Siegfried - the first great movie score

Writing recently about Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen inspires me to write about another work drawn from the same epic medieval German poem. Wagner took this as a starting point and made very considerable alterations to the plot. In 1924 the great German film director Fritz Lang made two silent films, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge (the two together titled Die Nibelungen) which stuck much more closely to the original plot. Siegfried acquires some treasure (including a magic helmet) and slays a dragon: he helps Gunther win the warrior maiden Brunnhilde by using the magic helmet of invisibility to aid Gunther's prowess in sports: then marries Kriemhild, Gunther's sister. Siegfried is murdered by the scheming Hagen, aided by Brunnhilde (who has rumbled the deception): the mild Kriemhild, furious at the murder, embarks on a programme of revenge which leaves most of the leading characters dead.

The two films are extremely spectacular, full of memorable images - including the great halls, the forest (built in the studio) and a full-sized dragon - and with convincing performances, particularly Paul Richter (right) as Siegfried. The films are very slow paced and long, running almost five hours together, but a rewarding experience. Of particular interest is the musical score: silent films often had special scores composed for the premieres and the biggest cinemas, but these were usually cobbled together from bits of Liszt and Mendelssohn. Even well into the 1930s film music was fairly primitive - honourable exceptions being King Kong (Max Steiner) and the 1933 Alice In Wonderland (Dimitri Tiomkin) - until Erich Wolfgang Korngold's symphonic scores for Captain Blood (1935) and other swashbuckling epics completely revolutionised film music.

For Die Nibelungen, ten years before Korngold, Gottfried Huppertz wrote a remarkable symphonic score, somewhat in the style of Wagner though not using any of Wagner's themes. Though not as complex in its construction as Korngold's scores, the themes are used in a Wagnerian manner for the various characters, and the music supports the very slow acting and gives it an epic strength and excitement. It's a remarkable achievement for the period: Huppertz also scored Lang's Metropolis, but his Nibelungen score stands out as the first great film score. The two films are available on DVD*, with the original score, in the USA; and are scheduled to be released in the UK later this year by Eureka Video .

*Note: Region 1-capable DVD player required

Posted: Fri - March 23, 2007 at 09:24 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM