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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)

Nationality: Austrian | Moravian
Born: May 29, 1897, Brünn, Austria-Hungary (Brno, Czech Republic) Died: November 29, 1957, Hollywood, CA (age 60)

Piano Quintet in E major, Op. 15

(for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano)
11:52 I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
11:40 II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:13 III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
Duration: 32 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1921 (age 23-24)
Premiere: February 16, 1923. Hamburg. Korngold on piano.
Published: 1924, Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne (age 26-27)
Dedication: Gustinus Ambrosi
Note: The theme for the second movement is based on Korngold's own song of 1920, "Mond, so gehst du wieder auf" [Moon, thou riseth again] from "Lieder des Abschieds" [Songs of Farewell], Op. 14, 1920
9 recordings, 25 videos
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12:35
Doric String Quartet, Kathryn Stott
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
11:59
Doric String Quartet, Kathryn Stott
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:03
Doric String Quartet, Kathryn Stott
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
12:50
Camerata Freden
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
11:34
Camerata Freden
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:55
Camerata Freden
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
10:36
Henri Sigfridsson, Aron Quartet
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
11:07
Henri Sigfridsson, Aron Quartet
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
7:52
Henri Sigfridsson, Aron Quartet
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
12:01
Schubert Ensemble
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
11:29
Schubert Ensemble
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:06
Schubert Ensemble
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
12:56
Ning Feng, Clara-Jumi Kang, Maixm Rysanov, Alexander Chaushian, Sunwook Kim
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
12:47
Ning Feng, Clara-Jumi Kang, Maixm Rysanov, Alexander Chaushian, Sunwook Kim
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:07
Ning Feng, Clara-Jumi Kang, Maixm Rysanov, Alexander Chaushian, Sunwook Kim
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
11:30
Eldar Nebolsin, et. al
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
12:04
Eldar Nebolsin, et. al
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
7:48
Eldar Nebolsin, et. al
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
10:33
Martha Argerich and friends
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
10:36
Martha Argerich and friends
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:06
Martha Argerich and friends
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
12:14
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
I. Mässiges Zeitmass, mit schwungvoll blühendem Ausdruck
12:29
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
II. Adagio. Mit grösster Ruhe, stets äusserst gebunden und ausdrucksvoll
8:39
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
III. Finale. Gemessen, beinahe pathetisch
31:07
Unknown ensemble
From Kai Christiansen

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)

Piano Quintet in E major, Op. 15 (1921)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold The extraordinary 20th Century Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold stunned the world as a child prodigy, achieved international fame as a young man in the 1920s, emigrated to the United States after already having established himself as the father of the classic Hollywood movie soundtrack and ultimately left a small but breathtaking oeuvre of concert music. But with the radical shifts in politics, culture and taste following two world wars, the ferocity of the postwar avant-garde, and the misapplied stigma of “selling out”, Korngold’s reputation tanked. If he was not ridiculed or disdained as anachronistic or opportunistic, he was utterly forgotten as irrelevant. It was only towards the end of the 20th Century amidst a return to tonal and Neo-Romantic music, that Korngold was rediscovered, first through highlights of his magnificent film scores and then, approaching the centennial of his birth in 1997, through his “serious” instrumental music. Now well into the 21st Century, one encounters Korngold’s masterful and completely original music on concert programs again featuring, especially, a trove of outstanding chamber music.

A 24-year-old Korngold penned his op.15 piano quintet during a high point in his early career: 1920 saw the premiere of his most famous opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) that became one of the most popular internationally staged operas of the 1920s. After working on a big theatrical work, Korngold would often relax by composing chamber music and he started at once with the first of three string quartets (to be completed a few years hence) as well as the piano quintet (which he completed first, in 1921, and successfully premiered as the pianist in 1923). It is a perfect showcase for Korngold’s literally fantastic music, a unique, nearly unclassifiable style characterized nonetheless by trademark features.

Erich Wolfgang KorngoldWith the opening bars of the first movement, we hear Korngold’s grand late-Romantic style, lush, lyrical and almost always tonal. But soon and essentially throughout, he defies convention and expectation, surprising with daring harmonies, modulations (key changes), chromaticism (the smallest intervals more granular than melody) and dissonance. The emotional range within a single movement is astonishingly vast as is the ever-shifting texture including individual and composite sonorities redefining the “sound” of the piano quintet right before our very ears. The music teems with a wealth of themes, motives with a density of invention that nearly overwhelms as it delights. But this is not mere fantasy or pastiche: an heir of the Viennese masters, Korngold generates his musical fabric from a small set of motifs made rich through constant variation. It is an epic journey between the first sweep of the main theme and its symmetrical echo towards the end with a myriad of permutations along the way.

The second movement highlights another Korngold specialty: an emotional slow movement, a song without words as deep as a dream. As he would do many times, Korngold borrows from his own songs, in this case as he notes in the score, “a free variation on ‘Songs of Farewell’, Op. 14.” Korngold composed these lieder almost simultaneously in 1920-21 and uses especially the theme from the beautiful third song (“Moon, thou riseth again”) for a rather miraculous set of nine numbered variations that flow seamlessly in a long unbroken line traversing a single dramatic arc. Korngold’s score is meticulously and densely notated with constantly changing time signatures, articulations and mood indicators for a finely nuanced Romantic rapture.

The last movement switches gears yet again for a vibrant and ingenious rondo finale with the spirit and wit of the best Viennese masters, but with an inexhaustible Korngoldian fecundity and the occasional “crunch” of early modern music. Novel textures and sonorities abound once again, as do brilliantly wrought chamber music textures and a variety of counterpoint including little fugues, as well as multiple, independent tunes, layered on top of each other simultaneously. The main theme, a motivic gesture, seems like it was extracted from the tail of the first movement’s theme and towards the end, it morphs into its longer progenitor as the end recalls the very beginning. Throughout it all, there is a kind of dazzling magic and breathless wonder that is the essence of Korngold’s music.

Postscript:

As Korngold’s movement titles are both elaborate and typically in German, it is useful to have serviceable English translations for reference:

I. Moderate timing, with a lively, blooming expression
II. Adagio, with the greatest ease, always extremely committed and expressive
III. Final. Measured, almost emotional

A Brief Summary Blurb: In many ways, a complete and successful reimagining of what a piano quintet can do, a worthy member of the canon of great quintets. Essentially, three miniature tone poems where Korngold’s orchestral and narrative gifts bring the breadth and depth of the late Romantics (Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Zemlinsky) into the realm they scarcely broached: intimate chamber music. But Korngold takes it all further into his own idiosyncratic and magical sound world. It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to say that this music is utterly “cinematic”, yet the quintet dates from Korngold’s “first period” before all that: a young Viennese composer who had just premiered his most famous opera and was on the brink of international fame and success. The quintet is masterful and virtuosic and demands the most from the performing ensemble: it takes world-class players to successfully realize Korngold’s musical miracle. As might be expected, it can place similar demands on listeners. Delightful from the first hearing, it continues to deepen the more the listener really hears: it rewards repeated listenings.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Related Composers

Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
Teacher
Nationality: Austrian
Born: October 14, 1871, Vienna Died: March 15, 1942, Larchmont, New York (age 70)