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Music

 

Newly scored for organ and voice, combining themes from the middle ages with contemporary elements.

My score for organ, choir and soloist, developed for the Cologne Philharmonic Hall and the Murnau Foundation, has been performed four times (to date).

 

 

The Concept of the Music: Films with sound (talking movies) make use of speech, music and sound effects. Music for a silent film, on the other hand, must not only support the unfolding drama but also provide pertinent sound effects. During talking movies, any long pauses in the music can be filled in with other acoustical options. Unless intentionally planned, if the music is interrupted during a silent film, the result is an acoustical gap, which breaks the atmosphere, giving rise to an uncomfortable feeling of disillusionment. The dilemma for a composer composing for an 80 minute long film, then, becomes apparent.

I decided, therefore, to vary the perspective of the music, not simply to subdivide dramatically contiguous scenes or to paraphrase the story line, but also to underscore the substance of the pictures being seen with a counterpoint of tones in an effort to create an identifiable “acoustical sensory level.”

The burning at the stake sequence is musically very calm and, with St. Joan’s confidence of salvation, very deeply internal—a fire within. The choral theme accompanying this segment: In Paradisum (“the angels will accompany you to Paradise”) contrasts starkly with the ensuing, rebellion scene, in which the music becomes aggressive and escalates—a fire without.

Dreyer’s film is not obliging or easy on the consumer. Here, an individual, defenceless and unpalatable to a select group—a simple farm maiden in opposition to dialectically schooled clerics—is systematically destroyed (the parallel to the Passion of Christ is undeniably clear). In order to emphasize the narrative, the music can afford to be somewhat unpleasant: an expression of human suffering, pointing the way to the Passion, thereby depicting St. Joan’s death as a triumph of spirit over matter: simplicity triumphs over aggression, reduction of movement over complex motor activity, harmonious relaxation over all available concentrated sound parameters.

 

The distinctiveness of the music lies in a combination of carefully chosen authentic and/or altered phrases taken from Gregorian chant. The pre-existing melodies have been fundamentally altered and tailor-fitted to the film, resulting, above all, in a “liturgical music,” even more so, a “consecrated raiment.” The music is, therefore, a layered wrapping to be “read” by the audience.

Most of the musical excerpts are performed without the original text and have been rhythmically altered and interwoven with the organ score. In this way the music achieves its initially intended goal and can be absorbed as loud or soft, dark or light, soothing or threatening!

The musical quotations can be unlocked by expanding them into ever deeper levels, for instance: gloom—menacing atmosphere—quote “Dies irae“ from the liturgy for the dead—a sequence from the Requiem containing themes of retribution and vengeance—visions of horror—a specific textual quote, “…will destroy the world by fire…”

 

Dreyer’s entirely naturalistic montage technique generates a virtually spiritual world of pictures that is only assembled into a viable structure on a higher level. The narrative of the film itself highlights an alleged transcendence in connection with the fate of St. Joan. The score bears the cost in that it is at home not only in the world of traditional harmony but equally comfortable in the world of late gothic religious music, thereby treating, in a serious manner, the avantgarde content of the film as well as the protestant nature of the fate of a heretic.