A few years ago the phone rang in Peter Thomas' villa in Lugano, Switzerland, and the phone was on the lineand asked for help. More specifically, the director from Hollywood called the German to help "George" – Clooney was meant – because he unfortunately has no idea of music, as Tarantino clarified.
Back in 2002, Clooney worked on his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the memoirs of US show master Chuck Barris. Sam Rockwell plays the lead role, but what was missing was sparkling music. Tarantino, himself a great music nerd and fan of the German Edgar Wallace films, was also impressed by the soundtracks of the black and white crime novels.
WDR / Bavaria / picture-alliance / obs
When Peter Thomas asked him how exactly he could help please, Tarantino explained to him in a pinch which Edgar Wallace melodies would refine his buddy Clooney's film. Thomas offered to freshly record the old pieces, but Tarantino waved in dismay: No, the melodies were perfect as they were played by Thomas in the 1960s. The musician, composer, conductor and arranger, then over 70 at the time, later rejoiced that such an old Berlin big band had made it into a modern Hollywood film.
Peter Thomas was able to shake such stories a dozen times from the sleeve of his mostly tailored jacket. The artist was happy to receive in a good mood in his favorite hotel on Berlin's Kurfürstendamm, where he always presented his XL business card, on which his residences in Saint Tropez, Kitzbühel and Lugano were listed on fine cardboard.
The composer, who would have been a member of the board of a Dax-listed company, was, in the best sense of the word, an old-school gentleman. Above all, however, Peter Thomas was an adventurous free spirit who revolutionized the smacked sound of the FRG with the compositions for film and television that had made him rich.
"To be called crazy is the greatest compliment for a musician"
Over a cup of coffee, Thomas loved to explain how the sound of words changes when you pronounce them backwards, even in old age. For example Peter Thomas: "Retep Samoth – the reverberation suddenly becomes a reverberation", he said and was pleased with this simple and effective trick to add something exotic to something quite normal. Accordingly, Thomas often described his approach to composition as "crazy": "To be called crazy is the greatest compliment for a musician. It's just another word for the joy of experimentation and the courage to take risks."
Peter Thomas was born in Breslau in 1925. When he was two years old, his parents moved to Berlin with him, where he received piano lessons from preschool. He experienced the war as a soldier and, after returning to Berlin from a long period of imprisonment, financed his music studies as a pianist in the Allied clubs. There, he said, he once managed Chopin's minute waltz at the prescribed minute while a Russian soldier held the barrel of a pistol to his temple.
In the 1950s, Thomas completed his studies in conducting, musical composition, counterpoint and brass music. An education that he found substantial to be able to compose "crazy". He began composing for the Rias dance orchestra and soon became involved in the film business in the young Federal Republic.
Like later power station
However, he found it difficult to implement other people's specifications without adding anything of his own. Of course, this led to tensions in beautiful regularity, but ultimately earned him independent soundtrack assignments quite quickly. After working for television, the breakthrough came in the early 1960s with the Edgar Wallace films. Peter Thomas contributed the music for a total of 18 films of the then enormously popular series, including classics such as "The Witcher" and "The Strange Countess" – and found an individual sound.
Like many other film composers of the time, Thomas was inspired by American big bands, but found no fulfillment in simply adopting their style. Instead, he was looking for fresh and unusual sounds. He started running tapes backwards and integrating sounds – shots and screams – into his crime melody.
Peter Thomas used a vocoder early on, like later Kraftwerk, and even had his own synthesizer designed: the "Tho-Wi-Phon", which is now in Munich at the Deutsches Museum. Thomas conjured up a wonderfully futuristic sound for over 600 TV and cinema productions. In addition to the Wallace music, his soundtrack for the science fiction series "Raumpatrouille Orion" from 1966 is considered a classic.
There were also dozens of appearances for successful formats such as "Derrick" or "Der Alte" and several of Francis Durbridge's street sweeping multi-parts, but also comedies such as "Three Men in the Snow", erotic clothing, war films such as "Steiner – The Iron Cross" or Erich von Dänikens for an Oscar-nominated documentary "Memories of the Future". With his song "You Live in Your World", written by Daisy Door for a episode of the TV crime novel "Der Kommissar", Thomas had a number one hit in the German single charts for four weeks in 1972.
In addition, he also discovered later stars in a Munich recording studio such as Donna Summer – "Then she was called Gaines" – or Abi and Esther Ofarim for the pop world.
In the music industry, the German had long been known worldwide as a master of his genre, but he came to a new kind of fame in the 1990s, when his music was discovered by young hipsters as exceptional. Back then lounge pop and easy listening were in vogue – and suddenly bands such as Saint Etienne, Stereolab or Pulp by Peter Thomas raved about. The latter, led by singer Jarvis Cocker, even converted the Thomas number "Bolero on the Moon" into their single "This is Hardcore".
It was a late hype, which the composer thoroughly enjoyed, even if he showed little understanding for musicians who sampled his works without permission. After the turn of the millennium, Thomas had largely withdrawn, but followed the hustle and bustle of the grown-up madmen in music until the very end.
On May 17, Peter Thomas died in his adopted home town of Lugano at the age of 94.