by Robert Tucci
Rolf Wilhelm was one of the most important post-war German composers of film music, likely the last of the old guard which learned its craft from the ground up. Over a period of fifty years he composed music for 64 feature films, 37 stage dramas, and hundreds of radio and television plays. He was a modest, kind, and highly educated person.
Rolf Wilhelm often said, “Für mich ist Musik ist ein immerwährendes Asyl.” For him, music was ever lasting, a perpetual sanctuary. Perhaps this remark stemmed from growing up during World War II, when he was recruited into the Luftwaffe. Or perhaps from the difficult times after war; perhaps music was a place that provided peace of mind while one upheld a strenuous schedule? Let us say that the art of music, with all its facets and its beauty, was his home.
Most of us know Rolf Wilhelm as a master of unique thematic material, harmony, and orchestration. Biographies, lists of film music and other compositions, and many recordings are available. An extensive interview in German by Stefan Schlegel  provides much insight into Wilhelm as an artist and person. A translation would be too long for the Journal. For that reason, recordings of Rolf Wilhelm’s film music are recommended. These present his charm and provide access to his genius as a composer.
In his own words, Wilhelm composed “… quer durch den Garten.” Music from his sixty-four feature film scores present this – a fascinating garden indeed!
Deutsche Filmkomponisten, Volume 4, Rolf Wilhelm  contains title music from thirty-four films. These encompass sunny, frivolous comedies, circus life, wars, intrigues, detective stories, the epic Nibelungen, tragedies, and other subjects. Each score is unique, addressed to the nature of the scenario; each contains the spirit and emotion of the plot and screenplay. Title list.
Rolf once said that he considered parts of Die Nibelungen to be his best work. It was the largest German film production ever and was viewed by more than 3,000,000 people. A two part epic, Siegfried von Xanten, 1966, and Kriemhilds Rache, 1967, it portrays the Nibelungenlied as a romantic drama. Both films and a recording of the film music are highly recommended.
Die Nibelungen – Kriemhild’s Rache / Films
Polyband DVD 75068-8
Die Nibelungen – Kriemhilds Rache / Soundtrack recording
Cobra CD CR006A/B
The plot of Siegfried von Xanten moves ahead quickly; this could be followed with relative ease by viewers who cannot understand German. Siegfried’s arrival at the dragon’s cave, the appearance of Mime, in particular the battle with the fire-breathing dragon, and the Iceland scenes are spectacular.
Kriemhilds Rache includes considerable dialog so that much of the context would be lost. The monumental sets, the hundreds of warriors on horses, and the battles are tremendous. These are not for the weak of heart. The prophecy of the golden ring is fulfilled: all protagonists suffer death.
In regard to the 2001 release of the soundtracks of Siegfried von Xanten and Kriemhilds Rache, Rolf Wilhelm wrote:
The most expensive German film production in history, filmed in Cinemascope in 1966, with enormous sets and magnificent costumes, a fabulous cast and hundreds of extras, required a large-scale score similar to Hollywood productions. The music for Siegfried von Xanten was recorded under my direction in two days, by a truly excellent orchestra in East Berlin. This went well aside from the fact that the modest music budget was all but exhausted. In light of the tremendous costs of the production, it was unthinkable that additional funds for a large orchestra could be made available for the sequel. For that reason I determined that after Siegfried’s death in Kriemhilds Rache, the cost of the string players, forty-two musicians, could be saved and that the remaining music could be composed for winds and percussion. Thereby it was possible for me to obtain a radiant and martial sound while keeping the production costs low.
In light of the time limits and demands on the musicians it was impossible to overcome minor shortcomings in ensemble. Synchronization and creation of the desired mood, particularly for battle scenes accompanied by substantial sound effects, made this additionally difficult. Along with such minor discrepancies which are quite obvious to our ears since blessed with digital recording techniques and surround sound, we were faced with another problem. The master tapes were no longer available in their entirety, some of the music had to be taken from a mono version.
Together with Knut Räppold, producer, and Roland Kutsche, recording engineer, I hope that music fans will greet this in a friendly manner and gain pleasure from our work.
Based on an interview with Stefan Schlegel
In regard to the burden of Richard Wagner’s music, all but inevitable for the same subject, Rolf replied that he knew Wagner’s Ring quite well, also that a different path had to be followed. Opera and film are two different pairs of boots… He simply did not think about this too much nor puzzle about it; he worked intuitively.
It’s a bit like the millipede who is asked, “which foot comes first: 1, 3, 7, or 173, 174, and then the rest?” If the millipede had to think about this, he could not walk.
I worked with the time-proven leitmotiv principle which provides a certain order to relationships. Siegfried’s theme has to be almost too radiant. Hagen has a dark, threatening tritonic one, the diabolic aspect in the tympani, so that one knows where one stands. This is a sort of signet, a set phrase, essentially easy to comprehend and with definite meaning.
Fortunately there were no giants making an entrance yet the incredible unutterable dragon was a real problem for the director. The set builders had promised him a blue heaven: all the things this fellow could do… As it turned he could only open his mouth, shake his head a bit and raise one paw. Harald Reinl, the director, a sly old fox, managed to pull himself out of the affair glamorously. A sinister and mystic twilight was created so that the battle could be affected with lighting, fog and a cunning cut that took place in total darkness. Thereafter, when the sun again shines and the bird tells Siegfried the secret of his invulnerability, it worked all the better.
The scenes with the Nibelung treasure and the dwarf King Alberich in the Postojna caverns impressed and inspired him. He said that one must look and think correctly on such an occasion, and then ideas come to mind. It is not that simple but it is approximate path to the solution.
Asked if the Iceland Scene was one of his best works, Rolf replied that in light of the length, perhaps five minutes, and the fact that the soundtrack was not to be burdened with typical background noises, the magnificent natural setting provided an optimal opportunity to write truly symphonic music, almost like a nature documentary. He had sufficient time to develop melodic content and create an atmosphere that made it possible for the viewers to experience great emotion. This music can be heard twice in the film.
Asked if he was influenced by Miklós Rózsa and his score for The Knights of The Round Table, which has a powerful march as dominant theme, Rolf replied, “I am not familiar with the film nor the music but will indeed study this! You see how two doctors make the same diagnosis. The title theme of The Nibelungen demands a martial theme: one cannot play a violin concerto there. There are enough similar cases.”
Those familiar with Rolf Wilhelm’s expansive oeuvre would agree he was an amazingly versatile composer- music as straight-forward as Bavarian band music, circus music, big band swing arrangements, modern jazz, light-hearted themes at one extreme, immensely powerful dramatic music and expansive symphonic backgrounds on the other.
This brings us to a set of six CD-recordings:
Rolf Wilhelm Deutsche Filmmusikklassiker / Alhambra A9008
Music from the following films:
2. Flucht ohne Ende, Radetzkymarsch, Don Carlos
3. Via Mala, Die Heiden von Kummerow
4. Doktor Faustus, Tonio Kröger, Rosamunde, Die weisse Stadt, Zahnschmerzen, Kennwort; Reiher
5. Ödipussi, Pappa ante Portas, Das fliegende Klassenzimmer,
Abeland-Die Entmannung, Als Mutter streikte, Das Schwarz-Rote Himmelbett
6. Deutschland ohne Schwaben, Lausbubengeschichten, Tante Frieda, Wenn Ludwig ins Manöver zieht, Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein
There is a synopsis in German of each film as well as a track list. A reading knowledge would permit the required association between the subject and the music.
Rolf Wilhelm fully comprehended the techniques of the greatest masters of the past. One can hear influences of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wagner, Strauss, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bernstein, Puccini, and many others. He had a masterful hand, could compose anything! It is obvious that the recordings would be of great value to anyone interested in composition.
The Concertinos for Tuba, Euphonium and Trumpet and Euphonium:
Rolf once remarked that your author “was the inventor of the brass music composer Rolf Wilhelm.” In January 1983, during a recording session, the subject of a solo for tuba was discussed. Rolf asked what would be appropriate. I suggested a three movement work in standard concerto form: first movement in Bb major, Allegro moderato in 2/4 with a full cadenza, second movement in a relative key, slow ¾ time and not too long, final movement in 6/8 with a short cadenza.
He knew the Mozart and Strauss horn concertos, also the Hindemith Sonata, but was not familiar with the Vaughan Williams concerto. I played parts of this for him, then suggested that a concertino for tuba and wind ensemble would receive far more exposure than something composed for orchestra. Wind ensemble was appealing to Rolf, with his desire to orchestrate for alto flute, oboe and contra bassoon. Rolf was a master of instrumentation, knew exactly how to compose the solo part, for the F tuba. Weeks went by. In May Rolf requested me to examine the new composition. We worked through it- a masterpiece from the first note!
In the meantime and together with Brian Bowman we arranged for a first performance by the United States Air Force Band during the international Euphonium and tuba conference to be held at the University of Maryland. Rolf finished the orchestration but time was running short. We rushed to get the parts copied. In the meantime, Colonel Arnold Gabriel, conductor of the Air Force Band, determined that there was not enough time available for rehearsal and that the work could not be performed during the conference. I sent the finished score and set of parts by air express to Brian and telephoned with him, essentially insisting that the work which had been composed for the occasion had to be performed as planned. Brian surely said prayers to Heaven, Rolf and I traveled to Washington, there were two short rehearsals with the band, then likely the most dramatic introduction in the history of premiere performances for tuba by Chester Roberts, and the performance itself. I was scared to death, sitting in front of many of the world’s finest euphonium and tuba soloists and with a prototype instrument with some interesting response and intonation characteristics. After the performance Brian said, “You are the only tuba player on earth that gave an order to a Colonel.”
The rest is history: Rolf Wilhelm’s Concertino for tuba and winds is now a standard work, one that is a vehicle for young players to move toward greater musical and technical accomplishment, and invariably a delight for any audience!
Thereafter Rolf Wilhelm began composing for brass quintet and brass ensemble. In 1996 I encouraged him to meet again with Brian Bowman and at the same time meet Steven Mead, at ITEC in Riva del Garda. This led to the Concertino for euphonium, a pearl in the repertoire! Later he composed yet another concertino, for trumpet and euphonium, Bavarian Stew for euphonium-tuba quartet, and various other works. Recordings of three of these works  by such outstanding artists made him very happy.
Rolf Wilhelm, Conductor
Most of us know Rolf Wilhelm as a master of unique thematic material, harmony, and orchestration. Biographies, lists of film music and other compositions are available. An extensive interview in German by Stefan Schulz  provides much insight into him as an artist and person. Schulz says, “With Papa ante Portas and Oedepussi, Viko von Bulow’s final two film masterworks, Rolf’s career as a composer of film music came to an end. He conducted the recordings of his film music and on occasion other works yet at that, his career as a conductor was to take on a new form.”
Opern auf Bayerisch
In 1985, at the suggestion of Bavarian Radio producer Hellmut Kirchammer, texts by Paul Schallweg in Bavarian dialect based on famous operas were integrated into a production which featured three well-known actors  and a small orchestra. An appropriate ensemble with Rolf Wilhelm as music director recorded these for broadcast on Carnival Tuesday of that year. The music, based on operatic themes, traditional German and Bavarian folk songs, marches and similar melodies, German and international popular music, jazz, and other sources was arranged by Frederich Meyer. At the same time a performance was scheduled, also on Carnival Tuesday, at the Munich Volkstheater. The initial production was a great success so that further operas were added, even the entire Ring cycle, for a total of twenty-one operas, to be performed in groups of three each. The project was christened Opern auf Bayerisch and to date there have been over three hundred performances including fifty of the Ring in einem Aufwasch at the Prince Regent’s Theatre in Munich.
The State Theatre at Gaertnerplatz in Munich became a home for Opern auf Bayerisch with four to six performances scheduled every year, invariably to sold out audiences. Rolf Wilhelm conducted the ensemble for thirty years. In March of 2012 his final appearance took place before the State Theatre was closed for renovation. Rolf Wilhelm, his charm and abilities to look after actors who would deviate from prescribed verse in particular, was loved by audiences. Over the years the ensemble’s repertoire was edited and refined by him. He arranged Aida in addition to the other works as well as an encore based on Madame Butterfly. This latter is less than two minutes in length and is based on original themes including fragments of “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Anchors Away,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Dixie,” and The Stars and Striped Forever, and is invariably a hit.
From the early fifties through the eighties there were many composers active in Europe. Rolf had great respect for his colleagues, people like Max Steiner, Ennio Morricone, Dimitri Tiomkin, Martin Böttcher, Franz Grote, Friedrich Meyer, Gerhard Heinz, and Peter Sandloff for example. All had one thing in common: a strong traditional music education.
Gerd Wilden, a composer of music for thirty German films, remarked, “We are good; Rolf Wilhelm is the best!” And so it was…
 Straight across the garden…
 Bear Family Records BCD16484 AR
 The opening phrase is related to the dotted eight-sixteenth rhythm with which the Strauss 1st Horn Concerto begins and the melodic content of the Bavarian “Defellier March.”
 A small F-tuba in its development stages, at the insistence of Fred Marrich.
 Recorded by Fred Mills and Adam Frey, On the Horizon
 Birthday present for Dan Perantoni
 Concertino for tuba-Pat Sheridan, Concertino for euphonium-Steven Mead and Bavarian Stew– Melton Tuba Quartet.
 Contact email@example.com
 Gustl Bayerhammer, Ruth Kappelsberger and Karl Obermeyer