Saturday, October 01, 2011

Film concert Novyi Vavilon / New Babylon (score by Shostakovich, conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald, FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra)

Новый Вавилон [La nuova Babilonia] (Sovkino, SU 1929) D+SC: Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; DP: Andrei Moskvin, Yevgeni Mikhailov; AD: Yevgeni Yenei; add. D: Sergei Gerasimov, Sergei Bartenev; asst: Mikhail Yegorov, Nadezhda Kosheverova, Nikolai Klado; M: Dmitri Shostakovich; cast: Yelena Kuzmina (Louise Poirier, the shop-girl), Pyotr Sobolievsky (Ivan [Jean], the soldier), David Gutman (proprietor of New Babylon), Sofia Magarill (actress), Arnold Arnold (the deputy), Sergei Gerasimov (Lutreau, the journalist), Andrei Kostrichkin (head salesman), S. Gusev (old Poirier, Louise’s father [the shoemaker, the father of the shop-girl]), Yanina Zheimo (Therese, modiste), Natalia Rashevksaya, A. Glushkova (laundresses), Yevgeni Chervyakov, N. Roshefor (soldiers of National Guard), Oleg Zhakov (young Communard), Anna Zarzhitskaya (girl on barricades), Boris Feodosyev (officer), Boris Poslavsky (officer with a boutonnière), Vsevolod Pudovkin (salesman), Liudmila Semyonova (cocotte with a monocle), Aleksandr Orlov (Menelaus in the operetta), Roman Rubinstein (Paris in the operetta); 35 mm, 2091 m, 92' (20 fps); print source: Cineteca del Friuli, Gemona. Russian intertitles, with Italian subtitles.
    Original score by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra, conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English, 1 Oct 2011.

Mark Fitz-Gerald (GCM Catalogue): "After a handful of disastrous performances, Shostakovich’s music for New Babylon was withdrawn, and appears to have been considered lost by the composer for the rest of his life. Within months of the composer’s death on 9 August 1975, however, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky found a complete set of parts at the Lenin Library in Moscow, and prepared a six-movement suite of highlights from the work – the first time the music had been heard for 45 years. Both the original score and Rozhdestvensky’s suite were published, but both share the inherited shortcomings of missing tempo-indications and instruments out of synchronization. Nevertheless, this score was adapted for a succession of live performances."

"Subsequently the firm of Boosey & Hawkes in London acquired lithograph transparencies of the original (1929) orchestral parts and a manuscript score that seems to have been copied from them. This version had nearly 200 more bars than the previous version and contained all the missing tempo indications, as well as lining up the instruments correctly and solving many other problems. (I am grateful to the late Malcolm Smith for allowing me unlimited access to this material.)"

"With the fall of the Iron Curtain, a flood of hitherto unavailable material was to flow out of the former USSR. By the start of the present century the composer’s dedicated widow, Irina Antovnova, had established a centre in Paris for the study of her late husband’s life and work, as well as establishing a privately funded publishing house, DSCH, dedicated to the publication of a new complete edition of all the composer’s works in 150 volumes. The DSCH version of New Babylon was published in 2004 as Volume 122, and reveals how much music was missing from earlier editions. One of the first full-size colour facsimiles to be made available at the Shostakovich Centre in Paris was of the original (“lost”) manuscript full score of New Babylon, now housed in the Glinka Museum, Moscow. I am very grateful to Emmanuel Utwiller, current director of the Shostakovich Centre, for allowing me unlimited access to this score over a period of years, as well as his colleague Tatyana Maximova, who could confirm that all the corrections and cues added to the score were indeed in the composer’s own handwriting. The availability of this score was obviously of immense importance, as at long last we were now able to check the multitude of textual queries that had accumulated over many years. However, there were more unexpected surprises in store. For the first time we had some of the composer’s own indications as to how the music should synchronize with the film. One of the biggest mistakes we had made was to assume that the music started with the opening credits. In the manuscript it is clearly marked to start later, at the first intertitle, “Voina” (“War”), the opening credits being silent. The biggest surprise in this score was the ending. There were nearly 130 more bars after what we knew up to that time to be the final (and unresolved) chord! A preliminary script published in December 1928, before shooting began, tells us what shots were planned for this ending, but the passage must have been abandoned at an early stage, as it is not found in any known print of the film. This musical fragment will receive its belated premiere in a special performance, following the film."

"The composer was proud to produce this score at great speed, but the re-editing of the film obliged him to rework some sections in an unreasonable hurry. This has left its mark in occasional illegibility of notes, ledger lines, and other signs. I am very grateful to Pierre-Alain Biget for his help in spending much time both visiting the score at the Shostakovich Centre in Paris and helping us with well-considered opinions in finding solutions with which we hope the composer would have been happy."

"The score has sometimes been performed with large ensembles, but Shostakovich’s original contract specified that it should be for 14-20 players. In St. Petersburg, I visited all the surviving cinemas where New Babylon had been performed, and was surprised how small they were, with space only for a salon orchestra of 14 or 15 players – the size of the salon orchestra of Ferdinand Krish, which performed for the Moscow premiere. Moreover, the sets published for the first performances consisted of only 14 parts. Hence our decision – for the present performance as for the new recording for Naxos – to use solo players, which immediately gives both great clarity and character to the score. – MARK FITZ-GERALD."

David Robinson: "As the first modern proletarian revolution, the history of the Paris Commune was sacred to Soviet Communism – at his death Lenin was shrouded with a Commune flag – and the reasons for its failure remained an unending field of study. In 1871, discontented workers refused to recognize the Third Republic’s capitulation to the Prussians, following the siege of Paris, and formed a National Guard to defend the city. Municipal elections were held, and won by the insurgents, who assumed the name of the Paris Commune. Battle was drawn between the National Guard, centred in Montmartre, and Government troops in Versailles. After two months of fighting the Commune was brutally suppressed, and 25,000 Communards, many of them women and children, were executed in the Semaine sanglante."

"Kozintsev and Trauberg were at first unenthusiastic when Sovkino proposed the subject, but then recognized a continuity with The Overcoat and S.V.D. As before, they were eager to avoid the conventions of Russian/Soviet costume films."

"Their reading took in classic sources like Karl Marx’s The Civil War in France (1871) and the communard journalist Hippolyte Lissagaray’s Huit jours de mai derrière les barricades (1871), itself edited by Marx – but also Zola (Au Bonheur des Dames, La Débâcle, L’Argent). The script approved by Sovkino was “a real love story … an excellent melodrama scenario like S.V.D.” (Trauberg), but the appearance of Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg radically changed their approach: “A social generalization appeared across the multitude of faces, situations, and objects, a collective portrait of the epoch interested us infinitely more.” (Kozintsev)"

"In February 1928 the directors made a three-week trip to Paris along with Abram Room and the cinematographer Yevgeni Mikhailov, who shot 1,000 feet of images of the city, later incorporated into the film. The group were clearly influenced by Impressionist painting, and Moskvin developed a pictorial style unique to the picture, making particular use of a portrait lens which put the foreground into sharp focus in contrast to the background activity, seen in near-pointillist textures. Smoke and steam play a great role."

"It is safe to assume that the final weeks of the production, from the meeting with Shostakovich, saw its radical transformation into its final and present state, the inseparable integration of music and image, a neo-operatic medium never paralleled, unique to this work. By a happy chance, Sovkino were currently concerned with the issue of improving musical accompaniment to films: Meisel’s German score for Potemkin had been a lesson. The 23-year-old Shostakovich was a choice that suited the FEKS unit: he had just made a name with his First Symphony, had written an opera on Gogol’s The Nose, and was composing music for Mayakovsky’s The Bed Bug. Kozintsev recalled, “We immediately came to an agreement with the composer that the music would be linked to the inner meaning and not to the external actions, that it should develop by cutting across events, and as the antithesis of the mood of a specific scene. Our general principle was not to illustrate, and not to complement or coincide on this point.” Shostakovich saw the film once, asked for a list of sequences and timings, and nine days later returned and accompanied the film from piano sketches. The full composition, scored, according to contract, for an ensemble of 14-20 players, was ready to rehearse by the beginning of March. However in the two weeks before the premiere, 19 March 1929, Kozintsev and Trauberg radically re-edited, to reduce the film from almost 2 hours to 90 minutes. Shostakovich, suffering from acute flu, struggled to cut the music to fit. Hardly surprisingly, the first performances were disastrous, with an unready score and conductors resentful that they were being denied their normal fee for arranging the musical accompaniment. After two shows in Leningrad and perhaps one or two more in Moscow, with audiences complaining that the conductor must be drunk, Shostakovich’s magnificent score was abandoned, and forgotten for the next half century. Both the film and the score polarized critical debate. The magazine Kino praised the “profound historical generalizations and a direct Marxist analysis of history”, while Komsomolskaya Pravda said that the film and its authors, having “desecrated the heroic pages of the revolutionary history of the French proletariat, should be brought to trial”. Four decades later the French government evidently felt the same, and banned a screening of New Babylon planned to commemorate the centenary of the Commune." – David Robinson

The “long version” of New Babylon

David Robinson: "In the early 1980s a print of New Babylon, titled in German and preserved in the Cinémathèque Suisse, came to light, and was screened in Hamburg. It proved to be one-third longer than the recognized Russian prints, with an additional 178 shots, totalling some 700 metres. Leonid Trauberg, then in Western Europe, instantly discredited and disowned this version, which contained, he said, “scenes I personally cut. Not lost material, but scenes Kozintsev and I deliberately removed… To me it is a great mystery how this film material, which we took out of our film, has survived. New Babylon does not need restoration. The generally available copies are of good quality and represent the version Kozintsev and I and our collective of artists – including Dmitri Shostakovich – authorized… I learned it may be possible that film material, be it negative or positive, exists which Kozintsev and I thought unnecessary or bad… If one has or finds parts which were obviously or apparently shot for New Babylon, but unknown to the final version (which was cut by Kozintsev and me), please, do not put them back in the film. Keep it if you like as a curiosity. But as far as the montage of New Babylon is concerned, cut it out. Like we did. Kozintsev, nor I, nor any of our collaborators, ever intended to make a tiresome film.”"

"In private, with friends, Trauberg maintained this position even more vehemently. After his death, however, would-be restorers speculated that he only wrote the letter out of political fear or discretion, trying to conceal the degree of official censorship that had taken place more than half a century before. This view becomes even more untenable when we examine the “replaced” shots, which are for the most part purely explanatory, without any possible censor-sensitive content. Conversely, it is certain that had 700 metres of film been disapproved on ideological grounds, the censorship process would not have been achieved within the period – little more than two weeks – in which Kozintsev and Trauberg completed their final editing."

"The two directors went to Moscow from 20-27 February 1929, to receive their instructions from the main Cinematography Department. Kozintsev remembered that the official authorization stated, approvingly: “It is a poem on the Paris Commune recited in brilliant cinema language. The Central Rehearsal Committee has registered New Babylon as a first category film, that is, it is ranked alongside the best Soviet films.” If there were critical instructions at this point, they may have included a request to reduce the then-running time of almost 2 hours. Such an instruction would most likely have been more stimulating than distressing to the directors, confirming their own view. As Trauberg said, they did not want to make a “tiresome film”. Kozintsev recalled, “Little by little we lost our taste for the labyrinthine complexities of the plot … a social generalization appeared across the multitude of faces, situations, and objects; a collective portrait of the epoch interested us infinitely more. The pages of the scenario dwindled, to be replaced by the unique musical thrust of the era, a dynamic fresco.” Without doubt they had been stimulated by the unprecedented audio-visual dynamic generated by the combination of the images and Shostakovich’s music. Those last two weeks of editing must have been concentrated on the creation of that unique fusion. Of course it was done too fast. Shostakovich, with bad flu and a 40o C temperature, was given a nightmare task in changing and reorchestrating at such short notice. Trauberg himself admitted, “At the last minute we experimented with the montage: the plot became too vague, secondary. Audiences were only able to follow our story with difficulty.”"

"It is in an effort to counter this that the extended, German-language version re-inserts shots in a pedantic effort to clarify the story. The editing of the added material is generally clumsy and unrhythmical, and was certainly not done by the filmmakers. The explanation is to be found in a footnote on page 13 of Correspondence of G.M. Kozintsev, 1922-1973: “Additional changes – inserts of ‘plot scenes’ which were missing in the version shown on the Soviet screens, were needed when sending the film to Germany.” The Cinémathèque Suisse print, then, is clearly one of these “export versions”. Confusion persists: even the most dedicated FEKS scholar, Marek Pytel, is on record as claiming this export print as the only authentic, unedited version of New Babylon; but it now seems safe to respect Trauberg’s wishes: “Keep it if you like as a curiosity.” – David Robinson

AA: Revisited New Babylon with one of the best original scores for a silent film. I studied a version of the Dmitri Shostakovich score in 1985 when we collaborated with the Helsinki Festival screening it at the Finlandia Hall with Omri Hadari as the conductor for a symphony orchestra. (I was finally not actually able to visit the performance itself, but I listened to a recording several times, and studied the L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma découpage of the movie.) It's been a while... but certainly Mark Fitz-Gerald's arrangement is excellent, and the lineup of some 15 players seems more right, more light, more brisk, and this will become the definitive version.

Marek Pytel's remarks (which I received 26 Oct 2011) are beyond the jump break:

MAREK PYTEL: NEW BABYLON: Kozintsev, Trauberg, Shostakovich

The Pordenone Festival’s gala opening 2011 was Kozintsev and Trauberg’s New Babylon (1929), accompanied by the Mitteleurope Orchestra conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald. However, contrary to the impression given by the festival director, the issue of the correct synchronisation of the film for which Shostakovich wrote one of his most magnificent scores, a question on which I have been working for over thirty years, is a complex one.

Leonid Trauberg, throughout his long career, was quite happy to sow chaos and discord wherever his own work was concerned. His first advice, while authorising my work on his film and career, was to “deny anything that has been discovered”. Five years later, in 1983, when we met, he made it perfectly plain that this included anything he was on record as ever having claimed.

My view is that Shostakovich scored a 93-minute film running at 24 frames per second. He played his piano version at a successful preview in Leningrad but shortly afterwards, in the midst of intense debates about the nature of “formalism” in Soviet cinema, and three weeks before the film’s premiere, the Moscow branch of the production studio ordered extensive cuts.

This removed 178 of the film’s 1,349 shots, 510 of its 2,580 metres (Mr Robinson’s claim of 700 metres is excessive). Though, overall, 20% of the film was removed, each reel suffered differently. 24% was cut from Reel 1; 22% from Reel 2; 36% was cut from Reel 3; 15% of Reel 4 was cut; 7% was cut from reel 5 and 13% was cut from Reel 8. Many shots were also moved within the film. Naturally, this meant that the composer had to radically refashion his finished and synchronised score to fit the reedited (some would argue, censored), print. In the time available, these efforts failed, resulting only in chaos at 1929 Moscow and Leningrad premieres. The film was never performed correctly and the score was withdrawn within a matter of days.

The simple fact is that that the version of the film in common circulation – and which the Pordenone Festival has, presumably, chosen to present - is not that for which the music was written. Clearly, within the confines of the Pordenone programme book it is impossible to give a detailed breakdown of how their print (from the Cineteca del Friuli) compares to other available versions. Indeed, there is no indication whatsoever of this but, given David Robinson’s remarks, we must assume it is broadly in line with the shortened version. In order to circumvent the “problem” of length – basically “too much music” - most presentations from 1975 onwards simply slowed down the projection speed, ‘lengthening’ the film to match the score and re-edited the music whenever deemed convenient. This is exactly the approach taken at Pordenone, which chose to project the film at 20fps.

My own work on the film, which Mr Robinson kindly notes in his programme to the Pordenone screening, was outlined in a paper jointly given with Russian silent cinema scholar and FEKS specialist Natalia Noussinova and published by the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique. A friend of the Trauberg family, Ms Noussinova’s own interviews with Leonid Trauberg in the last years of his life detailed, for the first time, the last-minute changes made to his and Kozintsev’s film after the music had been written and the film submitted for final approval.

My own later paper delivered to the University of Chicago, went into this process in more detail and drew on more recent research to confirm Trauberg’s last interviews, pour cold water on his 1981 “Ghent Statement” (quoted by Mr. Robinson) and justify my work in reconstructing New Babylon. This was premiered in Chicago under the baton of Ms. Barbara Schubert, incorporating all the surviving “missing” footage for which the film had been scored in its original intended form as the USSR’s first orchestral sound film.

In May 2009 the restoration received its UK premiere at Opera North. Working with Mr. Fitz-Gerald, whom I had introduced into my production, we intensively investigated the film, its original, formalist structure, and synchronised it with Shostakovich’s original score, performed at 24fps. This used the newly published DSCH Edition full score and a copy of the original manuscript held at the Institut Chostakovich Paris; access made possible by the Institute’s director Emmanuel Uitwiller and the gracious kindness of Madame Irina Shostakovich with whom I had met and discussed my work in the company of former Centre National du Cinema and FIAF director Madame Michelle Aubert.

We also agreed to reinstate the original scripted and scored finale, which received its world premiere performance at Opera North under Mark’s baton and my direction. Though the footage for this section does not exist – or remains to be discovered – we presented titles cards using the published script.

From the available documentation, it is unclear how the Pordenone Festival has dealt with the several minutes of music for which there is currently no film.

From the start, my own and Mark’s aim in this production was to present the film and its music in the form the composer (and indeed directors) originally foresaw and intended it to be seen. I have no doubt that as a result of our work Mark’s performance and direction of the music at Pordenone has, as the festival claims, indeed been “definitive” – though both he and I know that there was still work to be done on the film as a whole.

However, what cannot be claimed to be “definitive” by any stretch of the imagination is the print of the film to which his performance and our joint research has now been matched and I am accordingly mystified why he agreed to the Pordenone engagement.

The failure of the festival to screen the film for which the music to New Babylon was composed – for that is what it is - deprives the Pordenone audience of the opportunity to engage with the true meaning of this superb film, and the nature of Kozintsev and Trauberg’s Factory of the Eccentric Actor’s “formalism”.

Soviet censorship, though widespread to such degree that it was to affect just about every film which survives, sometimes affected scenes that seem to us so innocuous that it is difficult to understand, especially when different cuts were ordered for domestic and export prints. To present it simply as a question of political censorship would be as simplistic as to deny that there could have been an element of that. Many cuts were structural and their restoration into a film such as New Babylon reveals the directors’ and composer’s intended complex interwoven web of musical / visual narratives. However, before any such evaluation can be made, the original text of the film has to be established.

My reconstruction of New Babylon uses material from two incomplete prints:
· One, 2,070 metres, widely available through the Gosfilmofond archives in Moscow and generally assumed to be the complete film - distributed in Europe for over twenty years by Contemporary Films London and more recently available on DVD. Comparable to the print screened at Pordenone.
· The second, a unique 35mm German-language print of 2,050 metres kindly made available by the Cinémathèque Suisse who, presciently, had preserved their nitrate copy. This 1929 German export version (entitled Der Kampf um Paris) includes nearly all the footage cut just three weeks before the film’s scheduled premiere, reinstalled under directions from the studio.

All these materials were transferred from 35mm positives to High Definition and re-edited into their original order - in the process synchronising more accurately with Shostakovich’s score. New full-size English inter-titles, translated from the Russian and German originals, were designed in Berthold Block font to match the visual tone of the original Cyrillic.

David Robinson writes, sadly without consulting me at any point, that I am on record as claiming the Cinematheque Suisse print: “as the only authentic, unedited version of New Babylon” This is not the case and I am mystified as to how Mr. Robinson might have got this idea or whether he has seen my reconstruction.

The abridged print of New Babylon being screened by Pordenone, remains to my mind a product of the Brezhnev years of artistic conformity and stagnation, Though its production was completed just on the cusp of the 1920’s Stalinist clampdown on the arts. Yes it is magnificent, but it is also a sad reminder of the many works neutered of “deviationist” thinking before similar strictures were applied to Soviet artists such as Vsevolod Meyerhold or indeed Adrian Piotrovskii, head of scenarios at Lenfilm at the time of New Babylon, (also, incidentally, author of articles such as “October must be re-edited” published a year earlier, in May 1928).

No one, least of all the Pordenone audience, would deny the validity of restoring missing footage to Eisenstein's October or the 20-plus % plus which remains absent from Battleship Potemkin (or matching it to Meisel’s score, which the director claimed had turned his film into a musical). So why the reticence over the reconstruction of New Babylon, and its superb early Shostakovich score?

Certainly the validity of the abridged form in which it has been shown at Pordenone has been conclusively undermined by recent research, and not least by Mark Fitz-Gerald, the conductor himself, in our earlier and detailed collaboration with Opera North.

The full length High Definition reconstruction and production of “The New Babylon” is available to orchestras, film festivals and promoters for High Definition Digital presentation through the film’s original European distributors: Contemporary Films London.

For those interested, Kozintsev & Trauberg’s “Eccentric Manifesto” of 1922 is available online at:

Mr. Robinson's programme notes for the Pordenone Silent film Festival event can be read here:

I look forward warmly to his kind response.

Marek Pytel
October 2011

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