About this Recording
8.557707 - AURIC: Belle et la Bete (La) (Beauty and the Beast)

Georges Auric (1899-1983)
Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête)
Complete Film Score, 1946

The Film
Once upon a time there was a Merchant who had a son, Ludovic, and three daughters, Félicie, Adélaide and Belle. The last of these was handsome, modest and sympathetic, and therefore the Cinderella of the family. One day the old man went away on business, eventually learning that he has lost all his money. On his way home he becomes lost in a forest and in his wandering comes upon a splendid and mysterious castle. Entering, he falls asleep at a sumptuously laid table. The following morning, woken by distant roaring, he makes his escape through the park, picking a rose, the present he has promised his daughter Belle. At this moment the Beast appears in front of him, a horrifying creature dressed as a prince, who tells him that he must die for his theft, unless one of his daughters will take his place. After his return home on the back of Magnificent, a flying horse, the Merchant tells his family of this strange adventure and Belle at once offers herself in sacrifice for her father’s life. Avenant, a friend of Ludovic, who is in love with Belle, objects, but the girl secretly makes her own way to the castle and after wandering for a long time through its magic rooms and corridors, she meets the Beast, who treats her courteously and showers her with precious gifts. Belle realises that the Beast has a kind heart and she suffers because of his ugliness. She learns, however, that the sentence of death will be cancelled, if she agrees to marry the Beast, but this she cannot do.

Belle is homesick and this and the news that her father is ill persuades the Beast to allow her to go home for eight days. As a token of his love for her he gives her magic objects, the secrets of his power, among them a glove, a looking-glass and a golden key. Ludovic and Avenant are excited at Belle’s return in a fine dress and decked out in jewels. At the instigation of Félicie and Adélaide they steal the key, mount the magic horse and fly to the castle, planning to kill the Beast and seize his treasure. Belle’s compassion for the Beast, her gaoler, has reached a state approaching love. In the magic looking-glass she sees the lonely, weeping Beast and by means of the magic glove instantly has herself transported back to the castle. She finds the Beast suffering in the park, while, in a nearby pavilion into which Ludovic and Avenant are climbing from the roof, a statue of Diana comes to life. Avenant is killed by an arrow from the bow of the goddess and is changed into the form of the Beast, while the Beast, to whom Belle has confessed her love, promising to marry him, dies and comes to life again, transformed into a Prince Charming looking like Avenant. He quells Belle’s astonishment and her initial disappointment at having lost her mysterious companion by promising to take her away to a kingdom where she will be a great queen.

Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of the original fairy-tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780) was shot between August 1945 and May 1946 in the difficult post-war period after the so-called âge d’or au cinéma français, the golden age of the French cinema, which saw the production of Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants au Paradis and Les Visiteurs au soir. It is astonishing to remember that Cocteau’s film was made under considerable pressure on a very small budget and by a cinéaste who in the early 1930s had produced a surrealist picture for insiders Le Sang d’un Poète and collaborated as script-writer on some four other films, but enjoyed a reputation principally as a poet. La Belle et la Bête only slowly won international renown, whereas today his name is associated above all with this film. Cocteau, who directed the picture with the assistance of René CIément, was at a difficult period of his life, suffering bouts of illness that led on occasions to hospital treatment. In his book La Belle et la Bête: Journal d’un film, published in 1947, he gives a moving and passionate account of the making of the film and there are further valuable accounts of the production from the cameraman Henri Alekan and from André Fraigneau, the latter recalling a conversation with Cocteau on his film-making and on his collaboration with Georges Auric.

Josette Day’s unforgettable interpretation of the rôle of Beauty and the cinematic début of Jean Marais as the Beast, with the marvellous camera-work of Henri Alekan and the sets of Christian Bérard, make this one of the most memorable films, to which the sumptuously scored music of Georges Auric makes a significant and valuable contribution.

The Composer
Georges Auric studied at the Conservatoires of Montpellier and Paris and finally at the Schola Cantorum with Vincent d’Indy. In his early twenties he joined the composers Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre to form the famous Groupe des Six, of which Cocteau was a patron. Auric’s talents are to be found predominantly in his music for the theatre and the screen. In addition to his ballets Les Matelots, Pastorale, Les Enchantements de la Fée Akine, La Concurrence, Les Imaginaires, Le Peintre et son Modèle, Phèdre (on a libretto by Cocteau), Chemin de Lumière, La Chambre and Euridice written for the ballet companies of Sergey Dyagilev, Ida Rubinstein and David Lichine, his incidental scores and his opera Sous le masque, Auric’s credits as a composer can be found on some forty French, forty American and fifteen British films. As a writer of both complete scores and of songs, Auric collaborated during almost half a century with such directors as Marc Allégret, Jean Delannoy, Henri- Georges Clouzot, Max Ophüls, William Wyler, John Houston, Otto Preminger, Charles Crichton, Thorold Dickinson, Terence Young and Henry Cornelius. Among his best known scores for British and American films are Passport to Pimlico (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), Bonjour Tristesse (1957), The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1957) and The Innocents (1961). Above all, however, Auric is to be remembered for his unique collaboration with Jean Cocteau, including six films that were directed by Cocteau himself (Le Sang d’un Poète, La Belle et la Bête, Les Parents Terribles, L’Aigle à deux Têtes, Orphée and Le Testament d’Orphée) and three directed by others, but with Cocteau as a script-writer (L’Eternel Retour, Ruy Blas and Thomas l’Imposteur).

The Music
Cocteau approached Auric on the matter of a score for La Belle et la Bête on Christmas Day 1945. Since the synchronization of his film had to be finished in April 1946, there was little time left for the composition and orchestration of a score of such dimensions. The director had full confidence in the composer since their early collaboration on Le Sang d’un Poète (1930) and therefore found it unnecessary to give him detailed instructions on where and how to score. Unlike the music of the earlier film, subject to Cocteau’s dictatorial and almost abusive approach, Auric’s music for La Belle et la Bête, played by a symphony orchestra under Roger Desormière, unsynchronized and contrasting, gave the picture new and fascinating dimensions. Its own “musical background”, as Cocteau called it, preset through the images and their editing, seemed at first to be endangered by Auric’s highly atmospheric score, but the conceptions of director and composer would at the end come together on two different levels, expressing both the same thing and eventually “neutralising each other”, as Cocteau finally declared. In some particular cues, the director had been able to persuade the composer to stop or interrupt the music at once, in order to obtain the dramatic effect of silence.

Auric’s score consists of 24 musical cues. Its overall orchestration includes three flutes (with piccolos), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, three horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, eight percussion instruments, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, celesta, pianoforte, two harps, a wordless mixed chorus and strings. Nine cues (Tracks 4, 8, 10-12, 13, 17, 18 and 19) are scored for a smaller ensemble, without brass and with only about 10-15 strings exempting double basses. In these cues the chorus has an important part.

At first hearing the music seems impressionistic. There are moments in which the sensual element of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and the organum-like fourths and fifths of his L’Enfant et les Sortilèges come to mind. The wordless chorus (mouths closed and open) is also inspired by Ravel’s ballet. Les couloirs mystérieux and Les entretiens au parc have passages that seem to be closer to Debussy. Nevertheless, in its excursion into the realm of the magic, the irrational and the atmospheric, the music of La Belle et la Bête may be recognised, rather, as symbolist. It has something of the fascination of paintings by Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon or of some pages by the Comte de Lautréamont and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. The symbolism of Auric comes, of course, seventy years later, but this is done for a specific dramatic purpose and with enormous skill. Most sections describing the Beast and his surroundings are of a blurred musical atmosphere, obtained through precise notation, unusual rhythmic counterpoint, sensitive dynamic changes and sophisticated and highly intricate instrumental colouring, ranging from the eerie, mysterious and dream-like (Les couloirs mystérieux, La Bête jalouse and Le pavillon de Diane) to moments that are nightmarish, troubled and brutal (Apparition de la Bête and Moments d’effrol). A unique element of drama is heard in the orchestral tutti passages of Le vol d’une rose and Le miroir et le gant. A handful of leit-motifs and thematic cells are used, but not to identify particular characters or emotions: they remain purely within the domain of music. Harmonically Auric steps further into atonality than the so-called Impressionists. His score, starting and finishing in a brilliant E major, wanders through various unusual floating tonalities and some episodes of advanced dissonance. By using a wordless chorus in a film score, Auric certainly surpassed many contemporary and subsequent Hollywood scores and as a colourful orchestrator his only rival was Dmitri Tiomkin.

Cocteau’s intention was to give his picture touches of both the neo-Baroque and the Romantic, inspired as he was by a story from 1757 and engravings of Gustave Doré. The additional stylistic dimensions of the music make of this film a contrasting and unique amalgamation of elements which are ideal in the rendering of a fairy-tale on the screen. La Belle et la Bête, however, is more than just a fairy-tale. Cocteau wanted to humanise this story and offer a parable of the difficulty of the communication of feelings between human beings. This, it seems, is an element that Auric’s music helps to emphasize, reaching a profounder level than the film explicitly does. On the other hand, the composer’s discreet excursions into neo-Classicism (as, for example, in the Générique and Prince Charmant) fit perfectly Cocteau’s vision.

In his autobiographical essay La Difficulté d’être, issued in the same year, Cocteau says of his film: “My moral steps were those of one who limps, with one foot in life and another in death, so that it was normal that I met a myth in which life and death would meet. It was, therefore, a film which was proper to the illustration of the border that separates one world from the other”.

The Recording
The full manuscript of La Belle et la Bête, which was thought to be lost, was found by the present writer in 1992, together with other film scores to be recorded later, among the bulk of the manuscripts left by Auric. Obviously such a quantity of separate sheets had first to be carefully examined, transcribed, with the help of computer music software, and compared with the original sound track. The full orchestral material was then prepared, while some errors and uncertainties had to be cleared and important last minute improvements by the composer (which had not been noted in the manuscript) had to be considered, as, for example, the inclusion of chorus interventions in the form of short cries and vocal lines mostly doubled by instruments of the orchestra, in Les cinq secrets, Le pavilIon de Diane and L’envolée. Tempi and dynamics were chosen to follow those of the soundtrack, with the artistic liberties a conductor who interprets a score in his own way is usually allowed to take. Auric’s music, in the present recording, is complete and many cues (particularly Les entretiens au parc, which in the soundtrack is drastically and unfairly cut) are heard for the first time in full. Some appear in the original sound track brutally truncated and the forti and fortissimi of some cues had to give way to the dialogue. La farce du drapier (and its corresponding scene in the film) had been completely erased from both French and American 35mm copies and apparently only partly from the American 16mm version. This single scherzolike episode in the score sounds stylistically oddly different and dissonant in various places, compared with the rest of the music. It accompanies a sequence in which a rich and ridiculous draper is led up the garden path and has an interrupted meeting with Avenant, dressed up as Félicie, later to be robbed by Ludovic and Avenant in a shady inn. Proposition d’Avenant is a musical cue which was not used at all in the film. It should have accompanied a short scene in which Avenant seeks to prevent Belle returning to the Beast and his own decision to go and kill his rival. Finally, as is the case with all old films, the sound recording of the time could not do technical justice to the subtleties of Auric’s score.

The single cues have no titles in the composer’s manuscript and it was the present writer’s task to assign them so that the listener can find an easy correspondence with the plot of the film. Their sequence, as recorded here, is neither in accordance with Cocteau’s original script nor with Auric’s own numbering, but conforms with the shooting script, except in the case of the above-mentioned La farce du drapier. More continuity discrepancies are to be found in both American and the so-caIIed “current” French version, with which the producer, without consulting Cocteau, had interfered. In three cases (Départ de Belle, Le miroir et le gant and Prince Charmant) attaccas to the following cues were considered. Other such linkings in the original sound-track (except as indicated only once by the composer, between the last two cues) seemed to be matters of mere chance.

That it was only Cocteau’s film and not the original fairy-tale that inspired musicians and film-makers to further adaptations of La Belle et la Bête seems quite obvious. Earlier there had been Ravel’s fairy-tale suite Ma Mère l’Oye for piano duet (1908-10), orchestrated in 1911, with one movement bearing the title Les entretiens de la Belle et la Bête. In 1976, some twenty years before the appearance of Walt Disney’s animated picture (with a musical score by Alan Menken), American composer Frank DiGiacomo had written his beautiful opera Beauty and the Beast, conceived for professional singers and on-stage and pit choruses of adults and children. In 1994, the year in which the present first complete digital recording was made of the music from Cocteau’s film, composer Philip Glass eliminated the original sound-track in order to use the film as a purely optical accompaniment to his opera on the same subject. This present recording shows what was lost from Cocteau’s work.

(edited by Keith Anderson)

Close the window