Often overlooked as a form of serious music, the
film score is perhaps the single locale where the masses are
still commonly exposed to symphonic music with any regularity.
Consider for just a moment how many people can instantly recognize
the themes from Star Wars, Superman or Jaws.
Now compare that to any work outside of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
In the general populace, Philip Glass’s work for The Truman
Show or The Hours is infinitely more familiar than
Einstein on the Beach. Thus with the Film Music Classics
series, it seems that Naxos has hit upon an idea that should
be applauded. Taking the film work of serious composers and
presenting it as serious music, equivalent to ballet scores
and theatrical music is an idea that should be embraced.
With the work of Arthur Honegger, Naxos has made
a fine selection. Like Glass, Honegger is nothing akin to a
one-trick pony. He was one of the preeminent composers living
in France in the 1920s. His work outside film consisted of operas,
oratorios, five symphonies, chamber music, ballet scores, incidental
music and popular songs. He was connected to the musical innovations
of France, Germany and Switzerland throughout his life, and
his musical ideas are still quite influential.
This is true even in the realm of film scores. Honegger’s
opinion was that cinematic music was distinct from pure musical
composition in that it relies on contrasts rather than continuity
and logical development. Therefore the music and sound is relied
upon to adapt and support the visual elements. It becomes unified
with the screen, where the musical message is conveyed visually.
Thus it is a different Honegger that the listener encounters
with his film scores than one more intimately familiar from
his other works. Throughout the hour of music here, he shifts
rapidly from one musical thought to another. In some of the
tracks he juxtaposes elements of cabaret music with more romantic
material. The results are never jarring, and often quite interesting.
If one is familiar with the film itself, there are
perhaps a few surprises here. Three dance pieces were removed,
because they were composed by someone else. Also removed was
some of the prelude for organ and a few bits of introductory
or transition material. It is considered the complete film score,
according to the insert, because the omitted material either
was not composed by Honegger or because the cues were crossed
out in the original manuscript, presumably by the composer himself.
Also missing is Gavroche’s death scene which
requires a singing voice accompanied by a few instruments, presumably
because the singer changes the character of what is here considered
the film score. Additionally there is material originally composed
but not used in the film for editing reasons. This material,
such as the Cosette et Marius episode serves well to
make this a more complete musical work. Indeed, subscribing
too closely to a picture that cannot be seen by the listener
would have likely produced a stilted recording that would not
be nearly as enjoyable to listen to.
For those for whom Les Miserablés means only the
musical version by Boublil and Schönberg, this is not the musical.
Les Misérables was filmed several times previous to that incarnation.
The movie version that this score was attached to was Raymond
Bernard’s black and white rendering starring Harry Baur as Jean
Valjean. It is intended to convey a passionate and powerful
atmosphere. Broadly speaking, it succeeds. It seems evident
that this was more than simply a financial venture for Honegger.
He later arranged the work into a musical suite intended to
This does lead to the question “What does this actually
sound like?” The instrumentation is somewhat non-standard in
that it is scored for a symphony orchestra including saxophone,
piano, harp and percussion but omitting the double-basses. It
is tied together throughout by three leitmotifs used throughout
the score. There is the resigned march of the convicts, the
ascending and inspirational Jean Valjean theme, and the love
theme for Cosette and Marius. This use of theme nicely gives
a pacing and structure to the otherwise disjointed material.
Aside from the rather refined waltz from the Musique chez
Gillenormand cue, performed by a chamber-sized group rather
than the full orchestra, the music is reminiscent of the work
of the German Romantics. It is dramatic, lyrical, utterly tonal
and familiar, without straying into the pedantic or hackneyed.
The performing group gives the work admirable attention.
However it would be difficult to call the direction inspired.
Through the more impassioned strains, it does feel that the
conductor, Adriano, could pull more emotion out of his performers.
However, as there are no other complete recordings aside from
the film itself to compare this work with, one must concede
that it is possible that he is attempting too closely to follow
the original, which had the advantage of the visual imagery.
While there are several fine moments throughout, there are places
where the music seems to sag emotionally where it should not.
The booklet does not suffer from the same lack
of intensity. It does a marvelous job of discussing the features
of the film and details the history of the film, composer, and
score. Perhaps this is Adriano’s stronger suit, as he is the
writer that gives such a convincing and impassioned argument
that this is a worthy work, and that the entire genre of classic
movie scores should be given more than an occasional and cursory
Although this recording is not perfect, this
reviewer is inclined to agree with Adriano. This is certainly
unmined gold. It will hopefully be given more future consideration
for recording. It certainly is a solid work that will, I hope,
enjoy enough success to encourage more recordings of this kind.
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf