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Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Les Miserables Complete Film Score, 1934
Arthur Honegger, one of the greatest of twentiethcentury composers, made an unrivalled contribution tofilm music during the course of some thirty years, fromhis scores for Abel Gance's La Roue in 1922 andNapoleon in 1926, music that he regarded as hisapprentice work, to his last work of this kind in 1951, atotal production of some forty film scores. Half of thesewere written and orchestrated by the composer himself,and the rest in collaboration with Arthur Hoeree, AndreJolivet, Maurice Jaubert, Darius Milhaud, Roland-Manuel and Maurice Thiriet, this largely throughpressure of time. Nevertheless Honegger's music forfilms is a considerable achievement for a composer ofsuch importance. Some of his film scores like Mermozand Regain were arranged by the composer for concertuse.
Honegger, himself a film enthusiast often to be seenon the set during shooting, reveals astonishinglyadvanced ideas on the function of music in the cinema,his pre-eminence in the field recognised already in 1936by Kurt London who described him as the true leader ofmodern film music in France. He regarded the idealfilm score as a distinct component in a unified medium,despising clumsy attempts at cartoon synchronizationwith movement on the screen and looking forward tofilms that might not so much be supplied with music asinspired by it.
In Honegger's opinion, cinematic montage differsfrom musical composition in that, while the latterdepends on continuity and logical development, the filmrelies on contrasts. Music and sound must, therefore,adapt themselves to strengthening and complementingthe visual element, while the whole must be an artisticunity, in which the generally visual imagination of thepublic may be assisted to a greater understanding ofthe musical message.
Before its recent appearance in the guise of amusical, Victor Hugo's popular novel had beenfrequently adapted for the screen. The 1960 version,with Jean Gabin as Jean Valjean, and a more recentversion with Lino Ventura in the same r??le, are morememorable for the impressive acting of their stars thanfor their cinematic attributes. It is, however, RaymondBernard's black and white version of 1934 which, withits greater lyricism, its rendering of the conflicts andpassions and its highly artistic thematic language, createsa more powerful atmosphere. Besides this, Harry Baur'simpersonation of Jean Valjean remains absolutelyunforgettable. These qualities are so heightened byHonegger's score that we are driven to conclude that thiswas far more than a mere financial project on thecomposer's part: in writing the music for this three-partepic (about 90 minutes each part), Honegger created amasterwork. Bernard later edited his film into a oneeveningfeature, so that some important musical cuessuffered severe cuts, while others disappearedaltogether, but fortunately the complete version haslately been made available again. This major score wascomposed in 1934, a fruitful year in Honegger's filmmusic career, which saw the production of Rapt, L'ldee,Cessez le feu and Crime et ch?ótiment, and, surprisinglyenough, no other works from the \classical" genre.
It was Charles Koechlin who considered LesMiserables "undoubtedly one of the best film scoreshitherto created", while in Miklos Rozsa's autobiographyA Double Life, we read that Rozsa was sodeeply impressed that he urged Honegger to make asuite out of the music. "It was as good as anything hehad written, and was worthy to stand on its own... It wasdramatic and lyrical, and so much in his individual stylethat you would have known who the composer waseven without seeing his name in the titles". Eventually,Honegger followed Rozsa's advice and arranged fivemovements from Les Miserables into a suite.
It was while studying and preparing his firstrecording of Honegger's film music (containing, amongothers, the suite from Les Miserables) that the presentwriter took up again the complete manuscript of LesMiserables with which he had been acquainted since1983. Although the idea of proposing this work for acomplete recording seemed unrealistic to him, theproducer accepted its inclusion in the series of MarcoPolo Film Music Classics. There is actually no othercomplete classic French film score on record yet, apartfrom an exclusive Honegger recording of Suites from hisfilm scores and one just wonders why nobody hasbothered to do this before.
Honegger's autograph is subdivided into 23 cues,and is scored for a symphony orchestra includingsaxophone, piano, harp and percussion, and interestingly,omitting double basses throughout. Consideringthe length of the original picture, approximately onehour of incidental music is very little in comparisonand especially in the second part, some extremely longsections could have been enriched by Honegger's music.
The present performing version of seventeen cuesomits three dance pieces (not by Honegger), a short"source" prelude for organ, a few introductory bars ofno real interest, a theme quotation which has also beencrossed out in the manuscript, and finally Gavroche'sshort death scene (requiring a singing voice accompaniedby a few instruments). This recording can beconsidered as complete since it also restores musicwhich was not used in the film (such as the Cosette etMarius episode), shortened, or prematurely faded outfor editing reasons.
Another aspect of this version is the linking togetherof various short pieces in order to create movements ofgreater impact or symphonic unity. Fantine, forexample, with its livelier middle section, is a combinationof three different short cues from the sameepisode. L'assaut and Solitude also required similareditorial work. Of course, script chronology, thematic orharmonic relation between the edited sections, or thepossibility of creating musical contrasts with respect tothe original intentions were the preconditions. In othercases, some recurrent repetitions have been ignored, orused in a slightly varied orchestration (as, for examplein the opening section of Mort d'Eponine and LeLuxembourg). Retouches in the instrumentation wereinevitable in the whole "folk" section of La foire ?áMontfermeil (actually a "source" piece heard always inthe background), where its piano part has been arrangedfor accordion and its rather clumsy percussion sectioncompletely rewritten. In L'assaut, the insertion of anexplosion effect for percussion instruments and an extrapart for military drums was found appropriate, in orderto restore the dramatic atmosphere on the screen,combined with the original "live" sound. Otherinstrumental retouches concern the doublings of windparts, since, following the rather primitive acousticpossibilities of the equipment of the time, they wereused as soli practically throughout, though still wellbalancedagainst a considerably smaller string ensemblethan the one used in this recording. It was found moreappropriate to adhere to the tempi used by the unforgettableMaurice Jaubert (the conductor of the originalsound track of Les Miserables), rather than to the oftenslower metronome indications in the autograph.
The only missing piece in Honegger's manuscriptwas a movement, entitled by the present writer Leconvoi nocturne, one amongst the very few cues wherecomplete orchestral forces are involved, besides theGenerique, Dans les egouts and L'emeute. This had tobe reconstructed and re-orchestrated directly from thesound track. The remaining pieces are conceived ratheron a "chamber" basis and furnish altogether a perfectexample of Honegger's transparent contrapuntal artistryand sense of orchestration.
Although not a great lover of leitmotifs, Honeggeruses three, unvaried, major themes in his score. Thefirst is a descending, resigned march motif related to theconvicts, recurring mainly in th