Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Related Artists/CompaniesErich Wolfgang Korngold
National Symphony Orchestra: James Conlon, conductor / Gil Shaham, violin, plays Korngold - Apr. 10 - 12, 2014
A "brilliant violinist [with] flawless precision and gleeful command" (The New York Times), Gil Shaham plays Korngold's Violin Concerto on a program led by renowned conductor James Conlon that also includes masterpieces by Brahms and Zemlinsky.
About the Work
Korngold composed his Violin Concerto in 1946 for Jascha Heifetz, who gave the premiere on February 15, 1947, with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. In the National Symphony Orchestra's first performances of this work, on December 8, 9 and 10, 1988, the soloist was William Steck (at that time the orchestra's concertmaster) and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducted; in the most recent ones, on November 7, 8 and 9, 1996, with Elmar Oliveira was the soloist, with Gerard Schwarz conducting.
In addition to the solo violin, the score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, gong, bells, chime, cymbals, vibraphone, xylophone, celesta, harp, and strings. Duration, 22 minutes.
One factor that made the Forties such a vital period was the arrival in the preceding decade of huge numbers of European musicians, artists, writers and pedagogues who came to America as refugees from Adolf Hitler's horrifying repressions, first in Germany and then in countries he annexed or simply overran. Korngold was one of those who had built up impressive reputations in the realms of concert music and opera when they came to Hollywood, and in light of his early achievements he might be regarded as the most
remarkable of them all. He was the son of a respected Viennese music critic, and was not quite ten years old when his father took him to Gustav Mahler, who was so impressed by the lad's talent that he persuaded Alexander Zemlinsky (the sole teacher of Schoenberg, and himself a distinguished conductor as well as composer) to take him as a pupil. With Zemlinsky's help, Der Schneemann, a pantomime Korngold composed at age eleven, was put in shape for production by the Vienna Opera; its premiere there made the boy an important figure in Europe's musical life at the ripe age of 13. The English critic Ernest Newman compared the young Korngold with the young Mozart. Richard Strauss, Karl Goldmark, Giacomo Puccini and Engelbert Humperdinck welcomed him as their peer, and his music was performed by the likes of Mengelberg, Strauss, Kreisler, Cortot, Schnabel, Elisabeth Schumann, Maria Jeritza and Lotte Lehmann.
At 16 Korngold heard his masterly Sinfonietta given its premiere by the Vienna Philharmonic under Felix Weingartner, and two months later he sat with Strauss at that work's Berlin premiere, conducted by Arthur Nikisch. Before he was 19 his operas Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta were introduced in Munich under Bruno Walter. When he reached 23 Die tote Stadt, which was to become his most successful opera, was given a double premiere, produced in Hamburg and Cologne on the same evening; the Metropolitan Opera gave the New York premiere a year later.
Max Reinhardt, the famous stage director and producer, with whom Korngold had worked in Vienna, brought the composer to America in 1934, to arrange Mendelssohn's music for the film production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (with James Cagney as Nick Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck). Korngold adapted parts of some other Mendelssohn scores as well, and he conducted the orchestra for the sound track. He then commuted between Hollywood and Vienna until 1938, when the Anschluss cancelled the Vienna Opera's announced premiere of his last opera, Die Kathrin (it was given in Stockholm the following year), and made his position there untenable. He settled permanently in Hollywood, became a U.S. citizen, and composed 17 scores for Warner Brothers, two of which won Academy Awards.
The music Korngold composed for Deception in 1946 included a brief cello concerto which he subsequently published as a concert work. (It was played on the sound track by Leonard Slatkin's mother, Eleanor Aller—and played onin this hall more recently, on the same cello, by Mr Slatkin's younger brother, Frederick Zlotkin.) Themes from some of Korngold's early concert works were recycled in his film scores, and themes from his movie music found their way into the works he composed for the concert hall in his American years—works such as the Symphonic Serenade (given its premiere by Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1950), the Symphony in F-sharp (not performed till after Korngold's death), and the Violin Concerto.
This is the most frequently performed of Korngold's concert works now. It was Bronislaw Huberman who persuaded him to compose it, but it was written for another violinist, Jascha Heifetz, whose own contacts in the film community led to the composition of works for him by such other transplanted Europeans as Miklós Rózsa and Franz Waxman. Heifetz's recording of the Korngold Concerto (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Alfred Wallenstein) has been followed by numerous others in the last several years. Of all the concertos composed for Heifetz, in fact, only the one by Sir William Walton has achieved wider circulation than Korngold's.
The long solo that opens this work is from the score for the 1937 film Another Dawn ; the more expansive second theme is from Juárez, an unforgettably poignant historical drama in which Paul Muni played the title role, Brian Aherne was the tragic Habsburg Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, and Bette Davis was his Empress, Carlotta. The principal theme of the second movement, a Romance, is from Anthony Adverse (1936); the contrasting middle section ( Misterioso ), alone among major portions of the Concerto, appears to have no film derivation. The energetic finale, which begins as a staccato jig and works up to a stunning virtuoso climax, is based on the leading motif from The Prince and the Pauper (1937).