The Elgin Symphony Orchestra continues its multiyear project titled "Exploring Our American Voice" by focusing on Hollywood music this spring.
"We thought if we're going to talk about American music, we have to talk about the influence that Hollywood has on our classical music as well," said Elgin Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Robert Hanson.
Previous concerts this April focused on American composers like George Gershwin, John Williams and Jerome Kern, but composers from Germany (Franz Waxman, Richard Strauss), Hungary (Miklós Rózsa) and Austria (Erich Wolfgang Korngold) are featured in the ESO concerts "Exiles in Hollywood" this weekend.
Though many consider the lush sound of Hollywood movie music to be a distinctly all-American creation, it has strong roots tied to tragic events in Europe. Many European composers and musicians had to flee their native lands during Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise to power. A great deal of them emigrated to America.
"This was a great gift (to American culture) - an unintended gift because Hitler adored music, but he felt that he wanted to control it and wanted to cleanse Europe of the people he hated. And they included modernist composers, socialists, Jews and homosexuals and that's a large population of artists and musicians," said Dorothy Lamb Crawford, author of the new book "A Windfall of Musicians: Hitler's Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California."
"So (Hitler) was poison to music in Europe."
In the past 25 years, there have been major efforts in concert halls and by musicians (like Ravinia Festival music director James Conlon) to revive the forgotten or undervalued music of composers who were suppressed, or in some cases killed, by the Nazis. The record company Decca/London even put out a series of "Entartete Musik" (Degenerate Music) recordings of operas and other music by Nazi-blacklisted artists.
For her book, Crawford spent 11 years researching the lives of 31 European composers and musicians who ended up in California. Her 24 years of work as a radio host, composer and teacher gave her access to numerous musicians and their families.
"Most of these composers came out of need and many thought that they could find employment in the film industry. Some of them did, but many of them didn't, so they taught a lot and their legacy is a part of my book," Crawford said. "This was probably the largest migration in western music history to one place at one time for one reason, which was Hitler."
Crawford will be on hand to give a lecture and sign her book before each ESO "Exiles in Hollywood" concert, which focuses on some of the most successful émigrés, plus one of their major influences, German composer Richard Strauss.
But don't expect to hear Academy Award-winning pops selections from Waxman's score to "Sunset Blvd.," Rózsa's score to "Ben Hur" or Korngold's "The Adventures of Robin Hood." The ESO wanted to emphasize the classical concert hall works of these composers, many of whom were initially condemned by critics and their peers for "selling out artistically" and writing for Hollywood. (The lush romantic style of Hollywood music also came under criticism by composers and critics who pushed for the more avant garde atonal approach to music that dominated the classical world through most of the 20th century).
"You don't hear that so much now because Korngold's Violin Concerto is pretty standard repertory," Hanson said, noting that Korngold interwove musical themes from his films "Another Dawn," "Juarez," "The Prince and the Pauper" and "Anthony Adverse" into the score (for the ESO concerts, Jennifer Frautschi is slated to be the violin soloist).
"When you're looking at writing music for movies, you have to understand that you're writing for the general public," Hanson said. "(Atonal) music wouldn't have helped the film industry very much - except maybe horror films."
Instead, Hanson wants to shine a light on the Europeans who showed what artistic heights could be achieved in a new medium.
"(Korngold and his peers) should be celebrated because they really forged so much of the sounds that composers are still using today writing movie music," Hanson said.
"I think most composers nowadays would be very happy to write film music because it's very lucrative."
Elgin Symphony Orchestra's "Exiles in Hollywood"
Location: Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 2
• RÓZSA: Overture to a Symphony Concert
• KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto
• WAXMAN: Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani
• STRAUSS: Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier"
Preconcert lecture and book signing for ticket holders: One hour before curtain time, author Dorothy Lamb Crawford discusses her book, "A Windfall of Musicians: Hitler's Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California."
Info: (847) 888-4000 or elginsymphony.org