Wolfgang Zeller was born on September 12, 1893. After graduating from high school, he studied violin in Munich and composition in Berlin. Zeller was drafted in WWI, but was discharged from duty due to an injury. He made his living as a violinist with the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin and, from 1921 until 1929, worked as a conductor and composer at the Volksbühne in Berlin.
Zeller’s debut in film was with the orchestral score for Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette film, Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed. After this success, the leading avant-garde director Walter Ruttmann (Die Sinfonie einer Großstadt) asked Zeller to score his next experimental film. Melodie der Welt became the first German film to employ synchronized sound recording. Soon thereafter, Zeller collaborated with Carl Theodor Dreyer on the horror movie Vampyr and with G.W. Pabst on the fantasy drama L’Atlantide.
Zeller’s scores are based on complicated musical structures. He specialized in somber, melancholic music employed in melodramas, but also used in propaganda films. During the Nazi era, Zeller scored three films by Veit Harlan—Der Herrscher, Jud Süss and Immensee. In 1951 he also collaborated on Harlan’s first postwar film, Unsterbliche Geliebte, a Theodor Storm adaptation.
After WWII, Zeller worked for the DEFA Studios scoring documentaries and feature films, including the immensely popular Ehe im Schatten. In the following years, he worked with many prestigious directos, including Eugen York (Morituri and Schatten der Nacht), Robert A. Stemmle (Du darfst nicht länger schweigen), Wolfgang Staudte (Schicksal aus zweiter Hand) and Wolfgang Schleif (Grube Morgenrot and und wenn’s nur einer wäre...). Zeller scored many documentary films as well, the most important of which was Bernhard Gzimek’s Serengeti darf nicht sterben, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1960.
Wolfgang Zeller died in West Berlin on January 11, 1967. His papers are at the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt am Main.
|1959||Serengeti darf nicht sterben (Serengeti, doc.)|
|1956||Ein Herz kehrt heim (A Heart Returns)|
|1955||Du darfst nicht länger schweigen (You Can No Longer Remain Silent)|
|1954||Ännchen von Tharau (Ännchen from Tharau)|
|1951||Unsterbliche Geliebte (Immortal Beloved)|
|1950||Schatten der Nacht (Shadows of the Night)|
|1949||Schicksal aus zweiter Hand (Second Hand Fate)|
|1949||Wohin die Züge fahren (Wherever the Trains Go)|
|1949||Die letzte Nacht (The Last Night)|
|1949||Die Brücke (The Bridge)|
|1949||und wenn’s nur einer wäre… (And If There Were Only One)|
|1948||Grube Morgenrot (The Morgenrot Mine)|
|1947||Ehe im Schatten (Marriage in the Shadows)|
|1940||Jud Süß (Jew Suess)|
|1938||Du und ich (You and I)|
|1937||Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug)|
|1937||Der Herrscher (The Ruler)|
|1935||Der alte und der junge König (The Making of a King)|
|1932||L’Atlantide (The Queen of Atlantis)|
|1929||Melodie der Welt (Melody of the World, short, doc.)|
|1926||Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed)|