Peter Jona Korn
Peter Jona Korn
Peter Jona Korn’s Aloysia Serenade, Op. 19 is one of the works included on Albert's Window, our recent release on Ravello Records. We began performing the Serenade long after Korn had died, and our initial research revealed very little other than a website dedicated to his work. The website put Ina in touch with Korn’s wife, Barbara, who was able to pass on some information about the piece: the Korns had been close friends with Hollywood composer, Ernest Gold and his wife, Marni Nixon. The men started calling each other Aloysius, and their wives, Aloysia. The term was then bestowed upon various people who became their close friends, including honorary Aloysia, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, the principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and to whom the Serenade is dedicated. Dwyer was looking for a work to compliment Beethoven’s Serenade in D Major, Op. 25 for flute, violin and viola and Albert Roussel’s Trio Op. 40 (also on Albert’s Window) for flute, viola and cello. Dwyer’s request inspired Korn to compose a lengthy four movement work. Completed in 1953, the Aloysia Serenade was premiered in Boston in 1957 by Dwyer, Joseph De Pasquale and Samuel Mayes, also principal players with the Symphony.
As an ensemble, our habit with bringing new works into our repertoire is to perform them repeatedly throughout the course of one season, then temporarily put them to rest with the intention of bringing them back into our programming at a later date. We have revisited the Aloysia Serenade many times and decided to include it on Albert’s Window since it is one of the few works originally for flute, viola and cello that has not been composed for us. While we have printed parts for this work, we have never been able to find a score – something one would need for recording purposes. It was in the search for a copy of this score in 2013 that we learned that Barbara Korn had passed away, and were put in touch with Heidi Crumpacker and Tony Korn, Barbara and Peter Korn's children.
Preparing the liner notes for Albert’s Window prompted further research. I was able to get a hold of a copy of a book published about Korn in the Komponisten in Bayern series (published by Hans Schneider in 1989.) I also discovered an entry for Korn on IMBd , listing him as an uncredited orchestrator for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. I already knew that Korn had spent many years living in L.A., yet this was the first and only film credit I could find. There was no mention of this in any other biographical information I had come across. I found it difficult to believe that he could be friends with Ernest Gold and living L.A. for so many years and not be more involved with the film industry.
As I began to read more, I learned more details about Korn’s philosophical beliefs and why, in some respects, his life took the course that it did. Barbara Korn’s early correspondence with Ina indicated that her husband had been criticized for not joining the avant garde “circus” and that he “prophesied that the era of experimental music would one day come to a dead end and composers would find their way(s) back to the realm of tonality and clarity….. These views, openly held, made his career in Germany quite difficult…”
Barbara and Peter Jona Korn
Reading further about his life, I learned about how early Korn left Germany for Palestine, his student- teacher relationship with Stefan Wolpe, and his life in the U.S.; although a Jew, he did not experience the horrors that many others did and for this reason his move back to Germany was not as much of a negative emotional issue for him as it might have been for others. I came to understand that he perhaps had no reason to embrace the turn contemporary music took in reaction to fascist restrictions placed on composers, and why openly voicing his opinion about that turn towards atonality potentially posed some serious professional risks.
The liner notes for Albert’s Window, however, did not seem the appropriate place to explore these details. While the interviews we usually post on our Featured Composer page are with living composers, our relationship with the Aloyisa Serenade has relevant ties to the present and I thought it would be worthwhile to give these details an outlet here. Our interviews are another means through which we can take a more direct approach to exploring a composer's work and I am grateful to Heidi Crumpacker and Tony Korn for taking the time to answer my questions. They have experienced Peter Jona Korn differently than the rest of us and can offer a different perspective. Korn produced a tremendous body of work that includes orchestral, choral chamber works as well as works for the stage. He also wrote extensively on the state of new music during his lifetime. I hope Heidi and Tony's responses will pique your interest and prompt you to seek out more opportunities to hear or study or perform his music.
Suzanne: Despite his studies with Stefan Wolpe and Arnold Schoenberg, your father rejected atonality and the twelve-tone technique, and ultimately leaned toward a classical-romantic language. He was much criticized for his views on the purpose of music and not joining the avant-garde. He believed that music flowed best in the broad mainstream of tradition and should be written for the concert-going public to enjoy as opposed to academics.
Tony Korn: Just because you study with the pioneers (or at least proponents) of atonality etc. doesn’t mean you have to adhere to their philosophies. Or even like their music. My father railed against “theoretical” music and its inability to express or even mean anything.
Heidi Crumpacker: I know this became a big controversy. As a musician I think your ears and your brain function as they do - you can study other things, but you are just wired one way. And he heard life in the conventional tone realm. He wouldn't have been interested in writing (even if he could have) music that wasn't going to be performed. He was a fairly logical thinker and that would have made no sense. He did feel that he was never properly recognized for his body of work - which is actually quite impressive. But he alienated so many people - many of them quite influential - along the way that he was shut out of many performance venues in Germany in later years.
SG: Your father founded and led the New Orchestra of Los Angeles from 1947-56. As far as I know, the orchestra performed many contemporary works, including his own. While it existed before you both were born, I am curious if your father ever spoke with you about this time and how it might have been a vehicle through which he could nurture and get the he music he supported out to the public.
HC: There were many studio musicians in L.A. in those years who longed to play "real" music and were willing to rehearse for free. I don't know if the orchestra couldn't be maintained but we left for Europe the first time in 1956, which is when it was disbanded.
SG: Your father’s book Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung (Musical Pollution) was published in 1975 (Breitkopf & Härtel.) It was controversial and caused quite a stir in the music world. In this book, your father voices his opinion against the trends of post war composition – the music of Schoenberg, the 12-tone system, the avant-garde. The book’s publication had some negative repercussions for him professionally. Do you remember this time? Did he ever speak with you about it?
TK: Of course the book was controversial. It was meant to ruffle some feathers. Some folks love it, others (his targets) hated it, of course, but that was the whole idea.
HC: Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung is a current project of mine. I would like to get it translated. I think it would make an excellent university resource for a 20th Century Music History class. I don't know why he felt compelled to stir this particular pot, but he enjoyed the fallout. His post as Direktor was secure, so he could take chances to voice a controversial opinion.
SG: It was not only these trends themselves that your father spoke out against, but also the condemning attitude towards those who defended tonality. I recently came across some satirical articles your father wrote for Hi-Fidelity magazine in the 1960s. He expresses his point of view with an acerbic sense of humor. It not only confirms much of what we hear when we play the Aloysia Serenade, but it also makes me think he probably was a man who could really make people laugh in general. Am I right?
TK: Yep, my dad’s sarcasm could be ruthless, and as much as he could infuriate his “victims”, he would equally make his allies howl with laughter.
SG: Do you know anything about your father’s work in the film industry? When I first began reading about him, several years ago, I found it odd that he had been living in L.A. as a composer and yet there was no information indicating a connection with the industry. Now one can easily find reference to him as an un-credited orchestrator for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. Are there any other such projects that you are aware of?
TK: My father struggled with the thought of commercialization. He would have no doubt loved the income, but and was very much against “selling out”.
HC: Work in the film industry was beneath him. He felt "serious composers" should not be pursuing this avenue. Too bad - his best friend Ernest Gold wrote the music for Mad World and Exodus and became very wealthy while we still lived in a 2-bedroom rental in West L.A. Hence the "un-credited orchestrator" - Ernest giving him a helping hand??
SG: What memories do you have of professionally significant moments in your father's life?
TK: I do remember my father’s appointment as director of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich in 1967 (I believe), and the performance of the Psalm vom Mut (Psalm of Courage) by the Bavarian State Orchestra under Wolfgang Sawallisch, which was a significant success.
HC: Probably one of the most definitive events was the premiere of his opera Heidi in Frankfurt.
SG: Can you tell me a bit more about your own lives with your father. You were very young when he made the decision to move back to Germany. What was that like for you? Did you live in both the U.S. and Germany? Ultimately you both have made your lives here in the US. Can you elaborate a bit on this and how you came to this decision?
TK: Our family life was pretty interesting, to say the least, being surrounded by so many complex and active people whose pivotal experience had been WWII and everything leading up to and following it. Moving back to Germany didn’t matter to me, since (as you rightly point out) I was very young. I was born in 1960 while my parents still lived in Germany. We moved back to the U.S. while I was still and infant, then moved back to Europe when I was four. Both my sister and I have American spouses, and the rest of our families live in the U.S., so those were the main reasons we settled back here. It’s really that simple.
HC: We moved to Europe from L.A .in 1956 - first to London, then Austria, then Munich. Tony was born there - but in those years a naturalized American had to be physically on U.S. soil every 5 years, so we came back to LA in 1961 - Tony was one year old. It took several years to get enough money together to once again move back to Europe - Austria to Switzerland to Munich in this loop. I later went to college in Paris, then to San Diego State University. Tony went to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Both of us came back to Germany later on - we overlapped some years - but then I had to return to the U.S. with my husband, whose mother was ill and needed him closer. My mother's family (our cousins) lived in Oregon, so we moved there, and Tony and his wife later settled in that area as well. My husband and I kept moving over the years - New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona - Costa Rica 2006-2013 - and now in Florida. Tony and Bonnie are well-established in Washington State.
SG: What do you believe your father’s legacy is? How would like to see that fostered and supported?
TK: Well, my father was a remarkable man who had lived during a remarkable time in history. All eulogizing aside, I would cut to the chase and say that he should be remembered as a romantic composer with a keen sense of social justice. I would quite simply like his music to be played.
HC: The music is solid. Some of it is university-level performance possible. I am inching toward "Friends of PJK" or something like that to introduce and promote Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung in the classroom and any of the works into the music program. Any introductions to anyone in any music department anywhere would be helpful!!
Tony, Barbara, Peter & Heidi, ca. 1964
Born in Berlin, Peter Jona Korn (1922-1998) was granted a visa in 1936 to study at the New Conservatory in Jerusalem. He was 14 years old and the youngest among a group of twenty German-Jewish students who had auditioned. He studied with Stefan Wolpe there for two years and emigrated to the United States in 1940. Korn attended both the University of California at Los Angeles as well as the University of Southern California. His most influential teacher was Ernst Toch. He also studied with Hanns Eisler, film music composition with Miklos Rózsa, and, very briefly, with Arnold Schoenberg. While in Los Angeles, Korn remained active as a composer, conductor and teacher. Korn moved back to Germany in 1967 permanently, when he became Director of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich. For more information please visit here.