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December 2nd, 2008
Biography: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Biography by Gerd Gemünden
Professor of German Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature
Dartmouth College

(b. Brünn, Moravia 1897 – d. Hollywood 1957)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold citizenship application

Photo from Korngold’s application for U.S. citizenship.

Click to see the application.

Composer. Along with fellow Europeans Max Steiner and Franz Waxman, Korngold elevated the status of film music from incidental accompaniment to a new art form. A successful composer on the Continent and protégé of impresario Max Reinhardt before emigrating to the United States, Korngold was a child prodigy who began composing at age 13. Reinhardt brought him to Hollywood when the director made his ambitious film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). Korngold’s beautiful adaptation of Mendelssohn’s music themes so impressed Warner Bros. that the studio hired him to score Captain Blood (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1935) and Anthony Adverse (1936, which won Korngold his first Oscar). He returned to Austria to stage an opera, but a postponement brought him back to Hollywood to work on The Adventures of Robin Hood (dir. Curtiz, 1938). The “Anschluss” of his native Austria forced him to remain in the US, becoming a citizen in 1943. Many Korngold aficionados consider Kings Row (1942) to be his greatest work. Other scores include Juarez (dir. William Dieterle, 1939), The Sea Wolf (dir. Curtiz, 1941), The Constant Nymph (1943), Devotion (dir. Curtis Bernhardt), Deception, Of Human Bondage (all 1946), Escape Me Never (1947), and Magic Fire (dir. Dieterle, 1956, his last). He worked in all areas of musical composition, never limiting himself to film scores alone; his operas, symphonies, chamber music, and concertos are still performed today.

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