It was Miklós Rózsa who was so deeply impressed with this score
that he urged Honegger to make a suite out of the music. "It was as good
as anything he had written, and was worthy to stand on its own
dramatic and lyrical, and so much in his individual style that you would
have known who the composer was even without seeing his name in the titles,"
Rózsa wrote of it. Eventually, Honegger followed Rózsa's advice
and arranged some of the music from Les Misérables into a five-movement
suite. This 19-minute suite was recorded by Adriano -- on MARCO POLO 8.223134.
It was reviewed on this site last month (November 1999). This follow-up recording
of the complete score, lasting practically an hour, was made two years later
[Charles Koechlin also considered Les Misérables "undoubtedly one
of the best film scores hitherto created.]
The score begins with the sombre 'Générique' (Main Title),
intense and dramatic almost a funeral march; in this recording it is much
extended over the previous version. The slow descending, resigned (in places
even weary) march motif is related to the convicts. It's opposite is the
ascending motif associated with the nobility and kindness of Jean Valjean
and this is at once apparent in the more optimistic tread of 'Jean Valjean
sur la route' with its appealing pastoral inflections and expressive saxophone
figures (notwithstanding some shadowy material).
The score has its share of surprises. Quoting Adriano's informative notes
(excellent although Marco Polo could have given us translations of the movement
titles), "Honegger displays a curious experimental aspect in 'La foire à
Montfermeill' where the reprise of the "source" folk music piece [sounding
innocent and child-like with its accordion ostinato] has superimposed
"psychological" glisssandi from trombones, tremoli, glissandi and col legno
effects from the strings [striking the strings with the stick of the bow
instead of playing on them with the hair] supported by the percussion. These
effects are used to illustrate little Cosette's frightful nocturnal experience
in the woods, before meeting Jean Valjean for the first time. 'Une tempête
sous un crâne' is another movement of value and particularly dramatic
in its impact: it emphasises a longer "conscience struggle" monologue by
Jean Valjean." Music of compassion battles with darker material, here, collecting
some grinding dissonances, starkly agitated figures and lonely remote material
on the way. A truly impressive movement.
'Fantine' is almost unbearably poignant, music that pleads desperately and
again the saxophone is used most expressively.
In opposition to the general morbidly oppressive atmosphere of this score
there is the more buoyant pastoral/romantic music that celebrates the love
between Cosette and Marius 'Music chez Gillenormand', using an ensemble of
string octet and solo wind, recreates the chamber character of this cheerful
rollicking piece. Clarinet and trumpet play a picturesque duet in this charming
When the narrative reaches Paris, 'L'emeute' (the riot) is epic revolutionary
music and 'L'assuat' is very thrilling with Adriano's inspired insertion
of an explosion effect for percussion instruments (an extra part for military
drums was also found appropriate).
Dans les Égouts' (In the sewers) is a dark expression of superhuman
effort and is based on a continuous rhythm of pairs of eighth-notes. 'La
mort de Valjean' (The Death of Valjean) is a lovely deeply-felt cue, an
apotheosis of the Valjean theme that employs trumpet and saxophone in the
melodic line, with a continually modulating two chord ostinato figure passing
from piano to strings.
A score that dwells a lot in dark places but is nevertheless a classic which
adventurous film music enthusiasts should not ignore. Adriano gives a totally
committed and excellent