Hugo Riesenfeld

Hugo Riesenfeld

1879 - 1939

The filmcomposer Hugo Riesenfeld belonged to the first composers who wrote original music for movies and therefore he belongs to the pioneers of film music.  

He studied violin at the age of seven and he finished his education later in piano, composition and violin. Afterwards he began his professional career as a violinist at the Viennes Philharmoniker and he was busy at the State Opera. He emigrated to the USA in 1907 and his first occupation was as a concertmaster for Oscar Hammerstein and other corporatons.

Finally he got in touch with the film business in 1915 for the first time when he conducted the music to the movie "Carmen" (15). From now on the film business exerted a huge pull to im and in 1917 he succeeded Samual Lionel Rothapler as the manager of three cinemas in the USA with a total of 5050 seats. He occupied an extensive orchestra for these cinemas which was responsible for the live background music. He soon recognized that original music which were catered to the movies showed to advantage than the reuse of already existing classic composition.

So his first film compositions came in 1916 into being for "The Habit of Happiness" (16) and "The Aryan" (16) and it followed other movies like "Joan the Woman" (17), "The Miracle Man" (19) and "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" (19)

He experienced the height of his career as a film composer in the 20s and he wrote the music for many important feature movies.
To his well-known works of the 20s belong "Reputation" (21), "The Covered Wagon" (23), "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (23), "The Ten Commandments" (23), "Monsieur Beaucaire" (24), "Madame Sand-Gêne" (25), "Les misérables" (25), "Beau Geste" (26), "The Sorrows of Satan" (26), "The Cat and the Canary" (27), "Sunrise" (27), "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (27), "Tempest" (28), "The Awakening" (28), "The Iron Mask" (29) and "Eternal Love" (29).

Hugo Riesenfeld composed again the music for numerous productions during the 30s, among them "The Bad One" (30), "Hell's Angels" (30), "Tabu" (31), "The Wandering Jew" (33), "The President Vanishes" (34), "Hearts in Bondage" (36), "Daniel Boone" (36), "Tarzan's Revenge" (38) and "Sunset Murder Case" (38).

He also wrote subsequent film music to movies of former years like "La Tosca" (18) in 1921, "Anna Boleyn" (20) in 1921 und "The King of Kings" (27) in 1928. Beside it he also composed new music for the American market for German productions.

Besides his activity as a film composer Hugo Riesenfeld was also regularly active as a conductor. He also composed classic pieces like the ballet "Chopin's Dances", the opera "Merry Martyr" and the Broadway show "Betty Be Good". He even realised a movie as a director with the short film "A Christmas Fantasy" (18).

Other movies from Hugo Riesenfeld:
Hoodoo Ann (16) Humoresque (20) Conrad in Quest of His Youth (20) Always Audacios (20) Das Weib des Pharao (22) Bella Donna (23) The Swan (25) The Wanderer (25) Beggar on Horseback (25) The Pony Express (25) The Vanishing American (25) Three Faces East (26) The Volga Boatman (26) The Flaming Frontier (26) Chang: Drama of the Wilderness (27) Old San Francisco (27) The Rough Riders (27) Lucky Boy (28) Two Lovers (28) Ramona (28) The Woman Disputed (28) Die Todesschleife (28) Revenge (28) The Battle of the Sexes (28) The Cavalier (28) Sins of the Fathers (28) The Rescue (29) Lady of the Pavements (29) Molly and Me (29) The Godless Girl (29) My Lady's Past (29) This Is Heaven (29) New Orleans (29) Two Men and a Maid (29) Evangeline (29) Midstream (29) Three Live Ghosts (29) The Taming of the Shrew (29) Lummox (30) One Romantic Night (30) Thunder Over Mexico (33) Peck's Bad Boy (34) Two Heads on a Pillow (34) Little Men (34) Let's Sing Again (36) Follow Your Heart (36) Tundra (36) The President's Mystery (36) The Devil on Horseback (36) White Legion (36) Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (36) Rainbow in the River (36) Circus Girl (37) Make a Wish (37) Hawaii Calls (38) King of the Sierras (38)
A Christmas Fantasy (18) Impressions of Tschaikowsky's Overture 1812 (29) Glorious Vamps (30) Hungarian Rhapsody (30) Zampa (30) The Wizard's Apprentice (30)

The letter above was written by Hugo Riesenfeld to the movie producer Jesse L. Lasky:

It is so seldom that a professional in his day's work derives a great pleasure. We poor blasé workers who see so many photoplays in the course of a year, usually consider looking at a film as part of our duty. You can hardly imagine what intense pleasure and joy I derived while watching "Why Change Your Wife?" in your projectionroom. That was not a picture - it was not a play - it was life itself. I felt that I sat before a perfect mirror and saw myself and fellow men with an inmost thoughts revealed. If this note is too enthusiastic, blame Cecil B. DeMile not
Yours sincerely, Hugo Riesenfeld
Mr. Jesse L. Lasky forwarded the letter to the movie director Cecil B. DeMill who sent a reply to Hugo Riesenfeld:

My dear Mr. Riesenfeld:

Mr. Lasky has forwarded to me your letter of January twenty-fifth, in which you were more than complimentary to me on my recent work "Why Change Your Wife?".
I want to assure you that your letter gave me a great deal of pleasure, because I know your ideals

With best wishes,