanca – Suite
The Thief of Bagdad – The Love of the Princess
The Wizard of Oz – Suite [arr. John Wilson]
How to Marry a Millionaire – Street Scene
The Philadelphia Story – Suite [UK premiere] [arr. Wilson]
Close Encounters of the Third Kind [excerpts]
Anna Burford (mezzo-soprano)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 2 November, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The current tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold continued with some of his film scores played alongside those of his Hollywood contemporaries. Korngold, a child prodigy who studied under Zemlinsky, was praised by the likes of Mahler, Puccini, Richard Strauss and Humperdinck, produced a ballet-pantomime at the age of thirteen and by eighteen had written two one-act operas and by the 1920s his magnum opus “Die Tote Stadt”. On 21 November the London Philharmonic will be performing his other great work, “Das Wunder der Heliane”, and the Violin Concerto on 14 November.
Although Erich was a popular figure, his father, a music-critic, held him back both professionally and in his private life by the disapproval of his marriage. An encounter with theatre director Max Reinhardt led to Korngold’s arrival in Hollywood to arrange the music for the Warner Brothers film of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. He also worked on “Captain Blood” and “Anthony Adverse” for which he won his first Academy Award. Thus began a long association with the film industry and his great influence on movie music.
Much of Korngold’s best work appears in the sort of historical action-movies where he could allow his musical imagination full rein, such as “Captain Blood”, “The Prince and the Pauper”, “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” and “The Sea Hawk”, all of which starred Errol Flynn. However, one of Korngold’s most appealing and romantic scores is for “King’s Row”, Sam Wood’s portrayal of small-town America at the turn of the 20th-century. The grandeur of his scores for these films allowed him to bring the influence of Mahler and Wagner to the cinema and this influence was handed down to other film composers. Currently it is John Williams who is holding the baton for the great composers from Hollywood’s heyday. Just think about his scores for “Jaws”, “Star Wars”, “Superman”, “E.T.”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Schindler’s list” and the Harry Potter series and you will see how and why the spirit of Korngold lives on.
The LPO under John Wilson, an avid classic-movie music enthusiast, played suites from several Korngold film scores, and included Anna Burford and a chorus of nearly a hundred voices to produce all of five minutes of wonderful sound. The concert opened with Korngold’s “The Sea Hawk”, music for a rip-roaring pirate adventure with Errol Flynn at his swashbuckling best and Korngold at the top of his game in one of his most exciting scores. However, it was for “The Adventures of Robin Hood” that Korngold received his second Oscar in 1938. The LPO played four sections of the score including, best of all. the title music for Robin and his merry men, a brilliant march in quick time, evoking the men on their horses riding through Sherwood Forest in their Lincoln green.
Another European composer who went to Hollywood, and even earlier than Korngold, was Max Steiner who was in America from 1924. He wrote hundreds of films scores (many, like Korngold, also for Warner Brothers) including “King Kong”, “Gone with the Wind”, “Now Voyager”, “The Big Sleep” and, of course, “Casablanca” for which he interpolated Herman Hupfeld’s song ‘As time goes by’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ to produce one of the cinema’s most memorable scores, which the LPO played with great vigour.
Franz Waxman was another European composer who emigrated to the US, in the mid-1930s, and made his mark on such films as “Bride of Frankenstein”, “Rebecca”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Rear Window” and “The Nun’s Story”, among many others. The LPO played music from “The Philadelphia story”, including the main title with its wacky comedy tune in a mixture of brass sounds and lush strings. Hungarian Miklos Rozsa began composing for films in Britain under Alexander Korda including “The Thief of Bagdad”, from which the LPO played ‘The Love of the Princess’, a beautifully Romantic interlude from a great score.
The last three film composers represented here were all American-born. Herbert Stothart started in the theatre and wrote “Rose Marie” with Rudolf Friml. Working mainly for MGM, he scored or orchestrated many of the studio’s most successful pictures such as “San Francisco”, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “A Night at the Opera”, “Camille”, and the film for which he won a Oscar, “The Wizard of Oz”. What is most memorable about that score is ‘Over the Rainbow’ and the other songs by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. However, Stothart’s underscore repays constant study as it is a reminder of how subtly music can evoke a mood or situation. Check out the music-only track on the DVD and that will become immediately apparent.
Alfred Newman also started his career in American theatre and concert-hall work before graduating to films from 1930. Noted for his lush orchestral sounds, he wrote some 250 film scores. His music for “The Black Swan” (1942) was very much in the style of Korngold. His first score was for “Street Scene” in 1931, his Gershwin-style title music which he revived in 1953 as an overture for “How to Marry a Millionaire” in which 20th-Century Fox showed off its new CinemaScope format and four-track stereophonic sound system. The LPO’s performance evoked a bygone era when the cinema was battling against the onslaught of television. Newman also wrote the famous Fox fanfare, the only original studio-brand signature-tune still in use today. Newman nurtured the early career of John Williams and his work was represented here by part of his score for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The spirit of Korngold remains undimmed.
However, the reputation of Korngold never survived his return to Europe. He died aged 60 in 1957 believing that he would be forgotten for ever. But, since RCA reissued his film scores in the 1970s conducted by Charles Gerhard, Korngold’s reputation has continued to rise again, with new emphasis placed not only on his film scores but also his other work, too. This concert was a splendid reminder of his great contribution to and influence upon composing for the cinema, although it is a shame that we couldn’t have seen a few excerpts from some of the films as well.