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Werner Herzog's love-hate of music

Film director explains to audience how he rediscovered his love for music.

Werner Herzog’s award-winning films have become synonymous with music.

It was there from the outset of his famous collaborations with kraut-rock pioneer Florian Fricke on such films as Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, which proved an award winner at the Cannes Film Festival, to the haunting cello of Ernst Reijseger on his more recent documentaries.
But the irony is that the creator of more than 50 films fell out of love with music at school.

Speaking to Red Bull Music Academy in New York, Herzog revealed: “I had a little tragedy in school. A school teacher forced me to sing in front of the class – just to break my back.

“Everyone had to do it but I vowed never to listen to music again or sing again in my life. I’ve never sung again in my life.”

Herzog’s frostiness to music thankfully dissipated and, in his late teens, he began listening to music voraciously, almost as though playing catch-up to what he had missed.

Originally, his musical interests began with 17th Century composers before evolving into Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and even Elvis Presley and, most recently, Chuck Berry although not properly until the singer’s recent death.

His abiding memory of Elvis is seeing one of his films in a cinema in Munich when the audience suddenly began to quietly and methodically dismantle the theatre.

Another stand-out musical memory dates to the Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s.

“I saw the first appearance of the Rolling Stones at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh,” he recalled. “After the concert, which was really remarkable, there were these plastic seats.

“Every fourth or fifth of the seats was steaming with pee – the girls just from the sheer hysteria. I thought ‘this is going to be big’.”
In an engaging interview with Vivian Host, Herzog also revealed his early passion for opera, which spawned his innovative approach so often apparent on the silver screen.

“The first opera I staged was Doktor Faust, which is hard to stage and musically very difficult," he said. “It was in Bologna, it was spring and the first lambs born in the meadows.

“So I brought a live lamb onto the stage. At the end, there was just one cello left and a little lamb trying to find its mother and looking at the orchestra pit and audience, and little voice searching. People loved it.”

In a separate interview, Herzog also sat down with Todd L. Burns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In that, he admitted to a fear of museums - despite the venue for the talk - and played down suggestions he was difficult to work with. He said: "I'm rumoured to be this man who doesn't take no for an answer. That's silly. Of course I take no for an answer."

The multifarious conversation also included praise for the music of the Lion King, an enjoyment of the recent film La La Land, and advice for musicians to stay away from drink and drugs to become better performers.