THE NAME OF THE ROSE: JAMES HORNER’S POETICS
Up against very tight time constraints, James Horner succeeded in translating into music the essence, the very substance of what Jean-Jacques Annaud wanted to preserve from the immense opus by Umberto Eco. From this "millefeuille", as he called it, the director pulled a "palimpsest" by putting forward his own take on the name of the famous Rose (a riddle which even Umberto Eco wanted to be … enigmatic) as well as a personal and emotional translation of a novel that he believed "was written for him." A project that was close to his heart and which he pulled off brilliantly, with meticulous patience, hard work and immense respect, especially considering the fact that it delayed his plans to bring The Bear to the screen.
Annaud had a great deal of respect for the author, for the work and its treasure trove of multi-layered meanings, and respect for the period. His passion for medieval history is evident from every shot. Annaud read a staggering 350 books to prepare for the film and also turned to Jacques Le Goff for inspiration and collaboration. All of this contributed to endowing the film with an authentic character, truth and sincerity.
However, Jean-Jacques Annaud recalls a difficult post production process fraught with uncertainty, especially regarding the music, because music is the single aspect that seemed to elude him and over which he had the least control. A director like Annaud likes to micromanage every little detail of the production (props, scenery and so on), striving for authenticity and historical accuracy. This involvement with the music frequently resulted in creative differences and working relationships that ended badly, with such composers as Philippe Sarde and Gabriel Yared. The resulting scores were either grandiose : Yared’s The Lover or Sarde’s Quest For Fire – the latter movie’s prehistoric setting had given Sarde free rein to indulge in gloriously excessive musical flourishes. In other cases, the scores were disappointing. For The Bear, Sarde was asked to use a Tchaikovsky theme and his score ended up significantly diminished in the mix, as if the filmmaker feared the emotional power of symphonic music, a choice that proved to be a detriment to the film.
Likewise, tensions arose on Name of the Rose as evidenced by the filmmaker’s comments gathered in Nice recently by Jean-Christophe Arlon.
"We regularly flew off the handle and called each other names. That said, I believe that a good scolding allowed us to get everything off our chests, and it turned out to be an integral part of our friendship. This incident sort of cemented our relationship. Because ultimately, he did not want to do the film. He thought the movie was better without his music, while I, on the contrary, thought he had done a superb job. Anyway, it’s always better to get things out in the open instead of going, "Oh, my darling I adore you" and then go on endlessly about how "the music ruined my movie."I rarely get into a fight, because I usually do a good job keeping my emotions in check. And really, it didn’t happen once on this film. Not once did I raise my voice because that is not my nature. I do not like to lose control of my feelings. When people get are angry, they scream, they say things they don’t mean and which are hurtful. Yes, I got angry with James, but this is why … You should know that we were the first to go down the road of sampling. As we were using old instruments, we could not have them playing together. For the first time in the history of film music, we brought two trucks loaded with material all the way from Australia. Today, you would do that with a mobile phone!We went looking for stuff in the museums of medieval instruments and we recorded the sounds of lots of different period instruments. You have to realize that this process took five hours … I was there and they told me: would you prefer this note (he mimes a sharp sound) or this note (he mimes almost the same sound but only ever so slightly lower)? And then two days later, I was invited to listen to the piece and was asked, "So, do you like it?" And I went : "Uh … no. " "What do you mean? You gave this material the go-ahead the other day and now you say you don’t like them!" I replied: "Well no, when it is all up there together, I no longer like it." Finally, I could not go on because we worked until four in the morning in the middle of the forest in Bavaria in some studio. My producer came in and said: "James does the music, he sends it to Jean-Jacques and Jean-Jacques decides to use it or not."In the end I threw out some cues and kept others. And James left without saying goodbye. Then one day I got a note: "Sorry for the way I behaved." To which I replied: "I should be the one to apologize." (Laughs) That's the whole story. Afterwards, he returned at the exact moment I was doing post-production work on Enemy at the Gates in Munich. We decided to talk about music together extensively, and as Munich is a very musical city, we went to a concert every night to hear everything and anything: the Bavarian band, fado … And that's how we picked up our working relationship. We have been close friends ever since.”
Compare the 1986 score with Enemy at the Gates or Black Gold and you realize that fate does indeed have more than one trick up its sleeve. The later collaborations allowed the music to blossom magnificently, Annaud and Horner’s mutual confidence having gone from strength to strength. The director falls over himself praising the composer he describes in his Name of the Rose audio commentary as a "remarkable man" and a "magnificent composer." Pride and whatever played between the two artists’ egos back in 1986 has finally given way to a harmonious and artistically fruitful collaboration.
James Horner, who really did want to work on this film (even though Annaud suggested difficulties and a willingness to let the film play without music after he had seen it!), was unfortunately up against an unforgiving deadline. Nevertheless, the professionalism of the composer, his ability to organize the production of music with an estimated budget of, as the press kit states, 200 million centimes of old francs (sic), the artist’s desire to explore the sound palette and the compositional style of the Middle Ages, the effective use of then cutting-edge synthesizers (in 1986, the latest model was a Fairlight) allowed him to create an enticing score, haunting and eminently suited to the French director’s movie.
The Name of the Rose is the first Horner score that is centered around electronic sounds. He had already used the synthesizer before, most notably in Gorky Park and Commando, but Annaud's film was the springboard for such electronic scores as Where The River Runs Black, Red Heat (lots of which was improvised), Vibes, parts of Field of Dreams, Extreme Close-Up, Class Action, Unlawful Entry, Thunderheart, parts of Patriot Games, Bopha! and so on. Electronic music was de rigueur in Hollywood after some movies had used it successfully – think of Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner, Midnight Express and most of what Maurice Jarre was doing back then (Witness, No Way Out, The Mosquisto Coast and so on).
It’s not a secret that the composer and the director were at loggerheads; however, the lack of time forced Horner to come up with a solution that was both instinctive and effective. Thanks to the technical possibilities offered by electronics and sampling, the resulting score is both expressive and features the rare and surprising timbre of period instruments. Also, there is a discreet presence of acoustic instruments historically closer to us (a small ensemble of violins and a cello) as well as the rich and powerful sound of a male choir.
In doing so, the score reflects some of the elements of the story:
Light versus dark / reason versus faith; the interplay between the synthetic ground bass that opens the film and the score), low strings, the male choir that speaks to the monastic culture of the period, all in the lowest possible register, a sound that draws us into what historians have come to call the Dark Ages.
In total contrast to this sea of darkness are the glowing timbre of the violins, the sampled counter-tenor voice that appears when we meet William, accompanied by Adso, journeying towards the abbey on horseback. Another bright moment occurs when William ecstatically discovers the library. His love of knowledge and books shines through in light percussion and in the warmth of the cello, which intones an ascending theme whose melodic contours recall Cocoon. As the score develops, the composer increasingly opts for warmer colours, the director and composer apparently finding some common ground and treating some scenes with a slightly more symphonic sound. Flashbacks features confronting textures, the dark monastery material and the brighter sounds heard when William, at his own risk and peril, goes on about the truth of reason, the true cause of the murders that took place. Politics being what they are, the abbot cynically indulges in superstition and protects himself when the Inquisition and Bernardo Gui arrive later in the story.
It would be interesting to compare the opening credits of The Name of the Rose and Willow: both have their own way of foreshadowing the upcoming fight between light and darkness. In Willow, the first bars introduce Elora Danan and the world of fairies with sustained high strings, children’s voices and glockenspiel, after which low strings announce the dark power of queen Bavmorda. The entire credit sequence is about the confrontation between dark and light textures. On The Name of the Rose, Horner had applied the same principle to a realistic context and with more modest means.
James Horner creates a soundscape for the monastery, reflecting Annaud’s sense of the space and the dramatic relevance of the sets, which loom large and are quite imposing. William and Adso move forward against the backdrop of the monastery’s massive contours; while the pair investigate and dig deeper into the mystery, Annaud keeps the library in the frame. The characters roam the fabulous and fully-realized sets much like the movements of the music, which invests the scene with a powerful sound palette. The music seems to resonate in the maze, the hallways and the crypt and effectively breathes life into the impressive scenery; chiming bells and the male choir always remind us of the monastic life going on inside; the low sounds and the choir seem to live and resonate in the imposing and intimidating sets designed by Dante Ferreti. That said, the music doesn’t exactly enjoy a balanced mix: some cues are virtually inaudible (First Recognition being a good case in point) while others occupy the forefront of the sound mix to heighten the dramatic effect – such as the reveal of the maze and the death of the Inquisitor.
The suspense and the detective aspect of the story are consistently found in the dark, low register of the music, while some other scenes benefit from rhythmic acceleration, the characteristic chimes being the sound that singularly defines the score and lingers in the audience’s memory more than any other element, an obsessive and haunting reminder of the intrigue. In cues such as The Scriptorium, Horner brings in the period instruments performing long sustained notes and obsessively recurring drums.
The themes developed during the exposition scenes, as William of Baskerville sheds light on the mystery, are composed in a style which gradually moves closer to the baroque adagio. Guillaume is ahead of his time, he is the character with whom we most identify because of his Sherlock Holmes-like demeanor and his strict adherence to reason. The bright sounds that are his are also accompanied by more logical musical forms that are vaguely reminiscent of Bach. This portrayal of William’s deductive mind and humanistic nature is present in The Lesson or during the Epilogue, when he and Adso head off to new adventures.
The lower strings evoke another feature of James Horner’s style: the sly nod to historical musical influences, as and when the spirit of the project calls for it. The powerful bass writing, which evokes the liturgical choir and accompanies William’s deductive thinking as opposed to the oppressing ecclesiastical institutions (The Lesson and particularly Flashbacks), recalls Harold’s trip to Abruzzo in Hector Berlioz’ Harold in Italy, Italy being the country where the story’s monastery is located and where filming took place. The first bars of this Sinfonia Concertante for viola and orchestra take us on a tour of the region’s many monasteries. A touch of romanticism infused with medieval mysticism was common in the early nineteenth century. Berlioz said of his work:
"I wanted to play with the viola, making it the center of my poetic memories from my wanderings in Abruzzo, a kind of melancholy dream in the spirit of Byron’s Child-Harold.”
These evocatively dark colours return in later scores such as Swing Kids (Training For Utopia) or Enemy at the Gates (The Tractor Factory). In The Names of the Rose they take a special significance during the Inquisitor’s death scene (Betrayed).
What we take away from the score is the austere tone, suppressed emotions (never more so than when Adso discovers the peasant girl, who turns out to be Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Rose when Adso confesses to Guillaume). The only truly lyrical moments are the discovery of the library and the end credits. The intentionally simple nature of the score runs parallel to the way the director stages the material, resorting to very few effects and working with modest means. It is a tribute to and a personal expression of the philosophy of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi. Only in the finale does Horner allow the emotions to run a little higher, bringing the action to a dramatic conclusion.
The music also reflects the period: 1327 is still the time of the organum, 3-voice or 4-voice polyphony, developed by the school of Notre Dame, of which Leonin and Perotin "The Great" are the most illustrious representatives. Philippe de Vitry’s Ars Nova, putting forward a theory of music which changed the musical conventions in the fourteenth century (that of William Machaut) did not appear in in Italy before around 1330. Despite the crushing deadline, James Horner took a musical historian’s stance, drawing from both elements of scholarly ecclesiastical culture and those of popular music (instruments found among troubadours, minstrels or Minnesänger). He samples hurdy-gurdy, harp, lute, recorder, bells and chimes of all kinds, organistrum (a kind of hurdy-gurdy), drums, tambourines, piper, ocarina, zither, to name just a few. The search for original sounds is a constant preoccupation of this contemporary composer. One of Horner’s most distinctive features is his use within the orchestra of tubular bells sounds (Gorky Park, Red Heat, Glory, Patriot Games …). This omnipresent sound can also be found here in medieval instruments, perhaps a little less overwhelming but just as fully-realized.
In hindsight, the score also features other recurring elements of Horner’s style. True, The Name of the Rose fuses medieval sounds and 1986 electronics, but the rhythmic patterns are a precursor to such action films as 48 Hrs and Red Heat (tubular bells). Moreover, this score marks the start of the increasingly central role of the solo voice (here a sampled high voice that speaks to the light that emanates from William Baskerville’s mind). The timbre of the voice is always pure, as far removed as possible from the tradition of operatic textures. Indeed, the composer admits his dislike for the latter, which he considers badly dated.
At the heart of the score, and also at the heart of the film (the very reason that inspired Jean-Jacques Annaud to film Umberto Eco’s novel) is the nostalgic memory of elusive adolescent love and its sexual aspect: in The Confession, the theme of the rose is performed by two instruments (lute, flute) and is reprised and developed masterfully at the end of the film by the strings and the flute. The sexual act itself is filmed without music. Rather, it is the memory of it that is expressed musically with lyricism, as if to reflect the narrator’s closing comments. Think of love lingering in memories or dreams and taking the form of romance or a waltz and try not to conjure up emotions of Titanic eleven years later, whose end title song is based on the score’s main theme and starts right after the shots of snapshots depicting the adult life of Rose Dawson. There is an interesting parallel to be found with the development of the lyrical love theme in the end credits of The Name of the Rose score, following the last words Adso speaks in the twilight of his life:
“I have never regretted my decision because my Master taught me many wise things, just, and true. When we parted, he gave me the gift of his glasses. I was still young, he said, but later they would serve me well… and in truth, I have them on at the time of this writing. Then he hugged me with the tenderness of a father, and gave me leave. I never saw him again, and I do not know what happened to him, but still, I pray that God received his soul and forgave him the many acts of pride that his intellectual prowess made him commit. However, now that I am old, very old, I must confess that of all the faces from the past, the one I see most clearly is that of this girl, which I never stopped dreaming about all these many years. She was the only earthly love of my life, and yet I did not know and have never known her name.”
The theme is typical of James Horner’s very personal sensitivity, written in a style that recalls the tenderness of Cocoon and it has the same overwhelming effect as the timeless and unconditional love so present in Titanic. Yet it is a love that draws its nostalgic nature from its very failure to be lived to the fullest and from the intensity of a solitary past sexual experience.
Photo credit: © Neue Constantin Film / ZDF
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