Paul Dessau

Paul Dessau

Additional Names: Henry Herblay (Weiterer Name)
Darsteller, Musik
*19.12.1894 Hamburg; †28.06.1979 Königs Wusterhausen

Biography

Paul Dessau, born December 19, 1894, in Hamburg, got in touch with the major works of musical theatre already as a child because of his family’s great interest in music (several family members worked as orchestra musicians and composers). He turned out to be a talented violin player but had to give up the instrument when a physician diagnosed him with impairment in his left hand. Dessau was then sent to Berlin to attend an apprenticeship as a director of music and piano lessons at Klindworth-Scharwenka-Konservatorium. In 1918/19, he found a job as répétiteur at Hamburg’s Stadttheater although he was just 18 years old at the time. At Stadttheater, he gained a lot of experience, not least from working with great artists like Giacomo Puccini or Enrico Caruso. At the same time, Dessau took composition lessons and strongly pursued his goal to become a composer on his own.

In 1915, Dessau was drafted for military service and was deployed at the French front, among other places, during World War I. Until the end of the war and his discharge from the army (where he was finally deployed to a military band because of an injury) in 1918, Dessau developed a strong repulsion against the "reign of terror of an unbound militarism" and against "everything that is called "drill"".

From 1918 on, Dessau landed several jobs as a répétiteur and director of music at well-known musical theatres all over Germany. In 1925, he earned the prize of music publisher Schott for his "Concertino" for violin, and two years later, his first symphony (in C) premiered in Prague. On June 21, 1924, he married actress Gudrun Kabisch. The couple had two children and separated in 1936.

Paul Dessau entered the film business in 1926 when Ufa entrusted him to conduct its Wiesbaden orchestra. After his return to Berlin, he worked as a conductor at several movie theatres. At the Alhambra movie theatres, he worked with the theatre’s chamber orchestra for two years, a time in which he also wrote a lot of original material that was enthusiastically received by critics and audiences alike. Indeed, music and film critics soon dedicated extensive reviews to Dessau’s music. Dessau himself saw his film compositions as an effective medium to make people familiar with sophisticated music. Thus, he told Reichsblatt in 1928: "The movie theatre, as a place of entertainment for the general public is obliged to a higher degree to work for the advancement of the musical education of the people than, for instance, the opera because the opera is still only accessible to a small number of people and only in a few big cities. And the most modern, current, and vivid art form, "the moving image", should be accompanied by the most modern and vivid musical language."

In the late 1920s, Dessau made his first sound film experiments and worked as a composer for numerous sound films, at first mainly film operettas and films about singers from the early 1930s on. Furthermore, he also composed the music for Arnold Fanck’s mountain films "Der weiße Rausch" ("White Frenzy"), "S.O.S. Eisberg", and "Stürme über dem Montblanc" ("Avalanche"). For the film, he experimented with a Welte-Mignon piano and a trautonium to realize electronic effects.

In 1933, Dessau emigrated to Paris because of his Jewish heritage. In Paris, he composed music for French feature films and mainly collaborated with fellow emigrants from the German film business like Kurt Bernhardt, Robert Siodmak, Max Ophüls, Fedor Ozep, or Detlef Sierck.

In Juli 1939, Dessau emigrated further to New York. Without a steady job and without contacts he scraped along with copying notes and texts of other composers and as a music teacher. His situation did not get better until 1942 when he met Bertolt Brecht who advised him to move to Hollywood. Besides his collaborations with Brecht, who also lived in Los Angeles at the time, Dessau was assigned by several film producers but only for instrumentation and orchestration jobs. Other composers occasionally hired him to do anonymous preliminary work when they themselves could not meet their deadlines for music scores – an unappreciative job that Dessau despised.

After 1945, Dessau received several credits as composer or director of music, for instance, for Edgar G. Ulmer’s "The Wife of Monte Christo" or "Winter Wonderland", directed by Bernard Vorhaus. His last work in Hollywood (again uncredited) was the composition, orchestration, and arrangement of music for Hugo W. Friedhofer in Victor Fleming’s film "Joan of Arc" in 1948.

In 1948, Dessau returned to Europe with his second wife, writer Elisabeth Hauptmann, and settled in East Berlin. During the following years, he again collaborated closely with Brecht who had also returned to Germany and composed stage music for several plays of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble. However, Dessau’s and Brecht’s opera "Das Verhör des Lukullus" ("The Trial of Lucullus") was banned from performance in mid-1951 because the censors considered the music as "alien to the people and formalistic" – thus, the play did not enter the stage until late 1951 after numerous alterations.

During the following years, Dessau wrote numerous songs, dance scenes, and orchestral pieces. He did not compose any score music until the late 1950s, mainly for propagandistic documentary films by Andrew and Annelie Thorndike.

From 1952 on, Dessau served as a teacher at Staatliche Schauspielschule in Berlin-Oberschöneweide. In the same year, he became a member of Deutsche Akademie der Künste in Berlin and was its vice president from 1957 to 1962. In 1965, he also became a member of West Berlin’s Akademie der Künste but left the academy three years later under protest.

Basically, Dessau’s situation in the German Democratic Republic was ambivalent: With his appropriation of the twelve-tone technique and his dedication to Arnold Schönberg, he on the one side became the pinnacle of hope for the young avant-garde, but on the other hand he was attacked by the authorities and partly tacitly passed-by when his works were not performed – although he was officially honored with numerous national awards.

On June 28, 1979, Paul Dessau died in Königs Wusterhausen. In his will, he had made provisions that his memorial service should not take place as a state funeral but only in attendance of his family and friends.

Filmography

2003-2009 Der Junker und der Kommunist
Music (other)
 
1997 Hundert Jahre Brecht
Music
 
1974 Paul Dessau
Participation, Music
 
1973 Ändere die Welt, sie braucht es. Begegnungen mit Hanns Eisler
Participation
 
1970 Kleine Leute - große Töne
Music
 
1969 Anno Populi - Im Jahre des Volkes 1949
Music
 
1968 Der Augenzeuge [Jg. 1968 / Nr. 021]
Participation
 
1967/1968 Abschied
Music
 
1966/1967 Paul Dessau
Participation, Music
 
1966/1967 Gisela May singt Brecht
Source music
 
1966 400 cm³
Music
 
1966 Hilmar Thate singt Dessau, Eisler, Hosalla
Source music
 
1965 Der Augenzeuge [Jg. 1965 / Nr. 022]
Participation
 
1965 Der Augenzeuge [Jg. 1965 / Nr. 021]
Participation
 
1965 Der Augenzeuge [Jg. 1965 / Nr. 007]
Participation
 
1963 Das russische Wunder - Teil 2
Music
 
1960/1961 Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder
Music
 
1959-1963 Das russische Wunder. 2 Teile
Music
 
1958/1959 Reportage aus Rossendorf
Music
 
1957/1958 Unternehmen Teutonenschwert
Music
 
1957 Urlaub auf Sylt
Music
 
1956 Die Novemberrevolution 1918
Music
 
1955 Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder
Music
 
1954-1956 Du und mancher Kamerad
Music
 
1948 The Vicious Circle
Music, Conductor
 
1948 Ruthless
Conductor
 
1948 Devil's Cargo
Music, Conductor
 
1947/1948 Adamah
Music
 
1947 Winter Wonderland
Music
 
1946 The Wife of Monte Cristo
Music, Conductor
 
1945 House of Dracula
Music
 
1945 The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Music
 
1945 The Naughty Nineties
Music
 
1945 The Woman in Green
Music
 
1944/1945 Hotel Berlin
Music
 
1944 House of Frankenstein
Music
 
1940 Le grand élan
Music
 
1938/1939 L'esclave blanche
Music
 
1938 Accord final
Music, Arrangement
 
1938 Le roman de Werther
Music
 
1938 Gibraltar
Music
 
1938 Carrefour
Music
 
1938 The Rebel Son
Music
 
1937 Yoshiwara
Music
 
1936/1937 Cargaison blanche
Music
 
1936 Tarass Boulba
Music
 
1935 L'or dans la rue
Music
 
1934/1935 Awodah
Music
 
1933 Nordpol - Ahoi!
Music
 
1933 Anna und Elisabeth
Music
 
1933 S.O.S. Iceberg
Music, Conductor
 
1932/1933 SOS Eisberg
Music, Conductor
 
1932 Der Orlow
Conductor
 
1932 Melodie der Liebe
Arrangement, Conductor
 
1932 Abenteuer im Engadin
Music, Conductor, Lyrics
 
1931 Die große Attraktion
Conductor
 
1931 Salto mortale
Music, Conductor
 
1931 Salto mortale
Music, Conductor
 
1930/1931 Der weiße Rausch. Neue Wunder des Schneeschuhs
Music
 
1930 Stürme über dem Montblanc
Music, Conductor
 
1930 Das Land des Lächelns
Conductor
 
1930 Die große Sehnsucht
Cast, Conductor
 
1930 Das lockende Ziel
Music, Conductor
 
1929/1930 Ich glaub' nie mehr an eine Frau
Music, Conductor, Lyrics
 
1929/1930 Scapa Flow
Music
 
1929/1930 Die heiligen drei Brunnen
Conductor
 
1929 Verkehrsstörung
Music
 
1929 Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück
Music
 
1929 Ruhiges Heim mit Küchenbenutzung. Das Mädel von der Operette
Music
 
1928/1929 Aus dem Tagebuch eines Junggesellen
Music
 
1928 Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere. 3. Abenteuer: Die Affenkrankheit
Conductor
 
1928 Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere. 2. Abenteuer: Die Affenbrücke
Music
 
1928 Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere. 1. Abenteuer: Die Reise nach Afrika
Conductor
 
1928 Unmoral
Music
 
1928 Rutschbahn
Music
 
1928 Die schönste Frau von Paris
Music
 
1928 Die tolle Komteß
Music
 
1928 Dornenweg einer Fürstin
Music
 
1928 Saxophon-Susi
Music
 
1928 Don Juan in der Mädchenschule
Music
 
1928 Schmutziges Geld
Music
 
1928 Das Geständnis der Drei
Music
 
1928 Indizienbeweis
Music
 
1928 Das Haus ohne Männer
Music
 
1928 Der Herr vom Finanzamt
Music
 
1928 Moderne Piraten
Music
 
1928 Der erste Kuß
Music
 
1927/1928 Die Pflicht zu schweigen
Music
 
1927/1928 Seine Mutter
Music
 
1921 Das indische Grabmal, Teil 2 - Der Tiger von Eschnapur
Music