Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Sången om den eldröda blomman / Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919) (2019 SFI digital transfer with the original Armas Järnefelt score)

Sången om den eldröda blomman / Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919). Olof Koskela (Lars Hanson) in the rapid-shooting sequence.

Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta / Il canto del fiore rosso / Le Chant de la fleur rouge / The Flame of Life.
    Director: Mauritz Stiller. Year: 1919. Country: Svezia. Sog.: from the novel Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta (1905) by Johannes Linnankoski. Scen.: Mauritz Stiller, Harald B. Harald. F.: Ragnar Westfelt, Henrik Jaenzon. M.: Tom Bret. Scgf.: Axel Esbensen. Mus.: Armas Järnefelt.
    Int.: Lars Hanson (Olof Koskela), Greta Almroth (Annikki), Lillebil Christensen (Elli), Louise Fahlman (madre di Olof), Axel Hultman (padre di Olof), Edith Erastoff (Kyllikki), Hjalmar Peters (padre di Kyllikki), John Ekman (capo zatteriere).
    Prod.: AB Svenska Filmindustri. DCP. D.: 101’. Tinted and toned.
    Digitized in 2017 by Svenska Filminstitut from a 35 mm b/w dupe negative and a tinted and toned positive nitrate.
    Copy from Svenska Filminstitutet.
    Swedish intertitles with English subtitles.
    Registered score composed by Armas Järnefelt, performed by Gävle Symfoniorkester, directed by Jaakko Kuusisto. Sonorized digital transfer 2019.
    Recovered & Restored / Cento anni fà.
    Introduce Jon Wengstrom (Svenska Filminstitut).
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, with e-subtitles in Italian, 25 June 2019.

Jon Wengström: "The film is based on the novel by Finnish writer Johannes Linnankoski about a farmer’s son Olof (Lars Hanson) who after being expelled from home works as a log driver but cannot get the daughter from the neighbouring farm out of his mind. The film was shot in the summer of 1918 by the river Faxälven in northern Sweden and in the studios of AB Svenska Biografteatern outside Stockholm. Stiller’s version arguably remains the best of the four adaptations made for the screen (the others were directed by Branner in 1934, Tulio in 1938 and Molander in 1956)."

"Sången om den eldröda blomman has all the trademarks of the films made during the era of Swedish silent cinema often referred to as the Golden Age: it is based on a famous literary source, it was a big-budget production and makes use of outdoor settings to convey the interaction between man and nature. The film’s atmosphere is infused by nature, as in the dance sequence in the beginning, with its lyrical rendering of the nocturnal light of the summer nights. The spectacular scene when Olof rides down a wild river on a log of wood has become emblematic of the Swedish films of the period. As the carefree Olof who finally finds peace within himself, Lars Hanson gives one of the best performances of his career; not least in the scenes where a disillusioned Olof visits bars and brothels in the city. The dialogue with his image in the mirror of a bar is one of the highlights of staging and acting in the film."

#Sången om den eldröda blomman is the only Swedish silent film for which an original score exists, written by Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958), the most important and beloved Finnish composer after Sibelius. Järnefelt conducted the orchestra himself at the opening at the Röda Kvarn theatre in Stockholm in April 1919. In this centennial year of the film, and 150 years after Järnefelt’s birth, Sången om den eldröda blomman can be seen in a restored version, which includes a soundtrack of the original music, performed by the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jaakko Kuusisto, who also re-orchestrated the score for a full orchestra."
Jon Wengström

AA: It was an emotional moment to visit the international premiere of the newly sonorized copy of Mauritz Stiller's beautiful film. It is the centenary of the first original Nordic score for a feature film and the 150th anniversary of Armas Järnefelt and Johannes Linnankoski. In Helsinki we opened the year with a Song of the Scarlet Flower film concert, played by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jaakko Kuusisto, seating 1700 at the Helsinki Music Center.

Armas Järnefelt created in 1919 one of the most beautiful film scores. In the silent period his achievement can be compared with Camille Saint-Saëns (L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise), Pietro Mascagni (Rapsodia satanica), Richard Strauss (the instrumental film version of Der Rosenkavalier) and Dmitri Shostakovich (The New Babylon).

Järnefelt introduced a noble Nordic national romantic sound to the cinema in the wavelengths of Edvard Grieg (Peer Gynt) and Jean Sibelius (who married Järnefelt's sister Aino).


After the screening we toasted among the champions of Song of the Scarlet Flower: Mr. Mikko Sajari, the representative of the Järnefelt family, Jon Wengström, in charge of the restoration, Dr. Ann-Kristin Wallengren, the musicologist who rediscovered the original score in the 1980s, and Dr. Jan Olsson, Wallengren's supervisor, the earliest champion of the project.

It took us over 20 years to get this far. In the Nordic Explorations retrospective at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Sacile in 1999 an attempt was made at a film concert to be conducted by Johan Åkesson, but he was not available. Instead, an inspired piano arrangement by Håkan Carlsson was heard of the Järnefelt score. It was so rousing that we invited him to Helsinki where Mikko Sajari heard for the first time his grandfather's film score thanks to Håkan.

Robert Israel made a new orchestral arrangement for the Radio Symphony Orchestra for a film concert at the Finlandia Hall on 11 November 2005, with Tuomas Rousi as conductor. A guest of honour was Gösta Werner (1908–2009), the greatest Mauritz Stiller expert and biographer. With Jon Wengström and Tuomas Rousi we took him to dinner after the concert.

Thanks to Jaakko Kuusisto it has now become possible to take the movie to a film concert tour and make it available on a sonorized DCP. The score has also been published on cd by Ondine (2019), and it is available on web platforms such as Spotify.


On the last day of the festival I was in the company of Mikko Sajari when we stumbled into Stephen Horne, who composed memorably in Pordenone a music commentary to the Danish film Morænen / The House of Shadows (A. W. Sandberg, 1924) with Armas Järnefelt's "Berceuse" (1904) as a leitmotif. That melody was popular in silent film compilation scores (e.g. in The Last Laugh, the American version of Der letzte Mann), and it can still be heard in soundtracks of 1930s films, even in Japanese ones. We fell silent when Mikko told us that Armas composed the lullaby to his daughter, the mother of Mikko. We are not as far from the early days as we sometimes think.


1. Chapter I: The first flush of spring
2. Chapter II: The mother’s look
3. Chapter III: Learning life

CD 2:
1. Chapter IV: A young man’s derring-do
2. Chapter V: Kyllikki
3. Chapter VI: In the town
4. Chapter VII: The pilgrimage

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