Rolf Alexander Wilhelm

Rolf Alexander Wilhelm (23 June 1927 – 17 January 2013[1]) was a German composer, film composer, arranger and conductor.


Born in Munich, at the age of seven Wilhelm received piano lessons. Afterwards he attended the grammar school in Berlin and Vienna. From 1942 he studied piano with a special permission with Grete Hinterhofer and musical composition with Joseph Marx at the Wiener Musikhochschule.

His war deployment as Luftwaffenhelfer and the subsequent emprisonment interrupted the musical career of Wilhelm, who returned to destroyed Munich in 1945 with a Notabitur. There he was able to continue his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München from 1946 and passed the school-leaving examination in 1948. Among his teachers were Heinrich Knappe (conducting), Joseph Haas (musical composition) and Hans Rosbaud (master class)

Even before that, in 1946, Radio München, the forerunner of the Bayerischer Rundfunk, produced The Canterville Ghost, one of its first radio plays after the Second World War. Through the mediation of his brother Kurt Wilhelm who acted as assistant director for the play, the nineteen-year-old composer received his first commission. The work was convincing and Wilhelm advanced to become a busy freelancer for the radio station. He also composed music for the still young medium television for various Zeichengeschichten [de] by Reiner Zimnik [de], for example for Jonas der Angler (1954) and Der Kran (1956).

Wilhelm wrote his first major film music in 1954 for the first film of the 08/15 trilogy, which is one of the most successful post-war films in Germany. Up to the 1990s, the music for about 60 feature films followed, including classics such as The Forests Sing Forever (1959), Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein [de] (1961), Das schwarz-weiß-rote Himmelbett [de] (1962), Scotland Yard Hunts Dr. Mabuse (1963), Tales of a Young Scamp [de] (1964), six films of the Lümmel series [de] (1967 to 1972), The Flying Classroom (1973), The Serpent's Egg (1977), Ödipussi (1988) and finally Pappa Ante Portas (1991).

Among his most complex film works is the music for the large-scale German production Die Nibelungen (1966/67). The rhythm and sound schemata of Mars from the cycle of symphonic poems The Planets by Gustav Holst are now part of the standard stylistic repertoire of the film composers in Hollywood.

Wilhelm has also composed the music for more than 250 radio plays, over 350 television productions and about 300 commercials. In addition, numerous stage musics, orchestra suites and literary chansons were created. For example, he set texts by Kurt Tucholsky to music.

In addition he composed as a young man pop songs under the pseudonym Alex Rolf Ander. His most famous work under this name was Der kleine Eisbär, published in 1951. The use of this pseudonym did not reach the public during his lifetime and was only made public after his death by his daughter Catharina Wilhelm.[2]

He was married to the actress Helga Neuner, who became known to a wide audience through numerous theater appearances and the television series Die Firma Hesselbach.

Wilhelm died at the age of 85 years on 17 January 2013 with his family. The artistic estate is kept in the German Composers' Archive in the Europäisches Zentrum der Künste Hellerau [de].[3]


Feature filmsEdit




  • Deutsche Filmkomponisten, Folge 4, Rolf Wilhelm, Bear Family Records, 2001, BCD 16484 AR
  • Rolf Wilhelm 1: Tarabas / Hiob (director: Michael Kehlmann), 2006 Alhambra (A 8957)
  • Rolf Wilhelm 2: Flucht ohne Ende / Radetzkymarsch (series: Michael Kehlmann), 2006 Alhambra (A8958)
  • Die Nibelungen, 2001 Cobra (CR 006A/B)
  • Loriot: Pappa ante Portas (soundtrack)
  • Loriot: Ödipussi (soundtrack)
  • Hugo Hartung – Ich denke oft an Piroschka. Direction Kurt Wilhelm ISBN 3-550-09092-7
  • Lausbubengeschichten von Ludwig Thoma. Narrated by Willy Rösner (spoken record)
  • Kurt Wilhelm – Der Brandner Kaspar und das ewig' Leben. Komödie nach einer Erzählung, Motiven und Gedichten von Franz von Kobell. Music: Rolf Wilhelm (spoken record)
  • Jonas der Angler/Lektro: Die verschwundene Melodie. Joachim Fuchsberger liest moderne Märchen von Reiner Zimnik. (spoken record)
  • Gisela May singt Tucholsky
  • Der Sängerkrieg der Heidehasen. Ein Hörspiel für Groß und Klein von James Krüss.

Further readingEdit

  • Rolf Wilhelm – „Manchmal wird die Musik zugekleistert …“, Interview with Raimund Saxinger and Matthias Büdinger, in Filmharmonische Blätter. Issue 7/October/November 1987, pp. 28–37
  • Rolf Wilhelm – Musik bedeutet immerwährendes Asyl, Interview in two parts with Stefan Schlegel, in Cinema Musica. Edition 1/July 2005, pp. 53–58 and edition 2 October 2005, pp. 50–58

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Traueranzeige in die Süddeutsche Zeitung
  2. ^ Catharina Wilhelm: Ode an ein Lebenswerk: Die leisen Töne des Rolf Alexander Wilhelm. (28 November 2013)
  3. ^ Eintrag im Deutschen Komponistenarchiv
  4. ^ Lifetime Achievement Honorees of the ITEA