SKU 1714

FRIEDEMANN BACH (1941) * with switchable English subtitles *

Traugott Müller, Gustaf Gründgens, Leny Marenbach and Johannes Riemann
Friedemann Bach is a 1941 German film depicting the life of Johann Sebastian Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The film is based on Albert Emil Brachvogel's novel Friedemann Bach. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is shown as a gifted son trying to escape his father's shadows. 
During a house concert, the Bach family gets a visit by their son Wilhelm Friedemann, who has just given up his position in Dresden because he no longer could endure the reprisals taken by his superiors. After he helps his sister Frederike to tell father Johann Sebastian about her engagement to Christoph Altnikol, the family gets a visit by a messenger from the Saxon Court. Johann Sebastian is asked to take part in a musical competition against French composer Louis Marchand. Johann Sebastian, however, does not want to let his Thomanerchor down and so, he sends Friedemann to Dresden.  Friedemann wins the competition, as Louis Marchand takes flight during Friedemann's performance. Many aristocrats, among which is Comtesse Antonia Kollowrat, come to Friedemann to be taught in music; Friedemann is ordered by the court to write a ballet. Friedemann and ballet dancer Mariella Fiorini fall in love with each other, which is also due the influence of Count Graf von Brühl, who has an eye on Antonia. After the ballet is successful, Friedemann is to be appointed court composer. As Antonia criticizes the ballet, Friedemann recognizes that the court's superficiality does not go together with his artistic ambitions. Friedemann and Antonia fall in love with each other. Friedemann promises to find a new position and to get Antonia to join him; his father will surely help him.

However, Johann Sebastian dies.  So, Friedemann is confronted with a series of disappointments. Being demanded again and again to play music following his father's style, he finally passes, when applying in Braunschweig, one of his father's early compositions off as one of his own. The truth is discovered, Antonia and Christoph are unable to understand Friedemann, who is frustrated and responds that he no longer wants to be compared with his father Johann Sebastian but wants to be Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.  Embittered, he joins a group of travelling actors who regard him to be as what he is. As Christoph comes after years to see him and tells him that Antonia had been waiting for him in Braunschweig, Friedemann wants to see her again. Antonia, however, has meanwhile married Count Heinrich von Brühl. When Friedemann's group gives a performance in Dresden, the Count arranges that Friedemann and Antonia meet. Although she is still willing to help him, Friedemann shows her his full embitterment; at the Count's behest, Friedemann has to leave Saxony.  Desperately, Friedemann offers one of his father's compositions to a music trader.  As one of the trader's client mocks Johann Sebastian Bach, Friedemann starts to argue with the client who hurts Friedemann with a rapier; shortly after, Friedemann dies.

THERE IS A NEWSREEL ALONG WITH THE FILM, JUST AS GERMAN AUDIENCES MIGHT HAVE SEEN WHEN THE MOVIE WAS FIRST SHOWN (except this newsreel may not be contemporary to when the film was released).


QUALITY (of feature film only): 


·        Digital Quality?  - yes

·        Sharpness of picture?  - digitally sharp










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if you liked AMADEUS..., 6/27/2016 9:29 AM
From: John C
1941's FRIEDEMANN BACH is another example of the 'The Genius Film' as I explained in my review of 1939's ROBERT KOCH. Basically, these films usually depicted a famous person in history or from literature who was a rebel or leader (a prototype of Hitler) ahead of his time and fought against great obstacles to win his cause, sometimes dying in the process and with his disciples following in his footsteps to finish what he began. By looking at past events, audiences were supposed to perceive social and morale building lessons needed for their current time. Historical and biographical facts were sometimes changed to suit National Socialist principles and FRIEDEMANN BACH is no exception.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 -1784) was Johann Sebastian Bach's oldest son, a gifted composer and musician in his own right, but not as well known today as his equally talented brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 - 1788).
The film's plot found on this site focuses on the following issues: A son unable to live up to his father's expectations. A composer not allowed to write and perform the music he wants. Court Intrigue Professional rivalry. An early death. Does this story sound familiar? I wouldn't be surprised if the recently deceased playwright Peter Shaffer knew this film and used its plot as a model for his play and screenplay of AMADEUS. But like Shaffer's work, there are biographical inaccuracies: JS Bach competed at Dresden instead of his son who did not die early as depicted in the film which was based on a forgotten novel so we can't compare it to the film. According to Wikipedia: "Despite his acknowledged genius as an organist, improviser and composer, his income and employment were unstable and he died in poverty"  at a much later age. The truth would not have given the film a noble ending and every actor loves having a heroic death scene. I read how the film has historical inaccuracies about costumes and decor, but you do get the feel of it taking place during what we imagine was the eighteenth century. In Linda Schulte-Sasse's extensive section on the film in her highly recommended study of Nazi cinema 'Entertaining The Third Reich - Illusions of Wholeness' she states that Friedemann is not playing a harpsichord but instead a pianoforte which came shortly later, an anachronism, and most of his keyboard compositions were written for the harpsichord.  But if you also don't know music history, you won't care because the film is so well crafted and entertaining.

Friedemann is played by Gustaf Grundgens who was 42 at the time and he must have lost some weight and was aided by soft focus photography to give himself a youthful appearance. He wears different wigs to show the stages of his downfall and his mimicry of playing keyboards and a violin seems to be on target. At times he reminded me of John Malkovich. Grundgens produced the film and it's assumed he had his hand in the direction by Traugott Muller who designed his stage productions and never directed a film before; some sources list Grundgens as a co-director, but Muller has the sole screen credit. You can see Muller's touch in the sets and visuals, and this film does not come across as a vanity production for Grundgens. Camilla Horn, known mostly for her tragic portrayal of Gretchen in Murnau's silent FAUST is completely different here as the seductive ballerina. JS Bach is played by Eugen Klopfer whose patrician looks usually cast him as authoritarian figures such as Dorothea's father in JUD SUSS.

Most people only know of Grungdens from 1981's Oscar-winning film MEPHISTO where his renamed character is portrayed as a conflicted opportunist. That film was based on an unflattering novel written by his former brother-in-law and led to a successful libel lawsuit filed by his adopted son and heir. Grundgens did not make a lot of movies during the Nazi years and concentrated on stage work as David Stewart Hull explains in 'Film in the Third Reich' how he managed to flatter Goring who protected him from Goebbels: "Although the arts were almost completely under Goebbels' control, a legislative quirk had made Goring responsible for the Prussian State Theatre, and he lost no time in making Grundgens head of this important institution. In this capacity, Grundgens was solely responsible to Goring, and was able to refuse cinema roles he felt unsuitable'' and which further angered Goebbels who did not like Grundgens due to his earlier Communist leanings. Although FRIEDEMANN BACH  is considered a 'Genius Film' it differs from others as its rebellious hero doesn't die for a cause like freedom for his people or to better his nation in some manner, but instead he dies for a personal reason - family honor. Goebbels may not have liked the film's lack of Nazi propaganda, but he probably had no choice in not releasing it or couldn't rework it (as he did with other films that displeased him) due to Goring's patronage and Grundgens' stature as a great actor and director.

Overall, FRIEDEMANN BACH is one of the best films about composers and their artistic temperament, and the likely precursor to AMADEUS and just as good if not better. It's propaganda free unless the message is that it's acceptable to be a rebel but not a self-destructive one whose death occured not from serving The Fatherland. We can argue that Friedemann served it because his death resulted from defending the reputation of a great Aryan - JS Bach - a point probably acceptable to Goebbels and another reason why he may have not interfered with the film.

The disc's video and audio quality is very good. Thanks for offering this very good film!
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