Composer Harold Faltermayer forming iron in front of a hut

Interview with composer Harold Faltermeyer

Sound of Munich

Munich is well-known as a shooting location for films and series. It’s often the music that audiences remember best from TV and cinema. So what does the city itself actually sound like – and does it even have a sound of its own? We talked to Harold Faltermeyer, one of Hollywood’s most successful film composers – and a real Münchner Kindl (child of Munich), too.

Mr. Faltermeyer, you’re a Hollywood person – but you’ll always be a genuine Münchner, too. Born in Munich in 1952, you’re now one of Hollywood's most successful film composers, having created a cult following with theme songs for films like Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun. Today you divide your time between Los Angeles and Baldham. Do you believe there’s any such thing as a typical Munich sound?

Well, the first thing that springs to mind is of course the Glockenspiel (Carillon) with its 43 bells on the Rathausturm (Town Hall Tower) at Marienplatz (main square) – and the Schäfflertanz (cooper's dance), too. Those are classic Munich melodies. So that’s really the sound of Munich for so many who come to the city for the first time and make their way to Marienplatz with all the other tourists at eleven on the dot. The bells of the Alter Peter (church) are also a very distinctive Munich sound – something you can clearly pick out from among all the other city noises! Mind you, compared to somewhere like Salzburg Cathedral, we’re not so well off in Munich when it comes to bells.

Your entire working life has been dedicated to creating melodies – setting emotions to music, if you like. Recently you composed the soundtrack for the Top Gun sequel with Hans Zimmer. Do you think there’s a typical Munich song that captures the city’s character?

Of course! After all, the Hofbräuhaus (beer hall) is the most famous pub in the world! And it has its own song, too: “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus ” – that’s a hymn to Munich if ever there was one! Down-to-earth, leisurely– and thoroughly ironic! Or Ein Wagen von der Linie 8 by Ferdl Weiß. These are melodies that reflect the Munich character through and through.

What about typical Munich film music?

Well there I immediately tend to think of the title melodies of the great Helmut Dietl films set in Munich that portray the people of the city with such incomparable charm – the signature tunes of  'Kir Royal' and 'Münchner G'schichten', for example. When you think of these series, the first thing that often comes to mind is the title melodies – all you have to do is start whistling them and you instantly have those images in your mind’s eye. Personally, I’d also mention Konstantin Wecker – it was with him that I ventured my very first steps in music!

Konstantin Wecker not only sings in Munich dialect, he speaks it, too!

Exactly – and that also has to do with this idea of the Munich sound: if you take the way Konstantin Wecker speaks, that typical grouchy tone – grantln as they say here – and combine it with his musical genius, that’s exactly what you’re looking for if you ask me: the sound of the city of Munich! It was not for nothing that Helmut Dietl chose Wecker to write the music for his wonderful Munich series Kir Royal.

So the sound of Munich is not just music, it involves language too, right?

Yes, that’s what made me mention the Munich dialect. That genuine Munich idiom does still exist – and it differs from the way people speak in Upper Bavaria, too! It’s the dialect that truly reflects the distinctive stoic homeliness that’s so typical of Munich – even though you don’t really sense it here so much nowadays. I associate the Biermösl Blosn with Munich, too – that blend of parlour music, satire and dialect – although strictly speaking they’re actually from just outside the city!

Like yourself! But you’ve lived in California for many years as well. Do people abroad have these same associations with Munich that we're talking about here?

Not necessarily, that’s the thing! I think all these musical highlights we’re talking about just aren’t international enough to represent the city around the world. But then of course it’s worth remembering that there was actually a “Munich sound”, too: the whole thing started in the early 1970s and developed at recording studios in Munich – first and foremost at Union Studio in Solln. Some very innovative and creative sound engineers were experimenting at the time– they were the key people in terms of sound. One crucial element of the “Munich sound” was the very low-pitched, dry snare drum combined with a hard-hitting base drum. Very early on you had people like keyboarder Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze, the inventors of Silver Convention: they were the initiators of the “Munich sound”, and later they were joined by Giorgio Moroder with Donna Summer. They actually went on to land a number one hit in the US charts. Those of us further along in years will surely remember the catchy tune 'Fly Robin Fly' featuring the squeaking violins of Munich Machine.

What happened to that typical Munich disco music?

Unfortunately, that 'Munich sound' quickly fizzled out again after the 1970s – quite simply because the people behind it all migrated to America. But the melodies are still there and they retain an inseparable link with the city.

 

 

Interview: Nansen & Piccard; Photos: from the book „Grüß Gott, Hollywood“, Werner Böhm, Frank Stolle
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