DINA GILBERT & MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS
|Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 7:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
Presented in French
Desplat, The Golden Compass (excerpt): "Sky Ferry"
Saint-Saëns, The Assassination of the Duke of Guise, op. 128 (excerpt): Introduction
Prokofiev, Alexander Nevsky, op. 78 (excerpt): V. "Battle on the ice" (excerpt)
Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kijé Suite, op. 60 (excerpt): "Romance"
Chaplin, Modern Times (excerpt): Smile
François Dompierre, Les portes tournantes (excerpt): "Promenade"
Dukas, Fantasia (excerpt):The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (excerpt)
Legrand, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (arr. É. Lagacé) (excerpts)
Morricone, The Mission (excerpt): "Gabriel’s Oboe"
Rota, The Godfather (excerpts): "Love Theme" and "The Godfather Finale"
Williams, Schindler’s List Main Theme
Silvestri, Back to the Future Orchestral Suite
Michel Cusson, Séraphin : un homme et son péché (excerpt) : Variations on "Rêveries" (orch. M. Cusson and D. Desaulniers)
Williams, Star Wars Main Theme
Ever since Camille Saint-Saëns wrote the first film music in 1908 for The Assassination of the Duke of Guise, numerous composers – among them Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Michel Legrand and, closer to home, Michel Cusson and François Dompierre – have tried their hand at it, immensely enhancing the movie experience. Rémy Girard, a devoted soundtrack fan, should prove to be the ideal host for a richly coloured evening.
Networking event by the Club des jeunes ambassadeurs for ages 34 and under.
In a 1946 article from The Musical Digest, Stravinsky declared, “there is only one real function of film music – namely, to feed the composer!” Fortunately, since the dawn of cinema at the end of the 19th century, many great musicians have proved the contrary.
In fact, music plays a central role in the history of the seventh art: one needs only think of the 20th Century Fox opening music, written by Alfred Newman in 1933, to feel immediately transported into the world of the movie theatre. Other composers brilliantly manage to conjure a film’s entire universe in the very first notes. This is the case for Alexandre Desplat (born in 1961), the French composer who wrote the original soundtrack to The Golden Compass, released in 2007. The music perfectly illustrates the fantastical nature of this cinematic adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel. The nervous ostinatos, menacing harmonies and colourful orchestration immediately transport the listener into a world outside of time.
SILENT CINEMA: THE FIRST FILM MUSIC
The expressive power of music was not necessarily exploited at the very beginning of the seventh art. In fact, soundtracks to the first films, entrusted to a live pianist, or more rarely, an orchestra, had a practical purpose: to mask the sound of the projector. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was still no such thing as a purpose-written film score. Pianists, when they weren’t improvising, played from albums of original pieces or arrangements. Certain typical devices come to mind, such as descending scales for a character tumbling down a flight of stairs, or solid chords for a slamming door. Synchronisation between sound and image could sometimes cause major problems, the music sometimes contradicting the desired effect!
However, music quickly became an essential component of cinematic works starting in 1908, upon the appearance of the first original score written expressly for a film, L’assassinat du duc de Guise. In it, the composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) musically illustrated certain key dramatic details for this historic short film of 15 minutes.
THE RISE OF “TALKIES”
With the advent of talking movies around 1930, music was less and less frequently played live during the projection, and more often pre-recorded in a definitive version. These first “original soundtracks,” most often written for symphony orchestra, were characterised by long melodies, thematic development and use of the Leitmotiv principle. Their function was essentially descriptive.
Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) original score for the film Alexander Nevsky, directed in 1939 by Sergei Eisenstein, goes above and beyond the simple principle of musical illustration. In the epic “Battle on the ice” scene at the climax of the film, the music contributes a significant emotional dimension through its raucous and dissonant sonorities and the omnipresence of the brass and percussion. It truly conveys the sense of combat.
In the music for Lieutenant Kijé, Prokofiev cleverly illustrates the absurd nature of this adaptation of a novella by Yury Tynyanov, directed by Alexander Feinzimmer in 1933. In the romance, the principal theme is taken up by the contrabass, the viola, the tenor saxophone, the bassoon and horn in unison, then the celesta. The interest rests in the opposition between the melody’s plaintive character and the peculiar instrumentation. This piece was reprised and popularised by Sting in his song “Russians.”
Though filmed nearly eight years after the introduction of talking cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s (1889-1977) film Modern Times includes only one scene in which we can hear the famous “Little Tramp” character singing in an unintelligible language. It also features the famous song Smile, written by Chaplin himself.
Early music for cinema is also marked by the use of the great classics to support certain images. In 1940, Walt Disney set out on an ambitious project to accompany famous works from the classical repertory with an animated film. Fantasia, with its eight musical excerpts interpreted mostly by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, became first in a new cinematic genre in which the music is at the very heart of the proposition. Mickey Mouse, trying (and failing) to control his enchanted brooms to the music of Paul Dukas’ (1865-1935) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is without a doubt one of the most memorable scenes from this masterpiece.
FROM THE 1960s TO TODAY
Several decades later, music would become a cinematic language in itself, contributing to the narrative and expressive power of films. The soundtrack took on a whole new dimension, leaving behind its purely descriptive function to become a full-fledged protagonist.
In The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy, to music by Michel Legrand (born in 1932), all dialogue is sung. This cinematic classic becomes in essence a “popular opera,” according to Demy himself. Indeed, from the 1960s onward, the success of great cinema masterpieces was often intrinsically linked to their soundtracks, these films often conceived as close collaborations between directors and composers.
In the 1970s, composers explored elements of jazz, rock and pop music, all the while continuing to compose orchestral scores characterised by lyricism and melancholy, as in the cases of Nina Rota (1911-1979) for The Godfather trilogy (directed by Francis Coppola) or Ennio Morricone (born in 1928) for the film The Mission. In the early 1980s the world witnessed a symphonic rebirth with the wildly successful soundtrack to Star Wars, written by John Williams (born in 1932), winner of an Oscar for best film music in 1977. According to director George Lucas, a large share of the success of his legendary saga rests on the emotional power of its music. This is partly explained by the use of the Leitmotiv, inspired by Richard Wagner, consisting of associating a character, place or idea with a musical motive. Here, the music takes on a new dimension, commenting on or explaining a character and the actions taking place.
The most famous soundtracks have the power to evoke the entire universe of a cult classic from the very first measures. This is the case in the score to the Back to the Future trilogy, written by Alan Silvestri (born in 1950). The central role of the brass and percussion immediately sets the tone in these three action movies.
The same can be said for John Williams’ touching melody for Schindler’s List. The melancholy tone of the violin inspires a sense of remembrance in the listener, setting the scene for this historical drama. Inspired by the nostalgic sounds of Jewish music, Williams collaborated with violinist Itzhak Perlman, for whom the solo part was written. The original soundtrack to Schindler’s List won the Oscar for best film music in 1994.
MUSIC IN QUEBEC CINEMA
In the history of film music, Quebec should not be forgotten, with composers François Dompierre (born in 1943) and Michel Cusson (born in 1957), who fused elements of symphonic, jazz, pop and rock genres. In the music for the film Les portes tournantes (directed by Francis Mankiewicz in 1988), Dompierre integrates elements of jazz and ragtime. Cusson composed the famous song “Depuis le premier jour,” popularised by Isabelle Boulay, and originating in the film Séraphin : un homme et son péché.
© Catherine Mathieu
English translation by Marc Wieser
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