Bernhard Kaun

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Bernhard Theodor Ludwig Kaun (born April 5, 1899 in Milwaukee , USA ; † January 3, 1980 in Baden-Baden ) was a German- American composer, particularly of film music .


As the youngest child of the German composer Hugo Kaun , he received his first musical training from his father. In 1902 Bernhard Kaun moved to Berlin with his four older siblings and his mother . There he learned to play the violin and piano at an early age . During the First World War he served as a soldier and was a clarinetist in the military. From 1922 he was already working in Berlin as an orchestrator for the American music and film publisher RCA Victor . He got to know the young American pianist Heinz Eric Roemheld . The collaboration with the director Fritz Lang followed . Kaun arranged Wagnerian music for the first part ( Siegfried ) of Lang's heroic epic The Nibelungs (1924). In the same year he moved to New York in order to earn his living with further orchestration work . In 1925 he was employed as a conductor at what was then the largest movie theater in the world, the Alhambra Theater in Milwaukee, as the successor to his friend Heinz Roemheld. A little later Kaun followed the call as a teacher at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester . There he became friends with Howard Hanson , whose Organ Concerto (1926) he orchestrated.

In 1930 Bernhard Kaun accepted the call to Los Angeles . Heinz Roemheld, who also completed his musical training with Kaun sen. and Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin, placed him at Universal Studios Hollywood . In 1937, the two friends composed the music for the classic film Murder in the Nightclub . A little later, the young composer and orchestrator also signed Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures . In the next few decades he should have orchestrated and set music to well over 200 films and TV films with his own and other people's music. His breakthrough came with the legendary film Frankenstein , one of the first American sound films . As a result, however, he mostly only received commissions for so-called B-films or smaller contributions to musical scores for larger productions.

As an orchestrator, he also worked with Max Steiner . He orchestrated his music to King Kong and the White Woman (1933) and Gone with the Wind . Further film music assignments brought him together with Erich Wolfgang Korngold ( Hearts divided , 1936), Ernst Toch ( Peter Ibbetson , 1935), Dimitri Tiomkin and Charlie Chaplin ( Moderne Zeiten , 1936), whose music he also orchestrated. The fact that Kaun was already caught in the global political and cultural tension between emigrated composers on the one hand and the neo-Wagnerian music of his father Hugo Kaun on the other is one of the reasons for his quiet appearance in American music history of the 1930s and 40s.

His electrifying colors are clearly shaped by his father's late work, as well as by Richard Strauss , Jean Sibelius and Maurice Ravel . As early as the 1940s, his style-defining orchestration received the highest public recognition from Igor Stravinsky . In 1940 Bernhard Kaun returned to New York and composed concert music. Then in 1953 he moved back to Germany, where he wrote the music for the two German films Vom Himmel and Allewege leads home and recorded it with the Graunke Symphony Orchestra (from 1990 Munich Symphony Orchestra ). Kaun was married to Countess Maria-Anna Grundemann von Falkenberg for the second time. He died impoverished and was buried anonymously.

Filmography (selection)

Music for TV series

On the Flucht (The Fugitive), Perry Mason , Lassie (1957–59) u. a.

Other works

  • Entice Italienne Zeitstimmung , (for female choir)
  • Sketches / Suite for orchestra (manuscript)
  • Suite for orchestra (1927)
  • Dutch folk song (voice and piano)
  • Romantic Symphony (1930/60)
recorded on LP with the NDR Symphony Orchestra under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1960)
  • Quintet for oboe and strings , Jupiter-Music, Los Angeles, 1940
  • Quintet for winds (Fl, Ob, Klar, Hrn, Fag) Scherzo with variant - Capriccio - Intermezzo - Finale Ms.
  • Sinfonia concertante for horn and orchestra, Jupiter-Music, Los Angeles, 1940
  • Der Vagabund Suite for large orchestra (based on own themes), Munich, 1956
  • 20 pieces for the pianoforte


  • WH Rosar: Music for the Monsters: Universal Pictures' horror Film Scores of the thirties Quarterly Journal of the library of congress, xl (1983), p. 390-421
  • C. McCarty: Film composers in America. a Filmography 1911-1970 , (Oxford, forthcoming)

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