chapter  6
4 Pages

What is a theatrical composer?

It is not an easy task to find the right place for music in a dramatic production. It’s because the music by itself is too much of an independent art. Music, as such, is almost the incarnation of the “better,” the “ideal” life. Music helps us to move in rhythm; it helps our work; our mood changes under the strain of a certain air; even death seems to be easier with musical accompaniment; otherwise why should all the armies in the world maintain such splendid bands? Music is the most complicated and abstract art in the world as well as the most independent one. To give its full expression it does not require any kind of assistance, and yet it is brought into a dramatic production as something supplementary. Its great power must be subordinated to the general problem of the production. That is why it is a great mistake to include in a dramatic production

any previously written musical composition which is not specially composed for that particular production, but is, doubtless, written according to purely musical laws. They try to squeeze it into the production, cutting it down, shortening and rearranging, which, as a rule, arouses lots of misunderstandings between the director and the composer. The composer following the laws of musical theory, construction and harmony. The director and the actors being subject to the laws of theatrical theory, construction and harmony. Two entirely different realms. Why are most singers such poor actors? Because they have to submit

themselves entirely to the musical laws, sacrificing to them the truth of life. It is only natural that an exalted human feeling would be expressed, through an orchestra or a single musical instrument, by a sharp powerful note of a brass or a stringed instrument, while the human soul expresses the same intense feeling by deep silence, a pause full of impressive meaning. Yet the musical laws demand that the actor should take together with the orchestra the same powerful note taken by the brass

and physical forces part,” which is the only thing that really matters in a creative performance. If, on the other hand, the actor pays too much attention to the “spiritual interpretation” of his part, they usually say that he neglects the music, is careless with the composer. This is the reproach made frequently to Chaliapin, who, while on the stage, always follows the laws of his own spirit. One of the theatrical conventionalities is the orchestra playing

during the intermissions in the pit, in front of the lowered curtain. You see the musicians drifting in, greeting each other, blowing their noses, you hear them discussing their private affairs, we hear them tuning their instruments. In other words, we see them violating one of the fundamental theatrical problems – the disclosing of mystery. Why shouldn’t we see then, the actors putting on their make-ups, and costumes in front of the public? Why don’t we see the stage hands setting the stage? The music in the intermissions of a dramatic production is certainly an incongruity. What could be in common between a serious dramatic play and a jolly tune, even by a good composer, played between the acts? In opera as well as the operetta music occupies the leading position. In

such production the theatre is submitted entirely to the baton of the orchestra leader, even if it is not in accordance with the baton of “life.” In such case the art of the theatre is subordinated to the art of music, which possesses a clear and harmonious theory with unfailing laws, while the theatre, as exercised in such kind of entertainments, is nothing but a collection of artificially put together separate works of an author, an actor, a designer and a director, without a general linking aim, and lacking in definite laws and regulations, because – “everything is allowed in a theatre”. In a dramatic production, on the other hand, music occupies an

entirely different situation. First, with all its unfailing theory it has to be entirely subordinated to the main problem of the theatrical production. Secondly, it must be thoroughly understood, that in a real, creative, dramatic theatre music occupies only a secondary place and is nothing but one of the colors of the whole production, if not merely a background. The third stipulation is that the number and the kind of instruments in such orchestration as well as the strength of tone of a certain instrument must be entirely in accordance with the general strength of tone of the production. As an example let us take Hauptmann’s “Hannele.” The main pro-

blem of that play is the protection of a child’s soul and the expression of enthusiasm at its faith in God. This play has, as musical accompaniment,

a delirious child … not. “Hamlet” ends by the funerals of the Prince of Denmark. It would be

appropriate in order to produce a stronger impression, to use here a military funeral march. Should such a march be composed according to all the rules of musical theory, with a developing of the main theme and a climax? In other words, – should it constitute an independent, finished musical piece? No, we should hear now and then a few chords, just enough to give us the full impression of funerals and to increase the mournful feeling from the hero’s death. The best way to depict the storm in “King Lear” is through the

medium of music, but I doubt if any of the numerous “storms” known in our musical literature would fit the occasion. Indeed, no matter how great might be the actor playing the “Jester” or the “King,” – his voice will always be drowned by the sound of four trombones, and the most important part of this scene – the grief of a man that has lost everything and has no shelter during a stormy night – would be killed. There is another musical possibility that could be used to great

advantage in a dramatic production and that gives sometimes splendid results. It is music produced not by musical instruments but by means of different sound-devices, depicting various manifestations of life. This realm is practically unknown in the contemporary theatre. In one of the plays, produced by the Moscow Players, they were searching for music to represent the awakening of spring. It was a fairy tale – and according to the construction of the play, this scene was of the most vital importance. It was the main problem of the act, and from its successful representation and impression produced on the public was depending the whole play. For days they were struggling in vain, rummaging through the world’s musical literature in order to find something suitable. Nothing! The theatrical composers were exhausted trying to compose a piece to fit the production. The results were deplorable, – it was either too weak or too powerful – to the point of crushing this whimsical scene. And yet the actors succeeded in giving a splendid performance of that particular act, – they were full of genuine spring, you could almost smell the resinous odor of the pine trees, the aroma of the grass on the meadow, they were light and alert as a beautiful spring morning, – but the music was killing all their efforts. It was lyrically sentimental, with high violin “pizzicatos” according to the sugary, conventional routine of a theatrical spring, but there was nothing to suggest the real spring. A great disappointment reigned in the theatre. Suddenly Stanislavsky got an idea. He suggested to turn toward the primary source – nature. So they started to analyze; what is the music supplied

that one are the instruments that could reproduce those sounds? It proved to be that there is a tremendous amount of those sounds, but that in order to reproduce them a special instrument for each one of them should be devised. Here are some of the sounds that have been discovered as produced by

nature in spring: The rustle of leaves, the bursting of tree buds, the knocking of branches against each other, the creaking of trees, the hissing of the wind, raindrops falling on the large burdock leaves, the buzzing of insects, the singing of different birds, ducks splashing in the water, the murmur of brooklets. Added to all this was a whole series of confused sounds as though coming from a distant village. When, after a painstaking research, a number of instruments reproducing all these sounds were fashioned, when the composer has arranged them, according to the musical laws, into a regular musical scale and has used as a background a simple shepherd’s air played by an ordinary flute, – then and only then, was created a music that responded entirely to the spiritual moods of the actors and expressed at last the feeling they were after. After the opening night the musical critics and the composers did not

recognize the result of these efforts – but the public said, that there was a distinct aroma of spring in the air during the performance and were asking curiously by what trick had this been achieved? The members of the company were merely smiling as they knew that the odor in their theatre was exactly the same as in hundreds of other theatres, – but they also knew that they had been faithful disciples of nature and that following its footsteps they refused to deceive the public by a “mock” spring but gave them the best that was prompted to them by nature itself. If we’ll try to listen carefully to the life that surrounds us, and will

lend our spiritual ear to all the sounds produced by life, – we shall discover an unexpected amount of them, and will come to the realization that there are no set instruments to reproduce them. Think of the city noise, the noise coming from a factory, the clamor of an excited crowd. All these sounds in nature are waiting for their Stradivarius and Paganini, but they will be discovered only by the theatre and for the theatre. The theatre of the future, no matter how funny this may seem to a professional musician, will be filled with new instruments and new sound-combinations. It may even create a gamut and a new rhythm – not that of a metronome, but the rhythm of human feelings, heart and soul.