Exclusive interview with German silent film composer, Ekkehard Wölk.
Swing in Darkness
by Ehsan Khoshbakht
Ekkehard Wölk is a pianist and composer from Germany. As far as cinema is concerned, he is a composer and accompanist for silent films. His style combines classic music and jazz.
He has dealt with many scores from the golden years of German silent cinema, most notably for Murnau films. A couple of his works for German films have been released on DVD by famous New York-based company, Kino. Secrets of a Soul by G. W. Pabst from 1926 with Werner Krauss was released last year and The Finances of the Grand Duke by Murnau has been released recently. It also was broadcast by Arte channel last winter.
He was born in June 14, 1967 in Schleswig, Germany. He started piano training at the age of seven in the classical tradition of Leschetitzky and his famous adepts, Artur Schnabel and Edwin Fischer. Eventually, he came to put emphasis on the major works of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Debussy.
After graduating from high school in 1987 he studied historical and systematic musicology at the University of Hamburg, and later at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
From 1988 to 1994 he studied classic piano at the conservatories in Hamburg and Lubeck. In 1994, he graduated as a concert pianist and music pedagogue. Wölk wrote his first jazz composition at the age of twenty-two. His influence at first was primarily Bill Evans, later also Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum and specifically Fred Hersch who - many years later - became his master teacher in New York City.
In 1995 Wölk moved to Berlin and worked a lot as a composer and bandleader developing creative projects mostly in the jazz field, as a jazz and classical teacher, as an arranger and as a flexible accompanist for many singers in jazz as well as in classical or musical show genres.
He is also familiar with the world of actors and stage and has been an accompanist for actors and their lections and also in musical theater, for example, at the Brecht theatre Berliner Ensemble.
He has five commercially released albums as a pianist and arranger in Germany and Italy in the last four years which include: A Meeting of two American Giants - Gershwin/Bernstein (JB Records, 2001), Desire for Spring (Splasc (H) Records, 2007), A solo album Reflections on Mozart (2006), the trio album Songs, Chorals and Dances (2005) and the Homage to Nino Rota (2008). Besides, there are several professional live radio recordings by well-known German broadcasting stations in Berlin and Munich with his trio, mostly original compositions under the title: Pictures in Sounds. One of these recent broadcasts by Wölk quartet (in June 2009) was dedicated to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
In early 2000s, he was invited by the former director of the Murnau Foundation, Friedemann Beyer -- who also has published a book on Peter Lorre -- to compose and perform music for some Murnau films. Besides two commercially released titles from this period there are works like Murnau’s Faust (1926) that Wölk considers his best work, but unfortunately this score from 2007 has not been published on DVD so far. Other films with his live piano accompaniment are: Nosferatu, the Last Laugh [Der Letzte Mann], Tartüff (all by Murnau), A Woman on the Moon [Die frau im mond] (Fritz Lang), People on Sunday [Menschen am Sonntag] (Siodmak/Wilder), The Wildcat [Die Bergkatze] (Ernst Lubitsch), and also some of the great American comedies by Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd.
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