The Passion of Joan of Arc/ Richard Einhorn, Voices of Light
by Mark Nowakowski
The story of Carl Dreyer's silent-film masterpiece, "The Passion of Joan of Arc", reads more like a saga. A poignant statement of faith — as well as revolutionary in cinematographic style — the film was lost on numerous occasions as well as destroyed by fire twice. In 1981, an original cut of the film was found in the closet of a mental institution in Norway and subsequently restored. In 1988, composer Richard Einhorn wrote his "Voices of Light" to accompany the film.
Despite all of the strange and innovative independent films I have seen, Dreyer's work — despite its age — stands as one of the most innovative and interesting. Renee Falconetti makes her only screen appearance as Joan, and we are left to mourn that this exceptional talent did not pursue further films. Her expressions are poignant, her large eyes haunting and expressive: she personifies the gaze of an inspired mystic in every brilliant shot.
Despite being written almost eight decades after the making of this film, Richard Einhorn's score is a perfect fit to the film. Effective, moving, and well-deserving of the critical acclaim it has garnered over the years, it is difficult not to think that the marriage of film and score was not somehow divinely intended. The libretto is drawn from the ancient writings of various female mystics, and skillfully interpreted by the all-woman medieval vocal group, Anonymous 4. From the moment that the solo invocation creeps in beneath the opening credits, one is transported to another time. Einhorn's score rests somewhere between a modern cinematic work and something far more ancient and sacred.
While his solo string writing can become a bit tedious, his work shines in the lovely chant-like vocal solos which appear throughout the piece. While I did not initially perceive it, Einhorn's switching between large and small musical forces depicts the
epic struggle of a single girl against a large group of inquisitors. Overall, the musical language employed is not necessarily that of a typical score, nor is it a typical oratorio; it is rather a successful and compelling hybrid of many styles, creating a work which is at once an effective film score as well as a musical vehicle for prayer.
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