Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of a Wunderkind

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: A film by Barrie Gavin; plus performances of Violin Concerto, Cello Concerto, Don Quixote & Seven Fairytale Pictures
PERFORMER: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Quirine Viersen (cello), Alexander Frey (piano); Frankfurt RSO/Hugh Wolff


To us Korngold junkies, the child prodigy turned king of Hollywood needs no further advocacy. But to those yet to be seduced by his musical wiles, there remain myths to untangle. This DVD rewards both camps in equal measure, providing a celebration of musical genius and a coherent explanation of the fascination he holds.

The bulk of the disc is a 90-minute documentary that delves deep into the composer’s life story, from his remarkable emergence in Vienna as a fully formed late-Romantic by his teenage years, through his burgeoning opera career, to his move to Hollywood in the early Thirties and his sad neglect after the War.

The narrative, spoken by actor Samuel West, is fleshed out with extremely generous musical excerpts, and by the time we reach California there’s some absorbing home-movie footage, including the composer playing the piano. Contributors include biographer Brendan Carroll and conductor Hugh Wolff, as well as an elderly Viennese contemporary and the composer’s daughter-in-law.

Between them they come up with convincing justification for the composer’s much-criticised inability to develop over his 50-year career as well as explanation for his naive political outlook, both in respect of his fortuitous escape from Nazism and his inability to re-establish a concert career when his Hollywood one drew to a close.


Director Barrie Gavin edits the montage with characteristic skill, from the clever eliding of comments by the on-screen commentators to the specially filmed visuals accompanying some of the musical excerpts. We also have 45 minutes’ worth of self-contained performances, including pianist Alexander Frey playing some of Korngold’s earliest music. In the film, he also plays some tantalising extracts from the short score of an unfinished Second Symphony – ripe, one would think, for a Deryck Cooke or an Anthony Payne to flesh out. Matthew Rye