Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Piano Trio, Op.1

"The publication in 1910 of the Piano Trio of the 13 year old Erich Korngold stunned the musical world. They wondered how a thirteen year old had such an astounding grasp of modern harmony”—–The famous critic Wilhelm Altmann writing in his Handbook for Piano Trio Players.


Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was born in the city Brünn then part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, (today Brno in the Czech Republic). His father was a music critic and amateur musician.  Given piano lessons as a boy he started composing at an early age. Mahler declared the boy a genius when he was only 9 years old and recommended he study with his own teacher Robert Fuchs. Later Korngold also studied with the prominent Viennese composers Alexander Zemlinsky and Hermann Graedner. He became world famous as an opera composer and later a film composer in Hollywood. Most of his chamber music was composed during the first part of his career.


Despite the fact that Korngold was only thirteen when his piano trio was published, his reputation as a musical genius was such in Vienna that it was premiered by three of city’s leading musicians—Arnold Arnold Rosé, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the cellist Adolf Buxbaum and on piano was the Bruno Walter already a well-known conductor. The first movement, Allegro non troppo, opens with a suave theme given initially to the piano, before being taken over by violin and cello in an impulsive dialogue with the piano providing an animated accompaniment. This subsides into a more hesitant though no less expressive theme in which the three instruments are very much equal partners, a lively codetta then rounding off the exposition. Next comes a Scherzo, characterized by its lively rhythms which create dance-like subject. A second theme is calmer and more reflective. A trio section with its slow melody provides a fine contrast. The third movement, Larghetto, starts with the cello giving out a meditative theme over a sparse accompaniment in the piano. A powerful dramatic climax with tremolomarks the dramatic high point before the music fades softly away. The finale, Allegro molto e energico, opens with a driving subject in the strings. A second theme is more lyrical and flowing. The two themes alternate with each other each struggling to end the work.

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