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Who we’ll be remembering on Oscars night

February 19, 2015 by norman lebrecht

7 comments.


The violinist Daniel Hope has written a touching piece today for the Wall Street Journal on Hollywood’s forgotten souls, the Hitler musician exiles who found refuge beneath an alien sun. Daniel has written a book about them (out this summer) and tells us he wants to make a film.

Sample text:

A composer who had once been a student of Ravel’s might find himself writing a Viennese waltz one minute, a cowboy song or a Can-Can the next.

Eric Zeisl, a forgotten master and one of the youngest of the émigré composers, received no screen credits for the two-dozen feature films he scored. He died at age 53, far too young, but not before completing several concertos, four ballets and some stunning chamber works.

Neither Schoenberg nor Zeisl could deal with the studio ethos. Composers had to deliver fast, and invariably their music would be reorchestrated, chopped up or even discarded.

More here.

korngold piano

pictured: E. W. Korngold at work in Hollywood


Comments (7)

  1. Halldor says:

    I very much hope he makes his film. This is a fascinating story, but there’s still so much to say. I’d be interested in a more sustained exploration (Michael Haas has started the process) of how these composers were excluded from the world of “serious” music after the war was over – and why, despite the superb quality of their work and the circumstances that forced them into exile, “Hollywood” carried and still carries a stigma for a serious musician. No-one thinks less of (say) Walton, Milhaud, Shostakovich, Copland or Britten because of their film scores.

    Yet just last month, a rare (and powerful) UK performance of Korngold’s superb deeply serious symphony was greeted by every critic who bothered to review it with a reference to “Hollywood” – in one case, it was dismissed altogether on this basis. And this is after four decades of devoted research and re-appraisal, and performances from musicians of the calibre of Previn, Welser-Most, Litton, Heifetz, Gil Shaham and Tasmin Little. Why does the prejudice persist? Some patronising academic notion that if we’re prevented from listening to late romantic composers, we’ll have no choice but to swallow down our post-war dodecaphony like good little boys and girls? Or something more insidious?

    1. Don Ciccio says:

      Didn’t Korngold use themes from his film music when composing his Symphony – or was it the violin concerto? I know these pieces, but I am not that familiar with Korngold’s film music.

      Of course, a work should not be dismissed just because it uses film music themes. As for Hollywood, we know that it always produced great films, not just the commercial garbage that dominates.

    2. Malcolm Kottler says:

      You might be interested in this film:

      Shadows in Paradise. Hitler’s Exiles in Hollywood.

      Walter, Toch, Schoenberg, and Korngold are included, among others.

  2. David Boxwell says:

    Schreker star student and protege Karol Rathaus had a thriving career scoring films in Paris, but when he eventually got to Hollywood (after he was run out of France in 1934, having left Berlin in 1932, and giving up on London in 1938), he got one credit at Columbia and then got buried in the studio’s orchestration shop scoring dozens of B movies anonymously.

    For every Korngold in Paradise there must have been a dozen Rathauses.

    (You can hear the first 7 minutes of his fantastic score for Ozep’s “Amok” (1934) on Youtube: Balinese German Expressionism!)

    1. Michael Endres says:

      Here is some additional information on Karol Rathaus’ activities in the US.

      http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Academics/Degrees/DAH/library/SpecialCollections/Documents/KarolRathaus_FindingAid.pdf

      “Rathaus was 43 when he arrived in the U.S. in 1938. He first stayed in Hollywood to write a film score, but felt out of place, isolated from music and repelled by commercial pressures. He moved to New York, where he wrote eight more film scores. In 1940, he was appointed to the faculty of Queens College of the City of New York. He occupied the post of Professor of Composition for fourteen years.
      While at Queens College, Rathaus received notable commissions and performances: Polonaise symphonique (1943), commissioned by Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, Vision Dramatique (1945), under Dimitri Mitropoulos in NY, Salisbury Cove Overture (1949), written for Vladimir Golschmann and the St. Louis Symphony for its 70th anniversary, and Prelude for Orchestra (1953), commissioned and first performed by the Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney. His large-scale choral work, Diapason (1950-51), was commissioned by the Queens College Choral Society, and is based on texts by Dryden and Milton. In 1952, he was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to restore the original version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. During the last years of his life, Rathaus was fighting fatigue and recurrent illness. “

  3. Christopher Stone says:

    Korngold’s Violin Concerto uses many film themes, prompting one critic to comment “more corn than gold”, despite which it continues to be very popular. The Symphony, dedicated to the memory of FDR, does use themes from Elizabeth & Essex in the slow movement. The scherzo is brilliant and sounds very American; interesting for a Viennese composer.

  4. Malcolm Kottler says:

    There is already a book on this very subject:

    Dorothy Lamb Crawford, A Windfall of Musicians. Hitler’s Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California. Yale University Press, 2009.

    Another book that includes material on musicians in Hollywood who left Nazi Germany is:

    Reinhold Brinkmann & Christoph Wolff (eds.): Driven into Paradise. The Musical Migration from Nazi Germany to the United States. University of California Press, 1999.


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