In 1918, the 21-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold received a commission to write incidental music for a Vienna production of Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Wartime restrictions, along with the intimacy of the theater, with its small orchestra pit, necessitated that the work be scored for a chamber ensemble. As Brendan Carrol writes in a recent article, the project went through a series of incarnations. When the original theater company went bankrupt, the bigger Burgtheater stepped in, hiring members of the Vienna Philharmonic to play the score. Korngold transformed the music into an orchestral concert suite which took on a life of its own. The popularity of the sold-out production extended the run. Meanwhile, many of the Vienna Philharmonic musicians had other commitments and were unable to play additional weeks. Cleverly, Korngold rearranged the score for solo violin and piano. His masterful underscoring of Shakespeare’s lines anticipated the work he would do later as one of the preeminent composers of Hollywood’s “golden age.”
A July 31, 1941 recording of the Much Ado About Nothing Suite features the great Russian violinist, Toscha Seidel, with Korngold at the piano. Born in Odessa in 1899, Seidel emigrated to the United States and established a career as one of Hollywood’s most important violinists. For many years, he was concertmaster of the MGM Studio Orchestra. His radiant, singing sound, heard on Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard’s film, Intermezzo, became synonymous with the lush “Hollywood sound.” Gershwin’s 1921 song, Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha, is a testament to his fame in the early years of the twentieth century.
Here is the Suite’s third movement, Scene in the Garden, a beautiful and nostalgic slow waltz. It contains all of the expansiveness of Korngold’s film scores. According to Brendan Carrol, it was often said that “Korngold playing the piano was almost like a full orchestra.” This is in evidence on this magical, historic recording:
- Korngold: Much Ado About Nothing Suite for Violin, Toscha Seidel, Erich Wolfgang Korngold Amazon