Dmitri Shostakovich - even as a film composer, he wasn't without controversy.

Shostakovich - even as a film composer, he wasn't without controversy.
Shostakovich – even as a film composer, he wasn’t without controversy.

– Shostakovich – The New Babylon – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France – Frank Strobel, cond. – October 9, 2010 – Radio France Musique –

Shostakovich – the score to the 1929 film The New Babylon. Something a little different this week. In addition to the vast output of symphonies, chamber works, Opera and Vocal pieces, Dmitri Shostakovich also did his fair share of composing film scores. Going back to the 1920s. This score, for the Gregori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg film The New Babylon was his first attempt at scoring a film, and it should have been an indication that Dmitri Shostakovich and controversy would wind up going hand in hand for the rest of his career.

Considered now to be a masterpiece of early Soviet Cinema, it suffered at the hands of censors, who had sliced it up at the last minute without telling the composer what they had done. Since it was a silent film with the orchestra performing in the pit live, there was no way to anticipate what would be missing from the film while it was running. And so the premier was something of a disaster. So bad, in fact, that The New Babylon was shelved until the 1970s when it was re-discovered and the long-forgotten score unearthed.

Centered around the 1871 Paris Commune, it is your basic star-crossed love story – The New Babylon is the name of a Department store where our heroine works, hence the title.

In recent years, the film has gotten a new lease on life, with restored prints surfacing and being shown to audiences, in many cases for the first time. This particular showing is from October 9, 2010 where the audience at the regular concerts of the Radio France Philharmonic, got to view the film in its entirety and the musical portion broadcast to the rest of the world.

If you aren’t familiar with this score, or haven’t heard it in a long time (there was an lp issued from Russian Melodyia of the score in the 1970s and later reissued as a CD in the 90s), this is good introduction to another facet of the brilliant career of one of the most important composers of the 20th century.

And since it’s Anti-Road Rage Wednesday . . . .


Original poster for The New Babylon - looked harmless enough.
Original poster for The New Babylon – looked harmless enough.

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