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CD Feature/ Manuel Göttsching: "Concert for Murnau"

img  Tobias

It’s a sad Hollywood-truth that film music all too often serves the sole purpose of filling the empty spaces a weak script has left. Which makes for a perfect explanation, why composers are rushing in to accompany silent movies. Here, their music is allowed to breathe, to tell a story and to talk to listeners without the constraints of pleasing a producer. So it is easy to understand why Manuel Göttsching “gladly accepted”, when the presenters of the film festival in Brunswick offered him the job of writing a score to the classic, but all but forgotten “The Haunted Castle” by Friedrich Murnau – especially since he was awarded an entire year of preparation. Then things turned into a tightrope after all.

Manuel tells the story to the soundtrack himself in the liner notes of the beautifully packaged and multi-folding digipack. As quite often with this kind of ancient material, the movie itself had not yet been restored. Even though it ran at the wrong speed and despite this being one of the earliest examples of the director’s work, which was still far away from the astoundingly intricate imagery and visual magic that would come to be his trademark, Göttsching still fell for its eery ambiance, “full of tension and conspiracy”. He conceived an entire score in his mind and laid out plans for “the sounds of drum machines topped with whispering vocal fragments”. Then the restored version of “The Haunted Castle” arrived, significantly slower and 20 minutes longer, throwing his vision and schedule into disarray. Sometimes, these unforseen changes can cause a rushed affair – in this case, they were a blessing: Under the pressure of the strict timeline set by the needs of the conductor and the instrumentalists, which were to perform the pieces on the night, Göttsching wrote a music both tender and yet with a pressing urgency, both soothing and yet disquieting, both widely spacious and still intimate. Marked by a biolar approach, it featured a selection of dialogues between an often melancholic small string section and wonderfully warm horn as well as three far-reaching, dreamily rhythmic electronic tracks, which again serve as a basis for yearning acoustic melodies. With spring continually delaying its arrival and summer still in limbo, this is one of the most wonderful autumnal albums for the last cold days of winter.

A lot of care has gone into the balance of acoustic and synthesized sounds and rarely has this combination sounded this harmonic. And far from a loveless compilation of loose ends, this album full delivers on the promise of its title and offers an aural journey worth listening to from the beginning till the end. I would even go as far as to say that this music, despite or maybe because of its original function as an accompaniment to a movie, is telling a story of its own: One of loss, longing and nostalgia. That’s why “Concert for Murnau” has such a personal feel: Because it lives and breathes and because it talks to us.

Homepage: Manuel Göttsching

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