Carl Davis / Wren Orchestra

Carl Davis: Napoleon

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Abel Gance's 1927 film Napoléon was one of the landmarks of the silent cinema, but it languished in obscurity until the reconstruction by Kevin Brownlow was screened at Telluride in 1979, with a score by Carmine Coppola. In 2004, the British Film Institute presented the film in a fuller restoration with new music by Carl Davis. This volume in the Carl Davis Collection presents highlights from this later score, performed by the Wren Orchestra, conducted by the composer. One characteristic of Davis' film music that is consistently in evidence is his use of stylistic pastiches and quotations, not in slavish imitation but in a manner that evokes the time period without resorting to historically informed practice. For Napoléon, Davis made regular use of the French revolutionary song "La Marseillaise," but he also dipped into the styles of Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Hector Berlioz, and other composers of the time to suggest the Romantic milieu of the film and to paint a dramatic and heroic picture. Davis even adapts music directly from Beethoven, for "Double Storm" borrows heavily from the Symphony No. 6 in F major, "Pastoral"; "Drums of the 6th Regiment" from the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, "Eroica"; and "Ghosts" from the Coriolan Overture. Yet as obvious as these references are, the bulk of the score is subtle and tasteful in the use of period dances and allusions to early Romantic orchestral music, and most listeners will find the mix of charming court music and epic scene-painting to be quite attractive, as it was effective when used with the film.

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