Cantilena Chamber Choir to accompany classic silent film


LENOX — A landmark silent movie by a legendary director. A lost music score. A well-respected community choir. A nationally known organist. It sounds like a disparate grouping if ever there was one.

Next Saturday, all of these forces will converge on Trinity Church in Lenox for a public performance of one of the great silent movies of all time, director Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc." (Original French title: "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc") Cantilena Chamber Choir of Lenox, directed by its founder, Andrea Goodman, will accompany the film. Trinity Church is its performing home. Peter Krasinski of Boston, a specialist in organ accompaniment of silent films, will be on the church's organ.

Krasinski, Goodman and the choir will be joined by a 12-piece orchestra made of players coming mostly from the Albany Symphony.

The 1928 film, produced in France, stars Renee Jeanne Falconetti as Joan. The plot is based on the actual trial record of heresy proceedings brought against Joan of Arc in 1430.

Upon being captured by the English-friendly Burgundians in the Hundred Years' War, Joan was imprisoned, tried, found guilty and executed in 1431 by burning at the stake, at age 19.

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" is generally considered a momentous piece of cinema history. Dreyer's direction and Falconetti's performance have been lauded as some of the best ever, not only in the silent genre, but in all film.

The name "silent movie," however, seems to be somewhat of a misnomer.

Krasinski, who has traveled throughout the world to play scores for silent film screenings, said that the genre, despite the lack of audible words coming from the characters on screen, is rich in sensory experience.

"A silent move is anything but silent," Krasinski said. "They had rich musical scores to help interpret the action on screen. Along with their subtitles periodically explaining the storyline, as well as filling in some key dialogue, the films themselves provided a platform both for great audience entertainment through acting and live music."

Krasinski said he has played the accompaniment for "The Passion of Joan of Arc" before, but that he was looking forward to working with Goodman and the Cantilena Choir for the first time, as the version of the film and score itself was also going to be something of a first for him.

"This one is going to be a bit of a departure from the one I usually do," Krasinski said. "But I anticipate it will be great fun. I first played this movie a long time ago in Gloucester. I usually study a movie, get to know the venue where it will be played, familiarize myself with the instrument, and then, for lack of a better way to put it, just let the music happen."

That's not by accident either. Improvisation, Krasinski continued, is one way the organist of a silent film can carry along the action on the screen and convey moods, emotions and urgency, among other human traits.

Goodman said that so much of the intrigue of choosing this movie to perform was the history of its production survival.

"Dreyer's second version was the only one played for years after a fire destroyed the original master, a full unedited negative," Goodman said. "But in the early 1980s, a worker at a Norwegian mental hospital found some canisters of film and sent them off to the Norwegian Film Institute, where they sat for three years before someone finally looked at them."

It turned out, Goodman explained, that the film found in Norway was Dreyer's original cut prior to French government and Catholic church restrictive editing and regulation.

"At the time of its production, there was much consternation over a foreigner like Dreyer, who was Danish, telling the story of Joan of Arc," Goodman said. "It was considered a very French story, and embedded in the psyche of its people. So, various cut versions were shown. But what it was doing in a Norwegian hospital storage area over 50 years later, no one really knows to this day."

Only the reduced full score by Leo Pouget and Victor Alix, and the string and vocal parts have survived, found in the Library of Congress. For the Lenox performance, the wind parts have been recreated and added, Goodman said.

While many versions and arrangements have been written and performed worldwide, according to Goodman, the original 1928 score is rarely performed, echoing the sentiments of organist Krasinski.

There will be a pre-concert lecture on the film and the score at 6:45 p.m., prior to its 7:30 p.m. curtain time.

Goodman added her own hopes for local audiences to appreciate why the "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is a masterpiece.

"The set was the most expensive movie set built at the time, and Dreyer's direction led to one of the greatest cinematic events of all time," Goodman said. "It's also a rare opportunity to really hear the wonderful music that was intended for it, which enhances the watching of this film. Prepare to be moved. It definitely is an emotional experience."

If you go ...

What: Cantilena Choir performs to Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc"

When: 6:45 pre-concert lecture; 7:30 p.m. concert begins

Where: Trinity Church, 88 Walker St., Lenox

Cost: $20 for seniors; $30 adults



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