|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
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.
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 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.
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