Despite current restrictions on public gatherings, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra has been battling on at the National Concert Hall with Friday evening broadcasts on Lyric FM repeated on Sunday mornings on RTÉ television. These take place without an audience, which is less than satisfactory for the dedicated musicians but, at least, they are employed.
Tomorrow’s May 28 programme, under chief conductor Jaime Martín, opens with the Allegretto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony said to express “a love letter in musical form” that can be “intensely poetic and deeply personal”. Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice used the movement to particular effect.
The concert concludes with Mendelssohn’s First Symphony written in 1824 when the composer was 15. Mind you, he had already completed 13 string symphonies but, with its added woodwind and brass, the C minor is considered his first ‘real’ excursion into the genre. Built on the classical style of Mozart, occasional dramatic influences of Beethoven can also be detected in the outer movements. In between comes a lyrical Andante and an energetic Minuet.
The third composer in this concert is Erich Korngold (1897-1957) who, like Mendelssohn, was a child prodigy. His Sechs einfache Lieder (six simple songs) were published in 1916 but he had been working on them from the age of 13.
They have been described as revealing “a composer of immense talent and considerable resources” and that being “richly romantic and highly impressionistic, [the songs] show Korngold’s signature soaring emotions, lustrous harmonies and dramatic immediacy are already fully formed”. The texts are principally by Joseph Eichendorff (1788-1857), one of the great German romantic lyricists. Dundalk diva Tara Erraught will be tomorrow’s soloist.
Born in what is now Brno in the Czech Republic, Korngold came from a Jewish musical family. His exceptional talents were recognised early on with Mahler calling him a ‘genius’ and Richard Strauss recommending he should avoid Vienna’s conservatory, as he was already years ahead of anything he could learn there. His ballet The Snowman was a sensation when premièred in the Austrian capital when he was 11.
Korngold probably reached his peak in Europe in the 1920s, particularly through his opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) for which he and his father produced the libretto under the shared pen name of Paul Schott.
Besides his compatriot composers, Puccini was wildly enthusiastic about it following its simultaneous premières in Hamburg and Cologne in December 1920. The NSO gave it a concert performance at the NCH on April 12, 2019 under Patrik Ringborg with Celine Byrne, Charles Workman and Ben McAteer in leading roles.
Producer Max Reinhardt invited Korngold to California in 1934 asking him to arrange Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream score as film music. Numerous other highly successful Hollywood commissions followed and Korngold, who became a naturalised US citizen in 1943, escaped the horrors unleashed in Germany and Austria by the Nazi regime that had already banned his music.
Korngold died in Los Angeles in November 1957 following a stroke. His output, which afterwards experienced a period of neglect, is deservedly resurfacing in concert and recital programmes.