Hugo Niebeling

Hugo Niebeling

Hugo Niebeling in December 2014.
Born (1931-02-02)2 February 1931
Düsseldorf, Germany
Died 9 July 2016(2016-07-09) (aged 85)
Hilden, Germany
Occupation Film director
Film producer
Years active 1956 – 2016
Awards See list of awards in the article.

Hugo Niebeling (2 February 1931 – 9 July 2016)[1][2] was a German film director and producer. He had been particularly noted for his work on industrial and music films, and is considered one of the most important renewers of these genres in Germany. His style is credited to have influenced and helped create the modern music video.[3] His feature-film documentary Alvorada was nominated for an Academy Award in 1963.


Early life

Hugo Niebeling was born and raised in Düsseldorf. As a child, he was evacuated to the countryside during World War II. Once the war ended and he returned home, he found his parents' music store destroyed by bombs.[4] Niebeling developed an interested in modern art, classical music and theatre, but was unable to study acting for financial reasons, and therefore enrolled in a business degree at the Mannesmann-AG in Düsseldorf. Parallel to that, he studied acting privately with Otto Ströhlin, an actor at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus who had many pupils. Niebeling's role model was Gustaf Gründgens, a famous theatre actor.[5] After working as a theatre actor for a while in Augsburg, Niebeling turned to directing. As a teenager, he had already expressed his thoughts about his definition of art - which he has kept unchanged since:

My definition of art? It's mostly condensed life (...), cast into a mould. Art, born out of the conflict of emotions, cleared by reason, released into the mould, mirroring the whole in a limited form. 'Released' into the mould because the creative process is a painful one.[6]
Hugo Niebeling, interviewed by Joachim Thommes.[7]

Industrial/Experimental films

In 1957, Niebeling directed his first film Stählerne Adern, a documentary about steel-production at Mannesmann AG, inspired by the German experimental director Walter Ruttmann. This film won many accolades and led to Niebeling directing numerous much-acclaimed industrial and experimental films during the early 1960s. They combine stylized cinematography and editing with experimental scores, often in collaboration with Oskar Sala. His short film Stahl - Thema mit Variationen is a good example, being an audivisual poem on steel-production, using only sound and image to explain its subject without any voice-over or other narration. In 1962, Niebeling created the Oscar-nominated documentary Alvorada - Brazil's Changing Face, which received numerous awards. His experimental industrial film Petrol was the only West German film screened at Cannes Film Festival 1965, and went on to become one of the most awarded industrial films worldwide.[8]

The documentary Mit Licht Schreiben (English title: Magic Light), showing production of cameras and filmstock at Agfa, is rather a philosophical look at the nature of photography and reality, featuring highly experimental cinematography and editing, using many different visual styles. Niebeling's combination of music and image in Petrol led to him being asked to work on his music film Pastorale. Niebeling himself called Alvorada his first music-film, and the editing of his early experimental industrial films is often also musical in nature, editing images in rhythm to the soundtrack, often even having the camera move to the music. Despite his career turning more to music-films afterwards, Niebeling still created experimental industrial films throughout the 1970s and 1980s: Allegro in 1970, and Der Auftrag der uns Bleibt in 1984.

Hugo Niebeling created a radical Oscar-nominated editing style that predated, influenced, and informed the 1960's experimental, underground, and new psychedelic cinema, helping to create the modern music video.
Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, program-guide to retrospective of Niebeling's industrial films in 2016.[9]
No technique, no angle, no method of camera transport has been left unexplored. What results is an exciting and beautiful kaleidoscope of images.
Melbourne Film Festival, about "Alvorada".[10]


From the late 1960s on, Niebeling turned to directing mostly music- and ballet-films. Among them, there are three highly influential and acclaimed filmed versions of Beethoven-Symphonies. All three films are considered revolutionary in the way the visuals complement the music, and many filmic techniques pioneered in these films set trends for the following decades:


In 1967, Niebeling directed a film on Beethoven's sixth symphony Pastorale, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker and conducted by Herbert von Karajan. In this film, he used highly experimental editing-, camera- and lighting-techniques to set the music to images. The film has been considered seminal in its use of audio and visuals that compliment the music. It was filmed in a studio using many takes to allow the performance and individual instruments to be filmed and lit from various angles. It employs filmic techniques highly unusual for a music-film: Sometimes, a handheld camera that moves in sync with the music; the lighting changes according to the music, images are superimposed to create a surrealistic effect, and others.

A perfection of transforming music into visuals that has never been achieved again.[11]
Roger Willemsen, about "Pastorale".[12]
The Pastorale - a highlight of filmed music. This wasn't Karajan's merit, but Niebeling's![13]
Humphrey Burton, about "Pastorale".[14]
On this level technique becomes what it originally meant in greek: Art.... Today I SAW music.[15]
Pierre Barthès, about "Pastorale".[16]

Eroica and Seventh Symphony

In 1972, Niebeling filmed two more Beethoven-Symphonies: Beethoven's third symphony Eroica and Beethoven's seventh symphony, featuring the same performers as the Pastorale. In them, the orchestra is seated in an arrangement similar to the audiotorium of an ancient Greek theatre. Both were recut heavily against Niebeling's wishes on Karajan's initiative to make their styles more conventional, removing a lot of their experimental style. Niebeling was not involved in editing the versions first released in the 1970s. In the 2010s, Niebeling was able to release the director's cuts of both films:

Niebeling's director's cut of "Eroica" was released in 2010 to positive reviews. He was had been able to keep a black&white copy of his original workprint in 1972, which he restored. He considers the resulting black&white aesthetic of the Eroica's director's cut more appropriate to the film.[17] Niebeling's director's cut on the seventh symphony, titled B 7 (Beethoven Seven) was released on German television in 2016, combining music and ballet. Niebeling edited the film based on his original screenplay. Prior to this, Niebeling had first created the short film Apotheosis of Dance in 2015, based on the last movement of the seventh symphony.

An expressionistic work of art, which equally transports the power of music and the intense effect of images.[18]
Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, about the Director's Cut of "Eroica".[19]
The (...) music-video aesthetics in their perfection transport an exciting rhythm and a sensual fusuion of music and dance.[20]
Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, about Apotheosis of Dance.[21]

Ninth Symphony

In the 1970s, Niebeling additionally planned a film on Beethoven's ninth symphony, which was supposed to interweave the orchestra, singers and dancers. He had drafted a detailed screenplay, but it was not realized.


Giselle, Niebeling's first ballet-film featuring Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn and the American Ballet Theatre, premiered in 1969 at the Lincoln Centre in New York under patronage of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and was praised for its innovative visual style that complements the ballet-performance.[22] Since the early 1970s, Niebeling often worked in New York City and directed mostly Ballet films in collaboration with the choreographer George Balanchine.

In 1991, Niebeling directed a feature-film in Germany showing the passion of Christ based on Bach's Johannespassion, evoking antique tragedy with its combination of music, language and dance. Niebeling planned it for three decades prior to realizing it, and himself considers it one of his most important works.[23]

Niebeling's experiment is a coherent masterpiece.[24]
Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, in 1970 about "Giselle".[25]

2000s: Retrospectives and new projects


2013, the German Historical Museum did a retrospective on Hugo Niebeling. He was present for the screenings, and films from all stages of his career were shown.[26] In 2015, Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival awarded him with its "Award of Excellence" for artistic innovation. In a retrospective during the festival, many of Niebeling's 1960s works were shown, some of them as US-premieres.[27][28]

Restoring earlier films

Since the early 2000s, Niebeling had many of his earlier works scanned in 2k or 4k from the original 35mm negatives, and they were color corrected and restored under his supervision. At the time of his death, he had already scanned and restored all his 1960s works plus some of his later works like Der Auftrag der uns bleibt (1984) and Johannespassion (1991).[29]


Until his death, Hugo Niebeling continued to be active as a director, planning numerous new projects. Of particular interest for him was a proposed film on Bach's Chaconne, which he had already planned in detail and which would have interwoven nature and church architecture through montage and cinematography.[30][31]


Director Alexander Tuschinski (*1988) was a friend of Hugo Niebeling and considers him his mentor. Tuschinski's editing style is influenced strongly by Niebeling's style,[32] and Niebeling edited the films Apotheosis of Dance and "B 7" (Beethoven 7) together with him in 2015.[33]

Industrial Films: Filmography and Awards

Niebeling's second work as a director. Commissioned by Bavaria Film.
  • Bundesfilmpreis 1961, Filmband in Gold, Category: Bester Sonstiger Kurzfilm (Mannesmann AG).[35]
  • Grand Prix, International Industrial-film-festival, Rouen 1960.
  • Grand Prix in Gold as "Best Industrial film of the past 40 years", 1st Price as "best Film of the years 1957-1966“, Industriefilm-Festival, Kassel 1997
  • Category: Bester Director (Hugo Niebeling)[36]
  • Category: Best feature-length cultural- and documentary-film (Mannesmann AG)[37]
additional awards in various film-festivals, amongst others Edinburgh and Cork
  • Prädikat „Besonders Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden.
  • Wirtschaftsfilmpreis 1984

Music- and Ballett-films: Filmography and Awards

  • „Besonders Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden
  • Grand Prix, Menton 1971
  • Award for directing, Menton 1971
  • Bundesfilmpreis, Filmband in Gold 1974, Category: Best Short Film, (Continental Film)
  • „Besonders Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden
  • Grand Prix, Besançon 1974
  • Grand Prix, Besançon 1975
  • Audience-Award, Besançon 1975
  • "Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden [46]
  • "Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden [47]
  • "Besonders Wertvoll“, Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden [48]


  1. "Rheinische Post: death notice of Hugo Niebeling". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  2. Thommes, Joachim: "In jeden dieser Filme wollte ich Kunst reinbringen, soviel ich nur konnte." Hugo Niebeling, die Mannesmann-Filmproduktion und der bundesdeutsche Wirtschaftsfilm 1947-1987, Norderstedt 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, p. 102
  3. "Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival: Overview of Hugo Niebeling retrospecive, with description of his style.". Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  4. Thommes 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, p. 102
  5. Thommes 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, pp. 102-104
  6. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: "Meine Vorstellung, was Kunst ist? (...) vor allem verdichtetes Leben (...), in eine Form gebracht. Kunst, geboren aus dem Widerstreit der Gefühle, durch den Verstand geklärt, in die Form erlöst, in begrenzter Form das Ganze spiegelnd. In die Form erlöst deshalb, weil der kreative Prozess schmerzhaft ist."
  7. "Video-Interview on youtube". Retrieved January 1, 2015..
  8. Thommes 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, pp. 188-189
  9. "Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival: Overview of Hugo Niebeling retrospecive 2016, with description of his style.". Retrieved February 15, 2015..
  10. "Melbourne Film Festival Official Website: Entry for "Alvorada"". Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  11. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: "Nie wieder erreichte Vervollkommnung der Umsetzung von Musik ins Bild."
  12. "German Historic Museum - Website about Hugo Niebeling Retrospective with quotes". Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  13. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: "Die Pastorale – ein Höhepunkt der gefilmten Musik. Das war aber nicht Karajans, sondern Niebelings Verdienst."
  14. "German Historic Museum - Information-sheet about Pastorale" (PDF). Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  15. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: "Auf diesem Niveau wird Technik wieder zu dem, was sie ursprünglich im Griechischen bedeutete: Kunst... Heute habe ich Musik GESEHEN."
  16. "German Historic Museum - Website about Hugo Niebeling Retrospective with quotes". Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  17. "German Historic Museum Official Website: Information Sheet about "Eroica". (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  18. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: Ein expressionistisches Kunststück, das die Kraft der Musik und die intensive Wirkung von Bildern gleichwertig transportiert."
  19. "German Historic Museum - Website about Hugo Niebeling Retrospective with quotes". Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  20. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: Die (...) Musik-Clip-Ästhetik vermittelt in ihrer Perfektion einen mitreißenden Rhythmus und eine sinnliche Verschmelzung von Musik und Tanz."
  21. "FBW: Website about Apotheosis of Dance". Retrieved February 15, 2016..
  22. "German Historic Museum Official Website: Information Sheet about "Giselle". (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  23. Thommes 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, pp. 184-187
  24. Quote originally in German, translated into English for this article. Original quote: Niebelings Experiment ist ein in sich geschlossenes Meisterwerk"
  25. "German Historic Museum - Information sheet about Giselle." (PDF). Retrieved December 31, 2014..
  26. "German Historical Museum - Retrospective 2013.". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  27. "Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival: List of Awards 2015.". Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  28. "Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival: Announcement of the retrospective on the main site of the festival's homepage.". Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  29. "Website to 2013 retrospective with many documents about Niebeling's films and their projection formats". Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  30. "Article on Niebeling's new projects and on his film St. John's Passion.". Retrieved 7 April 2014..
  31. Thommes 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-8257-9, p. 106
  32. "Gold. Making Of Documentary on Youtube". Retrieved 11 January 2016..
  33. "FBW: rating for film "Apotheose des Tanzes"". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  34. "Deutscher Filmpreis: List of Winners". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  35. "Deutscher Filmpreis: List of Winners". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  36. "Deutscher Filmpreis: List of Winners". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  37. "Deutscher Filmpreis: List of Winners". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  38. "35th Academy Awards: List of Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  39. "Cannes Film Festival 1963: List of Films in Competition". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  40. "Melbourne Film Festival: Entry for Alvorada". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  41. "Cannes Film Festival 1965: List of Official Selections". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  42. "Melbourne Film Festival: List of Hugo Niebeling's films shown there". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  43. "Melbourne Film Festival: List of international awards for the film". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  44. "Melbourne Film Festival: Page for "Magic Light".". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  45. "Melbourne Film Festival: Page for "Allegro".". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  46. "Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, Page for "Klage der Ariadne".". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  47. "Filmbewertungsstelle Wiesbaden, Page for "Eroica".". Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  48. "FBW: rating for film "Apotheose des Tanzes"". Retrieved 11 January 2016.

External links and sources

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