The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (270): Pure corn

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (270): Pure corn


norman lebrecht

December 24, 2020

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s greatest hit.

Schmidt in a class of his own.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Strauss with an extra helping of sacharine.

    The absence of meaningful chromaticism restricts the music of this aria to something that only caresses the surface of emotion, avoiding anything underneath.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      In the spirit of Christmas I will be brief: this is easily one of the most beautiful melodies of the 20th century. Korngold has touched a gazillion hearts with it, for a century now. And Mr. Lebrecht picked some of the best recordings of it.
      Putting it down like that tells more about – well, it’s Christmas… If it is not deep enough for you, why don’t you write something better?

      • RW2013 says:

        Poor frustrated Borsty comes from a country whose last musical genius was Sweelinck.

      • Barbarian at the Gates says:

        Spot on HugoPreuss. Happy Christmas to everyone, even all the Beckmessers out there!

      • John Borstlap says:

        I did, in fact.

        And then: why do we need to be fed with easy cheap melody especially at Christmas? as if there is not enough of that around for so many people?

        Here is Schwarzkopf with better stuff:

        It is also sweet, but not sacharine, and the modulations do meaningfully lead to somewhere and the caresses are truly loving.

      • Has-been says:

        Totally agree with HugoPreuss. beautiful music, beautifully sung in each case. Mr Borstlap’s snide gratuitous comment is unwelcome.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes don’t you also hate those critiques? As if we have asked for them. Why not let us simply enjoy things that sound nice?! It’s music after all, so why bother?


      • Herbie G says:

        Spot on Hugo. Thanks NL – a welcome reminder of a golden voice. Like Wunderlich, another superb singer who died tragically young.

        Regarding the criticism above, I have a good-humoured friend who likes to say that Mozart was a poor orchestrator and Wagner was much better at it. (He likes Korngold though, so that’s one area of common ground.)

        Being no Beckmesser, I didn’t count the sharps, flats, modulations and chromaticism complement. Nor do I care about the composition of the mortar that holds together St Paul’s Cathedral or the chemical formula of the paints that Leonardo da Vinci used to create the Mona Lisa. It would have been no less a masterpiece even if he’d used his own urine as a paint thinner. I do understand chromaticism, modulation, sonata form and counterpoint – and these are interesting points of reference when describing the general attributes of a piece – but outside the lofty turrets of academe, I’m just a simpleton who likes the finished product per se, such as music and singing like this.

        • John Borstlap says:

          For someone who thinks that Mozart was a poor orchestrator, Korngold is much suited.

          And to notice the musical poverty and musical kitsch of that aria, one does not have to know any technical detail, but one should simply listen and ask oneself what the music (not the text!) does convey, and with an open mind.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Other examples to be compared with the Korngold aria:

        Contemporary French composer Nicolas Bacri, handling melody and expression in an entirely authentic way, no kitsch, no cheap sentiment. It’s a matter of personality.

        And this – American contemporary composer Jeremy Cavaterra:

        With music we should not merely listen whether it’s nice or not, but try to understand what the music ‘says’, what the nature of expression is, and whether it strikes us as honest, or as superficial. It’s the same with people: you try to listen to more than only to the words they say. By exploring music this way, we are exploring our own emotional territory.

        • Marfisa says:

          Mr Borstlap’s link to Bacri does not work: but this is it, with the gorgeous Patricia Petibon:

          Very nice, very pretty, but rather predictable. Is it any more ‘authentic’ or less ‘sentimental’ than the Korngold aria? I found it much easier to listen to, which might suggest that Korngold is more profound, less superficial.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It’s a matter of what happens under the surface, and much movement ON the surface does not mean, more profundity. It’s in the quality of the expression being conveyed. That’s why music holds us a mirror: our perception says something about ourselves.

            Interesting point raised about predictability: some of the best pieces in the repertoire are filled to the brim with predictable patterns (in the first here mentioned, especially at 2:59):



    • christopher storey says:

      I agree entirely. An utterly mundane piece of writing which rambles on in disjointed fashion

    • M McAlpine says:

      Such a comment really makes the mind boggle!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      To John Ebenezer Borstlap: BAH, HUMBUG!

    • sabrinensis says:

      Jesus, Borstlap; would that you ever write something nearly as sublime as this in words or music. Sometimes, it’s better to remain silent rather than confirm to the world the aesthetic desiccation taken hold where the heart and soul should be.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Oho…. commenting on kitsch is, for some people, a grave personal insult. Because kitsch has become a precious rarety nowadays? Why getting worked-up? Why not simply enjoy the aria again? Hearts and souls can dwell in very different locations.

        • sabrinensis says:

          Borstlap’s obsessive need to comment upon everything at SD warrants examination by medical professionals. It’s a cry for attention in extremis.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “……. to comment upon everything at SD….”

            This innocent commentator clearly ONLY reads my comments. I’m flattered…!

            A careful calculation reveals that I am only commenting on 32% of Norman’s posts, and that my comments never exceed the 25% of the total of comments on SD, as has been agreed upon with Norman, to not upset too many people. (This excludes the occasional comments by my PA.)

          • sabrinensis says:

            You can’t help yourself. Case proved and closed.

  • Edgar Self says:

    See what the Magi brought overnight! Thank you, Norman, for these precious gifts, more than myrrh. And for leading with the exquisite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, which may not have been easy for you. Lovely to see her face and hear her voice this morning,

    the homunculus Joseph Schmidt is a wonder, and Lotte Lehmann and Tauber the gold standard.

    Stravinsky thought there was still a lot of good music to be written in C major. I don’t know what key these elegant singers inhabit, but it is one of rare beauty and tenderness. Scalar diatonic melody can ravish without meaningful chromaticism, which Korngold gives in full measure elsewhere, as we have seen. Masters know this, having more than one string to their bow.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      I always thunk it was Schoenberg who was the optimist about C major’s future!

      • Edgar Self says:

        Now I’m starting to suspect you are right,Paul. Whoever said it is right, unless it was John Borstlap.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Wrong, I said it retroactively just before Schoenberg and Stravinsky said it, and most of the time I am right.

      • Edgar Self says:

        Paul Carlile — An after-thought. It definitely wasn’t Stravinsky unless Robert Craft wrote it for him to say, serving two masters. I’ve just recalled that Stravinsky once for meanness wrote something in the key of B-sharp major, eleven sharps or so, which i the same as C major. Ten points, game, set, and match.

        What would I do without you and Greg to kekep me honest? Now Someone will say B-sharp major in’t eleven sharps, but I can’t count so high without removing my shoes. The quickest way to get a response is make a mistake.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It was the desperate optimism of the addict hoping to escape from the drug addiction centre.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The singing is indeed wonderful.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Absolutely gorgeous music.
    And performed by some of the finest singers imaginable!
    Thank you for the lovely Christmas gifts, Norman. Happy Holidays!

  • Nafarepo says:

    And pure gold. He was a unique compositional prodigy. Appreciation of Korngold’s musical artistry suffered because after escaping the Nazis he –very successfully– produced music for Hollywood. When he tried to return to his classical roots he was a couple of musical revolutions behind. Hopefully the (Covid-paused) incipient European revival of his music will continue soon, and spread into America…

  • Edgar Self says:

    More flies are caught with sweetness than with vinegar.

  • Edgar Self says:

    … or if this isn’t your cuppa, try Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s spectacular Bach Cantata 51, “Jauchzet Gott in alle Lande”, a double-concerto for trumpet and voice. With words! the one with Peter Gellhorn is the best of her three versions.

  • buxtehude says:

    Count me among the shallow types who love the Korngold.

    Anyway, for you, John, here’s this, for the season — a duet for alto and oboe d’amore.

    Second link is to text & translation (of Aria 3), to show the word-painting, especially in closing repeat.

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    Die Tote Stadt is an opera adapted from the novel Bruges la Morte by the Belgian novelist Georges Rodenbach.

    Marietta’s song perfectly captures the melancholy of the real city with its meandering canals on a winter’s morning. Beautiful and intensely romantic piece in the real sense of the word and true to the novel.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Let’s see. I think I’ve got it. Well, now, there, then. John doesn’t like Korngold unless he chooses it himself. Noted, check. Next?

    On the other hand, Norman likes Korngold, Weinberg, and Martinu. They’re well within their rights, help make life interesting, and it’s Norman’s blog. It gives us something to talk about during quarantine, lock-down, and isolation. The sun is setting eight minutes later. After ghree days, hardly anyonereads the posts anyway.