Erich Korngold(1897-1957) was an Oscar-winning, Austrian-born child prodigy whose life was saved by Robin Hood — for real! He was conducting an opera in his homeland when Warner Bros. asked him to come to Hollywood to write the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938);right after he arrived in the U.S., Hitler’s armies began their occupation of Austria. As a child, Korngold was called a “musical genius” by Gustav Mahler and had his first ballet — which he composed at the age of 11 — performed for the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. In 1934, Korngold began a collaboration with actor/director Max Reinhardt that would sweep him into the rapidly-growing field of Hollywood film scoring, a field where he would prove to stand out as an exceptional talent. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1943 and shortly thereafter, disillusioned with the false glamour of Hollywood life, he turned his attention away from film scores and worked almost exclusively on orchestral concert music. His compositions use a colorful, operatic, late-Romantic style, full of personality and storytelling and emotion — perfectly suited for the drama of the silver screen.
About the Piece:
Kings Row(1942) is a book-turned-movie about five children coming of age in turn-of-the-century, small-town America. The film stars a young Ronald Reagan alongside Ann Sheridan and Robert Cummings — but the true star of the film is the music. Korngold’s biographer Brendan G. Carroll wrote that Korngold treated each of his films “as an ‘opera without singing'” — each character has his or her own unique melodic theme, and as the plot progresses these melodies intertwine and transform just as the characters do. These character-driven melodies are called leitmotive(plural for leitmotif), and are what allow Korngold’s scores to stand freely as orchestral works full of story and drama without the context of the film they were meant to accompany. The suite embedded above is a much-abridged version of the score, featuring the main theme and other highlights, compiled in 1968. Does the music sound familiar to you? Maybe that’s because George Lucas, after using the Kings Row score as a temp track during Star Warspost-production, fell in love with the music and requested that John Williams draw inspiration for his score from Korngold’s. Check out a side-by-side comparison of the scores here.
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