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Released by Special Arrangement With Turner Classic Movies Music.
There are the greats—and then there is Korngold. A child prodigy in his native Vienna, Erich Wolfgang Korngold found success in Hollywood as probably the finest symphonic composer ever to write for the movies. His swashbuckling scores for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940) set the gold standard for sheer musicality and melody in film, and created not only generations of film music fans, but much of what is considered film music itself. Korngold's concert music was often damned critically for sounding too much like film music when, in fact, it was film music that sounded like him, so influential was his contribution to the genre.
As the 1940s began, the composer moved away from the scoring of colorful period adventures and embarked on an interesting series of films dealing with complex adult subjects—which were actually more to his taste. Two of the first—and best—come to CD in as definitive a form as possible in this premiere 2CD set.
Kings Row (1942) was an adaptation of the Henry Bellamann novel about sin and human failings in a small midwestern American town circa 1900. Best-known for Ronald Reagan's most famous performance (in which he cries "Where's the rest of me?" after discovering his legs have been amputated), the film is an American classic and the forerunner to stories such as Peyton Place. Legend has it that Korngold composed his fanfare-like main theme under the mistaken notion that the film was about royalty—but that does not explain how this sublime melody so perfectly fits the poem "Invictus" that ends the film.
Even fans who have not heard Kings Row have likely heard of it: the main theme is famously one of the inspirations for John Williams's theme to Star Wars, as well as a portion of Superman. But the score is more than one theme; staying true to his Viennese roots, Korngold composed a marvelous and breathtaking stream of thematic material that coursed with the passion, tragedy and longing of the film's small-town characters.
The Sea Wolf (1941)—which immediately preceded Kings Row in Korngold's career—was one of the composer's darkest projects. The film was adapted from a novel by Jack London and stars Edward G. Robinson as a tyrannical sea captain who terrorizes his passengers and crew. Gloomy and shrouded in fog, the film is, in a sense, a precursor to the 1940s wave of films noir—as is Korngold's score, with its brutal soundscapes and sinister colors, including vibraphone and Novachord synthesizer. Yet Korngold provides melody throughout, including a beautiful love theme and powerful, crashing main title theme. The Sea Wolf is one of his least-known works but also one of the best.
Both Kings Row and The Sea Wolf have been mastered from monaural 1/4" tapes made of the original optical film recordings conducted by Korngold for the films themselves. The Sea Wolf is complete; Kings Row is nearly complete, missing only a few lost cues, such as the chorus to the "Invictus" finale. Liner notes to this historic release are by Korngold biographer Brendan G. Carroll.