Liebe Luzi!: Letters from the Erich Wolfgang Korngold Collection

The following is a guest post from Music Archivist Dr. Stephanie Akau: 

This greeting is the first line of many of the letters in the Erich Wolfgang Korngold Collection. Erich Korngold’s wife, Luise, known as “Luzi,” came from a well-known family of actors. Luzi played piano throughout her life, often accompanying singers rehearsing Erich’s operas, and was a talented writer and cartoonist (more about that later).

Helene Thimig portrait

Helene Thimig. George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

After marrying Erich Wolfgang Korngold in 1924, Luzi became his assistant and most of the correspondence in the collection is addressed to her. By the time they married, Erich had evolved from an amazing prodigy to a well-established, brilliant musical figure. He had already composed three operas, including his most famous, Die tote Stadt (available in the Library’s digital collections), chamber music, incidental music, and works for orchestra. Luzi was friends with the wives of some of Erich’s collaborators, including Helene Thimig-Reinhardt, an actor and Max Reinhardt’s widow, whom she had known since childhood. Luzi and Helene’s correspondence, which dates between 1949 to 1961, is indicative of a friendship that lasted after their husbands’ artistic collaborations ended and Max Reinhardt passed away in 1943.

Luzi maintained regular correspondence with her family. Her mother, Adele von Sonnenthal, brother Paul, and sister Helene Shafik (Helen) eventually settled in Los Angeles neighborhoods near Erich and Luzi’s house in Toluca Lake. But Luzi’s sister Suzanne and her family moved to Australia and the bulk of Suzanne’s correspondence is postmarked from New South Wales. Their surviving correspondence dates from 1949 to 1961 and is the most extensive of the Sonnenthal family correspondence. No doubt they would have been avid Skype and email users were they still alive today!

Luzi was a writer and determined author; the collection contains correspondence dating from the mid-1950s between her, her literary agent, and a number of publishing houses in Austria and the United States as they searched for a publisher for her biography of Frédéric Chopin, Lieber Meister Chopin. They eventually succeeded, and the collection contains a light blue, cloth-bound copy of Lieber Meister Chopin along with copies of reviews and publicity of the book from German-language newspapers and periodicals. Luzi also wrote a biography of Erich, Erich Wolfgang Korngold: ein Lebensbild for the Österreichische Komponisten series that was published posthumously in 1967.

Erich and Luzi Korngold at the piano

Erich and Luzi Korngold, circa 1950. Erich Wolfgang Korngold Collection. Library of Congress Music Division

The collection contains some of Luzi’s humorous artwork, including a fake “driver’s license” for Helene Thimig-Reinhardt with good-natured jests about her physical appearance and a short handmade book about Erich Korngold and Max Reinhardt that features her characteristic black and white cartoons.

To find out more about Luzi and Erich Korngold, check out the finding aid to the Erich Wolfgang Korngold Collection, which contains Erich’s manuscripts, along with correspondence, business papers, programs, and photographs.

One Comment

  1. Rebecca Samawicz
    June 25, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for this. How fortunate America was in 1930’s & 40’s to welcome such talent. Will never get my head around the incredibly rich gathering of great talent and tradition of artists of all kinds, especially from the musical communities of Central Europe, that expat community from Schoenberg to Stravinsky, such a community suddenly living in Los Angeles, of all places, which we considered to be filled with crass and uncouth philistines when I was a child.
    In the 1950’s, when we would arrive at LAX from San Francisco in our dresses with matching little jackets, white gloves, and hats, and my mother saw men and women in the airport in shorts and rubber flip flops, she would smirk and say, “Look at them! Short shorts! Are they here to wash their cars? Well, what can you expect? It’s Los Angeles, girls. Don’t pay any attention to them. They’re ignorant.” We were just coming to see friends and enjoy the warmer water at the beach in Newport. OK, maybe an outdoor concert at the Hollywood Bowl. But lacked that community feel of Sigmund Stern Grove…

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