Friday Film (48)

If you remember last week’s film music posting, you’ll recall that it centred upon a piece of Stalin-era Prokofiev that had been appropriated by Reagan-era Hollywood with neither honest attribution nor seeming awareness of how it dwarfed the contribution of the soundtrack’s official composer. What you won’t remember is something that only happened after I’d uploaded the posting and gone to bed: I found that I couldn’t sleep — because other, precisely comparable examples of shameless US film-industry theft from Soviet composers crowded into my mind…

Let me present one of these sleep-murdering examples now.

Only, this time I want to proceed by way of gentle stages, and with the music coming first as well as last — because I want to include a point that is to do with actual musical structure. (No, don’t faint: it will all make sense by the end, I assure you.), I’m confident that I don’t need to remind this blog’s readers of the remarkable surge of creative exploration and experiment that followed the Great October Socialist Revolution (Velikaya  Oktyabr’skaya  sotsialističeskaya  revolyutsiya) that so convulsed Russia in, uh, November 1917. (It’s a calendar thing: don’t worry about it.)

To this day, I don’t believe we have even come close to obtaining a full picture of what happened artistically in those earth-shaking years: too much material was lost in the chaos of the time; too much was lost in the clamp-downs that followed; and too much was lost during the Nazi invasion that took place after that…

And here, to start with, is an extract from a piece that is the only surviving number from a four-part ballet suite from the mid-1920s: ‘In Prison’, ‘At the Ball’, and ‘On the Square’ have been lost, and all that remains is this item — which someone is here having a go at playing on the piano…

All right: that’s technically impressive to some considerable extent; but not especially clear texturally — and, anyhow, when our pianist fluffs the page-turn his memory actually makes him wrongly insert something from earlier in the piece. On top of which: for gods’ sake, think of the neighbours!

Here’s the same passage again, this time in a performance of the original orchestral score. Rather clearer in many respects, I think you will agree…

Now, whether you liked that horn tune or not — now that you’ve heard it clearly! — I obviously cannot know; but if you did like it, it’s possible that you found yourself wishing that there had been rather more of it before it liquidated itself into a tiny fragment that was endlessly repeated. And if you did think that, you’re in luck. For it so happens that what you’ve just heard is a cleverly varied reprise of a theme that was considerably longer and more developed in its original presentation. See what I mean by lucky?

All right: I think everyone is now ready to hear this terrific little piece — composed by Alexander Vasilyevich Mosolov (1900-73) in 1926-27, four or five years after the foundation of the USSR and a decade after the revolution itself. As for its title, Завод: музыка машин (Zavod: muzyka mashin) means Factory: Machine-Music; but the custom is to render it in English as The Iron Foundry

So what does this have to do with films and film music, you may be wondering…

Well, have a look at this tiny (and, if memory serves, heavily re-edited) clip from one of the movies in the highly profitable ‘Die Hard’ series: see if you can hear what I heard back in 1995 when I and a few pals ended up in a Liverpool cinema one afternoon when this was showing…

Well, did you spot it…?

Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t; the clips can all be replayed, either way. In fact, if you’re going to go through the piece again, you may like to hear Mosolov’s most famous work in what was its first-ever recording — all the way from 1933 or thereabouts…

… or/and in a modern recording with the score attached

And as for that varied reprise after the middle section — the 19-bar horn tune simultaneously shortened and lengthened, as it were! — isn’t it of interest to see what is going on structurally here? For one thing,  the most old-fashioned ‘ternary-form-with-central-Trio’ is lurking behind the individual structure of this up-to-the-minute, literally ‘revolutionary’ work. For another, while Zavod‘s pounding, percussion-heavy, ostinato-based textures certainly live up to every implication of a title like Factory: Machine-Music, the radical abbreviation-and-extension in that reprise is surely a nicely executed bit of composition — the very opposite of ‘mechanical’


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