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Whatever became of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis composer?

February 5, 2018 by norman lebrecht

16 comments.


We have read in the Entartete Musik literature that at least 100 composers left Berlin in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. You will search in vain for the name of Gottfried Huppertz, composer of music for two of the great silent films, Die Niebelungen and Metropolis.

The Metropolis director Fritz Lang left Berlin for Paris after Goebbels banned The Testament of Dr Mabuse. But his composer stayed on at the UFA studios, hoping things would blow over.

All we know beyond that is that he died in Berlin in February 1937 of a heart attack, aged 49. What happened to Huppertz after Fritz Lang and most of his other film pals left? And was the heart attack brought on by political stress?

A terrific new recording of his complete music for Metropolis makes this question suddenly pertinent. Huppertz was a widely read by not a particularly original composer. His score betrays influences of Weill, Eisler, Schreker and even Hindemith. It is vivid, frenetic and incredibly listenable (the CD is out this month on Pan Classics).

Did Huppertz lose work under the Nazis because of his Weimarish style? Did he try to leave Berlin? Seriously, does anyone know what happened to Gottfried Huppertz?

 

 


Comments (16)

  1. Herr Doktor says:

    I have no information on Gottfried Huppertz. But I have to take issue with NL’s assessment of his work. The score for Metropolis is nothing short of brilliant. It completely transforms the movie, and it shows amazing craft and creativity. With all due respect, John Williams could only dream of writing something as brilliant as Huppertz wrote for Metropolis.

    1. James M says:

      Very true – a great score (lots of R. Strauss in it).

      Am not sure why we need just the music re-released. It should be experienced within the film, and Kino Lorber has an excellent restored “authorized edition” Blu-ray that looks and sounds great.

      Better yet, try to experience the film with live orchestra, as is often done.

    2. harold braun says:

      frankly,i think Williams´music is harmonically much more interesting,far more colorful,virtuosic and atmospheric than the typically hum drum greyish Neue Sachlichkeit of Huppertz.Save for Hindemith,i can´t find much to enjoy in this greyish style of german 20s and early 30s music.i never was a big fan of Weill,Toch,or Eisler too.It´s like staring at a brick wall for hours…

  2. Suzanne says:

    The person to ask is the conductor Frank Strobel. The institution he founded – the European Film Philharmonic Institute – is also certain to have whatever information exists on Huppertz: http://filmphilharmonie.de/index.php?id=127&L=1.

  3. Ross Amico says:

    Strobel also recorded the complete score with the Berlin Radio Symphony (released on Capriccio in 2011). Without taking the disc down from the shelf, I remember the liner notes do a good job of conveying the mad scramble to have the film edited in time for the premiere, with the reels literally showing up one at a time under police escort. The poor conductor did all he could to synchronize music and image. Today, under more controlled circumstances, Huppertz’s score works marvelously, at least with the most recent restoration. While some silent movie composers relied heavily on familiar classics and sentimental song to underscore the action, Huppertz provides a wholly unified, original work of art. He is a missing link between Richard Strauss and Korngold of the Hollywood years — which, yes, brings us down to the present and John Williams (when in blockbuster mode).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hwRQl9w6XQ

    More about Huppertz here, but nothing to illuminate the stresses he may have encountered to precipitate an early death:

    http://fimumu.com/huppertz/

  4. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Die Nibelungen was shown at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse yesterday afternoon with Karel Beffa at the piano.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      ….. and Beffa is a composer of brilliance in his own right:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWjSJri3NcE

  5. Robert Holmén says:

    The Metropolis score is one of the best things about the restored Metropolis. Someone should package that in a way that orchestras can start playing it under the movie.

    Huppertz’ IMDb profile shows continuing film activity through 1936 for several different production companies and even a claim that he appears in Metropolis (uncredited) as a violinist.

    There is also a long, but unsourced biography there….

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0403288/

    I imagine that film scoring was never the major part of his career and that he had other musical and theatrical activities that sustained him.

    1. Front Line View says:

      Metropolis, in the restored version of the score IS being played by orchestras during showings of the film. It’s far more common than you think.

      And I beg to differ with all the authorities here but while conceptually the score to Metropolis might show sparks of genius, it is very poorly orchestrated and the parts are a mess. It’s one of the most awkward film scores I’ve ever played. It’s as though Huppertz (or who ever edited it) never looked once at a basic orchestration book to see what instruments are and are not capable of. He writes out of range, very unidiomatically for most instruments – basically it’s like he threw a piano score randomly into orchestral format.

      I’ve noticed that bad orchestration – or at least a poor understanding of how to write for the instruments – is a common them for many of these old silent film scores. I guess a lot of them were just transcribing piano parts rapidly. But Huppertz really takes the cake with Metropolis.

      Yes, it’s good music and it’s exciting. But he is no Strauss and certainly no Korngold. They both have superb skills as orchestrators and knew how to write for the various instruments. As does John Williams.

      If Philharmonia is recording it with EPS I guarantee you they are going to have to do a major overhaul of the parts – correcting errors, rectifying passages that are out of range, and eliminating stuff like violin-esque tremolos in the wind parts. Or every player will have to do what we did & modify their own part. With a good orchestrator, or a good composer who uses a good orchestrator those revisions aren’t dumped on individual players. The part is written correctly in the first place.

      I’m sorry, after playing Metropolis in several very fine performances, I simply cannot put him on the same level as Strauss or Korngold or Williams. A diamond in the rough, maybe, in need of a few orchestration classes, but not a polished professional in any sense.

      1. Robert Holmén says:

        Like I said… “Someone should package that in a way that orchestras can start playing it”

        Huppertz wrote as if he had never seen an orchestration book? Plus ça change, I’m afraid.

        I took a class in “Advanced Orchestration” at the University of North Texas from a guy whose only apparent expertise was the calligraphic task of laboriously scribing perfectly-formed notes with special-nibbed pens upon vellum paper.

        1. Front Line View says:

          When I speak of orchestration, I mean an understanding of how to write for each instrument. Maybe there’s another word for it. Whatever it’s called, good composers have it or know who to go to get it done and Huppertz does not. In spades.

          1. Robert Holmén says:

            That’s what i thought “orchestration” ought to be also. Who knew it was really about the ink and paper? 😀

            I don’t know what or if any editing was done to Huppertz’ Metropolis score before it was recorded for the Criterion DVD but what they came up with didn’t sound like a catalog of student errors anymore.

      2. Herr Doktor says:

        Hello Front Line View,

        Thank you for sharing that perspective, it’s really interesting to hear it from an insider such as yourself. I’m not going to challenge it. Perhaps Huppertz was a clunky orchestrator and is no Ravel. But you know, when the music is as good as it is, and adds such a dimension to the story, and does it all so compellingly, it doesn’t matter.

        Many consider Schumann to be a terrible orchestrator also. Again, I’ll accept that. But what he writes is so unbelievable, that as a non-orchestra player, all I can say is, who cares? I enjoy listening at home to Schumann all the time because his music so speaks to me; Ravel not so much. (And Bruckner above all!)

  6. David A. Boxwell says:

    He was no Giorgio Moroder.


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