Some Variations on a Musical Theme

Ever since I first watched it as a teenager, I’ve been a huge fan of Tous les Matins du Monde.  The 1991 film is a dramatisation of the relationship between the French baroque composer Marin Marias (played by the late Guillaume Depardieu and in some scenes by his father Gerard) and his teacher the mysterious Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle).   

The plot of the film is framed with a lot of sadness.  Sainte Colombe, the master, is sad due to the loss of his wife; Marais is sad because his voice is breaking and he can no longer sing in a boys’ choir.  Marais pesters Sainte-Colombe for viol lessons and the latter capitulates only because he is touched by Marais’s sadness.  But Marais is a brat and disrespects Sainte-Columbe’s philosophy (and daughters) and makes him angry and sad.  But ultimately Marais is sad as a result of his shallowness and misdeeds.  And that’s pretty much it!!   

I would forgive anyone who has seen this film and thought it morose, depressing, and short on dialioge.  Indeed it is all of the above!  But I like to get past that and enjoy the music, and I find that taking some time to consider and appreciate the soundtrack brings one back into the film’s compelling story, whose central character is surely the music itself.   

Or perhaps the music forms two characters: one paralleling the sad, regretful and puritalical Sainte-Colombe (this character dominates), and the other the amitious future court composer Marais.  Very little is known of the real Sainte-Colombe and this adds intrigue to the experience of seeing him re-enacted as the reluctant teacher and widower.   

One of the most popular scenes from the film, however, includes music composed by neither Marais nor Sainte-Colombe.  The young upstart Marais visits Sainte-Colombe to audition to be his student and is asked to improvise on Folies d’Espagne (The Follies of Spain), and the hauntingly beautiful result is as follows.   

Here Depardieu is miming over the great contemporary Catalan viol player Jordi Savall, whose adaptation and performance of much of the music for the film are highlights.  I’ve always enjoyed this scene and the piece is variously called La Folia/Follia, Les Folies, or Folies d’Espagne.   

One of the oldest known European musical themes, Follies‘ composer is not known and it is thought to originate from Iberia in the late 15th century.  More than 150 composers have incorporated it into their music in some way or other, but many baroque composers have focused on composing variations of the theme itself rather than simply incorporating it into something else.   

Sound good?  Here’s a version of the theme arranged by Marin Marais’s other teacher (not dealt with in the film), the also-great, Florenese baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.   

This version is fairly conservative, but it’s relative simplicity leaves the theme free to be enjoyed on its own terms.  For something quite different, have a listen to Antonio Vivaldi‘s later, punchier, and considerably more expressive variation.   

There are plenty of other versions available to listen to on youtube, but I shouldn’t push it.  If you’ve been so kind as to listen to the three posted here, I suspected you’ve had enough of it by now!   

Tous les Matins du Monde won seven César awards in 1992 including Best Music Written for a Film for Jordi Savall’s arrangements and was nominated for a Golden Globe the folllowing year.  Tragically, Guillaume Depardieu died of pneumonia in October 2008 aged 37.

Snow is Cool in the Movies

House of Flying Daggers

This snow is ridiculous.  Really, need I say more?  Well, I want something to blog about, so yes!  People are stuck at home and unable to come into work (yeah, right!) and we’ve had continuous snowfall in Edinburgh all day and yesterday evening too.  And it’s the 31st March! 

What was the point of all my hopeful, studious observation of sunset and the time of the last dwindling light of each and every evening throughout January, February and March?  This?!

Well screw you, bad weather!  In today’s post, I have decided to come up with a way to look on the bright side, so here are five snowy movie moments that tell us that snow is, after all, really titillating, atmospheric and above all, cool.

In no particular order:

1.  Old Boy, closing sequence

Don’t worry, watching this doesn’t give the ending away.  Well, come on, it is the ending, but you know what I mean.  No spoilers here.  This is a beautiful sequence and I especially love the waltz which forms the centrepiece of the soundtrack.  If you like the look of it and haven’t seen this film, do so soon.  It’s well worth it.  Snow is beautiful and a little disturbing in Old Boy.

Watch it here

2.  Gladiator, Germania battle sequence

Romans, furs, dogs, archers, testudos, Germanic barbarians, Germania, Maximus, lobbing olive oil bombs, flaming arrows, forests, slow-motion Saving-Private-Ryan-type what’s-it-all-worth footage.  How dare anyone suggest that the perfect accompaniment is not snow?  Snow is cool in Gladiator, and so is the desert.  And both are definitely cooler than Maximus’s lame (ball-and-chain) Spanish farm.

Watch it here

3.  House of Flying Daggers, closing sequence

This film, probably the first real manifestation of the slippery slope Zhang Yimou has been on over the last few years, has a truly sketchy plot.  However, Zhang’s visuals are as beautiful as they are in any of his other films, and the snowy ending is no exception.  Snow is beautiful in House of Flying Daggers.  Is this a spoiler?  Yes and no.  It is, but the ending has very little logical coherence with the beginning of the film, or the middle, so it doesn’t matter.  Anyway, truly stunning visuals, that’s the point.

 Watch it here

4.  Dr Zhivago, most of…

This is not really uplifting at all, and doesn’t help me with my point, but I don’t think you can discuss snow in film without reference to Dr Zhivago.

Watch the trailer here

5.  Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, opening sequence

New Zealand, the Misty Mountains, whatever way you want to look at it, beautiful snowy landscapes.  The film just gets better from there!

Watch it here

This list could really go on forever and I make no pretence to its being exhaustive.  To be honest, I’m trying to complete it as quickly as I can before it stops snowing!  Can you think of any others?

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