Monday, May 10, 2010

Carl Davis Score of "Napoleon" - CD Contest

This week we’ve got a contest for a unique CD. More about that in a minute, but first the contest rules:

Between now and Thursday noon, Eastern Time, when we pick the winner, just leave a comment below stating you want the CD. That’s pretty much it. The name is drawn out of a hat. Come back Thursday to see if you’ve won, and if you did, email me at:

...with the address to which you’d like the CD to be sent. Neither the address nor your name will be published. I’ll contact the folks who are donating the CD, and they’ll ship you your prize directly.

Now, about that CD.

It is the vibrant Carl Davis score of “Napoleon”. This masterful silent screen epic is rarely seen (though is a popular topic of discussion by film buffs of the silent era), and this is due to a number of interesting circumstances. The film has a tangled history, and to some degree, so does the score of the modern release.

The film is the work of Abel Gance, one of the most talented filmmakers not only in French cinema but in the history of movie making. M. Gance is responsible for innovations on what would later be standard in the use of color, wide screen, and even hand-held techniques. He invented the triptych process using three cameras and three projectors which was not replicated by anyone until Cinerama came along 25 years later.

The film had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1921, in a shorter three hours and 40-minute version of what was meant originally to be a six-episode biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. A another edited version was re-released in 1927 with a score by Arthur Honegger. From the beginning, money and artistic concerns battled over how this story was to be told and how it would be seen. A later release in the US in the 1930s carved it down to 80 minutes.

Decades passed and occasional forays into archives and personal collections were made to cobble together the film as it might have been originally intended. This was finally accomplished by film historian Kevin Brownlaw, who released a five-hour version to reconstruct Abel Gance’s masterpiece. It was viewed in 1979 in Colorado. Gance himself came from France to see it.

Director Francis Ford Coppola was so impressed, he presented it at Radio City Music Hall, and interest in this classic was revived. It was shown also in London in 1980, and it was for this presentation that Carl Davis was commission to write the score.

At this point we arrive at one of those head-scratching circumstances where the losers are the fans. Mr. Coppola’s showing in New York of the film was accompanied by a score written by his father, Carmine Coppola. Because he owns the distributor rights in the US for the four-hour version of the film, Francis Ford Coppola will not allow a release of the DVD unless it has the Carmine Coppola score. Meanwhile the Carl Davis score is what accompanies Brownlaw’s film, which underwent more restoration with added footage in 1983 and in 2000. This version of the film is what is seen when released in the Europe. I don’t know if a DVD of the Brownlaw restoration will be available in the US anytime soon, as the legal issues with the Francis Ford Coppola version remain unresolved.

I can’t compare the Coppola score with the Davis score because I have not heard Mr. Coppola’s work, though I know film critics have made comparisons. I won’t refer to any here, but if you do a Google search, I’m sure you’ll come up with plenty of opinions.

My own review of the Carl Davis score on this CD from the Carl Davis Collection, published by Threefold Music Ltd of the UK, is that it is a striking and uplifting composition that is a perfect blend of history and drama, which I suspect is what Gance intended in his tale of Napoleon.

Mr. Davis draws upon music of the time period, from Beethoven’s Eroica, to portions of works by Mozart and Haydn, to traditional songs of the French Revolution. There is also, of course, a recurring complement of horns reprising La Marseillaise. The result is stirring, and reflective of the Napoleonic era. It is a symphony set to screen, which is unlike what we usually expect from silent film scores, even some new scores for restored classics that rely heavily on scene-by-scene musical depictions that are more like melodic sound effects accompanying the film than a complimentary score that could stand apart from it. Mr. Davis’ score of “Napoleon” is just such a creation.

His thorough research and melding of historic refrains to modern scores has been a good part of his long career. You may have heard his compositions and arrangements before in such restored silent classics as “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925, restored 1996) reviewed in this previous blog post, “The Crowd” (1928, restored 1981) reviewed in this previous blog post, “The Wind” (1928, restored 1983), and several other classics, as well as modern film and television productions.
For your chance at winning a copy of this CD, an abridged version of the 5-hour Carl Davis score of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, just let me know in the comments section.

FTC Disclosure: a review copy of the CD was provided by the US distributor of this product, Naxos of America, Inc. of Franklin, Tennessee.

Have a look below at a couple of snippets of the film by Abel Gance.

# 1

# 2


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I want it, I want it...

John Hayes said...

I'll enter the contest--having an interest in silent film music. But oh my, the film looks amazing based on those two clips!

K. said...

I want it.

The film is incredible. The Coppola score is -- let's say -- not subtle.

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