An Interview with Hans-Martin Majewski by Ralf Schuder
Originally published in CinemaScore #15, 1986/1987
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher Randall D. Larson
Hans Martin Majewski was born in Schlawe in 1911. Since 1932 he has devoted himself exclusively to music, and in 1935 he moved to Berlin where he became the musical manager of the “Theater des Volkes” (People’s Theatre). He wrote two operettas, and in 1940 he composed his first film music which promptly got him into trouble with the Nazis. Eventually he was drafted into the Wehrmacht (armed forces) and was taken prisoner of war by the Russians. After World War II he developed into the most renowned film composer In Germany.
You have made several speeches on the topic of film music in the course of festivals and conventions. Which aspects did you give prominence to in these lectures and what were the listeners’ interests like?
History of film music, its development towards Independence and pattern (silent film – sound film), working methods and practice of film composers, their dependence on the contractor, capability of asserting oneself, persuasive power at unconventional practices, cramping of creativeness. Interest of the audience is great, particularly among teenagers. The auditorium was jammed to capacity in Hamburg and I had to extend my three hours’ lecture another 45 minutes as, in the course of film examples I demonstrated, I was flooded with questions which took me beyond the original time-table to answer. At congresses and festivals interest was not so immense because there was an abundance of events.
Your colleague Eugen Thomass, who many reckon among the elite of the German film composers, thinks little of leitmotiv film music. What do you say to that?
Leitmotiv film music in Richard Wagner’s sense turned out to be little practicable as early as the silent era and all the less so in sound film. Imagine a western in which each actor (and opponent, along with important subordinate parts) would get a motive of his own. That would result in a ridiculous jumble at a shoot-out!
You wrote the music for FLUCHT IM DUNKEL (Flight in the Dark) in 1940. At that time the Nazis intervened in film making. Was your work concerned, also?
Yes. I got wind of it from film director A.M. RabenaIt only after the war. It belonged to the amazing things of the cultural policy of that time that music was simply to be soothing or inspiring. My music made use of stylistic means, as regards essence and topic, which were not desired. Yet the director managed that the music remained in the film after wearisome negotiations in the Ministry of Information.
With his music for DAS BOOT (The Boat), Klaus Doldinger meant to contrast the horrors of war with its fascination. You have, also composed the music for an anti-war film, DIE BRUCKE (The Bridge). Unlike Doldinger, however, you passed through the horrors of war by your own experience. Did you try, nevertheless, to contribute to the BRUCKE score the initial enthusiasm of the youth for war?
No. The music has the task of expressing the dread of war through a motive in a compressed form. The action was embedded in realistic raised noises (electronics) and bolstered horror and fanaticism of the teenagers fighting at the front line, I did not feel musical acoustics in a broad sense to be a proved means, the less so since I am opposed to illustrative music.
What are your current musical endeavours?
I work at symphonic programme music outside film and TV music.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue working at my book ‘Einhundert Gramm Musik’ (One Hundred Grams of Music), a biographic-polemic-satirical representation of the situation of the composer’s profession.