Film Music Review
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Metropolis (1927)

Music composed by Gottfried Huppertz.

32 Tracks (Playing Time = 77:08)

Album produced by Wolfgang Nehls. Score reconstructed by Frank Strobel. Featuring the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Frank Strobel. Recorded at Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin, Saal 1, June 11-12, 14-15, 28, and September 21, 2010. Recording engineered by Henri Thaon. Design by Sowiesodesign.

Capriccio 5066

Rating: ****


Frank Strobel’s work reconstructing important film scores brings to disc this classic early score by Gottfried Huppertz (1887-1937) for Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS. Huppertz brought the sound of Late Romanticism to silent film and coupled it with the then contemporary sounds of Impressionism, the Expressionist movement, and even jazz to create often operatic accompaniments.

His use of leitmotif, derived from Wagner’s operas, bridge the gap between European musical theater and film and his style would influence the work of a host of émigré composers who appeared in Hollywood (Korngold, Steiner, Waxman). Huppertz would compose 9 film scores with METROPOLIS being his last for Lang. He later turned to concert music writing a number of orchestral works. It may be for this score though that he is best remembered.

The present recording takes into account new footage of Lang’s film which was more recently discovered. This new 22 minutes of footage meant that Huppertz’s score could be restored to its original intent rather than in the semi-edited reworking that was necessary with the until then existing film text.

The music for METROPOLIS was an integral part of the creation of the script and visual imagery of the film and intertwined in the sort of way one would expect with the creation of an opera. Most likely, the composer was present during the shooting of scenes which then inspired his creative process. The score needed adjustments along the way as annotations in the music attest.

Six primary components of the score were identified in 1993 analysis of the score. These are primary themes linked to important characters or groups occasionally connected to narrative content; themes and motives for specific sequences in the film; longer sections of music that use specific musical forms; ostinato patterns; descriptive music to underline particular things like explosions or collisions; and quotations of familiar tunes (a common practice of film in the period).

The result is a tremendously dramatic score that stylistically bridges the 19 th and 20 th centuries. From the opening main theme, one is struck by how this score could easily match its descendants of a decade or more later hence hearing the influence this music would have on a new generation of film composers. “Das Stadion” would make many listeners think they had discovered a long lost Korngold theme. This late romantic style is on display in the opening segment of the score as presented here with often interesting harmonic departures.

Sometimes the music moves into almost modernist sounds, especially in “The Machine Hall – Moloch” with its blocks of sound. As one of the longer sequences, one also gets to hear how well Huppertz crafted musical support for scenes. What is also intriguing is the way he shifts between musical styles both classical and popular which both pulls in the listener/audience and can then move into more contemporary musical sounds for dramatic impact.

Thematic ideas are often richly orchestrated and very beautiful indeed. His use of the “Dies Irae” and other tunes towards the end of the second half of the musical presentation here is simply stunning and almost Mahlerian in orchestration. What will strike many film music fans are the many musical gestures that feel as if you have heard them before in everything from early Hollywood film music to more contemporary music. In METROPOLIS they are all making their first appearances and show just how much later film music owes to this score.

As with his other recordings, Strobel’s performance is about as good as one could expect. The music is an essential part of the text of this film and now fans of the film can hear it in superb sound. METROPOLIS is an important score because in it one hears the various threads of film scoring that would become part of an identified style by a host of composers appearing in Hollywood in the following decade and beyond.

This is a quintessential score in any film music discography and Capriccio’s recording is simply gorgeous. The Berlin orchestra performs this music as the masterpiece it is.

-- Steven A. Kennedy, 28 June 2011

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