Born in Vienna on May 12th 1897,Erich Wolfgang Korngold, was destined to become one of the worlds most celebrated and revered composers of music for the cinema. His musical aptitude being so advanced that he was able to play piano proficiently by the age of just five. He found it relatively easy to play melodies and tunes on the instrument after hearing them just moments beforehand. By the time he had reached his seventh birthday Korngold was able to write music, he was looked upon as a genius by many and hailed as a child prodigy. His Father took the advice of a number of composers such as Mahler, that it would be a waste of time to send the young musician to study at a conservatory, he was so advanced in his musical knowledge that it was highly improbable that he would actually learn anything or gain anymore knowledge from doing so. At just eleven years of age Erich Korngold had his first important musical work performed, it was entitled THE SNOWMAN. This was in Vienna at the Court Opera, in the presence of honoured guests which included, Emperor Franz Josef. After this Korngold composed works for chamber orchestra and also symphonic works. In 1915, at the age of eighteen, Korngold wrote two operas. Four years after this he composed his first score for the theatre, this was a production of William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. In 1920, his opera THE DEAD CITY made it’s debut, this transpired to be the composers most successful work and is regarded even by today’s musical experts as one of the major operatic works of the twentieth century. Korngold’s first foray into writing for the cinema came in 1934, this is when the composer went to America and in Hollywood supervised the music for Max Reinhardt’s cinematic version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM, the play had been a huge success at the Hollywood bowl and Warner brothers films were keen to have it transferred to celluloid. Reinhardt told the film company that he would agree to do the movie, but only if he could retain the stage score by Mendelssohn and also told Warner’s that Korngold was the only person he trusted to adapt it and enlarge the score for the film, he also wanted Korngold to conduct the music, Warner’s agreed. Korngold’s work on the production assisted its impact and also its overall presentation. The composer received much recognition for his work on the production and it was this that prompted Warner Brothers to offer the composer another scoring assignment which was CAPTAIN BLOOD.
The scoring schedule on BLOOD was very tight indeed, the movie needed an hour of fully symphonic music and Korngold had just three weeks to create it. Because of the scoring timetable that Warner’s had imposed on Korngold for the film, the composer decided to utilize sections of symphonic poems by Franz Liszt. The composer using the sections, PROMETHEUS, for the final sword fight between the films two main protagonists, played by Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, he also used Liszt’s MAZEPPA for the films sea battle sequence with the French fleet which came at the end of the movie. Warner Brothers were more than pleased with the score that Korngold had written for their swashbuckler, and the composer was almost immediately offered a contract with the studio. Korngold was to become the first composer known internationally to have a contract with a film studio, and Warner’s were so pleased that they had managed to secure the composers services that the contract might as well have been written by Korngold himself. It stipulated that he did not have to do any movie he did not like, also it stated that he would only have to work on three scores during a two year period, and that his music would remain his property at all times. The composers contract with the studio came to an end in 1946,and after scoring the Bette Davies movie DECEPTION, Korngold decided to retire from scoring films. Because his last few movies had been less than runaway success’s at the box office the composer began to loose interest in film.
In 1956 Korngold suffered a stroke and was almost completely paralyzed, just over a year later on November 29th 1957,the composer had a heart attack and died, he was sixty years of age. Korngold’s film music career may have been short lived, but in a handful of years the composer created numerous scores that would become an important part of film music history and also a part of the history of cinema, his music is grand, operatic and oozing with vibrant and passionate themes, ANTHONY ADVERSE, JUAREZ, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD,THE SEA HAWK, KINGS ROW,THE CONSTANT NYMPH,OF HUMAN BONDAGE,THE SEA WOLF and numerous others all benefited greatly from the lush and highly romantic and dramatic music of Korngold, film music has been a poorer art form since his passing.