Bad kissingen: silhouettes and music from the 1920s

It was truly a special and rousing experience that the bad kissingen state swimming pool philharmonic orchestra was invited to perform on the occasion of its "night music 2019" had invited to the max littmann hall. A gratifyingly large number of curious people came, but the auditorium should actually have been completely filled for this presentation of two milestones of 20th century german culture. The world’s first feature-length animated film by lotte reiniger, made in 1926, ten years before disney’s "snow white", and the first great film score by wolfgang zeller, then composer and conductor at the berlin volksbuhne and celebrated german film musician of the turbulent years from 1926 to 1959.

Lotte reiniger has gone down in the annals of international film, even though she has been in the public consciousness since her departure from germany in 1935 "because this hitler event didn’t suit her", had completely disappeared until the 1970s. Her lost "prince ahmed" could only be reconstructed from archives on its 100th birthday in 1999. What was available of her in germany after 1945 was a tribute in an english short film from the fund of the institut fur film und bild in wissenschaft (U), which gave the projection of her famous "die abenteuer des prinzen ahmed" (the adventures of prince ahmed) was prefixed in the littmann hall.

In it, she demonstrates her working method from sketch to silhouette with individually movable limbs and her recording technique with a permanently installed camera above a "trick table" illuminated from below. It took her three years, together with her husband and three assistants, to bring the film, which was made up of many episodes, mainly from "one thousand and one nights", to the max littmann auditorium, and 240.To compile a story consisting of 000 single shots into a 66-minute film.

No longer a footnote in film history

In it, prince ahmed arrives on the magic horse of the dangerous african sorcerer on the islands of wak wak, where the beguilingly beautiful pari banu rules over her demons. With the help of a witch from the mountain of flames, who is an enemy of the wizard, and aladdin and his magic lamp, he wins pari banu for himself in the end and aladdin finally gets ahmed’s sister dinarsade.

Reiniger’s animated film is still absolutely inspiring and exciting today in view of the astonishing ingenuity and aesthetics of the characters and landscapes (far removed from the later standardized characters from the disney production), the natural flow of the movements, the refinement of the image compositions (flights through the cloud layers and seas, chinese and south sea landscapes, crowds of people, wild fights and battles, expressionistic interiors and views).

It was wonderful to finally be able to see this work by a 26-year-old berlin native from the culturally so incredibly vibrant interwar germany, after she had been treated for so long only as a footnote in film history. Lotte reiniger created many more films in her technique, also in her adopted country england; her complete works are now available on dvd. In 1972 she was awarded the gold film ribbon and died in 1981 in dettenhausen, where she had moved in 1979. 2014 she was awarded with a star on the "boulevard of stars" honored on potsdamer platz in berlin.

Film music for the national socialists

Since the bad kissing state bath philharmonic orchestra and its orchestra manager roman riedel had invited to the film music concert, it can be assumed, despite the prominence of mrs. Reiniger, that the music to "the adventures of prince ahmed" will also be performed in the littmann hall played a weighty role in this project, even if the composer was somewhat lost in the promotion. As we learned in the pre-film, the music composed for the film was distributed note for note over the individual frames and contributed decisively to the success of the film.

For musician wolfgang zeller, his work for lotte reiniger meant a breakthrough as a film composer. He had already written incidental music for erwin piscator and heinz hilpert, and in 1926 he suddenly became one of the most sought-after and in 1927 most-played film musicians in germany, also writing the music for the first full-length german sound film "melodie der welt (1928). After the nazi takeover, he was part of emil jannings’ production team and was a prolific composer for all types of films, including propaganda films such as veit harlan’s "der herrscher" (1937) or "jud sub" (1940).

After 1945 he worked for DEFA, for example in the anti-fascist film "ehe im schatten" (1947) or in "die brucke" (1949). Since 1950, the west german film industry has kept him busy in various genres, such as the love melodrama "red roses, red lips, red wine" (1953) or the home movie "the country doctor with marianne koch. He wrote many film scores for documentaries such as bernhard grzimek’s "serengeti darf nicht sterben" (1959). The fact that this enormously successful composer is not as well known as some of his american colleagues is surely due to his role in the nazi film empire.

Three days of rehearsals together

How absolutely convincingly he was able to comment on reiniger’s moving images with music, to illustrate them, to work out the drama in a frequently extremely differentiated movement, was demonstrated by the performance of the staatsbad philharmonie under the baton of guest conductor stefan geiger, who is very well versed in film music and music for computer games, for example. Zellers sovereign command of all musical styles before and during his time for the purpose of directing the emotions of the audience, but also the many soloistic tasks for the orchestra members were in the best hands with him and his musicians.

The three-day rehearsal period in the regentenbau had made of him and the bad kissinger "kurmusikern" forged a highly concentrated, fresh and sparklingly clean playing formation that made congenial music to reiniger’s fantastic paintings. It was thrilling, exciting and inspiring right to the end. The audience, obviously overwhelmed by the quality and exceptionality of the concert, applauded frenetically and for a long time. Geiger then had one of zeller’s catchy melodies repeated as an encore "so that the audience can also see the orchestra in the light" could.

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