Karsten Fundal writes new music for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s "Mikaël"
1st August 2003
On 9th August Karsten Fundal’s newly composed music for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film Mikaël will be premiered by the Copenhagen Philharmonic conducted by Martin Åkerwall.
Mikaël was produced in 1924, and is based on one of Herman Bang’s last novels from 1904. Benjamin Christensen plays the title role.
For Karsten Fundal there was no doubt when he was presented with the idea of writing music for a silent film. In fact it would give him freer hands than a talking film would. He was given three films to choose from, and after seeing them he immediately chose Mikaël. For the dramatic rhythm of the film was good – almost operatic – and ran counter to that of most films. At first the tempo of the film is restless. Suddenly it changes gear, and towards the end there is yet another shift, and the film almost comes to a halt. This meant that Karsten Fundal could structure the music similarly: at first it is very ‘horizontal’ and melodic, later it becomes more ‘vertical’ and the chords predominate. In the end the music almost comes to a halt. Karsten Fundal says about the music:
“It is composed such that every character has his or her own theme. When several people appear at once I interweave the motifs, and in that way it becomes both polyphonic and monophonic. Each person’s theme has its own pulse and its own instrument. So when there are two people you can hear two pulses, and it gets sort of shadow-like. The point is that each character experiences the situation differently.
“But sometimes there is also a unity in the situation: at the start, when everything in the film looks bright, the melody resulting from the different melodies of the strings is like one melody. And gradually the whole thing gets more shadow-like, because several instrument groups play different versions of the same theme. The music follows the psychological problems in the film that cast shadows on the characters.”
The film is about an unsuccessful revolt against a father. Mikaël is an apparently fatherless young man who approaches the famous painter, Master Zoret, with some sketches. Zoret dismisses the sketches, but as Mikaël is physically beautiful the Master begins to use him as a model, and in the end appropriates him as a foster-son. A young Russian woman, Zamikov, enters the picture. She persuades the Master to paint a portrait of her. Both the Master and Mikaël become interested in her, and in the end she begins a relationship with Mikaël – a relationship that has a morbid side to it. The result is that Mikaël begins to abandon Zoret, and his betrayal becomes greater and greater as Zoret becomes more and more indulgent towards Mikaël. In the end, overcome by grief, Zoret lies down to sleep and dies. On is deathbed he says to his servant and his best friend, who have constantly stayed close to him, that he can die happily now because he has seen a great love.
Fundal says of the film: “What is quite fantastic about the film is that when you watch it, and think of what has been made since, Dreyer simply invented it all. It’s a film with no ‘effects’ at all, where the most important thing is close-ups and the result is that the drama is much greater. You experience the human grief at much closer quarters than usual. The personally intimate simply becomes universally human, and the impact is powerful.”
The concert and the showing of the film will take place in the Tivoli Concert Hall at 7.30 p.m. The project is a collaboration of the Tivoli Concert Hall, Cinemateket and Edition Wilhelm Hansen. For further information about the film or the composer contact Edition Wilhelm Hansen.