|About this Recording
8.572567 - PERRY, W.: Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, Vol. 1 (Ireland RTÉ National Symphony, P. Phillips)
William Perry (b. 1930)
William Perry has been associated with film and stage, both as a composer and as a producer, through much of his creative life. His six definitive films based on the major works of Mark Twain won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. (His music for these films is available on Naxos 8.570200.) His Broadway musical, Wind in the Willows, for which he wrote the music and co-authored the lyrics, was nominated for three Tony Awards. There is an Emmy Award among the many other awards for his more than seventy programs produced for American Public Television.
It is likely, however, that no achievement is more lasting or important than the contributions William Perry has made to the remarkable resurgence of interest in the great films of the silent era. For twelve years as Music Director of the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, he provided virtuosic piano accompaniments to the showings of silent films at the Museum and other major film centers, and he composed more than one hundred scores for the Museum’s collection. His television series, The Silent Years, hosted by Orson Welles and Lillian Gish, brought many of these scores to audiences throughout the world who were experiencing the beauty and excitement of classic silent films for the first time.
Now another generation can participate in the silent film renaissance through acquaintance with Perry’s scores in the full symphonic treatments offered on this recording. The Gemini Concerto: An Entertainment for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, composed for and performed here by the Albek Duo of Switzerland, draws on music from seven classic silent films. The Silent Years: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra offer three of Perry’s best-known scores in piano concerto form: The Beloved Rogue, Blood and Sand and The Gold Rush. And in Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie, Perry provides a whimsical overview of a cinema composer’s quest for ever more films in need of his music.
Gemini Concerto: An Entertainment for Violin, Piano and Orchestra
The Gemini Concerto: An Entertainment for Violin, Piano and Orchestra was written for identical twin sisters, Ambra and Fiona Albek, who gave the première of the work on 8 May 2010 in Greenfield, Massachusetts with the Pioneer Valley Symphony conducted by Paul Phillips. Ambra (violin and viola) and Fiona (piano) comprise the Albek Duo and are from Lugano, Switzerland.
The Concerto calls for both lyric and dramatic playing with some visual requirements as well. At one point the violinist moves through the orchestra challenging the various string sections and later, in the waltz movement, the violinist walks down through the audience. In the third movement and again in the finale, the violin is exchanged for a viola. As the music builds at the end of the Concerto, the pianist is playing with fists and forearms and finally stands to perform a series of black-key glissandos.
William Perry has provided the following notes:
“As with much of my concert music, there is a cinematic aspect to the concerto and a kind of scenario. It describes five cities that the Albek Twins visit on their wide-ranging concert appearances and seeks to capture the flavor of music characteristic of each locale.
The opening movement introduces the travel music theme that will be heard throughout the concerto as a link between cities, and the initial sound is a blast on an Acme Thunderer, the legendary brass whistle that is used to start trains throughout Europe and which composer Richard Rodney Bennett famously used in Murder on the Orient Express.
Our first visit is to Dublin, represented by the typical melody of a Celtic Air played over a drone bass with conspicuous harp chords. This is followed by a reel with the type of wild fiddling that might be heard in an Irish pub. The finish of the movement combines the reel with a return of the Celtic Air.
We are next in Berlin, and the music recalls the days of the Weimar Republic. A cabaret march portrays an assemblage of clowns, stilt-walkers and jugglers circling the stage. Then a poignant serenade played on a viola captures the beauty of Berlin when the linden is in bloom, but this is a depiction as it might be seen through the prism of Marlene Dietrich leaning against a piano in a smoky room.
The Moscow movement depicts a sleigh drawn by three black horses carrying a young nobleman through a snowy landscape to the grand dacha of his beloved. The sound of sleigh bells and a balalaika (piano tremolos) enhances the mood of expectation. Trumpet fanfares announce the suitor’s arrival, and a broad and increasingly ardent romantic theme suggests that his trip was not in vain.
In the days of the Strauss dynasty, the Viennese polka provided amusing pictures of steam engines, hunting parties, thunder and lightning, and pizzicato-prone violinists. Our polka features polytonality, where the violin and piano play simultaneously in two different keys with the orchestra then adding a third. This leads to a chain of waltzes celebrating the virtues of Austrian wine, especially the fizzy kind. The music is marked “Spritzig,” and the sound of corks popping and glasses clinking is frequently heard.
The journey ends in New York, where the travel music takes on a distinctly Broadway beat, and the soloists and orchestra enjoy swinging some melodies that might have come from the pens of George Gershwin or Irving Berlin. At one point the famous sound of the Glenn Miller band is turned upside down when the orchestra, instead of presenting a clarinet lead over saxophones offers a saxophone lead over clarinets. In a moment of seriousness, we briefly revisit the main themes from Dublin, Berlin and Moscow in recognition of the great immigrations to New York from Ireland, Germany and Russia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Concerto then gathers its forces and sweeps to a jubilant conclusion.”
Silent Film Themes in the Gemini Concerto
The classic film composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, based his popular violin concerto on themes he had written for four films: Another Dawn (1937), Juarez (1939), Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Prince and the Pauper (1937). William Perry, in writing his Gemini Concerto, has adopted the same approach and has drawn on thematic material from seven of his popular silent film scores.
After presenting the travel music theme in the first movement and using it thereafter to introduce each subsequent movement, Perry uses a theme from Little Annie Rooney, starring Mary Pickford (1925) for the Dublin movement and music from The Last Laugh starring Emil Jannings (1924) for Berlin. Tempest, a John Barrymore film set in the closing days of Czarist Russia (1928) provides the love music for Moscow, and the waltz theme from A Kiss for Cinderella, with Betty Bronson (1925) carries us to Vienna. The final movement, set in New York, draws on three silent scores: Show People with Marion Davies and William Haines (1928), the Gloria Swanson comedy Fine Manners (1926), and the King Vidor masterpiece, The Crowd (1928).
Here are the themes:
The Silent Years: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra
In composing The Silent Years, William Perry has selected three of his best-known film scores and given them a full concert orchestral treatment, with the solo piano celebrating the many unheralded accompanists who provided music during the silent era. Each film stars one of Hollywood’s leading screen actors of the 1920s, and their colorful character themes are combined with luxuriant love music since each is in thrall with a beautiful lady who becomes the all-encompassing focus of his life, and in one instance, death.
Each story has a unique setting, and the music must quickly establish a sense of time and place. The Beloved Rogue, starring John Barrymore, is a narrative of the late Middle Ages, and this is announced at the very beginning by the brass section playing fanfares in open fifths. The music for Blood and Sand, with Rudolph Valentino, reflects the torrid atmosphere of Andalucia, with a strong minor key opening foretelling a fateful destiny for those who choose to be bullfighters. The Gold Rush captures the spirit of the Klondike in 1897 with an orchestral anvil portraying the pickaxes of the prospectors. Throughout what is effectively a concerto, the solo piano explores the emotions of the leading characters and glowingly introduces the love music.
I. The Beloved Rogue (1927) Directed by Alan Crosland
This is the story of François Villon (John Barrymore), the swashbuckling fifteenth century scoundrel and poet who wrote “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”—“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”
The Duke of Burgundy (Lawson Butt) arrives at the gates of Paris intent on arranging a marriage between one of his henchmen and Charlotte de Vauxcelles (Marceline Day), ward of the king. Crafty and superstitious, Louis XI (Conrad Veidt) asks the advice of his Court Astrologer (Nigel de Brulier), who tells him to welcome the Duke.
Villon, favorite of the masses and reigning monarch of All Fool’s Day, taunts Burgundy as he rides to the Palace and accuses him of seeking to control France. To appease his guest, the King exiles Villon from Paris and is persuaded to agree to the marriage. But Villon and Charlotte meet, run off together and find refuge in the home of his mother, where he is later found and sentenced to death.
Villon’s life is spared when he takes advantage of Louis’s superstition by telling him that he, Villon, is fated to die 24 hours before the King. As a protected member of the Court he is now able to meet Charlotte and proclaim his love. Burgundy, determined to see his plans carried through, abducts Charlotte, and Villon is captured when he tries to rescue her. Disguised as a cripple, the King leads the beggars of the Court of Miracles to the rescue and vanquishes Burgundy. Charlotte asks permission to marry Villon, and the King gives his blessing.
II. Blood and Sand Directed by Fred Niblo
Based on the Blasco Ibañez novel, Sangre y arena, this is the story of Juan Gallardo (Rudolph Valentino), an awkward small-town lad who becomes Spain’s most celebrated matador. His career begins when he finishes a bull that has gored a friend in a small village ring. Watching him from a hillside is the bandit and outlaw, Plumitas (Walter Long), who is drawn to Juan through a spiritual bond of their common destinies. He follows Juan’s career from afar.
Juan’s fame spreads in Seville, and after a victorious ride through the streets, he serenades his childhood sweetheart, Carmen (Lila Lee), who becomes his wife. They dance to the rhythm of castanets at the wedding, but for her he then gives up the café life he loves, and the castanets sound no more to Juan’s fiery flamenco.
Don Joselito (Charles Belcher), a philosopher who comments on the action throughout the film, predicts tragedy when Juan encounters the alluring and aristocratic Doña Sol (Nita Naldi). She draws him into a reckless affair which he is powerless to stop, and humiliates his wife.
Juan and Plumitas both face death in a climactic scene at a crowded arena—the outlaw Plumitas at the hands of the police and Juan, remorseful at having betrayed Carmen, as a willing victim of his dangerous profession. He dies in Carmen’s arms.
III. The Gold Rush Directed by Charles Chaplin
A long procession of prospectors, including Charlie the tramp (Charlie Chaplin), makes its way through the Chilkoot Pass in Alaska in search of that illusory mountain of gold. One prospector, Big Jim (Mack Swain), who has staked a large claim, takes shelter in a cabin during a snowstorm where he encounters a cold and hungry Charlie. With no food available, together they relish the joys of Thanksgiving dinner by boiling one of Charlie’s boots. Charlie eats his portion with the elegance of a true gourmet.
When better weather arrives, Big Jim goes back to his claim but is knocked on the head by an adversary and loses his memory. Lonely and penniless, Charlie makes his way to town and enters the Monte Carlo dance hall, where he instantly falls in love with the spirited Georgia (Georgia Hale). As a lark, she accepts his invitation to a New Year’s Eve dinner. The table set and the meal cooking, Charlie dreams of Georgia and performs the famous table-top dance of the rolls, but Georgia never comes.
Big Jim chances upon the dejected Charlie and enlists his help in rediscovering his claim. After a perilous escape from a teetering cabin, they come upon the gold. Charlie, now a multi-millionaire, finds Georgia again and wins her hand.
Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie
 I. Dance Overture from the film Wild Nights in Toronto
 II. Waltz from the film The Raincoats of Dijon
 III. Serenade from the film Angelus for an Angel
 IV. March from the film The Bridge on the River Platte
 V. Nocturne from the film The Black Marigold
 VI. Sirius Finale from the film Voyage to the Dog Star
The composer has provided the following additional notes for this work.
“The film composer must be able to write music in a variety of styles and provide scores appropriate to many different cultures and historical periods. In between assignments and by way of maintaining a backlog of potential themes, he or she will sometimes develop musical ideas for films which have not yet been made or even conceived, and it is in this spirit that I wrote some thematic material that I hoped might one day find a home. As it turns out, home for this music is the present suite, and I have indulged in the luxury of inventing whimsical film titles and plot suggestions.
The Dance Overture is intended to introduce a film musical in the Broadway tradition of the ’30s and ’40s. Major and minor keys are freely intermingled, and the middle section is a triple dance break that presents a rumba, a bolero and a tap dance.
The Waltz reflects a Parisian ambiance that almost invariably includes the sound of a bal musette accordion.
The Serenade features a set of tubular bells, an instrument not often heard in concert except at the culmination of works like the Mahler symphonies. Here the use is more wistful.
The March actually derives from a score I wrote for the silent film, What Price Glory. That story was set in World War I, but the music is equally appropriate for a World War II setting.
The Nocturne, featuring piano and alto sax, has the film noir feeling of a Manhattan nightclub sometime after midnight.
The Sirius Finale begins with a space launch which leads to a triumphal march when the craft clears the pad successfully. A broad lyric theme suggests the beauty of outer space, though there is a temporary interruption when a malfunction occurs. The voice of a Siren lures the spacecraft too close to the fiery surface of Sirius, and the voyagers barely avoid destruction. With the ship once again under control, the lyric theme returns, now joined by the Siren Song, and the expedition moves to a grand conclusion.”
The typical William Perry orchestra and the brilliant orchestrations of Robert Nowak typically call for three flutes (doubling piccolo), two oboes (2nd doubles English horn), two clarinets and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harp and strings. Unusual instruments are often called for, such as the Irish bodhran and the Acme Thunderer whistle in the Gemini Concerto; the anvil in The Gold Rush; and the accordion in Six Title Themes. Perry’s future projects include a Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra.
Music Notes by Douglas Bruce
Film Notes by Jane Iredale
Close the window