Klauss P. Hanusa worked with George Korngold, the composer's son to produce
recordings of Korngold's works, in Germany, such as Die tote Stadt and the
Sinfonietta. In the CD booklet notes, Hanusa describes how he had tried to
interest George in recording his father's work for A Midsummer Night's Dream.
George was not keen enough to prioritise such a project because he reckoned
that it was more Mendelssohn than Korngold. However, I feel quite justified
in expressing the heading as above because Korngold's contribution to Max
Reinhardt's film of his stage production of Shakespeare's comedy was, as
I think you will agree, when you hear this marvellous album, very significant.
In typical modesty, Korngold chose not to be credited at all in the film's
titles leaving all the glory to Mendelssohn.
Reinhardt, who had worked with Korngold before, did not hesitate to invite
the composer over to Hollywood from Vienna to arrange and supervise the scoring
of his film. It was Korngold's first visit to the film capital but Warner
Bros were impressed enough with his commitment and talent to summon him back
to score other films notably the swashbuckler romances of Errol Flynn beginning
with Captain Blood. His Hollywood contract undoubtedly saved him from the
clutches of the Nazis.
Korngold at work on A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ever the perfectionist, Korngold went to extreme pains over the music for
A Midsummer Nights Dream. As soon as he arrived at Warner Bros., he asked
a technician how long one foot was; "Twelve inches", he was told cynically.
"No", Korngold insisted, "I mean how long does it last on screen." Apparently
nobody had asked this before but when the answer came back - two thirds of
a second, Korngold was delighted. "Ach exactly the same length of time as
the first two measures of Mendelssohn's Scherzo!"
Victor Jory (who played so many villains in the 1930s and 1940s) played Oberon.
He remembered how Korngold carefully rehearsed him in the precise rhythms
that he wanted for the famous speech which begins "I know a bank where the
wild thyme grows" When it came to the actual filming Korngold lay in some
bushes out of camera range and literally conducted Jory's performance as
though he was singing his lines. This sort of meticulous care and resourcefulness
soon established Korngold's authority over director (William Dieterle who
was in full accord with Korngold's wishes) and actors in matters as they
might affect the music. Such a practice had never been encountered before
but Korngold, on this film, established procedures that would influence the
medium right up to the present day. He also steadily built up the Warner
Bros orchestra, which at this time, was merely a glorified dance band into
a proper symphony orchestra.
The film of A Midsummer Nights Dream had 114 minutes of music. Clearly
Mendelssohn's composition of the same name had insufficient material, so
Korngold supplemented it with quotations from many other Mendelssohn
compositions. It is testament to Korngold's skill and sympathetic treatment
that the integration of all this extra music is so seamless and sounds so
natural. In places where new adaptation occurs, Korngold expanded the orchestra
to include saxophones, piano, guitar and vibraphone plus extra percussion
and harp. He also thickened Mendelssohn's textures especially in the lower
strings to compensate for the limitations of the monaural sound recording
where the altogether more delicate scoring of early 19th century orchestration
would have been lost. The additional instruments are used almost exclusively
for the 'magical' effects which were necessary to match the exotic scenes
on screen. A wordless chorus, for the fairies, is also added.
Let me start by saying that the playing of the Berlin Orchestra is simply
glorious; beautiful phrasing and textures clear and transparent. The sound
engineering is excellent. The recording opens with a seven minute Overture
instead of the Title Music. This Overture was played in theatres before the
opening credits during the film's initial release and then discarded. It
includes music from Mendelssohn's original Overture, Op 21 as well as from
the Nocturne and the music for the Rustics.
Every one of the following 25 tracks are enchanting. I will mention just
a few. 'Theseus-Hymn' begins as a stirring fanfare and then proceeds into
an exhilarating choral adaptation of the finale of Mendelssohn's Third 'Scottish'
Symphony. Then there is Korngold's ravishingly beautiful arrangement for
tenor and orchestra of On Wings of Song transposed up from G flat to G major.
Scot Weir sings what becomes the lovely song 'O Live With Me and Be My Love'
most beguilingly. 'The Fog Dance' for fairies' chorus and a gossamer delicate
orchestra is sheer magic. 'Oberon's Plan' (referred to above in the context
of Korngold conducting Victor Jory's spoken lines) is underscored by a beautiful
arrangement of the song An die Entfernte. Titania, as sung with bell-like
purity by lyric soprano Celina Lindsley, sings her lied to Mendelssohn's
lovely Lied Ohne Worte Op 67 No. 6. The ravishing Intermezzo is taken directly
from the Entr'acte between Acts II and III of the original incidental score.
'Wedding Waltz', in three quarter time and newly and wittily orchestrated,
includes a buffoonish use of three jazzy saxophones. 'Titania's Song' is
an enchanting arrangement of the so-called Venetian Gondola's Song from the
Lieder Ohne Worte Op. 19, No. 6. The famous Nocturne is played transposed
down a semitone into E flat major because Reinhardt's conception was set
in darkest night. Of course, the suite would not be complete without
Mendelssohn's famous 'Wedding March'. The finale ingeniously and touchingly
blends foregoing themes.
An album to treasure. One that will be a strong contender when Film Music
on the Web Awards come round again.