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PROVIDENCE – Miklós Rózsa


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Providence served as the first English-language film from renowned French director Alain Resnais. True to form Resnais provides us with a drama about an unsympathetic, spiteful, alcoholic novelist, which again features his trademark playful surrealist touches and recurring use of characters shackled by recurrent memories. The story reveals Clive Langham (Sir John Gielgud) spending a painful night in his bed suffering from age ending health problems, vainly trying to create a final story based on his family played by Ellen Burstyn (Sonia), Dirk Bogarde (Claude) and David Warner (Kevin). He is an incredibly bitter man, drunken and tormented, who reveals through a series of flashbacks an unsympathetic, spiteful, conniving family. Clive makes each of his family members interact in a variety of bizarre settings – courtrooms, mortuaries and werewolf-haunted forests. It is apparent that his perceptions are distorted by a terrible bitterness and guilt, the full extent of this is not made clear until the end, when his “real” family members come to his house to celebrate his 78th birthday. The film was both a commercial and a critical success, earning the 1978 César Award for Best Film.

Resnais had always admired Miklós Rózsa’s works and initially believed him to be in retirement. When he learned otherwise he instantly hired him, thus securing a reprieve for the maestro who had not written a score in four years. Indeed following “Providence”, Rózsa had a late career rebirth that resulted in five last treasured scores; “Fedora” (1978), “Last Embrace” (1979), “Time After Time” (1979), “Eye of the Needle” (1981) and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982). “Providence” is a testimony to Rózsa’s genius in that he succeeded through his music in bringing continuity, and a much-needed unifying thread to such a visually disjointed film. His nostalgic score thirsts and yearns, bringing forth somber yet powerful emotions, which perfectly support Clive’s twisted narrative. His dark yet lyrical Main Theme, first heard in the Main Title is pervasive and underpins the film. Somber, brooding and anguished this minor modal melody expresses a stirring beauty as it ever strives like Clive to break free from torment and reach the purifying light of day. Yet Rózsa also renders the theme eloquently in impassioned and romantic form to support love scenes. Next we have the secondary Delusion Theme, which underpins the various scenes Clive’s tortured psyche constructs. The music flows as a dark five-note line, often emoted by solo woodwinds, which are embellished with either tremolo violins, trilling woodwinds or Theremin. Frequently these two themes entwine in sterling interplay. I will present this review with the cues in film order to provide a more cogent description of the film’s narrative.

“Générique” opens the film darkly as the white credits play against a black background. It features the A Phrase of the Main Theme, which plays as a marcia buio, filling us with sadness, thus setting the tone of the film. With the end of the credits we see the Clive’s home garden amidst the fading twilight in “La Maison De Clive”. A Theremin quivers eerily and joins with the Delusion Theme as we slowly move through the garden and into the house where we see Clive laying in bed and numbing his torment with alcohol. The music continues the dark pulse of A Phrase of the Main Theme, which continues to flow as a marcia buio. We shift gears now for a kaleidoscope of forest and courtroom scenes, which reveals Claude, with his wife Sonia watching in the gallery, prosecuting Kevin for shooting an old man whom he feared was transforming into a Werewolf. In “Le Vieil Homme” trilling woodwinds introduce the tense writing of the Delusion Theme, which transforms into a menacing march as the old man is seen being hunted. The fragment “Vieil Homme Mourant” continues the musical palate as we see the old man stumble. Next “Le Palais De Justice” and “Le Palais De Justice” support courthouse scenes with the Delusion Theme. After his acquittal in “Après le Jugement” a plaintive rendering of the A Phrase of the Main Theme unfolds, which becomes impassioned at 1:20 as Sonia finds herself attracted to Kevin.

In “Feuillages” Kevin joins Sonia at her home and deflects her seduction, fearing the arrival of Claude. We hear interplay of the Delusion Theme on solo bassoon as tremolo violins sow tension and a pleasant pastoral rendering of the Main Theme on alto flute. Most interesting is when Claude arrives home in “Arrivée Dans la Maison” we find him dismissive if not disdainful at Kevin’s presence. A line of percussive pizzicato strings sow tension as the Main Theme plays in dramatic counterpoint. This is very nicely done. In “La Rue” we see Claude driving in town for a rendezvous with his mistress Helen (who resembles Molly, Clive’s dead first wife) as the Main Theme plays in a dark staccato cadence. “La Ville Morte” continues Claude’s journey as a dark and portentous rendering of the Main Theme fills us with disquiet, a disquiet amplified by the cue’s closure with an ominously repeating Delusion Theme. When he arrives and embraces Helen in “Helen” we hear a fine interplay of the Delusion and Main Themes. Rózsa provides an impassioned romanticism with his Main Theme to support the lovers, yet their encounter is tinged with sadness. This superior version offers a concert rendering of cue 22, the film version, which ends abruptly. Resnais now moves his film deeply into the surreal as a disappointed Clive rewrites the scene and dialogue, moving the lovers to another hotel in “Autre Hôtel” where Claude discloses his unhappiness with Sonia. Again we are treated to interplay of the Delusion Theme and a romantic yet sad rendering of the Main Theme. These two lush and powerfully romantic cues offer enduring testimony as to why I love film score music.

In a scene change we see Claude and Sonia arguing at home when a bloodied Kevin arrives at their door. “Kevin Blesse” features a dark and tense rendering of the A Phrase of the Main Theme, while “Sonia Et Le Saint Suaire” reveals Sonia tending to his wounds, supported by a tender and romantic offering of the Main Theme. As Kevin wipes his face with her cloth in “Tendress” a scene change reveals Helen alone in an empty stadium – a symbol used by Resnais as a symbol of death. We open with the romantic variant of the Main Theme that transforms into a dark funereal rendering with the shift to the stadium. With a scene change in “Le Jardin Public” we see Kevin and Sonia alone in a park as he reveals the suicide of Clive’s wife Molly. Rózsa provides excellent writing for solo woodwinds and strings, which emote a romantic yet plaintive phrasing of the Main Theme.

As Claude, Helen, Kevin and Sonia have cocktails at Claude’s home we are treated to a beautiful score highlight. “Valse Crépusculaire” or Twilight Waltz provides us with a full statement of the Main Theme. Carried by solo piano with tender string colors it flows with Rózsa’s trademark lyricism, achingly beautiful as it carries us like a leaf atop a flowing stream. The cue is emoted with classic ABA phrasing with the A Phrase evoking a sad romanticism and the more elegant B Phrase struggling for the light. I cannot understate the essential beauty and eloquence of this cue. Bravo! Cue 1 offers a version for solo piano. In “Desenchantement” Sonia opens her heart and speaks to Kevin of her unfulfilling marriage and desire for his love. This cue is full of longing and features beautiful writing for solo oboe, kindred woodwinds and strings. “Kevin Et Sonia” opens plaintively atop the Main Theme, but gradually warms, assuming a more romantic expression. Violence arises in “Poursuite” where we see Claude chasing Kevin with a gun, determined to kill him once and for all. After several chase scene changes we end in the forest where to Sonia’s horror, Claude shoots Kevin as he begins transforming into a Werewolf. Rózsa employs staccato strings and woodwinds playing over a bass sustain with ominous Main Theme phrasing to emote the chase. A classic accelerando leads to a cue concluding dark rendering of the Delusion Theme as Kevin dies. In “Mort De Kevin” Claude and Sonia stand in the desolate stadium over-looking Kevin’s body, which lies in a metallic box. The horror of the scene is provided by a dark variant of the Delusion Theme.

The story journeys from a palate of surreal darkness and delusion into the bright daylight of reality in the cues “Plaisir de Vivre” and “Le Herisson” where we see Clive sitting outdoors awaiting the arrival of his two sons and Sonia his daughter-in-law for a celebration of his 78th birthday. Claude and Kevin are now revealed as affectionate and loving sons with Claude truly devoted to Sonia. The music of these pastoral cues feature a playful rendering of the A Phrase of the Main Theme, now emoted with a wondrous joie de vivre. The cue is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and again demonstrates Rózsa’s mastery of his craft. In “Le Dejeuner” as our family sits down to dine and Rózsa baths us in a stirring and wondrous bounty of pastoral woodwinds. “Tristesse” continues the ambiance as we view our family in a tender reunion against a sweeping panorama of the surrounding countryside. The pastoral ambiance of the moment continues with gentile solo woodwind statements of the A Phrase of the Main Theme and flowing strings, which are tinged with sadness. Resnais brings his story to a heartfelt conclusion in “Finale” where we see a reconciled Clive bid his family to go without the burden of goodbyes. Once left alone, he pours himself a drink and remarks that there is yet one final story to tell. Rózsa emotes this moment with the elegance of a solo oboe adorned with lush strings, which play an impassioned rendering of the Main Theme. We conclude with a score highlight, “Providence”, which plays over the End Credits as a stirring and passionate rendering of the Main Theme by full orchestra. Bravo!

Allow me to thank Luca di Silverio, Digitmovies and the Sugar Group for creating this wonderful premiere release of the complete score for “Providence”. To bring about this rebirth, first-generation full-stereo master tapes of the original LP soundtrack album were augmented with first-generation stereo masters. This resultant hybrid product is excellent and a testimony to their professional dedication. Providence is a rebirth score for Rózsa, which reveals and once again reaffirms his innate and singular gift for melody and impassioned lyricism. His score provides two beautiful themes that are rendered in a multiplicity of forms, which often entwine in stirring interplay. His writing for solo instruments is exceptional and masterfully captures their unique and singular beauty. One always feels Rózsa’s music and I highly recommend this historic score for inclusion in your collection.

Rating: ****

Buy the Providence soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Valse Crépusculaire (3:46)
  • Générique (2:06)
  • Feuillages (2:27)
  • Poursuite (2:45)
  • Arrivée Dans la Maison (1:57)
  • Sonia et le Saint Suaire (1:00)
  • Valse Crépusculaire (Piano) (3:48)
  • Providence (2:07)
  • Desenchantmenet (2:44)
  • Kevin et Sonia (1:39)
  • La Ville Morte (3:02)
  • Helen (2:56)
  • Le Jardin Public (1:52)
  • La Rue (1:01)
  • Final (2:04)
  • La Maison de Clive [BONUS] (1:33)
  • Le Vieil Homme [BONUS] (1:00)
  • Vieil Homme Mourant [BONUS] (0:18)
  • Le Palais du Justice I [BONUS] (0:15)
  • Le Palais du Justice II [BONUS] (0:18)
  • Après le Jugement [BONUS] (2:03)
  • Helen (Alt. Take) [BONUS] (2:58)
  • Autre Hôtel [BONUS] (1:29)
  • Kevin Blessé [BONUS] (1:09)
  • Tendresse [BONUS] (1:06)
  • Mort de Kevin [BONUS] (0:40)
  • Plaisir de Vivre [BONUS] (0:26)
  • Le Hérisson [BONUS] (0:51)
  • Le Déjeuner [BONUS] (0:58)
  • Tristesse [BONUS] (1:40)

Running Time: 51 minutes 58 seconds

Digitmovies DPDM004 (1977/2013)

Music composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa. Orchestrations by Christopher Palmer. Album produced by Claudio Fuiano and Luca di Silverio.

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