Composers Datebook®

Erich 'Wunderkind' Korngold

Composers Datebook - March 28, 2024


Most composers have to wait for years before their works get performed by a major orchestra or opera company, but not Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a child prodigy who grew up in the Vienna of Gustav Mahler. After hearing the 9-year-old play through one of his compositions, Mahler declared Korngold a genius.

At 13, Korngold’s pantomime, The Snowman, was performed at the Vienna Court Opera, and on today’s date in 1916, when he was just 18, two of Korngold's one-act operas, Violanta and Polycrates’ Ring, were premiered at Munich’s National Theater.

Korngold came to Hollywood in the 1930s and wrote scores for 17 classic films, including several starring Errol Flynn. Korngold, in his thick Austrian accent, called those action films “SVASH-booklers”. His contract let him retain all rights to his music, and in the 1940s he began recycling bits of film scores into concert works, like a 1945 Violin Concerto, written for Jascha Heifetz.

Despite early fame in Europe and success in Hollywood, after World War II, Korngold’s music started to seem old-fashioned and fell into neglect, but two decades after his death in 1957, a major Korngold revival began, sparking new interest in — and recordings of — his well-crafted and appealing scores.

Music Played in Today's Program

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957): ‘The Snowman’; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Matthias Bamert, cond. Chandos 10434

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957): ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ film score; London Symphony; John Williams, cond. Sony 62788

On This Day


  • 1871 - Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, in Utrecht

  • 1890 - American bandleader Paul Whiteman, in Denver, CO

  • 1930 - American composer Robert Ashley, in Ann Arbor, MI


  • 1881 - Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, 42, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Mar. 16)

  • 1911 - Lithuanian painter and composer Mikolajus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (Gregorian date: April 10)

  • 1937 - Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, 54, in Lausanne, Switzerland

  • 1943 - Russian-born composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, 69, in Beverly Hills, CA. A few weeks before his death he became an American citizen

  • 1949 - Rumanian composer and violinist Grigoras Dinicu, 59, in Bucharest; He is best known for his virtuoso violin showpiece Hora staccato (1906)

  • 1958 - American composer and "father of the blues" William Christopher (W.C.) Handy, 84, in New York


  • 1733 - Handel: oratorio Deborah (Julian date: March 17)

  • 1801 - Beethoven: ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, at the Burgtheater in Vienna

  • 1871 - Tchaikovsky: String Quartet, Op. 11, in Moscow, by members of the Russian Musical Society (Julian date: Mar. 16)

  • 1879 - Smetana: String Quartet in e (From My Life), in Prague, by Ferdinand Lachner, Jan Pelikán (violins), Josef Krehan (viola), and Alois Neruda (cello); This was the "official" premiere, although a private performance had taken place in Prague the previous year, with a young Antonín Dvořák performing on viola

  • 1896 - Giordano: opera Andrea Chénier, in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala

  • 1940 - Britten: Violin Concerto, Op. 15, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by John Barbirolli, with Antonio Brosa the soloist

  • 1951 - Douglas Moore: opera Giants in the Earth, in New York City; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1951

  • 1958 - Rochberg: Symphony No. 1, in Philadelphia

  • 1960 - Cowell: Symphony No. 12, by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting

  • 1972 - Bernstein: Meditations Nos. 1 and 2 for Cello and Piano, in New York City, by cellist Stephen Katz and the composer at the piano

  • 2003 - Ned Rorem: Cello Concerto, by the Kansas City Symphony with Michael Stern conducting and David Geringas the soloist


  • 1739 - London music publisher John Walsh the younger issues Handel's Trio Sonatas, Op. 5 London (Gregorian date: April 8)

  • 1842 - The Vienna Philharmonic plays its first concert (as the "Vienna Court Orchestra") in the Redoutensaale under the director of composer Otto Nicolai, the director of the Vienna Court Opera; The program included Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, his concert aria Ah, Perfido, and the Leonore No. 3 and Consercration of the House Overtures, along with other vocal selections by Mozart and Cherubini

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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