This research follows the lives of two composers, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Kurt Weill, ultimately looking at the effect they had on American music. Both were born at the turn of the 20th century, and composed classically in Europe prior to the Nazi takeover of Germany and Austria. An explanation is given of the political background of Germany prior to 1933, as well as how music and politics intertwined and affected many Jewish composers and musicians of the era. Brief descriptions of Nazi doctrines are also included.
Following the lives and musical output of these two composers, the first chapter focuses from birth to 1933. Their music and talents will be explored, as well as the political arenas they lived in and how they reacted to the changing times. Chapter Two will follow how becoming an American affected them and the effect they had on American music from 1933 until their deaths. The final chapter examines the music they created in each world and the changes imposed upon it through emigration.
Hometown: Maryville, Tenn.
Senior Study Title: “Kurt Weill and Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Composers of Two Worlds”
Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Larry Smithee
In the fall of 2006, Bonnie Finn ’13 attended her daughter’s orientation at the Boston Conservatory in Massachusetts. Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division, gave a welcome address to parents of incoming freshmen.
The address, titled “Why Music Matters,” not only made a strong case to Finn and other parents for why music does matter; it impacted the then-47-year-old’s decision to return to school in 2008 to pursue a music degree at Maryville College.
It also served as the inspiration for her Senior Study.
“I wanted a topic that showed how music and musicians can change the world,” said Finn, who works as the administrative assistant for the Center for Campus Ministry at Maryville College.
Realizing that her topic was quite broad, she consulted with her advisor, MC Associate Professor of Music Dr. Larry Smithee, and was able to narrow her topic down to a number of Jewish musicians affected by the Third Reich. Her topic was further narrowed down through her research process, which eliminated any musicians who did not survive the war.
That left two musicians: Kurt Weill and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, two Jewish German-speaking composers who immigrated to America in 1933 and played a significant role in changing music in America.
In her Senior Study, Finn follows the lives of Weill and Korngold; details the impact the Nazis had on their lives, as well as their music; and reflects on their lives as Americans and the influence they had on American music.
After coming to America, Korngold, who was a child prodigy in Vienna, Austria, helped create the symphonic film score in 1930s Hollywood films.
“This style of film music is still in use today, notably by John Williams (Star Wars), James Horner (Braveheart), and Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings),” Finn said.
Korngold, who scored many of Errol Flynn’s adventure films, is best known for his score to “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938, which won an Oscar for Best Original Score.
“Not only did ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ win an Oscar, it was also attributed to saving his life,” Finn said. “He was here working on it when the Nazis took over Vienna.”
Weill, on the other hand, helped create many theatrical music productions in New York City. His most well-known work, “The Threepenny Opera,” was based on an adaptation of John Gay’s 1728 “The Beggar’s Opera” and includes the ballad “Mack the Knife.”
“One of his dreams was to help create a truly American form of opera, which he believed was Broadway show music,” Finn said. “He was also the first composer to work with Ira Gershwin after George Gershwin’s death.”
Following the lives and musical output of Weill and Korngold, the first chapter of Finn’s Senior Study, titled “German Political Background; Korngold and Weill to 1933,” focuses on the two composers from birth until 1933. She explored their music and talents, as well as the political arenas in which they lived and how they reacted to the changing times.
Chapter Two, titled “Nazi Germany, Weill and Korngold in America,” details how becoming an American affected Weill and Korngold and the effect the composers had on American music from 1933 until their deaths. In the final chapter, titled “Weill and Korngold – Their Music,” Finn examines the music the two composers created in their respective worlds and the changes imposed on their music through emigration.
Smithee, who served as Finn’s faculty supervisor, said he was “very impressed” with Finn’s work.
“The research on this project was, simply put, outstanding in every respect,” Smithee said. “Bonnie demonstrated the keen ability to sift through a large amount of literature sources, allowing her to create out of them a document with inferences and conclusions that are exceedingly well-supported through her research. Additionally, I felt that the overall quality of her work (including grammar), the overall organization of the paper itself and the formatting, was stunning in itself. The paper is beautifully written and is, in my opinion, a good example of graduate-level work created by an undergraduate student.”
Finn said the most challenging aspect of her study was narrowing down the subjects.
“So many talented musicians were affected by World War II, and all had interesting stories behind them,” she said. “In fact, until the second semester, I had four musicians I was researching. Günther and Rosemarie Goldschmidt were musicians in the Berlin Jewish Orchestra and two of the last to escape to America, leaving Germany in 1938. Due to the length of my thesis, I needed to eliminate their story. I wanted to write about it all, but I eventually realized many more papers can be written in the future!”
While her Senior Study was a learning experience for Finn, Smithee said he also learned quite a bit while working on the project with Finn – especially the details Finn uncovered about this particular group of Jewish German composers.
“Much of the information regarding their relationship with Nazi Germany and, ultimately, details of their eventual immigration to the United States was new to me,” Smithee said. “My knowledge of these composers was mostly via their American film music works, but not so much in terms of their Germanic backgrounds and details of their immigration. This was a fun project for me because it filled in many details about these giants of early film music of whom I had only scant knowledge.”
Smithee, who noted that his personal role in the project was “exceedingly minor,” pointed out that one of the most fun parts for him in working with Finn on the project had to do with her enthusiasm for the topic itself.
“She often arrived at our appointments, or just simply dropped by my office, to excitedly update me about some new discovery she had recently made, or a new conclusion she had drawn from her reading and research,” Smithee said. “For me, her enthusiasm for this project was absolutely contagious.”
Finn called Smithee “the perfect thesis advisor” for her.
“His expectations were clear and he allowed me to work without influencing my direction,” she said. “He also helped keep me focused on my defined topic. I kept finding interesting tangents, but by asking questions, he would guide me back to my primary purpose.”
After graduation in May 2013, Finn hopes to begin master’s degree programs in both library science and musicology, and eventually, she hopes to become a music librarian and teach music history at a small, liberal arts college.
“I have desired a master’s in library science for a number of years,” she said. “I love books, and I worked for several years as a teaching assistant in the library of Montgomery Ridge (Maryville) Intermediate School when it first opened. My music history classes here at MC and the work that I did on my thesis showed me the passion I have for history and have played a large part in my new desire to attain a master’s in musicology as well.”