SAUERKRAUT SAGEBRUSH SAGAS.(westerns from Germany).


Before the Italian western there was the Spanish made western(Paella) ie; SAVAGE PAMPAS and also at around the same time during the early 1960’s we had German made western. But lets not forget movies that fall into the western category that were made by British film makers, Yes British westerns, examples of these include, THE OVERLANDERS (1946) and THE HELLIONS (1961), which although not set in the old west but in Australia and South Africa respectively, both were essentially westerns, THE OVERLANDERS in more modern times but still had elements that could be referred to as being western genre orientated. THE HELLIONS was more of a traditional western with a storyline similar to the classic movie HIGH NOON, the role of the law man being taken by Richard Todd who played a policeman or trooper in a small town and the bad guys who were looking for him included Lionel Jefferies, James Booth, Marty Wilde and Colin Blakely, it was an effective yarn which was directed well by the accomplished film maker Ken Annakin, with Lionel Jefferies producing a convincing performance as an evil and vindictive outlaw who with his out of control offspring is out for revenge, the music by the way was the work of the harmonica man Larry Adler.

The British western did not stop there in fact British directors produced some effective movies within the genre that included THE HUNTING PARTY in 1971 which starred Oliver Reed and Candice Bergan, Director Don Medford created a violent and at times harrowing movie that was influenced by the then already popular Italian made western.

savage pampas.

A MAN CALLED NOON (1973) was also deemed to be a British western because of the director Peter Collinson, and lets not forget THE SAVAGE GUNS which although was shot in Spain was also British because of its links with director Michael Carreras of Hammer films fame, music for this was the work of Anton Garcia Abril who also worked on a couple of Spaghetti westerns.

Then there was GUNFIGHTERS OF CASA GRANDE which was scored by British light music man Johnny Douglas. It is a pity that neither SAVAGE GUNS or CASA GRANDE soundtracks have ever been released in any format, and maybe this would be a project for a small label at some point in time. Then of course we had CARRY ON COWBOY and not forgetting THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW from 1958, which was a joint venture between British and German studios and starred Kenneth Moore with a score by Kenneth V Jones and Robert Farnon, who incidentally scored SHALAKO in 1968 and another British western to boot with Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot in the leading roles.

And whilst Brigitte Bardot is being discussed there was also a French western entitled THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING which also starred Claudia Cardinale and had a rather energetic soundtrack courtesy of Francis Lai.


A story that was kind of recycled in 2006 for the French/American/Mexican movie BANDIDAS, which starred Penelope Cruz, and there was Brigitte Bardot again in VIVA MARIA and lets not forget the western scores of French composer Andre Hossein which included CEMETARY WITHOUT CROSSES and had a catchy song performed by Scott Walker, plus LE GOUT DE LA VIOLENCE (THE TASTE OF VIOLENCE). Both of which were directed by the composers Son Robert.

Before we go to the German western, Britain can claim a western with a difference , well was it a western, MOON ZERO TWO was billed by Hammer as a Western in space, yep, anyway moving swiftly on lets go to the German westerns.  I think this collection of movies from German film-makers was equally as entertaining and also important as the Italian western in shaping and influencing future western productions. The German made western was quite different from the Spaghetti western, it was more of an extension of the American produced western.

The genre more or less mirrored the Hollywood western borrowing themes and plots from the likes of John Ford and John Sturges, whereas the Italian western when it had properly established itself was to become not simply a genre filled with lookalike films based on tired cliches from the Hollywood cowboy films, but would end up actually influencing future American produced examples. German westerns were clean cut and had somewhat recycled plots that audiences had seen so many times in one form or another and although these worked and became hugely popular they still had a distinct Americanized flavour and appearance to them, this was apparent when we see the good guys wearing white hats and being clean cut and the bad guys often wearing black and being unshaven or unkempt in their appearance oh yes and the good guys always won. The most popular movies that came out of Germany were the cinematic interpretations based upon the writings of Karl May, these were WINNETOU, OLD SHATTERHAND and SUREHAND.

black eagle of Santa Fe.

The musical scores for these Sauerkraut sage brush sagas was the work of just a handful of composers which included Gert Wilden but most notably Martin Bottcher and Peter Thomas, or at least these are the three composers that most associate with the genre. The music that these three highly talented composer, arranger conductors provided, was in many ways as cliched as the films that they worked upon within the western genre. The melodies being romantically adorned and sweeping but at the same time containing an almost easy going pace. The themes were even melodic when dramatically infused, the composers relying upon the string section and also the use of bold sounding brass and percussion punctuated by bass guitar to fashion a sound that had significant links to Americana but also had to it a slightly clinical persona and a contemporary freshness. Bottcher in my opinion was the more original sounding of the three at least when scoring westerns, his music for the movie WINNETOU ll in particular being outstanding.

Music in the German western as I have already stated did draw on elements and styles that were present in American films, German composers often utilising established instrumentation that was associated with the western as in harmonica and jaunty sounding saloon pianos. However, whereas they would employ it in a more traditional manner, Italian composers such as Ennio Morricone very often put a twist on the situation to create some sinister moods and atmospheres as in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, where the harmonica becomes the pre-cursor to a death or a moment of violence rather than an easy going little ditty that acted as a background to camera shots of grasslands and deserts. I know it sounds as if I am not a fan of the German western score, but that is not the case. The music in German westerns was consistently very good, but maybe was not raw enough or even different enough for it to truly stand out apart from a handful of examples. Years ago THE BEAR FAMILY record label issued a number of soundtracks from westerns, which were quickly deleted and are now rare items. There were also soundtracks such as THUNDER ON THE BORDER or Winnetou and Old Firehand to give it its original title issued on compact disc which had a score by composer Peter Thomas that was wonderfully written and served the movie adequately and had the bonus of being great music to listen to away from the film.


I also think that the German western scores did have an important part in influencing a handful of Italian composers in the early days of the Spaghetti western genre, and one can hear these influences in the early scores of De Masi and also to a degree Ferrio, even Morricone employed a slightly Americanized sounding score in GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS, so I suppose we have to ask if he was influenced by Steiner, Bernstein or Bottecher during this period of his career. Italian composer Riz Ortolani worked on a German production entitled, THE APACHES LAST BATTLE or OLD SHATTER HAND in 1964, and scored GUNFIGHT AT HIGH NOON in the same year for German film makers and then worked with Spanish director Jose Luis Borau on Cavalca e Uccidi, which was three years previous to the composer scoring DAY OF ANGER the violent western that starred actor Lee Van Cleef. The German western score was also notorious for including a number of cues that I refer to as square dance tracks, ie fiddles and happy sounding ho down/hill billy pieces, which granted did have a place in the films but were slightly annoying after a while, but we all know that every genre or score for whatever film contains cues that can be annoying or aggravating.

The scores for the WINNETOU movies for example were big on percussion, strings and brass and at times the themes being performed were more akin to the sound of the big band or easy listening bands such as James Last and Bert Kaempfert rather than music to accompany galloping horses on the open prairies, but surprisingly it worked. WINNETOU movies contained some beautiful thematic moments and were written, orchestrated and performed marvellously, but as I have said there was a rawness and a power lacking that was present in the Spaghetti western soundtracks.

Compare WINNETOU to NAVAJO JOE for example, WINNETOU had its sprawling melodies and its Percy Faith sound-a-like moments, and then NAVAJO JOE came along and we were treated to screams, yells and harsh sounding electric guitar riffs that were supported by booming percussion and earthy vocalising and chanting. You may say well, these were two very different movies and to a degree I have to say yes you are correct, but both involved native American Indians, the German movie again treating them as they had been portrayed in American films, the Italian take however was far removed from the Hollywood examples, with a high body count and graphic violence and the Indian (Burt Reynolds) coming out on top against a band of bloodthirsty scalp hunters.

Apaches last battle

The German western was successful, but was it original or as innovative and ground breaking as the Spaghetti I think not. But, please do not think that I am saying the German productions did not play their part in the reinvention of the western genre as a whole, if Italian film makers had not seen the success these movies were having maybe they would not have thought about producing their own, who knows.

So I suppose the German western was responsible for the eventual return of the western and becoming popular once again with cinema audiences and maybe without the German western films such as THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE UNFORGIVEN, VALDEZ IS COMING and YOUNG GUNS would not have been made. So now to the music of WINNETOU, SHATTERHAND and SUREHAND.

To recommend any one soundtrack release would be rather re-miss as there are so many, so maybe a compilation would be the right direction to go in, there are numerous collections of German western movie music on sites such as Spotify and I Tunes as these days a physical compact disc of these might be hard to come by. Which is a great pity as a collection or series of discs containing the music of Thomas, Wilden and Bottcher for the western would be most welcome. Bottcher wrote the music for ten westerns during the 1960’s the movies starred numerous well known actors and featured Lex Barker and Stewart Granger in principal roles with Pierre Brice playing WINNETOU. Bottchers tuneful soundtracks aided the films greatly and arguably paved the way for the composers such as Morricone, Nicolai. De Masi etc.

After the German western bubble burst in the early to mid 1960’s Bottcher started to work in television and made a name for himself as a composer of upbeat TV themes and scores for television films and series. Peter Thomas however worked on three westerns or four if you include UNCLE TOMS CABIN which he scored in 1965. The other three being, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and THE LAST TOMAHAWK which were made for German TV in 1965 and the excellent THUNDER ON THE BORDER in 1966. Thomas is an all round musician and composer arranger and has been in much demand throughout his career scoring well over 70 movies and also working in TV. His scores for the Edgar Wallace series being his best known. The score for THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS has to it a contemporary sound, with a kind of big band style in places, but it also contains cues which are highly melodic and filled with a grandiose atmosphere, the composer expressing the feelings of being in the great outdoors via horns and strings, Thomas also writes great action cues, in this score he utilises driving strings and thundering percussion with electric guitar and brass punctuating and adding a commanding sound to the proceedings. Plus we are treated to a lilting and haunting theme that is performed by the string section which are recorded with a slight echo, the composer also utilises woodwind to great affect. There is a jazz orientated persona within the score and although it does not really fully develop it is present throughout, solo trumpet to is a feature of the score along with banjo. The percussive elements within the work are impressive with Thomas being inventive and original in the way in which he deploys them. Most of the cues are relatively short, some only having a running time of about a minute and a half. Its a funny thing but when I listen to the likes of Thomas, Wilden and Bottcher I do get the distinct feeling that in there somewhere is a JAMES LAST track fighting to get out.

Black eagle of santa fe

Gert Wilden wrote a fast paced and theme filled score for the 1965 movie THE BLACK EAGLE OF SANTA FE which was more akin to an Italian western score than anything that had come out of Hollywood, again filled with strings and resounding brass lines that were supported by percussion and upbeat tempos throughout. The soundtrack is available on Spotify in the Kino Klassics series and it  was issued on compact disc but has been deleted for a few years now and is hard to find.  If you have not seen a German western or heard the music from at least one, now is the time to do so.




Can I start by asking what would you say inspired you to become a composer?

I was inspired very early by the music of cinema because one of my aunts had a cinema in the south of France. From an early age I went into this huge room and I watched the same movie several times. I was seven years old. When I went home, the music of the film went through my head, I went to the piano and played it. Very quickly, I felt the need to imagine another music, the desire to compose began at that time.


Was film music always a career you wanted to pursue or were you just wanting a career in music and film music became part of this?

Music was everything that mattered to me. I wanted to live this art and could not imagine doing anything else. I only thought about it and spent most of my time working on my piano, doing scales like everything else. Whole hours. I worked my instrument up to ten hours a day. After having taught, I decided to compose because I felt the need to be creative and not just to remain an interpreter.




What musical education did you have and did you focus upon one area or areas of music whilst training?

I had a very classical education. I studied piano and harmony with Jeanne Vidal who was a pupil of daisy Long then returned to the conservatory in Toulouse and finally in Paris with Aldo Ciccolini. There were, of course, classes of harmony, that of chamber music. But the piano remained the essence of my concerns.

Were any of your family musical at all?


Unfortunately I was the only one to make music. My father was a regular soldier and I think he’s always been disappointed that I’m not following his path. I was basically encouraged by my mother, besides, my father never came to support me when I was competing and was not going to see the films for which I composed the music. The strangest thing about all this is that as far back as I can remember I’ve always heard music in my head.

Would you say that contemporary film music is less melodic or not as theme based as movie scores from the 1970’s and back to the 1960’s?

Contemporary film music may be less thematic than that of the 70s or even the 60s. That said, I think there are styles of music that go with the times. Nowadays it can be less or more minimalist. I think for example of the beautiful music written by Michel Legrand. As beautiful as they are, they are representative of a cinema of another era.


Are there any film music composers or indeed musical artists that you find particularly interesting and for what reasons?

There are many yes! It is always a delicate question because to name names is also to forget. But I find for example the work of Ennio Morricone exemplary. He is an immense composer, one of whom immediately recognizes his style, although he has evolved and adapted throughout his career. There is also Gabriel Yared who still signs remarkable orchestrations, Philippe Glass who was the first to introduce a repetitive structure. Iglesias who works a lot with Pedro Almodovar is a very good writing technician in that he really has the orchestration skills. Its invoice is always elegant and efficient and fits perfectly to the image. I also really like the melodic potential of Georges Delerue. Moreover, shortly after composing the music of Yvonne’s perfume, Colette Delerue phoned me spontaneously in the middle of the night (she called me from Los Angeles) to tell me how much my musical writing reminded her of her Husbands music. It had touched me so much that the companion of such a musician calls me to tell me that. It’s a nice memory


When you begin to work on a movie, what is the first order of practise for you, by this I mean do you like to develop a central theme or do you work on smaller cues before creating the main core theme?

When I’m working on a film I’m not necessarily trying to establish a main theme or secondary themes. I do not have a method or recipe for that. The music imposes itself suddenly and completely. I do not hear a melody that I will harmonize but the whole in its total structure. This is a pretty difficult process because it can happen for hours without anything coming as it can come right away.


How much time do you like to be given to write a score for a movie, or is every project different?

Mostly we have five to six weeks to complete the score, but this kind of exercise is rare. I think that all the composers wish to have a maximum of time but this is far from being the case in France. Often we only get five or six weeks to write the music and carry out the orchestration. This may be sufficient depending on the content of the orchestral score. For example, writing the score of Confidences too intimate took me three weeks. But being in a state of emergency is good. I wrote my first music for the feature film in three weeks as well. I did not have any more delays because the music had to be written originally by Michael Nyman and the studio recording date being fixed, I had to work day and night to deliver 40 minutes of orchestrated music with several themes and music styles. I happened to have more time, to be part of the project when the film was not yet shot as for THE Widow of Saint Peter. This allowed me to start writing on the screenplay,


I think your first scoring assignment was in 1991 when you wrote the music for a short entitled DE L’AUTRE COTE DU PARC how did you become involved on the movie?

DE L’AUTRE COTE DU PARC , was not my first short film. At the time I was taking drama lessons and a student of the course told me that one of his friends had just finished his film and was looking for a composer. We met and then reworked another project for which I had asked Ivry Gitlis to perform the score of the solo violin. A kind of rapsodie.

THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE was I think an interesting movie and your music helped it so much, what size orchestra did have for the movie and where did you record the score?

For the widow of Saint Peter the orchestra was quite important. A hundred musicians. It was an ambitious film with beautiful actors but the score should not in any way look like a Wagnerian orchestra. What counts is the way we write the orchestration and not the number of musicians. To give an example that everyone will be able to understand, in the second concerto of Rachmaninov the composer has shown economy of means. Apart from thirty strings, he uses wood and brass by two apart from horns and timpani. That’s all ! And it’s one of the most beautiful scores for piano and orchestra that has a phenomenal scale. Another example in his famous requiem, Mozart takes only thirty performers. It’s just wonderful because it’s remarkably well written. The main thing is that the music sounds great and that is the orchestration that gives this feeling of uniqueness and consistency. We can therefore obtain a certain power with a minimum number of performers

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You have worked with director Patrice Leconte on more than one movie, does he have a hands on approach when it comes to the music in his films or does he allow you a certain amount of freedom to things? the score before maybe suggesting?

We worked four times together. Patrice Leconte attaches great importance to music. Very soon he listens to music before shooting and sets the film with a temporary music as do a lot of directors. For him, music is essential to the narrative process of the film. Patrice gives indications and leaves free the composer, he is not elsewhere musician but simple music lover and knows how to stay in his place. That said it is very easy and pleasant enough to collaborate with a guy like him because he has a very precise idea of ​​what he wants. This avoids going in all directions. I remember working with a director who after three weeks of writing had phoned me in the middle of the night to ask me if the style of writing that he had asked me was finally a good choice!

I was looking at you credits and I noticed that you more or less stopped scoring movies in 2008, have you ceased working in film or are you focusing upon other genres of music at this time?

It’s an embarrassing question. Writing for cinema requires total availability and phenomenal energy. My mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and I took care of my recently deceased godmother, who was also affected by this same disease. Today I finally recover my life.

What would you say was the purpose of music in film?

It depends on the film and the director but generally the music is the perfume of the film, the inside of the characters. In the image a comedian can say a sentence and think something else. The music can at that moment reveal what the character has in the head. It plunges us from the opening credits in the flesh of the film, it remains an essential element even if one can think that everything remains important in the cinematographic process. The music remains the inseparable couple image / sound. I think it’s because the music was in the days when the cinema was silent, the voice, the reflection but also the emotional actors.



Were any of your films tracked with a temp music track, if so do you think that this is helpful to the composer or do you think it is distracting?

I’m not bothered by this kind of exercise. To give you an idea, when you have a first feature film projected with the music of Michael Nyman who just had an Oscar for ‘the piano lesson’ and you have to rewrite the whole score, it is seasoned with fear. Temporary music, on the other hand, can help to give an indication, a color, an artistic direction. It gives the general mood, a kind of idea of ​​what might be appropriate. But be careful, you watch twice a sequence with a good temporary music, this is not a problem. But if you watch five or six times this sequence working perfectly, it will be very difficult to get used to other music for the editing team and sometimes for the director. This is the problem of some filmmakers or editors who can not get away from a temporary music. After a while, when the composer delivers the music written for the film, it can be perceived as a kind of lie … Fortunately I never had this kind of problem.



MAN ON A TRAIN is such an atmospheric score, I think I am right if I say you fused both symphonic and synthetic elements in the score, what is your opinion on the increased use of samples and synthesised sounds within scores?

For the score of Man on a Train I wanted to approach the composition in a completely different way. I did not want to start from a narrative idea to compose the music of this film even if in the end, there is a melody and a narration. I started from the idea that there is in this story, the meeting of two worlds totally opposed to each other. Two worlds that we find in the main characters. So I recorded Dobro guitar sequences that I cut and then glued as a puzzle while mixing them with a symphony orchestra. A bit like mixing the life of Johnny Hallyday and that of Jean Rochefort in the film. This is imposed on me from the reading of the scenario and it was validated by Patrice Leconte. Writing a totally “classical” score would have served the film. The tandem music image is extremely powerful. The same musical passage used on a different sequence will express an entirely different thing. Some images of staggered on the setting of the music give a different intention. What is needed above all is to stay right. Generally the sound design gives a lot of body to the score. It may be too much used systematically to “save” or to give a force that was not able to give the composer to the writing of the orchestra.

What is your principal instrument for working out your musical ideas?

My main instrument is my body. My emotional, my hyper sensitivity. I do not create music by putting my fingers on the keyboard. it is built from within, the paper, the keyboard are only the expression of the internal phenomenon of which I do not know the nature and which always surprises me.




Do you orchestrate all of the music that you write, or are there times when you may use an orchestrator?

I never used an orchestrator and I do not know if I’ll be able to do that one day. I know that many do it to take more projects and earn more money also by subcontracting or even having musicians who write in their no. But it’s an important part of the creation that escapes them. I often see for scores released in the USA, three sometimes four orchestrators. The result is often good because they are great technicians of orchestral writing but one can wonder who is the father of the work? Who can really say who wrote The_Dark_Knight_This is a bit like asking Picasso to sketch out a drawing and Pissaro to put some color on it … Then there’s the overwhelming command and the the way to answer it is to delegate, it’s a kind of outsourcing. I do not understand how you can sign a job while using the work of others …



Have you a preferred studio where you record your music?

I really like to record in the Guillaume Tell studios, this former cinema turned into recording studios. In addition, it has a huge room that can accommodate large formations. There is a special atmosphere in this place.

There has been a lot of discussion amongst collectors about the use of the DRONE sound in film scores recently, is it music or is it sound design, and is it just a trend do you think?

This is a trend, I am sure.



How much of an impact on the score does the budget have?

Harmful. The film music budget remains the poor child of cinema in France. Producers really think about it once the film is found and if there have been significant overruns they are cutting back on the music budget. Many recognize how important music is, but they give little consideration to this position.

At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, does it help to have a script or is it better to become involved at the rough cut stage and how many times do you go over a movie before you begin to decide where music would be best placed?

We obviously can not know where the music will be placed on the image when reading a script. Generally this is chosen with the director. But editing a temporary music can also be put to the image for several reasons. On too intimate confidences Patrice Leconte and his editor had placed the music most often when the characters spoke of their past or their emotions. Very quickly I found that it did not really work and I took on me, placing the music when the actors were in their reflection. This was immediately validated by the director.



Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

Currently I have just finished writing a book, a first novel which I also wrote adaptation for the cinema. I would be very happy to present this project to a young American director… I have just finished writing a play. I also wrote the music of a ballet. The cinema is starting to miss me a bit but I want to come back with a nice project!




We are also missing Maestro Esteve, and I for one look forward to his return to scoring motion pictures, let us hope that a worthy project is waiting in the wings for him, so we can one again hear is eloquent and haunting themes and his emotive and atmospheric musical tones.