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2019/04/02

Work of the Week – Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk

The 1940 Hollywood film The Sea Hawk is filled with wild sea battles, brave privateers, and pomous palaces; rattling sabres and crashing guns. The music for this early epic was written by composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and while the film is seldom shown today, its accompanying score has become a popular concert work. The concert version of The Sea Hawk will receive two performances in April: on the 3rd, the Orchester des Pfalztheaters and conductor Uwe Sandner will perform the piece in Kaiserlautern, and on 7th April at The Assembly Hall Theatre, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra and conductor Roderick Dunk will also perform the work.

Before his emigration to the United States of America in 1934, Korngold was already a successful composer; his opera Die tote Stadt had won him acclaim as a composer of opera in particular. In America, Korngold’s ability to tell a story through his music quickly made him one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood. Over the course of his career Korngold wrote music for more than 20 films and won two Oscars for his work. Testament to Korngold’s enduring legacy, CineFix considers the soundtrack to The Sea Hawk to be number one in their “Top 10 Scores of All Time”. Korngold’s music revolutionised film composition and remains to this day the benchmark for many film composers.

In The Sea Hawk, Errol Flynn takes on the role of privateer Geoffrey Thorpe, whose story is based on the life of Sir Francis Drake. Set against a backdrop of the war between Spain and England in the late sixteenth century, Thorpe fights the Spanish fleet on behalf of the British crown. After many dramatic turns of events, Thorpe succeeds in warning the British forces of the incoming Spanish armada.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk – musical frame for a cinematic sea adventure

Korngold’s film scoring is informed by his work as an opera composer, the use of leitmotif and harmony characteristic of late Romantic music draws a direct link back to Wagner and Straussian operatic traditions.

Music is music whether composed for the stage, the conductor’s desk or for the cinema. The form can change and the method of notation can be different, but the composer cannot make any compromises in what he considers to be his musical convictions. – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Schott Music publishes two concert versions of The Sea Hawk, the iconic main theme as Theme from the motion picture with a performance duration of 6 minutes, and the more extensive Suite for orchestra which was arranged by Patrick Russ. At the concert in Kaiserslautern, listeners will also hear Korngold’s classic fanfare from the movie Kings Row.  On 7 April the symphonic suite, The Adventures of Robin Hood will be played at the Bürgersaal in Stadtbergen, and on 4 and 5 April in Tarto and Tallin, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra will perform the composer’s enduringly popular Concerto in D major for violin and orchestra.