The Elves (Maerchenbilder) Opus 3. No02:34

The Elves (Maerchenbilder) Opus 3. No. 4 (Korngold) played by Rudolph Ganz

IMSLP71382-PMLP76106-Korngold op.03 Maerchenbilder page one

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was a Viennese child prodigy. Although best known now for his American film score composition, he began playing piano at age 5 and wrote his first composition at age 7. His father, music critic Julius Korngold, tried to downplay Erich’s talent, correctly thinking many would only believe the talent was due to Julius’ position as a critic. However, Gustav Mahler, a close family friend, recognized Erich’s talent and helped promote him. Korngold composed operas, piano works, and a ballet, all before he was 20 years old. Most of his works before he left Austria were for piano, but those who heard him play thought his style sounded much like a full orchestra. One of his musical traits was the practice of using a song as a basis for a chamber music. This practice was also prevalent in Mahler’s use of lieder in his symphonies, showing the Mahler’s influence on Erich. While still in Vienna, Richard Strauss also heavily influenced young Korngold. When Hitler took over Vienna, Korngold was in the US composing the music for the Adventures of Robin Hood, essentially saving his life. Despite numerous trips back to Austria, he reluctantly became a US citizen and lived his life out in California.


Erich Korngold was only 13 when he composed Märchenbilder Op. 3. (Fairytale Pictures) The seven movements are each named for a fairy tale. Die verzauberte Prinzessin (The Enchanted Princess), Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse (The Princess on the Pea), Rübezahl (The Ruler of the Spirits), Wichtelmännchen (The Goblins) Ball beim Märchenkönig (The Fairy King's Ball) Das tapfere Schneiderlein (The Brave Little Tailor) and Das Märchen spricht den Epilog (The Fairy Tale's Epilogue).  Wichtelmännchen was written for piano and dedicated to the Archduke Maximilian Eugen of Austria. Alexander von Zemlinsky, his teacher at the time, assisted Erich in the orchestration of this piece.  Wichtelmännchen, in E minor, demonstrates the chromaticism and orchestral feel that Korngold is known for.  This movement is neo-Romantic and reminiscent of the supernatural “sound” used in Berlioz and others. The notes dart around the keyboard, as a goblin would scamper across the floor. In measures 12-20, he ends a section of thinly textured  chord sequences with i, VII v, i, pounces briefly on G for two eighth notes, then in measure 21, he modulates abruptly to Eb. He remains here until measures 36 and 38, where in each a full block chord in III+ of Eb major leads to a chromatic walk back down to E minor in measure 42. Written for piano in 1910 and orchestrated three years later, it remained unperformed by an orchestra for 84 years, until the BBC Philharmonic recorded it in1997.

Here is the link for the full Op. 3 pdf.

IV: Wichtelmänn begins on pg. 20.


I am comparing Wichtelmännchen to Le Tombeau de Couperin for Piano, written by Ravel about the same time. It contains six movements: Prelude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet, and Toccata. Ravel’s piece exhibits characteristics more like Debussy, with flowing arpeggiations in a prelude form. This piece feels more like Impressionism, as the tonal center does not change as abruptly, but moves steadily through the piece. It would be considered more of a neo-Classical form, rather than Korngold’s style of neo-Romantic music.

Here is the youtube for Ravel's piano piece:


Erich Korngold has been an interest of mine since I began my undergraduate thesis, which featured Korngold and Kurt Weill. The age at which he began composing these wonderful works amazes me. His importance as one of the original Hollywood symphonic film score composers in finally beginning to be known, too.

Works CitedEdit

Carroll, Brendan G. The Last Prodigy: a Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Portland, Or.: Amadeus, 1997.

Duchen, Jessica. Erich Wolfgang Korngold. London: Phaidon, 1996.

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library. Märchenbilder Op. 3, No. 4, Wichtelmänchenn.,_Op.3_%28Korngold,_Erich_Wolfgang%29.

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