About this Recording
8.223467 - HONEGGER: Demon de L'Himalaya / Regain
English 

The Film Music of Arthur Honegger (1892 -1955)

The Film Music of Arthur Hanegger (1892-1955)

 

Arthur Honegger, one of the greatest of twentieth century composers, made an unrivalled contribution to film music during the course of some thirty years, from his scores for Abel Gance's La Roue in 1922 and Napoléon in 1926, music that he regarded as his apprentice work, to his last works of this kind in 1951, a total production of some forty film scores. Half of these were written and orchestrated by the composer himself, and the rest in collaboration with his friend Arthur Hoérée, who died in 1986 before he could hear the present recording, with André Jolivet, Maurice Jaubert, Darius Milhaud, Roland-Manuel and Maurice Thiriet, this largely through pressure of time. Nevertheless Honegger's music for films is a considerable achievement for a composer of such importance. Some of his film scores like Mermoz and Regain were arranged by the composer for concert use.

 

Honegger, himself a film enthusiast often to be seen on the set during shooting, reveals astonishingly advanced ideas on the function of music in the cinema, his pre-eminence in the field recognised already in 1936 by Kurt London who described him as the true leader of modern film music in France. He regarded the ideal film score as a distinct component in a unified medium, despising clumsy attempts at cartoon synchronization with movement on the screen and looking forward to films that might not so much be supplied with music as inspired by it.

 

In Honegger's opinion, cinematic montage differs from musical composition in that, while the latter depends on continuity and logical development, the film relies on contrasts. Music and sound must, therefore, adapt themselves to strengthening and complementing the visual element, while the whole must be an artistic unity, in which the generally visual imagination of the public may be assisted to a greater understanding of the musical message.

 

Mayerling

 

Of the two scores composed by Honegger for director Anatole Litvak, L'Equipage (1935) and Mayerling (1936), only the latter has survived. An interesting circumstance about Mayerling is that a suite from the score was printed at the time by Editions Echo, a seemingly pioneering publishing company that had intended to make available to wider audiences a series of film scores. Unfortunately the company did not survive. Compared to a film on the same subject by Max Ophüls, Litvak's version of the impossible love story of Archduke Rudolf and Marie Vetsera, an affaire that ended in a double suicide, could not enjoy any real success. Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux were unconvincing actors and also unconvincingly directed, as would later be the case with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve in a subsequent Technicolor version by Terence Young. Practically all the music of the present suite corresponds to that of the soundtrack. In the original Main Title (Générique), however, Honegger's humorous quotation of Strauss's Wein, Weib und Gesang (Wine, Woman and Song) is brutally interrupted by the quotation of the Radetzky March. In addition to a concluding miniature fanfare in the third movement, two pistol shots and the sound of a bell occurring exactly on the beat have been restored in the Finale for this recording in order to emphasize the tragic atmosphere of the action on the screen.

 

Regain

 

Regain, a remarkable film by Marcel Pagnol of 1938, based on a novel by Jean Giono and featuring actors including Fernandei, Gabriel Gabrio and Orane Demazis, is a homage to Provence and its country people. The story concerns the deserted village of Aubignane and its infertile land, eventually brought to prosperity again through the united forces of a poacher and a cabaret-girl. Panturle has taken her away from Gédémus, a good-hearted but simple-minded knife-grinder, who had bought her after she had been raped by some charcoal-burners. His love for Arsule is the driving force behind his patient and honest labour.

 

Honegger's music is inspired and more varied in style than many other of his film scores. It is this attribute which makes it give way to the real and less pretentious demands of the film. A comparison of the soundtrack with the manuscript score proves not only that many pieces were drastically cut or not used at all but that others were used for sequences different from those for which they had originally been intended. This may have been the reason for the composer's decision to assemble a short symphonic suite of Regain, the score of which was never printed but was made available by the French publisher in the form of a photocopy of the manuscript score with the orchestral material. The second suite, extracted for this recording, is made up of pieces which were variously cut in the original film. This applies in the first place to the Introduction, newly so called, which apparently should have been the original Main Title of the film, later to be replaced by the fuller and certainly more apt Le Panturle of the first suite. One can also understand why such an extended, highly chromatic and "modern" sounding piece as Nuit dans la grange could not be used for a rather comic or simple scene between a comic knife-grinder and a girl of questionable past, forced to spend a night together in a stable and both frightened and embarrassed at their situation. This particular piece, however, is an excellent example of Honegger's more avantgarde film-score writing, similar to that of Der Dämon des Himalaya, written four years before. For this recording Nuit dans la grange has been linked to an earlier cue, Eté, built on a 7/8 ostinato figuration in the strings, floating calmly over a principal 3/4 beat.

 

The magnificent Nocturne shows us Honegger at his best, both as a composer and as an orchestrator, in his use of minimal means. In the last movement, Le soc, a short trio is included, taken from the merry-go-round music for an earlier village fair scene. The first suite, in which the pointed heroic leit-motiv is heard in various places, contains two more evocative "season" pieces, Printemps (Spring) and Hiver (Winter), with an amusing miniature polka, characterizing the grinder's errands from village to village. Either by using a smaller chamber-music style ensemble, as in Nocturne, Gédémus, Le Remouleur and Hiver, or a full orchestra, as in the first and fifth movements of the first suite, the composer created an inspired score which, when heard independently, immediately suggests a hymn to nature. As in the orchestras of many film scores by Honegger, the alto saxophone plays here an important part. Piano and extra percussion such as sleigh-bells, rattle and snare-drum have also been included in an ensemble of normal symphonic dimensions, apart from the absence of horns.

 

Der Dämon des Himalaya

 

After a first successful expedition to the Himalayas in 1930, of which the documentary Thron der Götter was made, Professor Günter Oskar Dyrenfurth and director Andrew Marton had in mind to produce a dramatic mountain film, a mixture of fiction and documentary. The members of the 1934 expedition were, therefore, also contracted as screen actors and the professional actor Gustav Diessl was contracted as a mountaineer. Interiors were to be filmed later in the Berlin Grufa studios. The film tells the story of Norman, an ethnologist, who has in his possession the mask of the mountain demon Kali Mata, a spirit that prevents ordinary mortals from climbing the Himalayan peaks against the will of the gods of Tibet. Norman joins the expedition of Professor Wille (Dyrenfurth in person) and Anna, his fiancée, who remains at home, breaks the spell of the mask by smashing it, thus enabling the expedition to overcome its initial difficulties. Another woman, Ellen, the Professor's wife, eventually saves the climbers from the White Dead. After a terrible storm, for which some shots were later taken on the Swiss Jungfraujoch, and the appearance of the demon, Norman collapses and wakes up in the Buddhist monastery of Lamayuru, where in a vision he sees his companions triumphantly reaching the Golden Throne. Marton's subsequent Hollywood career as a second unit director gave him the chance to sell some exterior reels of Der Dämon des Himalaya to Frank Capra for use in his Lost Horizon of 1937 and even to re-use more of the old material in a new Himalayan drama of 1951, Storm over Tibet or Mask of the Himalaya, in which it seems that Honegger's music is heard again, with that of Leith Stevens.

 

Unfortunately no copies of the original film nor of its post-war remake could be traced so that the final use in the soundtrack of the first of the two music pieces that have survived in manuscript is not clear. A further version by a copyist has been found, which turns out to be nothing other than a reverse transcription of Honegger's Tempête de Neige (Snow-storm). On the other hand Honegger's manuscript has reference numbers placed already in reverse order and a percussion part showing hold slurs starting in the air. This may lead us to suppose that on the soundtrack this movement may have been intended to be edited or may actually have been edited on tapes played backwards, as the composer had already tried in his music for Raptin 1934. Nevertheless one only adds reference numbers in reverse order for film editing, since they are not used in this form by musicians. Furthermore the copyist's score, which may have been the work of Leon Borchard, the conductor of the original soundtrack, played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, causes problems, among others in places where original triple appoggiaturas in all brass quotations of the leit-motiv could not be properly played in reverse mode. Alternatively, perhaps it was decided later that the reverse score should be edited backwards, or possibly Honegger's original reference numbers were added afterwards, to help Borchard prepare a probable new version. In both cases music using such large orchestral forces, if played backwards, would result in an impossible cacophony, especially bearing in mind the somewhat primitive recording techniques of the time. While editing the score and the material for the present recording, it was decided to use Honegger's original manuscript and to revise the percussion part and same other short passages. A purely musical comparisan of both versions of Tempête de Neige led us finally to prefer the original.

 

The score, a real and important discovery, is conceived for large orchestra, without horns, but including two saxophones, Trautonium (Ondes Martenot), piano, harp, percussion and a wordless mixed chorus. The music is "realistic" and experimental for its period, at least as film music, and is built on extended ostinato accompaniments, precursor of today's minimalist techniques, and chromatically dissonant motif-cells. While Tempête has no leit-motiv, Ascension et Chute, to which a later cue, the final episode Vision has been added, is built on a passacaglia-like theme, interrupted by recollections of the demonic sounds of the brass heard in Tempête, leading to a climax through a short, vertiginous cadenza for the Ondes Martenot. Again the passacaglia is heard, as a counterpoint to the hymn of the chorus, ending on the Mixolydian mode on D.

 

Later, in 1943, Honegger would write Mermoz, another ambitious film score, similar in style and dramatic impact, making him once more the greatest, if hitherto unjustly neglected, European film composer of the first half of the twentieth century.

 

Adriano (edited by Keith Anderson)

 

Slovak Philharmonic Choir

 

The Slovak Philharmonic Choir was formed in 1946 from the mixed choir of Radio Bratislava and has performed, over the years, a wide repertoire of music, ranging from the earliest choral works to the work of contemporary composers. The Choir, since 1990 directed by Jan Rozehnal, has performed under some of the most distinguished conductors, from Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel to Vaclav Talich and Yuri Temirkanov, and has appeared in concerts and festival performances throughout Europe, in addition to continuing collaboration with the opera-houses of Vienna, Strasbourg, Szeged, Bordeaux and Düsseldorf. Recordings by the Choir include the oratorio The Legend of St. Elizabeth by Liszt for Hungaroton, awarded the Paris Grand Prix du Disque in 1974 and a number of works for Naxos and Marco Polo.

 

Jacques Tchamkerten

 

The young Swiss musician Jacques Tchamkerten specialises in the technique of a rare electronic instrument of the early 1930s, ancestor of today's synthesizer. French composers such as Milhaud, Honegger, Koechlin, Messiaen and Jolivet have written works for Ondes Martenot, an instrument on which Mme Jeanne Loriod, his former teacher, is the

acknowledged expert. He lectures frequently on his instrument and besides engagements as a solo or chamber performer, is much in demand as a player in works such as Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, where the Ondes also figure in the orchestral texture.

 

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)

 

The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief, succeeded recently by Robert Stankowsky. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.

 

Adriano

 

Swiss-born Adriano began his artistic activities in the domains of the theatre and the graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught, and while still in his twenties was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a composer of stage, film and chamber music and also a record producer for his own gramophone label, Adriano Records. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition and publishing a discography. He has also orchestrated two song-cycles by Respighi. Other instrumental adaptations by Adriano include songs by Mussorgsky and Ibert. In recent years he has worked as an Italian and French language coach and stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its International Opera Studio. His works in the promotion of little known music include an old Italian translation of Telemann's opera Pimpinone, given its first performance in Italy in 1987 and a theatrical prologue that he delivered himself for a production of Galuppi's II Filosofo di campagna at the Stuttgart in 1988. Adriano now works regularly as a guest conductor with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava, particularly in an important series of recordings of film music by major twentieth century composers for Marco Polo, for which he has also directed acclaimed recording of lesser known works by Respighi. The present recording of film music by Honegger is Adriano¡¦s eleventh recording for Marco Polo.


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