Hollywood was a magnet for musicians in the decade of the 1930s. Developments in the new art of sound-film moved quickly; in the world-wide Depression the film industry was rolling in money, constantly developing new technologies and attracting new creative talent. Then, in 1933, came the expulsion of Europe’s Jewish, modernistic, or otherwise subversive musicians by a dictator whose ideas about music were a particularly strong part of his monomania. Composers fleeing Hitler from not only Germany (where their music was banned immediately in 1933) but from other countries falling under Nazi dominance, came together in the fascinating and often frustrating atmosphere of Hollywood, where music was too often treated with disdain. The question for each European composer who worked in the film industry was how to retrieve his own soul after selling it. How would he be able to return to composing the music he felt was inhim to write “for himself”?
The Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was recognized for his remarkable musical gifts when he was a child by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Forced as a prodigy by his formidable father, music critic Julius Korngold, young Korngold was an internationally acclaimed composer of operas from the age of 18. In Hollywood in 1934, for an assignment at the request of Max Reinhardt, the famous Austrian theater producer and director, Korngold took to film scoring as if he were composing opera and later said so: “Just as I do for the operatic stage, I try to invent for the motion picture dramatically melodious music with symphonic development and variation of the themes.” Although he had no previous experience in this field, so keen were Korngold’s dramatic ideas that Reinhardt declared, “If he were not the great musician that he is, he would become a great dramaturg.” The Warner Brothers studio paid Korngold more than any other film composer, allowed him fewer assignments, and gave him the extraordinary privilege of asking producers for changes in their film footage. His name appeared as prominently in the screen credits as the film director’s name. His film fans became so numerous they formed clubs.