Home > Reviews > DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG) – Stephan Zacharias

DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG) – Stephan Zacharias

February 18, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

downfallOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most critically acclaimed – and controversial – films to come out of Germany in recent years is Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Der Untergang (Downfall). The first German production to feature Adolf Hitler as a central figure, Der Untergang is based on the memoirs of Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge (played by Alexandra Maria Lara), and tells of the final days of the life of the Führer, deep within his bunker beneath Berlin, as the Russian troops close in. Not afraid to exploit the long-standing fascination with one of the most hated men of the 20th century, Hirschbiegel has nevertheless been criticized in some circles for presenting a portrait of Hitler that is “too sympathetic” – a claim which he vehemently denies. The film is blessed with a powerhouse performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler, and features sterling support from Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Matthes as the doomed Goebbels family, and Julianne Köhler as Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. The film played at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004, and is scheduled for release in major cities world-wide in 2005.

The score for Der Untergang is by German composer Stephan Zacharias, who has spent the last ten years of his career writing for German film and TV productions, and who is making his ‘international’ debut here. So how do you write music for the Third Reich? Well, unless you’re Wagner, you don’t, and Zacharias has wisely concentrated on scoring the story’s more personal elements. Written predominantly for piano and string orchestra, Der Untergang is a sober, contemplative score. There are no big action sequences, no love themes, and no real respite from the overpowering sense of bitter tragedy which dominates everything.

The opening cue, “Des Führers Sekretärin”, is quite lovely in a downbeat way; but is plainly laden with a sense of sadness. The music does not seek to comment on, or demonise young Jungl or her role in the scheme of things. She was just an innocent young girl who happened to find herself a witness to one of the most important events in modern history. Further cues, notably “Peter im Nebel” the strangely harrowing “Gute Nacht, Kinder”, and the bold “Exodus” build upon the funereal but effective tone of regret and despair.

There is an gloomy piano performance in “General Weidling macht Meldung”, “Die Giftkapseln” tolls to the sound of portentous bells, and conclusive duo of “Hoffnung am Ende der Welt” and “Späte Einsicht” bring things to a satisfactory close with music which is in keeping with the rest of the score, but laced with the tiniest sense of optimism. For the most part, the music is quite overwhelmingly sad, but appropriately so. Lest we forget, World War II was quite possibly the most terrible era in man’s recent history, and the sense of sombre remembrance inherent in Zacharias’s score lets us remember just what our forefathers went through. It’s not joyous listening, but it’s not meant to be.

Interspersed throughout the score are excerpts from Henry Purcell’s 1689 baroque opera “Dido and Aeneas”, as well as two tracks of what can only be describes as Third Reich Jazz, performed with smoky voices by Marek Weber and Zarah Leander. During these songs, one is reminded of Marlene Dietrich and ‘Der Blaue Engel’.

It’s difficult to know whether to recommend Der Untergang or not. It’s my no means an ‘enjoyable’ score in a traditional sense, but it does show off admirably Zacharias’s sensitivity and restraint when it comes to writing music for such a difficult and potentially inflammatory subject matter. As an exercise in capturing the musical essence of a dark period in history, Der Untergang is a success, and I hope Zacharias is allowed to show his talents in the international arena in future.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Des Führers Sekretärin (2:32)
  • Professor Schenck hält die Stellung (1:22)
  • General Weidling macht Meldung (0:56)
  • In Hof der Reichskanzlei (2:52)
  • Eva Brauns letzter Brief (3:33)
  • Blutrote Rosen (written by Herrmann Hünemeyer and Alfred Krönkenmeyer, performed by Marek Weber un Orchester) (2:21)
  • Peter im Nebel (1:10)
  • Albert Speers Abschied (2:00)
  • Davon geht die Welt nicht unter (written by Michael Jary and Bruno Balz, performed by Zarah Leander) (2:31)
  • Evas Blick in den Spiegel (0:45)
  • Kein schöner Land (traditional) (1:11)
  • Gute Nacht, Kinder (2:43)
  • Die Giftkapseln (2:39)
  • Der Krieg ist aus (3:04)
  • Exodus (3:33)
  • Verloren im Stillstand (2:29)
  • Jablotschko (traditional) (1:32)
  • Hoffnung am Ende der Welt (3:20)
  • Späte Einsicht (2:10)

Running Time: 43 minutes 20 seconds

Colosseum CST-8097-2 (2004)

Music composed and conducted by Stephan Zacharias. Performed by The Hamburg Session Orchestra. Orchestrations by Stephan Zacharias. Includes extracts from “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell, arranged by Stephan Zacharias and Horst Liebenau. Piano solos by Stephan Zacharias and Volker Griepenstoh. Recorded and mixed by Karsten Baumgartner. Album produced by Stephan Zacharias.

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