Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dmitri Shostakovich: Film music from New Babylon – Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Valeri Polyansky (Audio video)

Masterpiece of the Soviet vanguard, the "New Babylon" is a 1929 silent film written and directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg. The film deals with the 1871 Paris Commune and the events leading to it, and follows the encounter and tragic fate of two lovers separated by the barricades of the Commune. The music of the film was written by Dmitri Shostakovich – the first of many soundtracks he wrote for films.

The State Symphony Orchestra of Russia conducted by Valeri Polyansky.

Αριστούργημα της σοβιετικής πρωτοπορίας, η «Νέα Βαβυλώνα» είναι μια βουβή ταινία του 1929, σε σενάριο και σκηνοθεσία των Γκριγκόρι Κόζιντσεφ και Λεονίντ Τράουμπεργκ. Μέσα από την τραγική ιστορία δύο εραστών οι οποίοι χωρίζονται από τα οδοφράγματα, η ταινία αναφέρεται στην Παρισινή Κομμούνα του 1871 και τα γεγονότα που οδήγησαν σε αυτήν. Τη μουσική της ταινίας έγραψε ο Ντμίτρι Σοστακόβιτς – η πρώτη από τις πολλές μουσικές επενδύσεις που έγραψε για κινηματογραφικές ταινίες.

Την Κρατική Συμφωνική Ορχήστρα της Ρωσίας διευθύνει ο Βαλέρι Πολιάνσκι.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

♪ Film music from New Babylon (1929)

i. War –
ii. Paris –
iii. The Siege of Paris
iv. Operetta
v. Paris has stood for Centuries
vi. Versailles

Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Valeri Polyansky

New Studio, Mosfilm, January 1995

Chandos Records Ltd. 1998

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

First publication: August 26, 2014 – Last update: May 10, 2017

The music for New Babylon was Shostakovich's first film score, written over a period of a few weeks between December 1928 and 19 February 1929 and it marked the distinguished debut of an enduring collaboration between the great composer and two of the outstanding Soviet film directors of the day, Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg. Although the directors were enthralled by the young Shostakovich's response to their commission, the continuous symphonic score proved too ambitious in scope for the hack silent cinema orchestras of the time and after a few performances was dropped. It is only since Shostakovich's death in 1975 that revivals of the film with Shostakovich's music have taken place. In addition, the distinguished conductor and Shostakovich authority, Gennady Rozhdestvensky (himself a close colleague of the composer in his last years), undertook the preparation of an extensive suite based on the original manuscript score housed at the Glinka Central Museum of Musical Culture and a set of orchestral parts he came across at the Lenin State Library. It is this suite corresponding to the main sections of the film's narrative that has become the present standard concert version. It is scored for a medium-size orchestra consisting of mainly single woodwind and brass, strings, piano, and percussion section including flexatone (a kind of musical saw) and xylophone.

The film (in black and white) belongs to that period of so-called "revolutionary romanticism" in early Soviet history when Russian artists (under the watchful eye of the State) were attracted towards revolutionary subjects from the past for the stimulus and edification of their citizens. A favourite icon was the abortive Paris Commune of 1871 whose events (especially the shooting down of the communards at the barricades by government troops) provided a suitable parallel with more recent events in the Russian struggle towards Communism. Taking the rise and suppression of the Commune as its historical setting, the story centres on the life and death of a young saleswoman who works at a Parisian luxury goods emporium (the "New Babylon" of the film title), becomes involved with the Commune and its protest against a treaty with the German army, is taken prisoner by government forces sent to deal with the barricades and sentenced to death after refusing to save her life through a false confession. In ironic contrast with Beethoven's dungeon scene in Fidelio (the allusion cannot be mistaken) her former lover, a soldier belonging to the government army, finds himself digging her grave as a member of the firing squad and – in a scene closely modelled on Goya's famous Peninsula War etchings of summary mass execution – she dies with her fellow prisoners in a mockingly hysterical contempt of her lover and his dutiful treachery.

The film emphasizes the gulf between the decadent bourgeouisie with their sated consumerism of food, clothes and pornographic entertainment and the simple, "healthy" attitude to life of the working class – a gross oversimplification of course, but a potent form of idealism. This particular idea finds its counterpart in Shostakovich's "bi-planar" music, which draws extensively on themes from French operetta with its polkas, can-cans and waltzes as a degenerate class symbol that is repeatedly lampooned in the larger context of other, more elevated forms of expression. Quotation and allusion –devices that were to become essential to Shostakovich's personal style – constantly serve to create ironic ambiguity and heighten the polarity between good and bad. Thus at one point we hear the can-can from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in combination with the Marseillaise: at another, in one of the most memorable episodes of the film (in the fifth movement of the suite) a grey-haired veteran soldier of the barricades sits down at a battered old piano and strums out a French folk song (taken from Tchaikovsky's Album for Children) amidst the smoke and carnage, before himself being shot down. Writing the music at great speed, Shostakovich did not hesitate in the first episode of the film to use material from a previous Scherzo for Orchestra, and the score provides striking pre-glimpses of passages that were to re-surface in the forthcoming Lady Macbeth and Fourth Symphony. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to claim for this music an encapsulation of the great themes that were to occupy Shostakovich in his life work as a symphonist: war, death, the struggle between good and evil, heroism pitted against the powers of darkness, the grimace and humour of a suffering, pain-ridden consciousness.

Source: Eric Roseberry, 1998 (CD Booklet)

See also

The New Babylon (Novyy Vavilon), 1929 – A film by Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg – Music by Dmitri Shostakovich (HD 1080p)

Dmitri Shostakovich – All the posts

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