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ClassicsOnline Home » AURIC: Orphee / Ruy Blas / Thomas I'imposteur
Georges Auric studied at the Conservatoires of Montpellier and Paris and finally
at the Schola Cantorum with Vincent d'Indy. In his early twenties he joined
the composers Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre
to form the famous Groupe des Six, of which Cocteau was a patron. Auric's
talents are to be found predominantly in his music for the theatre and the screen.
In addition to his ballets Les Matelots, Pastorale, Les Enchantements de
la Fée Alcine, La Concurrence, Les Imaginaires, Le Peintre et son Modèle,
Phèdre (on a libretto by Cocteau), Chemin de Lumière, La Chambre
and Euridice written for the ballet companies of Sergey Dyagilev, Ida Rubinstein
and David Lichine, his incidental scores and his opera Sous le masque,
Auric's credits as a composer can be found on some forty French, forty American
and fifteen British films. As a writer of both complete scores and of songs,
Auric collaborated during almost half a century with such directors as Marc
Allégret, Jean Delannoy, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Max Ophüls, William
Wyler, John Houston, Otto Preminger, Charles Crichton, Thorold Dickinson, Terence
Young and Henry Cornelius. Among his best known scores for British and American
films are Passport to Pimlico (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951),
Moulin Rouge (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), Bonjour Tristesse
(1957), The Hunchback Notre-Dame (1957) and The Innocents (1961).
Above all, however, Auric is to be remembered for his unique collaboration with
Jean Cocteau, including six films that were directed by Cocteau himself (Le
Sang d'un Poète, La Belle et la Bête, Les Parents terribles, L
'Aigle à deux têtes, Orphée and Le Testament d'Orphée)
and three directed by others, but with Cocteau as a script-writer (L'Eternel
Retour, Ruy BIas and Thomas l'Imposteur).
Orphée was Cocteau's fifth work as a script/dialogue writer and film
director. It can be considered as one of his most important pictures and at
the same time a masterwork of modern French cinema. It was first shown at the
Cannes Festival on 1st March, 1950, and won in the same year the International
Critic's Prize at the Venice Film Festival. The sound track was performed by
a symphony orchestra conducted by Jacques Météhen (1908-1978),
a skilful composer and arranger who had collaborated with Auric in various films.
Cocteau's script is a modern and highly original elaboration of the ancient
myth of Orpheus, which has attracted artists over many centuries. In the domain
of film, one cannot forget another congenial adaptation of this myth, Marcel
Camus's Orfeu Negro, which was produced in Brazil in 1958. As far as
the ballet is concerned, it may also be interesting to note that in 1948, Balanchine's
New York City Ballet version of Orpheus (with music by Igor Stravinsky)
had been staged: those who may not be familiar with this work may be acquainted
with a series of nude production stills by George Platt Lynes, who was a friend
of Cocteau and had considerably influenced the photographic aspect of his cinematic
The cast of Orphée included Jean Marais as the poet, Marie Déa
as Eurydice, Maria Casarès as the Princess, Franfçois Périer
as Heurtebise and Eduard Demrit as Cégeste. In 1959, Cocteau would take
up the theme of Orpheus again in his last picture, Le Testament d'Orphée,
a totally autobiographical, self-projecting work and further development of
his artistic creed exposed in his earlier film. Besides including actors such
as Casarès, Marais, Périer and Dermit, Cocteau, of course, would
this time appear himself on the screen. Not Auric, but Météhen
was commissioned to write and arrange a score inspired by jazz.
In the preface to the published version of the script of Orphée
and in other writings, Cocteau explains that "in this picture, there is
no symbol, no thesis... It is a realistic film which transposes cinematographically
what is more truth than truth, the truth which Goethe opposes to reality and
which makes the great conquests of the poets of our time... My picture should
become a creed to all those numerous people who are able to understand that
film is an art and not a business. If an author is only oriented towards making
business, he cannot any more arouse the interest of the younger generation".
Cocteau' s script, set in a provincial French town of the 1950s, is an extended
reworking of his early one-act theatrical play of the same title of 1926. It
deals with the theme of immortality. To reach this stage, a poet has to pass
through the world of Death (imagination) in order to regain his lost inspiration
(his wife). It is finally Death himself who sacrifices his own existence for
the poet's salvation.
The film's fascinating, not easily recountable plot involves a mixture of real
and unreal characters, situations and locations, constantly referring to Orpheus'
mission as a modern poet to seize through his inspiration "messages"
from within himself, which he should transmit to his audience after having learned
that messages coming from outside are too dangerous. The so-called "Zone"
through which he will have to travel by penetrating it through mirrors (scenes
which have made this film famous), represents a no-man's land between life and
death "made of men's remembrances and of ruins of their habits", where
he has to account for his work in front of a jury of policemen and other writers.
Orphée will return to the "Zone" once more after his apparent
and purifying "death" (eventually, a Bacchante-Iike group of fans
of avant-garde poet Cégeste shoot Orphée down), this time to win
back his wife for ever.
After having written music for three earlier cinematic masterpieces, Le
Sang d'un poète (1927), La Belle et la Bêre (1946) and
L'Aigle à deux têtes (1947), Auric was approached by Cocteau
to score one more film revealing his amazing genius and unpredictability in
the choice and treatment of his subjects. Cocteau had wanted Auric since perhaps
he knew that the composer's style would not change or be as unpredictable as
his own. It is known that the two artists, who had been great friends for a
long time, had a secret agreement about their method of collaboration, a method
which today would look rather risky and unprofessional. One is even tempted
to guess that also in this case, Auric had written music for undefined sequences,
leaving the choice to the director in the cutting-room. Incidentally, a few
laconic indications as "music" appear already in Cocteau's original
script. Very often such an improvisatory editing system had occurred in cutting-rooms
all over the world, giving birth to some happy moments in film music history.
The soundtrack of the final print of the film results as containing about one
third less of Auric's music than was originally intended and of the most interesting
or important musical cues, abruptly cut-off or faded-out sequences or too softly
edited bits are heard, apart from those unfortunate places, in which Cocteau
had decided just to recopy a couple of bars of an already used cue. In the film
we can also hear, after the Main Title, a soprano vocalise with guitar accompaniment
(composed by Auric) and later on a Boogie-Woogie from the contemporary light
After Auric had submitted his score, Cocteau had decided to integrate an additional,
extended percussion sequence to the scene of Orphée's symbolical killing
and his last journey to the "Zone". This ostinato drumming reaches
a tensely counterpointed and dramatic effect, but I am sure that Auric would
not have felt offended if he had had to write an additional dramatic sequence
of his own, using symphonic means. Another interesting feature of this soundtrack
is the inclusion of Christoph Willibald Gluck's Eurydice's Lament from
his opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). In the film, this famous piece for
flute and strings is heard a couple of times, mainly as a source music piece
sounding from a radio. It has been included in this recording in its original
arrangement by Auric. Incidentally, Gluck's Lament would be used by Ingmar
Bergman in his film Women's Waiting two years later (again coming from
a radio), also to emphasize the feelings of an abandoned woman.
The present suite of six movements contains practically all the original symphonic
music written for this film, some of which is now heard for the very first time.
It is orchestrated for a symphony orchestra of normal dimensions with three
additional saxophones (soprano, alto and tenor), English horn, contrabassoon,
celesta, vibraphone, glockenspiel, xylophone and two harps, in addition to percussion
and the usual strings.
The musical build-up of Orphée avoids the handling of leitmotifs
associated with protagonists, so abused in film scoring. In most of his earlier
scores, Auric uses themes and thematic cells which have a more atmospheric or
almost hidden psychological meaning and which seem to rise from nothing, to
disappear again, almost like improvisation. However, by closer examination of
the music, Orphée appears actually based on a secondary theme
which had already been used in the score of La Belle et la Bête
(1946) and which I am bold enough to call the "Cocteau-Marais" theme,
since it also reappears in varied forms in the music of Les Parents terribles
and Ruy Blas, as it is demonstrated in the musical examples shown on page
23. It may not be too absurd to consider that the composer would pay tribute
to the great artistic and private friendship between the director and his actor
through music. I come to this conclusion since by closer examination of the
general "main" (or "plot") love themes of both La Belle
and Ruy, they result as elaborations of this "friendship" theme,
and in such a clever way that one could even distinguish "masculine"
and "feminine" (or even "homo-" or "heterosexual")
ascending or descending five-note cells, placed in accordance with the open
(or hidden) message of the particular sequence of the film. Cocteau's literary
style is working with similar stylistic means anyway. This "Cocteau-Marais"
theme is first heard in the Générique, after its rising
opening fanfare and it reappears in all following movements of the present suite,
except in the fourth. Whereas in the last movement it is definitely varied into
a march and finally superimposed to the "Main" love theme (Orphée
and Eurydice), the "Cocteau-Marais" theme can also be discovered
in various places in the accompaniment texture, either in almost hidden and
condensed variations, or in the form of musical cells. The lyric and expansive
"Main" love theme is also a derivative of the "Cocteau-Marais"
theme, as well as the siciliano-like figuration of the third movement. Much
of the music of Orphée is based on slow, funeral march-like sequences.
As an exception, the fourth movement of the Suite (A la recherche de la Princesse)
is in 15/8 time and appears like a rushing scherzo. In a congenial contrapunctal
device, it underscores a slowly shot, mysterious scene of pursuit through streets,
narrow lanes and market-places. To emphasize the obviously "outer world"
atmosphere of the sequences describing the "Zone", eerie effects by
string tremoli against harp, celesta and vibraphone passages are skilfully set
against plaintive melodies from the winds. Movements two and six of our suite
are each made up of different cues, linked together and slightly re-arranged.
A little note for believers in astrology: The reasons why the myth of Orpheus
has attracted artists like Gluck, Orff, Henze, Respighi, Cocteau (and others?)
who were all born under Cancer, could be the subject of an unusual study. Even
Offenbach might join the club, since he was born one day before the beginning
of the Cancer solstice...
Les Parents terribles
Cocteau's literary output lists two works dealing with "terrible"
family members: a play Les Parents terribles, written in 1938 and the
novel Les Enfants terribles, written in 1929. Both have been adapted
for the screen, the first by Cocteau himself in 1948 (again as a writer/director)
and the second by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1950. The first has an orginal score
by Georges Auric, the second, music by Bach and Vivaldi, as selected and arranged
by Paul Bonneau. Les Parents terribles featured Jean Marais in a magnificent
leading rôle, following his brilliant début as an actor in the
play's first production at the Théàtre des Ambassadeurs in Paris.
Famous French actors such as Yvonne de Bray, Josette Day, Gabrielle Dorziat
and Marcel André completed the film's cast. Les Parents terribles
may be considered a chamber-play in the style of French light comedy, but dealing
with two themes which in the late 1930s were more taboo than today: the nearly
incest-like relation of a possessive mother with her son and the love of a father
for his son's fiancée. In the play, in which the protagonist's feelings
are constantly jumping from one extreme to another, according to Cocteau "every
panic scene is such as if the protagonists are fleeing from a fire and crash
against the door-posts". The scandalous success of Les Parents terribles
brought Cocteau, among others, an accusation of enticing youth to debauchery
.The film, which was produced ten years later, had fewer difficulties to surmount
and the critics preferred instead to fall upon the actors' performances.
This time Auric had decided to dispose of string instruments and had put together
a wind ensemble of three flutes, English horn, three saxophones, bass clarinet,
bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion,
harp and piano. All these forces are united only in the Main Title and
in the Finale. Most of the incidental music is made up of music for piano
alone, or for a smaller group of wind instruments.
The present short "image musicale" is my own arrangement, using a
handful of short cues, with ondes martenot playing the piano melody instead
of piano alone and with a few other instrumental adaptations. In the case of
this film, Cocteau had strictly kept Auric away from previewing it and asked
him to write a dozen short pieces of "absolute" music for editing
at random. In this case, I think, this enterprising way of scoring fully succeeded
and I could not imagine a better soundtrack for this particular picture. The
sombre atmosphere of the music assembled here may give perhaps only an idea
of the more tragic aspects on this film's script, on top of which Cocteau had
added the instruction that "the realistic set of this disorderly family
plot should be constructed strongly enough to make door slamming possible."
This time the already mentioned "Cocteau-Marais" theme makes up the
whole thematic material of the score (in both the tutti and the piano-ondes
martenot sequences), in a new metamorphosis combined with an eventual "main"
love theme which actually never appears independently.
The film Thomas L'imposteur by Georges Franju, based on Cocteau's novel
of the same name, written in 1922 and adapted for the screen by the author in
collaboration with Franju and Michel Worms, could be realised only in 1965,
two years after the author's death. Young Fabrice Rouleau played the leading
rêle and besides Emmanuelle Riva, Jean Servais and Sophie Darès,
some "veteran" Cocteau actors like Edouard Dermit, Gabrielle Dorziat
and Jean Marais (by his voice only) also figured. Although it was not to become
a masterpiece, like Cocteau's own films, it is a faithful and Cocteau-like adaptation
with great atmosphere. Among others, I will never forget a short scene of this
film (clearly inspired by some of Cocteau's graphic works), in which a horse
with a flaming mane is seen running through the streets of a burning city.
The story, set in France during the First World War, describes a group of wealthy
Parisians who, led by Clémence de Bormes, a widowed princess, bring some
action into their boring everyday lives by transforming her palace into a hospital
and organizing an ambulance convoy to the devastated countryside. Clemence and
her daughter Henriette make the acquaintance of Guillaume de Fontenoy, an exalted
young man (actually Thomas "the imposter") in a fake uniform, who
pretends to be the nephew of a famous general and who offers to join the charity
group as a helper. Very soon the protagonists are confronted with the realities
of war and whilst Clémence is gradually infatuated by Guillaume, Henriette
falls in love with him. After having decided to attend to his duties in a more
substantial way by joining fighting troops at the front, Guillaume undertakes
a dangerous mission as a night courier and is killed in the Belgian dunes. At
this news, Clémence, who has renounced her love for the young man in
favour of Henriette, experiences the breakdown and eventual suicide of her daughter
in a mental sanatorium.
Auric did not have to write much music for this film, and what is finally heard
of it on the soundtrack is rather disappointing. Practically no cue is exempt
from either an early fade-out nor from being heard in the form of an excerpt.
In my view, many directors should have realised that, by going so far with a
musical score (especially if it is an excellent one), the better course would
be not to use it at all. Today, in times in which it has gained much in technical
development, film music is practically no longer a victim of such brutality
in the sound studio; or at least the final product does not let us guess this,
as clearly appears in many old films. In any case, just a few seconds of mood
are not sufficient to build-up an atmosphere. Fortunately, the manuscript of
this valuable score has survived and the principal cues could easily be adapted
into a suite.
The Générique, an effective overture on a march theme,
culminating in a triumphant hymn, reminds us of the end of Mahler's Second
Symphony. This theme is introduced and at times interrupted by harsh percussion
patters, rushing scales and by grotesque fanfares. A more realistic and dissonant
atmosphere is carried on in the opening of Les coulisses du drame and
L'efter à Reims, whilst the remaining pieces, except Rencontre
avec l'évêque, (a rather neoclassical chamber piece for eleven
wind instruments and ondes martenot) are of a lighter and ironic character.
The theme of Clémence and Henriette, an airy waltz excellently describing
the princess and her daughter as charming but superficial characters, is varied
later on into a short scherzo underscoring an episode in which both women are
seen mounting motorcycles (A motocyclette à travers les dunes).
Les coulisses du drame - L'esprit d'aventure, sentences taken directly
from Cocteau's novel, are used in a short excerpted form only in two different
episodes of the film, showing the ambulance convoy's errands from camp to camp
and Thomas's natural charm operating upon Clémence and her attendants.
In the Final, the camera leads the viewer into a starlit heaven, but for such
a short time that the suggested hope for peace cannot be taken for granted.
Some shorter cues of the sound track, which have been ignored on this recording,
involve only a couple of instruments such as piano, harp or wind soli.
The inclusion of ondes martenot in a film score is no novelty, since already
in the 1930s composers like Arthur Honegger and Jacques Ibert had used this
instrument with excellent results. It is interesting to note that in Rencontre
avec l'évêque the ondes, besides their function as a solo instrument
(as for example in Clémence et Henriette and Les coulisses du drama),
are used as a sustaining bass voice, their range surpassing the lower range
of a double-bass.
In cues where tutti forces are required, Auric makes use of a symphonic
ensemble augmented by seven percussion instruments, celesta, vibraphone, xylophone,
guitar, harp and, as mentioned, the ondes martenot.
All popular items by Jacques Offenbach, Louis Ganne and Robert Planquette,
or the Marseillaise and the Nouba des Tirailleurs by François
Menichetti which are mentioned in Cocteau's novel, have been respectfully introduced
by Franju to the film, to occur as source material.
When in the 1840s Francesco Maria Piave had adapted Victor Hugo's melodramas
Hernani and Le Roi s'amuse as libretti for Giuseppe Verdi, he
had just done what Cocteau would do nearly a century later as a scriptwriter
for Pierre Billon's Ruy Bias, a swashbuckler set in the Spain of Charles II,
in order to simplify and to transform the original play for a more popular medium.
Opera can be considered a precursor of cinema, and this not only for the shared
commercial intentions their creators had often in mind before purely artistic
ideals. Hugo's play of 1838 has been thus made available to a less intellectual
consumer, but, if we realise that the author had apparently written them in
order to entertain all kinds of audiences on a more "popular" level
than had been the case with the older dramas by Racine and Corneille, we can
take our hats off to the intellectual taste of nineteenth-century theatre-goers
and readers whilst reading them today! We are glad that Cocteau not only adapted
Hugo's verses into prose, but also that he could eliminate a crowd of secondary
characters, transport some of the action to exterior places and build-in some
exciting riding, jumping and swimming stunts for Jean Marais, for whom this
film was actually conceived. Finally it allowed Marais to playa double rôle,
which in Hugo's original was neither foreseen, nor technically possible. The
film itself may not be considered a milestone of French cinema, but features
a magnificent cast including, besides Marais as Ruy Blas/Don César, Danielle
Darrieux as the Queen and Marcel Herrand as Don Salluste.
For Auric, it must have been great fun to write such straightforward and colourful
music, after more demanding goals set for La Belle et la Bête.
Nevertheless, in 1947, the year Ruy Bias was shot, the composer had to
write quite a few other scores, two for British directors, Terence Young's Corridor
of Mirrors and Charles Crichton's Hue and Cry, and four for French
directors, Cocteau's L'Aigle à deux têtes, Jean Delannoy's Les
jeux sontfaits, André Hugon's La Rue sans joie and Serge de
Poligny's Torrents (written in collaboration with Germaine Tailleferre).
In Ruy Bias, an orchestra of large dimensions was used, including triple
winds and English horn, a larger percussion section, celesta, vibraphone, piano
and two harps, besides the usual strings: an ensemble to play music of an incredible
creativity and technical skill and, of course, full of a natural sense of drama
The present Suite assembles most of the music written for the film,
meaning as usual, that some of the cues are being heard for the first time complete
but that some very short ones have been omitted. This refers also to the two-part
dance movement Fête populaire, which on the soundtrack is heard
mostly in the background. The Cénérique is a typical Main Title
à la Auric with tremoli, hasty string scales, a brassy fanfare and a
sweeping lyrical conclusion, introducing a combination between the "Cocteau-Marais"
and the "main" love theme (Ruy and the Queen). The latter can be heard
independently in various other cues, as, for example in Rendezvous dans le
parc. The short and triumphant Final, in which the dead body of Ruy is seen
in close-up after the same cue had described his desperate seIf-poisoning, ends
in the manner of a fanfare. Auric was less concerned to include Spanish folklore
in his music (except in the above-mentioned dance sequence and in Fortune
de Ruy Blas) than to underscore the drama of two lovers who have become
toys of a cynical disgraced minister (Don Salluste) and an ex-grandee (Don
César, the image of Ruy BIas). Having to take Cesar's place at court
and falling in love with the Queen, Ruy eventually fails, after trying to save
his beloved from a conspiracy which he discovers only too late. The oppressive
atmosphere at Court, making the Queen feel unhappy and bored and her adventurous
escape from her castle, ending in an encounter with a nocturnal procession of
monks of the Inquisition, are superbly rendered by the composer in Fuite
de la Reine. The movements describing her increasing love for Ruy BIas (Le
bouquet, Le messager blessé, scène d'amour and Rendezvous
dans le parc) remind us of those unforgettable mysterious sequences from
La Belle et la Bête, (also taking place in a park) and the exciting
and dramatic Par monts et gorges describes Ruy BIas as he rides through
mountains and swims through the waters of a perilous canyon, to collect a nosegay
of rare blue flowers for his beloved.
edited by Keith Anderson
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AURIC: Orphee / Ruy Blas / Thomas I'imposteur