Music and Imagery in “Triumph of the Will”

Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” is one of the most controversial and yet artistically stimulating films ever produced. The film highlights the second annual rally of the Nazi party that took place in September 1934. Though the film was not created by the Ministry of Propaganda, some refer to it as a propaganda film because, whether purposely or not, the film glorifies Hitler and the Nazis. Among other elements, the music of the film plays an essential role in conveying this glory to the audience. The film’s musical director, Herbert Windt, accomplishes this through his use of original composition, Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and an official Nazi Party tune called the Horst Wessel Song.

In my analysis of the music of “Triumph of the Will,” I will examine four particular moments in the film. Below are listed the exact times in the film when these moments occur in the format hour:minute:seconds. Though they are not all contiguous, I will refer to them as consecutive scenes.
Scene 1: 0:00:00—0:02:35. In this scene, we see the opening credits and the airplane carrying Hitler flying above the clouds.
Scene 2: 0:02:56—0:03:51. The airplane begins its descent into Nuremberg and we see soldiers marching into the city.
Scene 3: 0:12:02—0:13:37. This scene shows early morning views of Nuremberg.
Scene 4: 1:01:00—1:02:22. In this scene, Hitler and two other top officials take a moment to pause in front of a World War I veterans memorial.
Though these moments are listed in the order in which they appear in the film, it is important to note that the film itself does not portray the exact chronological order of the events of the rally. Riefenstahl rearranged the footage from the rally to create a more artistic and less prosaic order. It is also important to note that, while I make clear distinctions in the thesis between Windt’s original composition, Die Meistersinger, and Nazi Party music, the musical distinctions are less pronounced in the film. There are times, for instance, when Windt transitions into original music through the use of arrangements of say Wagner or Nazi Party songs. Windt did not personally compose all of the music, but all of the music in the film is subjected to his personal artistic interpretation.

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