Born: February 3, 1877; Lonigo, Italy
Died: October 5, 1973; Berlin, Germany
Italian by birth, Giuseppe Becce was the first German film composer of significance and one of the earliest major figures in European film music. Becce took minor instrumental studies at the conservatory of the University of Padua before relocating to Berlin in 1900, taking composition with Leopold Schmidt. In 1910 he tried his hand at operetta in Das Bett de Pompadour, following it with the grand opera Tulia (1912); neither was outstandinglyRead more successful. In 1913 producer Oskar Messter was looking for a composer for his feature-length film Richard Wagner; as much of Wagner's own music was still under copyright, Messter wanted a score that would imitate Wagner's style without exactly replicating his themes. Becce composed the score for Messter, and as Becce had a superficial resemblance to Wagner himself, played the title role in the film. It was a hit, and Becce found himself regarded as a maverick in a new medium (although he'd undertake screen acting only once more).
Becce scored more than 100 films over a career that stretched from 1913 all the way to 1960. During the "golden age" of UFA, many of the best-known films produced in Germany had original scores by Becce, including Robert Wiene's Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Fritz Lang's Der Müde Tod (Destiny, 1921), and F.W. Murnau's Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924). Unlike many of his colleagues in the silent film industry, Becce welcomed the arrival of synchronous sound, commenting in 1929 that "the development of talkies will go hand in hand with development of film music, because sound film will help to evolve the style of film music that serious composers are already trying to achieve."
The best-known film Becce scored in the early sound period was Czechoslovakian director Gustav Machaty's notorious Extäse (Ecstasy, 1932) with Hedy Lamarr. But Becce's dominant work in these years was composing the soundtrack music for the "mountain films" directed by Arnold Fanck, Luis Trenker, and Leni Riefenstahl, including Die Weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü (The White Hell of Pitz Palu, 1929), Berg in Flammen (The Mountain in Flames, 1931), and Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light, 1932). Becce's musical style was overwhelmingly Germanic, conservative, and rooted in the post-Romantic tradition, which served the cause of the mountain films well, but earned him few friends among his more modernist colleagues. Read less