‘Oi! You’re Bard!’ (2)

https://i0.wp.com/shakespeare.mit.edu/shake.gifHaving dashed off a quick posting late last night in order to catch the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, I woke up this morning to discover that today is actually ‘#ShakespeareSunday’, at least as far as the internet is concerned.

Now, I’ve no idea whose decision that might have been; but I’m quite happy to go along with it — because it gives me the perfect excuse to post a few more clips that convey something of the fruitful interaction there has been between Shakespeare’s output and the work of countless composers over those four centuries or so.

Yesterday’s clips were drawn from a 1955 film made by a renowned British actor-director and scored by one of Britain’s finest composers; today I want to move East by about 1,500 miles and jump forward in time a decade and a half… Yes, today’s clips are from a Shakespearean film made in Russia — or, to be more geopolitically precise, in the Soviet Union — in 1970. From which information some readers will already have guessed that I’m talking about a production directed by the insufficiently celebrated Russian director-screenwriter Grigori Mikhaylovich Kozintsev (1905-73) that has music written by his close contemporary, the great Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-75).

Just for fun, here’s an actual Russian film poster that shows the actor playing Lear — the Estonian-born Jüri Järvet (1919-95). And, in case anyone is wondering, Shostakovich’s name is also shown: he’s the ‘WOCTAKOBNY’ visible half way down…


Now, sourcing suitable clips for this posting has been a complete nightmare (I won’t bore you with the technical details on this occasion), so I’m starting off with an introductory tour of Kozintsev’s visual approach — courtesy of an imitation ‘trailer’ that someone has ingeniously put together in what I once saw a foreign writer describe as ‘the very modern today style’. It offers a quick survey of the film’s imagery: how’s this for a King Lear — I mean a ‘Король Лир‘ — whose look you’ll never forget…?

And at this point I ought to apologise to all my musical friends who spilled their coffee when they heard the ‘action-film’ music that our unknown trailer-maker added to his little festival of rapid cutting: who the composer was, I really don’t know — but it certainly wasn’t Dmitri Dmitriyevich.

Let’s add him to the mix now.


Shostakovich in later life

As it happens, Kozintsev and Shostakovich collaborated several times over a long period; but their King Lear (released in 1971) marks ‘the end of the road’: though Shostakovich sketched some music in 1973 for Kozintsev’s planned St Petersburg Days (after Gogol), the project was abandoned when Kozintsev died with the film still unmade. Thus this Lear is Kozintsev’s final complete film, and its music is Shostakovich’s last complete film score.

If you want to see the entire film, you can find it on YouTube in two parts, here and here, courtesy of Lenfilm. But since this upload derives from a domestic Russian print without subtitles, you’ll need to be able to manage with Boris Pasternak’s 1919 translation as edited and adapted by Kozintsev.

Although, having said that, I ought to mention that, for me, there is a particular magic in experiencing a foreign film and its music without any grasp of the spoken language: I’ve seen this film more than once with and without subtitles, and I can truly say that there are aspects of it that I perceive more acutely and experience more intensely when I’m not having my attention distracted by lines of English along the bottom of the screen. If you’ve never yet been through Shakespeare’s Lear in a language you understand, you may find the entire movie a bit of a slog without a translation; but have a go with my first clip and see how you get on.

Because the Lenfilm server won’t let me code a link to embed my chosen extract in this page, you’ll need to click through to ‘Watch on YouTube’ — and then use your mouse pointer to watch the video from my suggested start point at 3’33” until my suggested end point at 5’47”

Since there is a severe shortage of ‘codeable’ Lear clips on YouTube — and since the language-barrier might be hard for many readers to surmount — I’d now like to offer two clips in two versions, in the hope that I can not only avoid the worst problems, but actually present the best of both worlds.

Here’s a clip that has subtitles, but isn’t as long as I’d want it to be. All the same, it gives us a worthwhile impression of how Kozintsev and Shostakovich handled the juncture where, soon after the start of the story, Lear has unleashed his fury at his youngest daughter, and now prepares to leave his castle in order to enjoy the unburdened life he has planned for himself…

And here is the clip as I would have selected and coded it: starting a little earlier — and presenting Shostakovich’s cue in what feels like its entirety. To hear the stretch I mean, click through to YouTube and listen between 17’30” and 20’39”

Let’s do the same with another clip — this time with Lear, the Fool, and Kent on the heath during the storm, more or less half-way through the story…

And now here is the stretch that I would have selected: just watch on YouTube from the very start of the segment (0’00”) through to my suggested end point (2’37”)…

With my final clip — just one version, this time! — we come close to the end of the play. It’s a sequence about which I hardly need to say anything, even though it’s in Russian alone, without any sub-titles…

Nor am I going to say anything in conclusion. After a great King Lear, there is nothing to be said.


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