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Cinema Musica: Early Music at the Movies

A sampler of early music in movies, as well as a recent release of music dedicated to Lady Penelope Rich.

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In the late 18th century, the opera was the place to be and be seen. This venue was well exploited in “Dangerous Liaisons,” a 1988 film that tells the story of the intrigues of the scheming Vicomte de Valmont and his evil ex, the Marquise de Merteuil. Excerpts from the opera “Iphigénie en Tauride,” by Christophe Willibald Gluck, are featured on the film’s soundtrack and performed by the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon, Monteverdi Choir, and Soloists on a Philips label release.

The lovely film “Tous les Matins du Monde” is a story of memories told from the perspective of renowned viola da gambist Marin Marais about the lives of mysterious composer Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe and his musical daughters. Jordi Savall and Wieland Kuijken recorded music by Sainte-Colombe on an album entitled Concerts à deux vioules esgales.

Music of Vivaldi has appeared in numerous films of the past sixty years, including the films “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1976), “Moll Flanders” (1996), and “Casanova” (2005). Vivaldi’s concerto in C Major for mandolin and strings, appearing in all three movies, was recorded by soloist Takashi Ochi, along with the Failoni Chamber Orchestra on the CD release, Vivaldi: Oboe Concerti, Vol. 2.

Sometimes early music will make an appearance in a contemporary story to reveal something about a place or a character. Both Mozart and Bach were heard in the classic 1970 drama, “Love Story,” for which Ali McGraw learned to play keyboard for a scene featuring Bach’s Concerto in D Major.

Josquin des Prez could not have imagined that his music would pop up in the steamy thriller of 2004, “When Will I Be Loved,” whose soundtrack also includes a number of vintage recordings of J. S. Bach with Glenn Gould, as well as other baroque and classical music. Canadian Brass performs “Fanfare Royale” by des Prez on the RCA release entitled Renaissance Men.

Period music is often used to invoke an earlier time, although music supervisors don’t always stick with the right period. The brilliant 1975 film “Barry Lyndon,” directed by Stanley Kubrick, used a mixture of traditional folk music that would have been heard in 18th-century Ireland. The Itinerant Band performs familiar traditional tunes used in this film on their recording entitled Jefferson and Liberty. The Broadside Band performs more traditional folk songs on their release John Playford’s Popular Tunes and Airs.

Watch the opening scene of Barry Lyndon (note: that “killer music” is a Sarabande by G. F. Handel):

The recent Russell Crowe film, “Master and Commander,” featured some music contemporary to the film’s turn-of-the-nineteenth-century setting as well as some earlier music. Among the Baroque pieces featured was the adagio from Arcangelo Corelli‘s “Christmas Concerto,” which is also found on the release from The English Concert entitled Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6. The Hilliard Ensemble performs J. S. Bach’s “Jesu meine freude” on their recording entitled Morimur. This piece was featured in the 2005 Orlando Bloom vehicle “Kingdom of Heaven,” set in the twelfth century (!).

Oftentimes, the period music used in a film does not make it onto the film’s soundtrack. This is the case for all of the period music in the 1991 film “Black Robe,” set in seventeenth-century Quebec, in which the director called on Montreal-based band Ad Vielle Que Pourra to appear in the film and provide traditional music authentic to the time.

Wanda Landowska was a Polish pianist and composer was one of many musicians to revive interest in the harpsichord during the early 20th century. She made a surprise appearance in the 1941 film “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” performing “Rondeau à la Turca,” by Mozart on her beloved Pleyel harpsichord. Her early Bach performances, for which she was best known, can be found on a release from EMI Classics—Bach: Goldberg Variations, Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, and Italian Concerto.

The very popular “Adagio in G minor” by Tomaso Albinoni was actually arranged by twentieth-century musicologist Remo Giazotto from a sonata found in tatters after the Second World War. It was devastatingly effective accompanying the climactic battle scene in Peter Weir’s 1981 film “Gallipoli.” I Musici and Maria Teresa Garatti perform Albinoni and Giazotto’s cross-century composition on the Philips release entitled Albinoni: The Complete Concertos Op. 9.

New Release

Our new release of the week highlights a celebrity who had not the opportunity to become a movie star. Lady Penelope Rich was a fine singer and great beauty from the age of William Shakespeare. Soprano Emily van Evera collaborates with lutenist Christopher Morrongiello and others on the recent release of music inspired by her, My Lady Rich.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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