New Babylon: Film music (reconstruction)(Das neue Babylon: Filmmusik) op. 18 (1928-29)
Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski
Grigori Kozintsev / Leonid Trauberg, dirs / Leningrad Sovkino Film Studio
Score for the silent film by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg.
‘The New Babylon’ was not only Shostakovich’s first attempt at a full-score, but his only full-length live accompaniment to a silent movie. Written for a small pit orchestra, it was first played to accompany a screening in Moscow. The film was directed by Kozintsev and Trauberg, two young members of the experimental theatre-group FEKS (The Factory of Eccentrics). Shostakovich would work with both again and continue working with Kozintsev until the 1970s.
The story of the film was an experimental and politically-inspired melodrama about violence, revolution and class-conflict in Paris during the Commune of 1871. Made by two young directors who were later to become very famous, it combined the revolutionary cinematic techniques of Eisenstein with the avant-garde acting styles of Meyerhold. Early performances of the film with this wild and satirical score caused a scandal. Nowadays ‘The New Babylon’ is recognised as a pioneering and brilliantly original piece of work, especially in the witty and satirical way the music plays with the images we see on the screen.
Shostakovich’s score is tumultuously inventive, and filled with references to 19th century French music and especially to the can-cans, gallops and popular melodies of Offenbach, which belong to the same historical period as the action of the film.
In recent years, both the print of the film and the materials of Shostakovich’s score have been edited so that the piece can either be performed whole to accompany a screening of the film, or in suite-form as a series of lively and amusing concert numbers.
Note by Gerard McBurney