Goldmark, Karl


Although born in Hungary, this celebrated composer early became a citizen of Germany, and his works take their place with the German School. His birthplace, Keszthely, was a small town, where his father was a precentor in the Jewish synaogue. Karl early showed talent and egan violin study at the school of the Musical Society of Oedenburg. He played in public at the age of twelve, and afterward obtained several engagements in theatre orchestras. According to some biographers, he spent a year under Jansa's instruction, and in 1847 entered the Vienna Conservatory as a pupil of Bohm in violin and Preyer in harmony.   However this may be, the Revolution of 1848 put a stop to musical labors for a while, Goldmark being compelled by law to serve a term in the army. When this was over his eldest brother, Joseph, assisted him to continue his studies at the Conservatory; but Joseph, having been active in the insurrection, was thrown, under suspicion and forced to leave the country. This threw Karl on his own resources. He supported himself by playing in the orchestra of a theatre in Raab, Hungary, but returned to Vienna in 1850 and secured an engagement in the orchestra of the Josephstadt Theatre. Here, though too poor to gratify his strong desire for piano lessons, he managed to rent an instrument and studied alone, with sufficient success to enable him later to teach both piano and singing, in which he was also self-instructed. During this period he studied the scores of the classic composers and attended the Hellmesberger concerts of chambermusic in Vienna. His study of classic works stimulated his desire to compose, and in 1857 he gave a concert of his own works, consisting of an overture, a piano quartet, a number for tenor solo, chorus and orchestra, and two songs. Although these met with a favorable reception they showed the influence of Mendelssohn, which he outgrew not long afterward, and these earlier compositions were never published. Goldmark now went to Pesth, where he spent two years in yet deeper study. Besides counterpoint and composition he studied the works of the greatest masters. Where Mozart, Haydn and Mendelssohn had previously claimed his attention, Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann were now his teachers. During this period of retirement he composed some of his best works, the Sakuntala and the Penthesilea overtures; the suite, Die landliche Hochzeit; and a suite for violin and piano. The orchestral training of his youth, as well as later special study of the individual instruments, now reflected itself in his compositions, and assured him that freedom in orchestration in which his work is especially strong. In 1860 Goldmark settled in Vienna, where his work was now becoming recognized. His string quartet in B flat, written after his return to Vienna, so charmed Hellmesberger that he promised all Goldmark's future chamber works performance at his own concerts.

Goldmark's first great success was the Sakuntala overture, composed in 1864, and produced the next year at a Vienna Philharmonic concert. It won immediate praise from even the conservative among the critics. His first opera, The Queen of Sheba, gave Goldmark unlimited opportunity for the use of the rich Oriental effects, which characterize so much of his music. He spent much time in the composition and revision of this opera, seven or more years being occupied with the work as a whole. His careful and conscientious labor received its reward, for when finally brought out under Gericke, in 1875, at the Court  Opera, Vienna, it aroused overwhelming applause, the composer being recalled nearly forty times. After performances in a number of European cities, it was given for the first time in America, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, in 1885, under Anton Seidl, and the next season was repeated several times. The success of this first opera caused a demand for other works, and a number of Goldmark's chamber compositions, hitherto only in manuscript, were published and performed. In opposition to the urgent advice of friends and operatic managers, Goldmark wisely refused to hurry his work unduly, preferring to endanger his reputation by letting the public wait, rather than by producing work less thoroughly planned and finished; so another ten years elapsed before the production of his second opera, Merlin, in Vienna, in 1886. He had also resolved to refrain from the use of Eastern subjects and the Oriental coloring which was natural to him; and this second opera, based on an Arthurian legend, was written in a style more lofty and serious than any previous work. Though the opera did not meet with the spontaneous approval which had greeted the Queen of Sheba, it stands among his most important works, and is said to possess musical worth that requires time to demonstrate. It was given under the direction of Walter Damrosch in New York in 1887. Three later operas by Goldmark are Das Heimchen am Herd, based on Dickens' Cricket on the Hearth; Die Kriegsgefangene, on an incident of the Trojan war; Gotz von Berlichingen, a. five-act opera founded on Goethe's drama of the same name; and Der Fremdling. Among his chief orchestral works is the Country Wedding, a series of descriptive movements containing a wedding-march with variations, a bridal song, a serenade, a love-duet, and a dance finale. Although in the popular style, its strong rhythms and flowing melodies give it a genuine musical value. Sakuntala, considered by many critics Goldmark's best overture, is founded on a legend from Hindu mythology. A later work is the overture of Prometheus Bound, based on JEschylus* famous drama. The Penthesilea overture is also based on an episode of the Trojan war, where Achilles slays in battle the Amazon queen, and then bemoans his act. These overtures, with the one entitled Spring, the E flat symphony, containing an effective scherzo, the Rural Wedding above mentioned, and the violin concerto in A minor, are the works of Goldmark best known in this country. Besides the works mentioned his compositions include a Frühlingshymne; six male choruses; a male quartet; Frühlingsuetz for four horns and piano; two trios for piano and strings; two suites and a sonata for piano and violin; a sonata for cello and piano; two four-part songs; three overtures, Sappho, In Italien, and Im Fruhling; two orchestral   scherzos; a series of sketches for piano, Sturm und Drang; dances for orchestra; Meeresstille und gluckliche Fahrt, for male voices and horns; other choral works and a number of songs. A second violin concerto and Znmyi, a symphonic poem, are recent works.

Goldmark's strong points are rich, varied and appropriate orchestral coloring, and his ability to handle all materials effectively. He has declined all orders and titles of distinction, and given up teaching in order to devote his life more completely to composition. It is his custom to retire for that purpose during the summer to Gmunden, in Upper Austria. He lives in Vienna during the winter, and for a short time was  president  of the Tonkünstlerverein in that city, the only official post he would ever accept, though offered a number of conductorships.