Was Korngold better than we thought?

Was Korngold better than we thought?


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2019

He’s on a remarkable new release from Chandos, reviewed as the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The first two movements of the symphony are brass-heavy Errol Flynn swashbucklers, the adagio is midway between late Brahms and Mahler, and the finale is back to Hollywood for a happy ending….

Read on here.

And here.



  • Rob says:

    The Symphony in F Sharp is a good Symphony – my favourite recording is by Edward Downes.

    But!! The Opus 5 Sinfonietta is a far greater piece!! Check out the section towards the end of the Finale that begins with tubular bells. Truly cinematic! Wow!

  • Jean says:

    Why I suddenly feel so sad always when someone mentions Korngold… what a talent. What a gift.

    As Sibelius wrote in his diary about Korngold’s Sinfonietta: “That young eagle…”

    But somehow I think USA, and the hamburgers and the pizzas, didn’t do good for his creativity.

  • MacroV says:

    I have a much higher opinion of Korngold than does Mr. Lebrecht, it appears. I’ve long loved the Symphony in F Sharp. There are a number of good recordings, including by Franz Welser-Most (and Philly?) and DePriest/Oregon. I’m not as big a fan of his violin concerto, though.

    And don’t go dismissing Miklos Rozsa; I love his music, esp. the violin and cello concertos, and the Sinfonia Concertante, which really should get more play in place of the Brahms Double.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    Korngold was just as good as many of us have realised for years…

  • Jack says:

    Well, the Symphony has been available on LP or CD since at least the seventies, and in good versions. So no, I think anybody with an interest in Korngold as a symphonist has had an opportunity to hear this excellent work. We’ve also been able to hear his achievements as an opera and chamber music composer, not to mention his concerti starting with the concerto he wrote for Heifetz.

  • Robert Groen says:

    I don’t know what ‘we’ thought, but if you’re talking about Erich Wolfgang Korngold then his Violin Concerto and his opera Die Tote Start seem enough to establish his credentials as a composer for whom film scores (however good) were merely a convenient source of income. Don’t know the symphony but I’d like to hear it before I go along with your dismissive talk about Errol Flynn and Hollywood.

  • almaviva says:

    The answer is NO! Having immersed myself into Korngold’s music this entire summer, I must admit that his music is unconvincing and utterly forgettable. There is very little of substance in his style, everything sounds overorchestrated, the textures too clumsily handled… His music sounded outdated back in the 1920s, and it still sounds outdated today. One minute of Strauss is worth the entire output of Korngold’s.

  • Stuart says:

    Norman, your review suggests the answer is “no”.

    There was nothing wrong with either piece. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

    I have both the symphony and the concerto on my ipod, but don’t listen to them much. Better to turn to the full scores for Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. Some turn their noses up at Korngold because he wrote film music, but many of his film scores are wonderful.

    Beyond that, except for the glories of Die Tote Stadt, I have tried many of his operas and am not a fan, especially of Heliane.

    Despite an overly protective problematic father, he succeeded in European opera and succeeded in Hollywood films. His reputation in film music remains high, his reputation in opera is better now than 30 years ago, and the same for the symphonic pieces.

    Nothing wrong with that.

  • Spamalot says:

    Any thoughts on how this recording compares to the Previn and Welser-Möst takes?

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    This was the composer whom Gustav Mahler dubbed “a genius, a genius” when Korngold was only a boy, and whom the musicologist Ernest Newman described as “the new Mozart”. For the first 30 years or so of his life, Korngold moved in the same world as, and even on equal terms with, such figures as Alexander Zemlinsky (with whom he studied), Giacomo Puccini (who said Korngold had twice as much talent as he needed), and Artur Schnabel (who regularly performed the E major piano sonata – his second – that Korngold completed at the age of 13).

    “One’s first reaction to the fact that these compositions are by a child,” wrote Richard Strauss at that time, “are those of awe and concern that so precocious a genius should follow its normal development.”

  • Don Ciccio says:

    The classic Kempe recording of the Symphony is still the best.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    Among his movie scores: people think of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and CAPTAIN BLOOD and those heroic things. But listen to a bit of his score to THE SEA WOLF, which is a very tough-minded flick and a bit of a downer. Korngold is conducting his own music:


  • steven holloway says:

    The Imperial ‘we’ of our host may be wondering if that ‘we’ has underrated Korngold, but many of we the Common People were already reassessing his music since at least 1993, the year one of his works was included in a series of recordings of Entartete Musik. Leaping over other events that fostered this reassessment, five days ago Alex Ross in the New Yorker reported on this year’s Bard Festival celebration of Korngold. Someone’s been napping for at least the past 26 years.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I’ve always loved EWK’s film scores, and his Violin Concerto.
    I’m looking forward to hearing this disc.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    “The first two movements of the symphony are brass-heavy Errol Flynn swashbucklers…”

    Or, was this just his natural style? And if those movements resemble the Errol Flynn music, so much the better.

    “The Sinfonia of London and John Wilson make a jolly good fist of this frisky material without fully convincing me that it deserves to be taken more seriously than, say, the symphonic music of Waxman, Rosza and other daytime toilers in the dream factories.”

    When it comes down to it, some of the best music of the 20th was written in Hollywood and some of those composer wrote fine music that we ignored – and we lost. The “serious” composers in the US – William Schuman, David Diamond, Walter Piston, and their ilk wrote very little that is still performed or was widely loved. The “daytime toilers” wrote some beautiful, exciting music that should have, could have breathed new life into concerts, but the snobbery of conductors, orchestras, critics and others made that impossible. Suites from The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, Peyton Place, A Place in the Sun, Prince Valiant, could proudly take their place in a concert up against the “masters” anytime. The Korngold symphony would be a welcome addition to the repertoire and a nice change from the constant rehashing of Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    The Korngold string sextet is a brilliant work. I have it paired with the original sextet version of Verklärte Nacht recorded by the Raphael Ensemble. (Fun fact: I music directed Roger Tapping’s kids in a high school production of “Into the Woods.”)

  • Jeremy Bines says:

    A small correction for the editors of the review you link to: the symphony’s in F♯, not F. But yes, Korngold is better than we all think!

    The DVD of the Berlin production of Das Wunder der Heliane is now out, in case anyone’s interested – the first such available. I should disclose that I worked on it, but despite the shameless plug I can dispassionately confirm it’s well worth a look. WHAT a masterpiece! I look forward to listening to this CD.

  • Larry says:

    Norman: You should come over to this side of The Pond more often. The Bard Music Festival (in upstate New York) just concluded a Korngold Festival.


  • John Borstlap says:

    About his symphony he wrote: “I believe that my newly completed symphony will show the world that atonality and ugly dissonance and the price of giving up inspiration, form, expression, melody and beauty will result in ultimate disaster for the art of music.” He was right, as is beginning to dawn upon some people in music life.


    Yet, the piece sounds hollow – everything well-made but themes and motives are not very interesting and the chromatic pathos sounds weak and forced.

    His early opera ‘Die tote Stadt’ is, I think, much better – a kind of ‘mini-Strauss’ – he seems to have had a better talent for ‘illustrative music’, although there is not much continuity in the music, it is written through short episodes one after the other, as in a chain.


    Strauss worked in the same way, but he knew how to create more of a ‘Schwung’ which carries the momentum forward.

  • Eric B says:

    Definitely better than what at least some of us thought….

  • muslit says:

    Some prodigies became great composers: Mozart and Mendelssohn. Korngold is not one of them.

  • Karl says:

    I finally got to hear live performances of the Korngold Symphony and the piano concerto at Bard Summerscape with Leon Botstein conducting. Bravo maestro Botstein!! I don’t know why those works have not made it into the standard repertoire while the violin concert has.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I found this rare recording of an aria by Korngold sung by Schwarzkopf – beautiful but over-sweet: