Gottfried Huppertz

Active - 1927  |   Born - Mar 11, 1887 in Cologne, Germany  |   Died - Feb 7, 1937 in Berlin, Germany  |  

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Gottfried Huppertz was a musician and film composer who played a major role in German cinema of the 1920s. This is an era that is normally overlooked in most of the histories of film composition, owing to the fact that movies were still silent, and that most of the scores written for their live accompaniment have disappeared. Huppertz was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1887, and was conservatory trained. He pursued both music and acting as a career, and his work on the stage brought him into contact with the actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who became a close friend of Huppertz. Indeed, when he wrote his first song, "Rankende Rosen," in 1915, he dedicated it to Klein-Rogge. It was through his contact with the actor that Huppertz first met Thea von Harbou -- then married to Klein-Rogge -- and she, in turn, provided Huppertz an introduction to director Fritz Lang. Huppertz made his screen-acting debut not long after in Lang's Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922), with an uncredited appearance in the film.

Huppertz's contact with them both continued following von Harbou's divorce from Klein-Rogge and her marriage to Lang, and Huppertz was engaged by the director in 1923 to write his first film score, for Lang's production of Die Nibelungen (1924). At the time, the most prestigious silent productions were sent out by their producers with full scores, to be played by the orchestras that were employed by the best and biggest theaters, with small-orchestra and piano reductions provided for smaller theaters. What Huppertz provided for Lang's epic was an immensely rich and lush score, drawing from some established classical material as well as original music by the composer. A year later, he wrote the music for Zur Chronik von Grieshuus, directed by Arthur von Gerlach.

Huppertz was the logical choice to provide the music accompaniment to the director's Metropolis, the most expensive movie ever made in Germany up to that time. Unlike most film scores of the period, Huppertz's music for this movie was composed while it was being shot, rather than at the conclusion of the production, and with the additional time at his disposal, the composer achieved a level of quality that was extraordinary. His music for Metropolis incorporated both Romantic-era and modernist stylistic elements to accompany different sections of the movie, even as he also worked in quotes from familiar musical touchstones such as "La Marseillaise" in the scene where the workers rebel. The music was impressive enough at the time, so that it received a release of some of its highlights on a 78 rpm album, a rare honor for a film score of the silent era.

In the wake of Metropolis, Huppertz didn't write another film score for nearly five years. Lang could no longer afford his services with the budgets to which he was restricted in the late '20s and early '30s. The composer mostly wrote songs and earned a living adapting others composers' music in chamber and piano-reduction arrangements. Lang reportedly tried to convince the composer to leave Germany at the time he did, in 1933, but Huppertz loved life in Berlin too much to leave. He wrote his first score for a sound film in 1933, with The Judas of Tirol, starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, which was the only sound movie he ever scored to get released in the United States. The next year, Huppertz subsequently wrote the music for two films directed by Thea von Harbou: Elisabeth und der Narr and Hanneles Himmelfahrt, both of which had deeply troubled post-production histories and ended her directorial career almost as quickly as it had begun.

Huppertz died of a heart attack in 1937, and his contribution to cinema was largely forgotten until his score to Metropolis was unearthed decades later. Indeed, his score for the film and the annotations he left behind played a key role in the restoration of the movie, as a guide to lost scenes and intertitles. In conjunction with the restoration of Lang's movie in 2001, his score received a superb new state-of-the-art recording, which was used on Kino International's DVD release of the movie. Alas, a planned CD release of Huppertz's music -- which would have gone a long way toward restoring his name -- was canceled at the last moment over a copyright dispute.