Two Songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

I am always excited to discover a new piece of music; to discover a new composer is more exciting still.  I recently became acquainted with the music and life story of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and of course, began immediately to make plans to feature him on this blog.

Korngold was born in 1897, in Brno, Austria-Hungary, (now in the Czech Republic).  Although music history can boast of many extraordinary child prodigies, there have been very few who, like Korngold, made a name for themselves as composers.  By the age of 11, Korngold had already composed a piano sonata and a ballet, Der Schneemann (The Snowman), which was performed at the Vienna Opera House in 1910.  These two works were followed in short order by a piano trio, a second piano sonata, a sinfonietta, a violin sonata, two operas… the list of his youthful compositions goes on and on.

Korngold traveled to Hollywood in 1934 to work on the score to Max Reinhardt’s film adaptation 0f “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and again four years later to write the score for “The Adventures of Robin Hood”.  This commission saw him safely out of Austria when that country was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938.  He became a U.S. citizen in 1943, and died of a stroke in 1957 at his home in North Hollywood.

The first piece presented here, “Glück das mir verblieb” (“My Happiness That Remained”) is from one of Korngold’s early works, the opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), which was first staged in 1920 when he was 23.  In this gorgeous arrangement for chamber ensemble, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter is joined by pianist Bengt Forsberg, violinists Kjell Lysell and Ulf Forsberg, violist Nils-Erik Sparf, and cellist Mats Lidström.  Frankly, I can’t get enough of this performance, though it breaks my heart every time I listen to it.

Glück, das mir verblieb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Abend sinkt im Hag
bist mir Licht und Tag.
Bange pochet Herz an Herz
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts.

Naht auch Sorge trüb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Neig dein blaß Gesicht
Sterben trennt uns nicht.
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn,
glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn.


Happiness that has stayed with me,
move up close beside me, my true love.
In the grove evening is waning,
yet you are my light and day.
One heart beats uneasily against the other,
while hope soars heavenward.

Though dismal sorrow is drawing nigh,
move up close beside me, my true love.
Turn your wan face to me
death will not part us.
When the hour of death comes one day,
believe that you will rise again.

Our second video features the aria, “Ich ging zu ihm” (“I Went to Him”) from the opera Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), composed in 1927.  In a breathtaking performance from the 2007 Proms, the extraordinary Renée Fleming is accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.

Though I have only begun to explore the Korngold oeuvre, it is clear to me that today’s audiences will find a wealth of riches in his output.  Indeed, the amount of his music available on YouTube suggests that, after his many years of relative obscurity, music lovers may already have accorded him a place among the great composers of the 20th century.