How Sibelius helped bring a Fritz Lang film score back to life

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra perform Huppertz's score

In April of this year, a remarkable concert took place at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of founder and director Frank Strobel, performed Gottfried Huppertz’s score to Fritz Lang’s epic 1924 film Die Nibelungen. Just as epic as the film itself was the work involved in restoring the score into a state in which it could be performed. To get the inside story, I talked to Marco Jovic, who worked as an arranger, composer, orchestrator and sound designer on this project. More after the jump.

The European Film Philharmonic was founded by Frank Strobel in 2000, and specialises in all aspects of music for film, perhaps most notably staging film music concerts, including live performances of silent films. Rather than being a single ensemble, the Film Philharmonic is actually an association of orchestras, at present consisting of five of the main German orchestras, and uniquely in Europe the organisation is dedicated purely to film music. In the ten years of its existence, the organisation has recorded many film scores, staged many concerts, and has built up a network of composers, conductors, editors, arrangers, dramatic advisors, musicologists and experts in film studies.

Marco Jovic

Marco Jovic fell into working with the European Film Philharmonic at the conclusion of his music studies.  “I”m a classically-trained pianist and composer,” he told me, “and I’ve been working in film/TV as well as in the concert world since I got started. For the past 10 years I’ve been working with the European Film Philharmonic on many diverse projects, Die Nibelungen being one of them.”

I asked Marco to tell me about the history of Die Nibelungen. He told me, “Die Nibelungen is a series of two silent fantasy films shot by director Fritz Lang between 1922 and 1924, with a total running time of five hours. The plot is based upon the epic mevieval German poem, Nibelungenlied. The two-part film was one of the most elaborate, epic productions of the 1920s, and was a huge commercial and artistic success. It garnered Lang enough reputation and funds to produce his other classic Metropolis three years later. The films were landmarks in film history, due to their achievements in production design, artificial visual stylization, costume and set design, dramatic plot content, visual effects and gigantic battle scenes involving thousands of extras.”

Lang hired composer Gottfried Huppertz to write the score for Die Nibelungen; the same composer would later also provide the score for Metropolis. “Huppertz’s score was published in print as piano reduction only,” said Marco. “The sources we drew upon for our reconstruction were this piano reduction – musically quite detailed – as well as what has remained of the written autograph of his full score and his sketch particells.  His score for the first film had about 20% of pages missing, whereas in the score for the second film almost 50% of pages had been lost. Each of the films is subdivided into seven cantos, or in German Gesänge, with an average duration of about 15 to 20 minutes.  Thus in film two entire cantos were missing in his handwritten score – cantos I, IV, V, VI and VII to be exact.”

Restoring the score was quite a musicological challenge. “It was quite a daunting task and an enormously big project,” agreed Marco, “simply because of the sheer amount of music to process. Compared to the task the team involved was rather small: the music reconstruction team consisted of four people, our artistic director, conductor Frank Strobel who was responsible for preparing the sync concept and is a specialist in silent film music preservation, then we had our team of proof-readers, Ulrich Wünschel and Olav Lervik and then myself. I was responsible for the entire re-orchestration, re-composition of missing sections, score layout and production of orchestral parts. All of this work (including the sync concept) was done in Sibelius. I started in Sibelius 5, and then moved to Sibelius 6 later in the project.”

I asked Marco whether any features of Sibelius had been particularly useful in preparing the score. “Yes, of course!” smiled Marco. “In entering all those hundreds of thousands of notes from Huppertz’s manuscript using Sibelius, Panorama view was a great way of doing that. What I love about it is that you can always see the bar numbers and the instrument names in that translucent blue color, so that you dont get lost navigating the score in panorama view.”

Sibelius was used all the way through the project, even when working out how the music should line up to the action on the screen. “Calculating the tempos and musical syncpoints for the newly restored film version was done utilizing the hit points feature, which is a great tool, not that I wouldn’t like to see it be made more flexible. Copying and pasting selections and sections of the score has always been very user-friendly in Sibelius and this project benefited greatly in this regard. Dynamic parts proved once again to be a great time-saving feature, even for last minute-changes or requests from musicians right there on the scoring stage.”

Marco told me that updating to Sibelius 6 helped finish the project even faster, with its new time-saving features. “I upgraded to Sibelius 6 in January 2010 and this made working on the layout even more enjoyable, thanks to the incredible Magnetic Layout function. Changes in the score and in the parts as well were made right up to the recording and also during the recordings as well. I was able to quickly accommodate to any such requests and requirements right on the spot, which wouldn’t have been possible with any other music notation program. This project, with its huge amount of pages of music, has also been a great showcase for how quickly Sibelius can reformat and recalculate spacings and layouts of hundreds of pages of an orchestral score. The built-in orchestral sample sounds for playback were utilized to produce rough mock-ups of my newly-orchestrated parts of the score for communication with the film restoration team, but for clarity in proof-reading I tend to rely more on a pure piano-sound playback.  I also like the look and feel of Sibelius’s Helsinki font, and we used this font for the Nibelungen music exclusively.”

The next project on the slate for the European Film Philharmonic is a live concert performance of the score from The Matrix, in association with Warner Bros. This will be the world premiere live performance of Don Davis’s score, and it will take place on August 27th at the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival in Lübeck, Germany (where, coincidentally, Gil Goldstein will be performing with Bobby McFerrin). If you’d like to attend, get tickets here.


  1. Aitam Bar-Sagi

    Interestingly, I was just about to go and program in a Sibelius demo I got the compilation of themes that Huppertz made for “Zur Chronik von Grieshuus”. I do hope the film with the Huppertz score will be recorded sometime.

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