Friday, February 19, 2016

Film concert Der Rosenkavalier (the music by Richard Strauss played by Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf)

Elly Felicie Berger (Sophie) and Jaque Catelain (Octavian)

Der Rosenkavalier. Eine Komödie für Musik. AT 1926. PC: Pan-Film AG (Wien). P+D: Robert Wiene. SC: Louis Nerz, Robert Wiene - based on the libretto and a separate screen story by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. DP: Hans Theyer, Ludwig Schaschek, Hans Androschin. AD: Alfred Roller, Stefan Wessely, Hans Rouc. Cost: Alfred Roller. Hair: Ludwig Rudlof. M for a cinema orchestra: Richard Strauss - based on his opera (1911). M arranged by: Karl Alwin, Otto Singer. C: Michael Bohnen (Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau), Huguette Duflos (die Marschallin), Paul Hartmann (der Marschall), Jaque Catelain (Octavian), Elly Felicie Berger (Sophie, daughter of Faninal), Carmen Cartellieri (Annina, Valzacchi's companion), Friedrich Fehér (Valzacchi, the Italian schemer), Karl Forest (von Faninal), Riki Raab (a dancer). Loc: Vienna (Schönbrunn, Belvedere), Dürnstein. Original length: 2996 m /21,5 fps/ 121 min
    Three Richard Strauss marches were added to the score: "De Brandenburgsche Mars" (AV 99), "Der Königsmarsch" (AV 100), and one piece from the "Lebende Bilder zu den Feierlichkeiten der Goldenen Hochzeit des Grossherzogs und der Grossherzogin von Weimar" (AV 89).
    Richard Strauss also composed one original piece for the film: "Militärmarsch in F-Dur" (AV 112, TrV227b).
    A menuet motif from François Couperin (1700), arranged by Strauss (1923), was also used.
    During the war sequence we recognized a familiar march known in the traditional Finnish military orchestra repertory as "The March of the Finnish Cavalry in the Thirty Years' War" ("Gamla finska rytteriets marsch" / "Kungliga Norrbottens regements marsch (Finska rytteriets marsch)" / "Hakkapeliittain marssi" / "Suomalaisen ratsuväen marssi 30-vuotisessa sodassa" / "Marsch der finnländischen Reiterei aus dem 30-jährigen Kriege (Schwedischer Reitermarsch)" [AM II, 211] [AM III, 70] (trad.) (song lyrics later written in Swedish by Zacharias Topelius, Finnish translation by Yrjö Weijola) [1618–1648]. "In 1891 Germans included it in the list of their army marches, under numbers 211 (group II) and 70 (group III)" (IvanSCF, YouTube 29.1.2012). - This arrangement stems from the "Lebende Bilder" (AV 89), # 6 Bernhard der Große von Weimar at the battle of Lützen (1632): “Begleitende Musik (mit Benutzung des in der Schlacht bei Lützen gespielten schwedischen Reitermarsches) von Richard Strauss” (1892).
    Viennese press screening: Haydn-Kino 10.12.1925.
    Gala premiere: Dresden, Staatsoper, 10.1.1926
    The film was not released in Finland.
    New restoration: 2006, Filmarchiv Austria (Fumiko Tsuneishi, Nikolaus Wostry). Music arranged for the restoration: Bernd Thewes, first conducted and fine tuned by: Frank Strobel. For ZDF / ARTE (Nina Goslar). Gala premiere: Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden, 6.9.2006. /21,5 fps/ 105 min
    The original intertitles are believed lost and have been reconstructed by the restoration team.
    Digital triple screen projection at Helsinki Music Center played back from a blu-ray from European FilmPhilharmonic. With one intermission.
    Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf.
    First screening in Finland of the film, 19 Feb 2016

An exemplary companion: a book and a dvd:
Der Rosenkavalier. Edition Film und Text 9.
Günter Krenn (Hg.): "Ein sonderbar Ding": Essays und Materialien zum Stummfilm Der Rosenkavalier. Wien: Filmarchiv Austria, 2007. 294 p.
Der Rosenkavalier (1926). The 2006 restored edition by Filmarchiv Austria. Soundtrack: a record from the Wiederaufführung 6.9.2006 (Dresden / Sächsische Staatsoper), musikalische Einrichtung: Bernd Thewes, orchestra: Staatskapelle Dresden, Dirigent und künstlerische Leitung: Frank Strobel. Intertitles: German / English / French / Spanish. Codefree. Dolby Digital 2.0 / 5.1
ISBN 978-3-902531-11-7

Der Rosenkavalier is my candidate for the best film music ever written.

In the 1980s when Berndt Heller conducted in Finland the original scores of Nosferatu (1987) and Die Nibelungen (1988) he stated that "you haven't heard the best yet": Der Rosenkavalier, the film. (We got the impression that there were even aficionados of Der Rosenkavalier, the opera, who occasionally felt that they had had enough of endless soprano singing and preferred to hear a purely instrumental version for just listening.)

Richard Strauss assigned his trusted experts Karl Alwin and Otto Singer the task of arranging his opera into the purely instrumental score. The revision was thorough even though not many elements were added.

Der Rosenkavalier the opera is more based on words than the average. There is a lot of singing. The musical experience of the film adaptation is thus significantly different from the opera. The film is an engrossing Richard Strauss experience.

The film started as a Hugo von Hofmannsthal project. The poet was enthusiastic about the potential of the cinema. However, the producer-screenwriters Robert Wiene and Louis Nerz generally discarded Hofmannsthal's screen story and took only some elements from it, most importantly the character of the marshal who does not appear in the opera. Mostly Wiene and Nerz reverted to the original opera plot. However, they discarded Hofmannsthal's libretto. Thus, from Hofmannsthal there remains only the skeleton - the characters and the plot. Privately, Der Rosenkavalier the film was a big disappointment for Hofmannsthal although publicly he kept a brave face about it.

Richard Strauss was not eager initially to embark on the project, but he did it as a favour to Hofmannsthal. The result turned out much better than he expected, and the music works brilliantly both in parts and as a whole. Richard Strauss converted during this experience into a film enthusiast who stated that he while he was was now too old for this he would recommend film music composing ot younger colleagues.

Robert Wiene was a seasoned professional who had started his career as a director with a special gift for comedy. He had been hugely successful at Oskar Messter's film company, directing and writing a string of hits for Germany's biggest star Henny Porten, often photographed by Karl Freund. Wiene was equally talented with drama, and he had a penchant for psychology. That is why he was a natural choice to direct The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, a film that brought world fame to German cinema. Caligari was a total exception to Wiene's style so far even in twisted psychological narratives. Wiene played with aspects of Expressionism in Genuine, Raskolnikov, I.N.R.I., and The Hands of Orlac, but his true calling was in natural acting and sober storytelling.

Der Rosenkavalier was a big production. The locations were ideal, and the top opera designer Alfred Roller, the trusted collaborator of Mahler and Strauss, was in charge of art direction and costumes. Best of all, there is a lively approach to the historical period of late Baroque and evolving Rococo (one might say that the period is outwardly Baroque and inwardly Rococo). There is a vitality in crowd scenes, and the characters look like they are truly living in their clothes (not just posing in costumes they received from the wardrobe a minute ago). There are amusing details that feel authentic.

Of the performers the great bass baritone star of the opera stage Michael Bohnen is at home in his role as the lecherous Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. He was Richard Strauss's favourite casting. The new character of the Marschall is convincingly incarnated by Paul Hartmann with laconic masculinity.

I wish I could be more positive about the performances of the triangle of characters that in the opera is played by three sopranos. Top talent famous from the French stage and cinema was hired: Huguette Duflos was the Marschallin, and Jaque Catelain played Octavian. Elly Felicie Berger is a delicate Sophie. I blame Robert Wiene for the weak direction of their performances. He lets them overact, but here it is not a consistent stylistic decision like in Caligari where Wiene in the spirit of Expressionism adopted an archaic and exaggerated style foreign to the realism of his earlier films.

One of the central differences between the opera and the film is the casting of Octavian. One of the most notable trouser roles has been changed into male casting. It was the Jazz Age, the age of the flapper / the jazz girl / la garçonne. It was also the age of Valentino, Novarro, Rivero (Cocteau's first protagonist), in Finland, the young Tulio (all the names of these boys ending with an "O") - and Jaque Catelain (the year before he had starred in L'Inhumaine). His casting is inspired, but Robert Wiene is unable to realize its potential.

In my introduction before the film concert I focused on Der Rosenkavalier as a time machine, a voyage into the vortex of time. The period of the narrative is the transition from Baroque to Rococo in the middle of the 18th century. The premiere of the opera was in 1911, in the twilight of the 700-year rule of the Habsburgs, la Belle Époque, and "the long 19th century" from the French Revolution to the eve of WWI. The premieres of the film were in 1925 and 1926 when the war that meant the end of "the Age of Empire" had ended not long ago. One of the film's locations is the Belvedere castle which had been the residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination started WWI.

Even Richard Strauss's music is a time machine. It is a composition distinctive in its own Jugendstil / Art Nouveau period with its silver rose motif. It harks back to Baroque but is also inspired by Mozart (Le Nozze di Figaro), pays memorable tribute to Italian bel canto, and cannot avoid being influenced by Wagner, either. Strauss indulges in anachronism that can be understood as playing with time: the major musical idiom is the Viennese waltz that was flourishing not in the middle of the 18th century but a hundred years later. In the film score there are also several marches due to the addition to the cast of the marshal in person.

Der Rosenkavalier the film fell into a time trap. It was brilliantly launched but failed to get world distribution in grand style because sound film was just about to have its breakthrough. The distribution was discontinued and prints and elements were discarded. After 1933 there was even less effort to preserve the film because key Jewish talent had been involved in its making.

There have been important efforts at reconstruction in 1961 by Joseph Gregor and Otto Wladicka (a 16 mm stretch print was made with every second frame duplicated to match a speed of 16 fps; there was a magnetic soundtrack; the score was played on the piano by Julius Engelmann; "the duration of the images corresponded now again exactly the duration of the music"; "for this sound film print the music was played strictly according to the score"*), and in 1988 by Berndt Heller. Now thanks to Fumiko Tsuneishi and Nikolaus Wostry (film) and Bernd Thewes and Frank Strobel (music), backed by Nina Goslar (ARTE) we have this impressive restoration where even the challenge of the missing final reel has been elegantly solved.

Der Rosenkavalier is a music-driven film designed to faithfully illustrate magnificent music. In the final reel of this reconstruction it can be seen as a kind of a transcendence that the image occasionally disappears and lets the music alone fill up our senses.

I prepared by listening to the dvd where Frank Strobel conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden. It is evident from the Hofmannsthal-Strauss correspondence that Der Rosenkavalier was a labour of love. Strauss waited impatiently for new pages from Hofmannsthal because the libretto stimulated him, and he was brimming with ideas. This irresistible sense of joy is conveyed via the Strobel-Dresden performance on the dvd. There is a vigour, a precision, and a delight in their playing.

A live concert is always a many times more profound experience. It goes into the spine. It energizes and electrifies. Conducted by Hans Graf, the Radio Symphony Orchestra brought a touch of Viennese grace into their performance. Writing this sentence many days later, the music is still ringing inside me. The passion, the sadness, the fury, and the final consummation. One might say that the overture is about eros and the finale about agape.

The film runs fast, the movement seems faster than is the norm when we screen silent films today, and there is often a sense of overspeed, but Frank Strobel comments that the music follows Richard Strauss's precise metronome specifications, and in such matters he was particular. In his view the opera nowadays is usually performed too slowly. (E-mail from Frank Strobel, 8 March 2016).

* Erich H. Mueller von Asow: Richard Strauss: Thematisches Verzeichnis I-III. Wien: Verlag L. Doblinger (B. Herzmansky) K.G., 1959-1974 - pp. 1260-1263. "Militärmarsch in F-Dur" (AV 112, TrV227b)

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