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Cover of the revised piano score, published at the time of the ballet’s stage première in October 1910.

Cover of the revised piano score, published at the time of the ballet’s stage première in October 1910.

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KORNGOLD, Erich Wolfgang: The Snowman

2010 marks the centenary of the first performances in Vienna of the ballet Der Schneemann, composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold at the age of only 11.The work was completed in 1909 and its first performance was in a version for two pianos, presented on April 14 1910 at a charity soirée in the Ministerial Palace held by the Baroness von Bierneth before the cream of Viennese society. Young Korngold played at one piano, with the noted accompanist Richard Pahlen at the other. The dancers of the Imperial Ballet Wopalenska, von Hamme and Godlewsky performed the main roles and Fritz Brunner played the violin solos.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

First published in a limited, small-format, edition early in 1910, this reappeared in 4to size (as shown here) at the time of the stage première. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, photographed in Hamburg, March 1910. The Brendan G Carroll Collection One of two extracts from the ballet published in full score in 1911.  The orchestration, by Korngold's teacher Alexander Zemlinsky, was later revised by the composer himself.

Poster for the stage première of Der Schneemann, Oct 4 1910. The Brendan G Carroll Collection Dancers Karl Godlewsky and Louise Wopalenska, in costume for Der Schneemann, Wiener Hofoperntheater, Oct 4 1910. The Brendan G Carroll Collection The composer caricatured as a huge snowman outside the Vienna Opera House.  This appeared in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt during the week of the stage première. The Brendan G Carroll Collection

It caused a sensation and news of the performance reached the aides to the Emperor Franz Josef. They decided it would make the perfect novelty to be performed at the Hofoperntheater for his official Name Day on October 4th. The work would need to be orchestrated and Korngold's father asked his son's teacher, the noted composer Alexander Zemlinsky, to undertake the task. Zemlinsky was then teaching the prodigy the rudiments of orchestration and he used the child's own score as the main example. He later recalled how he would ask what the young composer heard instrumentally and then showed him how to set the various instruments

The stage première took place as part of a gala performance conducted by Franz Schalk, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Arnold Rosé, Mahler's brother-in-law took the violin solos and young Korngold was called to the stage to take many bows afterwards

Richard Specht, one of Vienna's leading critics and Mahler's first biographer wrote:

"He took his bow before the great curtain as clumsily as a little bear, and the public clamoured to see him return again and again. It must be the first time since the beginning of opera that such a young composer was able to acknowledge applause for his work, having had it performed in such a place as this."
Neue Freie Presse
October 5 1910.

In the summer of 1912 Henry Wood chose to perform parts of Der Schneemann at the Proms, making Korngold the youngest living composer to have his work presented there - a record he still holds.

Brendan G Carroll