Next stop? Los Angeles!
When we talk about American music, most people think of names such as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Fewer people know, however, that America in the 1930s and 40s provided sanctuary for a large number of outstanding European composers. One of the most interesting destinations at this time was Los Angeles in California.
The Firebird Igor Stravinsky
IIgor Stravinsky – an artist who fascinated and attracted so many famous figures including Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Ravel and even John F Kennedy. He was known for his incredible work-rate: “Inspiration is a force which is needed for every human activity. However, it can only develop if it is accompanied by effort, and effort is nothing other than work. Work brings with it inspiration.” He suffered from the need to constantly discover new things. He himself invented a machine for writing staves which was patented under the name “Stravigor”. He loved literature and other types of art, Scotch whisky (“My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whisky”) and animals. For example, in each new city where he conducted, the first thing he did was visit the zoo. He lived in Hollywood from 1941–1969, moving there with his second wife, Vera de Bosset, with whom he had been in a relationship while his first wife Katya was still alive. It was in Los Angeles that Dances Concertantes was written in 1942. Stravinsky loved America and America loved him, despite Stravinsky’s rather unflattering statement that “American music will soon need a Ford Foundation for the Suppression of Unpromising Composers.”
Documentary on Stravinsky’s life in Los Angeles
George Gershwin films Arnold Schoenberg
Gershwin & Schoenberg – knights of music and the tennis court
In the mid-1930s, Los Angeles became the sanctuary for one of the most influential composers of the 20th century – the leading figure of the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg. George Gershwin arrived in California in 1936, disappointed by the reception of Porgy and Bess in New York. Here he worked on the film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and was considering having lessons with the “great maestro”. He apparently turned him down with the words, “Why should I make a bad Schoenberg out of you when you are an excellent Gershwin?” Naturally, they continued with their tennis matches, which both men adored. It’s said that he didn’t even miss his match on the day his son, Ronald, was born. In 1937, Gershwin sponsored a recording of Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet and even painted the maestro’s portrait. This deep friendship lasted a year until 11 June 1937 when the young composer died after an unsuccessful operation on a brain tumour. He was only 38 years old. Listen to the emotional address by Arnold Schoenberg which was broadcast live on America radio on the day after Gershwin’s premature death.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Grateful to Hollywood for his life
He came from Brno and was the first ever person to win an Oscar for an original soundtrack. Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a prodigal child who at eleven composed the music for the ballet pantomime Snow White, which caused a sensation in Vienna (it was performed at the Vienna Court Opera). “If we didn’t know how old the composer was and who he was, if the piano score did not lie in front of us, we would say that for such a simple pantomime there has been written music of unusually rich inspiration, wonderful rhythmic temperament, original harmonies… If, coincidentally, we know that it was written by an eleven-year-old boy, then we are standing in front of something incomprehensible and mysterious,” wrote the critic Richard Specht after the premiere. At thirteen Korngold composed a piano sonata for the legendary Artur Schnabel, and his first two operas, Violanta and The Ring of Polykrates from 1916, were conducted in Munich by Bruno Walter. His other operas, The Dead City (84 repeat performances!), The Miracle of Heliane and Die Kathrin, stunned Europe in the 1920s and 30s.
He was invited to Los Angeles by Max Reinhardt and wrote his first film music here in 1935 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Its success guaranteed Korngold further commissions. After he won his first Oscar for the film Anthony Adverse, he returned to Hollywood in 1938 to work on The Adventures of Robin Hood. He was unaware that this film probably saved him from deportation to a concentration camp. Following the annexation of Austria, Korngold applied for asylum in the US and managed to bring his whole family over. He was able to live comfortably in Hollywood, while Hollywood’s bet on Korngold paid off handsomely. He went on to become one of the most successful soundtrack composers ever for Warner Brothers. He wrote the music for nearly twenty films and won two Oscars. After the war he returned to composing concert works. He kept a clause in his Hollywood contracts allowing him to use his film music in his other compositions, which he put to good use. Korngold’s music is stirring and beautiful. He is from the European tradition and does not hide his influences from the works of the European masters such as Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Puccini, and Korngold’s teacher, Alexander Zemlinsky. Well, you will hear for yourself!