Odna (Alone), Op.26 – Complete score for the 1929-1931 sound/silent film, reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald
Presented in seven ‘reels’ plus Overture:
The Beginning (Overture)
Reel 1: Kuzmina in Leningrad
Reel 2: Kuzmina enlists as a teacher
Reel 3: Kuzmina arrives alone in the Altai Steppes
Reel 4: Kuzmina starts teaching the local children
Reel 5: Kuzmina teaches in the open air
Reel 6: Attempted murder of Kuzmina
Reel 7: Kuzmina’s rescue by aeroplane
Irina Mataeva (soprano)
Anna Kiknadze (mezzo-soprano)
Dmitry Voropaev (tenor)
Mark van Tongeren (overtone singer)
Barbara Buchholz (theremin)
Vokalensemble der HfMDK Frankfurt
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded (part studio, part live) from 29 November to 1 December 2006 in the Sendesaal of Hessischer Rundfunk, Frankfurt
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570316
Duration: 80 minutes
Mark Fitz-Gerald reconstructed Shostakovich’s score for Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg’s film “Odna” (Alone) to accompany screenings of the film, although complete prints do not exist and not all of the music survives in its original form. Much of the piecing together of the score had to be completed by transcribing the music by hand from the soundtrack of the film, a lot of which was of very poor quality or just missing. Fitz-Gerald was encouraged in his restoration of “Odna” by the support of Irina Shostakovich, Krzysztof Meyer and Theodore van Houten, who was responsible for the world premiere of the complete score in April 2003 at the Theatre aan de Parade in Den Bosch, Holland.
Kozintsev and Trauberg’s film was made during the years 1929 to 1931, following their previous efforts together in “The New Babylon”, for which Shostakovich also wrote the music. This had not been a happy experience for the composer as the censors got to the film and excised much of his music in order to bring the film into line with the Soviet thinking of the time. Shostakovich was furthered hampered by copying errors and the musicians’ apathy about playing experimental music. However, the directors were pleased with the score and commissioned Shostakovich to compose music for “Odna”, which was originally planned as a silent film but, as synchronised soundtracks were now beginning to appear, it was released with the incorporation of some dialogue and sound-effects recorded after filming was completed. The film also contains intertitles for the rest of the dialogue and for the missing sixth reel. Although most of the film could be pieced together from other prints found in archives outside the USSR, the sixth reel remains elusive.
The story of “Odna” tells of a young teacher, Yelena Kuzmina, who, following her graduation, expects to be given a job in Leningrad with nice, neat city children. However, she is sent to Siberia to work in the remote Altai mountain region of Kazakhstan, where the people lead primitive lives looking after their sheep. Although the children take to Yelena, their education is rather desultory through the lack of facilities and because the villagers would rather the children work as shepherds than gain an education. Yelena becomes involved in local politics when she discovers illegal sheep trading. On her way to contact the Soviet authorities she is thrown off a sled and left for dead in a snowstorm. Based on true events, the film has Yelena being rescued in time. Although the heroine promises to see the village children again, the film ends with Yelena returning to Leningrad.
Very popular at time of release, “Odna” soon fell foul of the authorities because of its realistic depiction of Soviet problems. The directors’ previous film, “The New Babylon”, had eventually been banned and the same fate befell “Odna”; by the mid-1930s, it was considered too dark and critical of the political regime during the time of the first Five Year Plan. Only a partially complete print of the film survives – reel six shows the kidnap and attempted murder of Yelena. This was lost during the Siege of Leningrad as was some of the composer’s score. “Odna” was revived in Holland in 1984 and then Mark Fitz-Gerald reconstructed the score. Further performances have been held in France, Germany and Switzerland and in London in the Barbican Hall in February 2006 when Fitz-Gerald conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the UK premiere screening.
Although the subject matter of the film itself is fairly grim, Shostakovich’s music is anything but. It is full of pretty tunes and marches composed in all styles, from jazzy numbers through romantic ballads to big, epic and dramatic music to fit the film scene by scene. Most of the music is in short sections that sometimes last for just a few bars or a couple of minutes to illustrate an idea or underscore what is happening visually. None of the 48 pieces that make up the complete score runs for more than five minutes. Having had to cut much of the longer sections of the music for “The New Babylon”, Shostakovich deliberately wrote his score for “Odna” so that it could be chopped up, rearranged or used as repeats.
And what great music it is too, which stands alone effectively – although listening to the score makes one want to see the original film. Shostakovich is at his most witty in writing music to parody some of the people in authority with bombastic tunes that fit their character and behaviour, such as the scene where the village Soviet chairman wakes up or when he confronts Kuzmina or drinks tea with his wife. These vignettes are a delight and, of course, go a long way to prove that there is no such thing as a silent film. From the earliest days, music was an essential accompaniment to film-shows.
Shostakovich uses some unusual instruments in “Odna”, including barrel organ and theremin, one of the earliest electronic instruments and named after the Russian inventor Leon Theremin. Here Shostakovich uses the eerie sound (produced by two metal antennae, an oscillator and an amplifier) to create the impression of the beginnings of a snowstorm – very effective. The theremin was later used in Hollywood films such as Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”, Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend” and Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.
Mark Fitz-Gerald and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra do Shostakovich’s score proud in a marvellously exciting recording that recalls the heyday of the great Hollywood scores from the 1930s and 1940s from masters like Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Miklós Rósza (“The Lost Weekend” and “Spellbound”) and Bernard Herrmann (“The Day the Earth Stood Still” and many Hitchcock’s films). These composers and their British counterpart – such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Malcolm Arnold – knew how to write for the screen. In today’s noisy world where every television drama seems to seep music needlessly, the art of such writing is a lost one. Shostakovich, and his compatriot Prokofiev, knew how to write a dramatic film score that worked both as an adjunct to the film and as a stand-alone piece for the concert hall. Shostakovich’s music for “Odna” works brilliantly well with or without the film.