Concert Notes

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Schauspiel (Dramatic) Overture

Notes by TŌN percussionist Luca Esposito

It would be brave, yet valid, to assume that tonight is the first time that all the musicians on stage are performing a piece composed by a 14-year-old boy. Schauspiel Overture was Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s first-ever orchestral score, and yet it feels and sounds like the work of a full-grown, experienced composer. It is of no surprise that this beautifully dramatic piece was extremely well-received at its 1911 premiere in Leipzig, Germany, under the baton of world-renowned conductor Arthur Nikisch. The young prodigy composer was only scratching the surface of the success that his career would later see after immigrating to the United States and immersing himself in the world of Hollywood film scores. This “dramatic overture” takes the listener on a sophisticated journey of romanticism and color. Korngold’s orchestration and waltz-like themes set the tone for a pretty yet powerful piece. The sweeping cello and violin melodies create a fine balance with the woodwind solos and light brass accompaniment figures. The piece is complete and well-rounded. It does not at all lead one to believe that it was composed by a very young and essentially naive composer, as all of its characteristics are bold, captivating, and mature. It is impressive to feel that, even if only slightly, the overture has moments that draw influence from legendary composers such as Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, or even Beethoven. Knowing the background of this piece adds much more meaning and emotion to the performer, and helps to imagine what it would have been like to perform this over a century ago in Central Europe.