Maurice Jarre

The Damned

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In a way, you have to love Maurice Jarre's music for Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1969). The composer could have delivered up front what the producers and the studio (if not the director) undoubtedly hoped for -- another Doctor Zhivago score, a powerful yet mostly highly lyrical body of music that sold as though it had just invented music, based on the allure of "Lara's Theme"; after all, Visconti's movie was also rooted in the tumultuous European past, and told of people caught up in events infinitely larger than themselves. Well, the producers and the studio could always hope....instead, most of the score, especially in its first half, stands closer at times -- if it's close to any Jarre score -- to the composer's work on David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970), the latter an almost defiantly non-commercial body of music. The main theme, which opens side one, seems to threaten to resolve itself into something akin to the overflowing lyricism of "Lara's Theme" from Zhivago, whilst large parts of the rest display the off-kilter, minor-keyed embellishments of his subsequent score for Ryan's Daughter. And in "The Death of Joachim," we seem headed directly into "Lara's Theme" territory -- without getting there; and "Obsession" carries us toward the broken-music-box textures of "Michael's Theme," from Ryan's Daughter -- and doesn't quite get there, either, before moving into brooding, Mahler-like passages, recalling the latter's "Fifth Symphony" in the writing for strings, even as the winds and percussion are seemingly "Mickey Moused" behind them, creating a bizarre (and beguiling) musical amalgam. Finally, on side two, with "Martin's Theme," we get the big tune from The Damned, and in its first half the waltz-like piece sounds like a rewrite of "Lara's Theme" until the tempo change on the bridge that upsets everything, before resolving back to commercial safety. And what follows is the dark and jarring "Incest," a tango-like piece that evolves into dark effect music, filled with brass and wind stings, muted pizzicato string flourishes, and that off-key piano part. "The Return of Herbert" takes us back into late-Mahler/early-Schoenberg territory. And "Sophie's Torment" shows Jarre at his most creatively extrovert and disquieting, utilizing fragments of the previously comforting "Martin's Theme" to very different effect, broken down into fragments and reconstructed in dark, demonic form. The finale opens with a grotesquely overblown restatement of "Martin's Theme," which is swept aside by a cascade of martial percussion and a final orchestral sting. Of course, one of the great ironies about this entire score is that it is precisely the kind of music that the powers-that-were in Germany during that time depicted, the mid-'30s, would have regarded as philosophically and creatively corrupt, and banned. By the same token, the jacket notes from the 1969 album are kind of a hoot when read in the 21st century -- they proudly describe the movie's original American "X" rating, something that the much more corporately conservative Time-Warner media conglomerate of 2009, four decades on, would likely never permit.

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