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THE GADFLY – Dmitri Shostakovich

December 21, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

One day it dawned to director Aleksandr Faintsimmer that the popular 1897 novel Ovod – The Gadfly – by Ethel Voynich lent itself well for adaptation to the big screen. Its tale of revolutionary zeal, the excoriation of an anachronistic church and the unification of oppressed people in a modern egalitarian state had long been promoted by the Soviet Ministry of Culture. The book was also very popular with the populace, selling 2.5 million copies. He pitched his idea to the Ministry of Culture and secured backing after a review of the screenplay, which was written by Viktor Shklovsky. Lenfilm, a production unit of the Soviet Union, was formally authorized to produce the film. A fine cast was assembled, which included Oleg Strizhenov as Arthur Burton/Felice Rivarez, Marianna Strizhenova as Gemma, Nikolai Simonov as Cardinal Montanelli and Vladimir Etush as Cesare Martini.

The story is set in Italy circa 1840 C.E., which is dominated by the Austrian Empire. Italians long for independence and it is a time tumult, revolutionary zeal and uprisings. Against this backdrop a young student Arthur Burton joins the revolutionary group “Young Italy”, yet comes into conflict with its leader Giovanni Bolla. A confession of jealousy regarding his girlfriend Gemma leads to mass arrests and charges of betrayal by his friends. After his release, his uncle discloses that his real father is his beloved teacher Cardinal Montanelli. This revelation shatters his faith causing him to stage a fake suicide, leading to a new life joining revolutionaries in South America. He returns thirteen years latter a legend under the name Felice Rivarez AKA the Gadfly and leads an uprising against the Austrians. During an ambush he is captured after he lays down his weapon at the command of his father Cardinal Montanelli. He confesses to him that he is his son, and offers him a fateful choice – join his fight for freedom, or turn a blind eye for faith in Christ. Montanelli loves him and devises an escape, but Arthur rejects it preferring to choose execution rather than serve an out of touch church. The film was very popular in the Soviet Union for its dramatic story which served as an allegory for the 1917 revolutionary struggle to achieve liberty in Russia. The film was never acknowledged by the Motion Picture Academy and so received no nominations

Aleksandr Faintsimmer originally hired Aram Khachaturian to score the film, but he was forced to withdraw due to illness. The film was behind schedule, and so the studio urgently hired Dmitri Shostakovich who was very motivated to take the assignment as he had fallen on financial hardship after suffering deaths in his family. He had just 30 days to compose the score and so traveled to Leningrad and spent three days viewing the finished film. He understood that he had to capture the auras of the Italian setting, the idealism and revolutionary zeal of the story’s heroes, the oppression and malice of the Austrians, the father-son tension between Arthur and Cardinal Montanelli, and the of course the romance between Arthur and Gemma.

To support his soundscape, he composed a number of leitmotifs, which support the film’s narrative; The Young Italy Theme, which serves as the revolutionary identity of the independence movement. It emotes as an anthem of revolution. Strings bravura propel the forthright melodic line replete with bell chimes with a willful and determined cadence, which cannot be assuaged, dismissed or resisted. The Italian Theme is aspirational for the as yet unrealized dream of a united Italy free of foreign domination. Unlike the revolutionary zeal of the Young Italy Theme, it emotes with a distinctly romantic exposition, which speaks eloquently to the aspirational pride of Italians. It is far more emotional in its expression and its heartfelt rendering by strings solenne off some of the score’s most dramatic moments. The Austrian Theme serves as the identity of their oppressive occupying army. It offers a forceful marcia militare propelled by drums bellicoso and martial trumpets. The Church Theme offers traditional reverential liturgical auras by organ solenne. It supports church services, but also Cardinal Montanelli by extension The Love Theme offers the score’s now iconic Romance for solo instrument, which is broadly applied; a Romance for solo violin when speaking to Cardinal Montanelli’s love for his son, and a Romance for solo cello when speaking to Arthur and Gemma’s love. Lastly, Shostakovich interpolated three additional pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from his B Minor Mass, Antoine de Fevin and Yevgeni Larichev’s arrangement of “Guitars”.

“Overture” offers a powerful score highlight, which showcases the Young Italy Theme. It supports the roll of the opening credits, which display against a weathered church wall relief. Shostakovich masterful sets the tone of the film with a resolute exposition of the Young Italy Theme rendered fervently as an anthem of revolution. Strings bravura propel the forthright melodic line replete with bell chimes with a willful and determined cadence, which cannot be assuaged, dismissed or resisted. Bravo! “The Cliffs” reveals the members of the Young Italy group standing cliffside looking upon the crashing waves. Shostakovich simulates the waves musically with a rising and falling string tremolando. The men look forward to a future where Italy if free as their leader Giovanni Bolla gives an impassioned and inspiring speech. They pledge to give their lives for this cause. A romantic aspirational Italian Theme supports the Bolla’s rousing oratory climaxing at 1:25 as his speech crests, for an outstanding cinematic confluence.

“The Austrians” reveals tens of thousands of white tunicked Austrian soldiers and calvary precision marching over the rolling hills of northern Italy empowered by their oppressive marcia militare. In town the sight of Italian patriots hanging in the square reveals their brutality. At 0:44 an ascending bridge by strings furioso launches at 0:52 a defiant Young Italy Theme as Bolla stands face to face with Austrian soldiers with both contempt and defiance in his eyes. “Youth” offers a sublime highlight, one of the finest cinematic compositions ever, which earns Shostakovich immortality. Arthur and Cardinal Montanelli share and intimate and affectionate father-son moment (from Montanelli’s perspective as Arthur does not know he is his father), which Shostakovich supports with a gorgeous romance for violin tenero, which transcends its film scene. The notes exquisitely reveal all the love that is in Cardinal Montanelli’s eyes.

In “Political Meeting” we are graced with another score highlight where Arthur and Gemma attend a Young Italy meeting. Gemma becomes enraptured by Bolla’s rousing oratory, which elicits Arthur’s jealousy. They all pledge their lives to the liberation in inspired solidarity of purpose. Afterwards Arthur and Gemma quarrel due to his jealousy. Shostakovich supports them eloquently with a romantic, yet troubled rendering of the Italy Theme by solo cello. “Divine Service at the Cathedral” reveals Arthur attending mass at the cathedral. Afterwards he naively offers confession of his jealousy and membership in Young Italy to a priest he foolishly believes is sympathetic to their cause. Shostakovich supports the scene with religioso auras providing the Church Motif, a liturgical piece by organ solenne. “Confession” is unscored. The album cue reveals Shostakovich’s original conception for the scene, which was rejected I suspect for being too intrusive and lacking in liturgical auras.

In “Arrest” the priest violates the sanctity of the confessional and alerts the military police, which leads to the arrest of Arthur, Bolla and many others. Dire drums propel the menace of the Austrian Theme as soldiers ride through the streets evoking terror as they arrest Arthur and fellow members. When Arthur informs Giovanni that they were arrested because a priest betrayed his confession, he is called a traitor with disdain. “A Slap in the Face” reveals Arthur released from prison and greeted happily by Gemma, but when he explains to her what happened she slaps his face and disowns him. Music enters with heartache with the slap. Shostakovich speaks to Arthur’s devastation with strings affanato emoting a tearful pathétique as a montage of scenes flash by as Arthur recalls the painful events.

In “Laughter” a distraught Arthur is further devastated when his uncle informs him that Cardinal Montanelli is really his father. Music enters on horns dramatico with Arthur’s manic laugh followed by a forceful statement of the Young Italy Theme. At 0:34 we flow into the Church Motif as Arthur weeps at his desk. At 1:00 we commence a crescendo of anger as rage burns in his eyes. He grabs his marble crucifix and the cue ends with him smashing it on the floor – a potent rejection of his faith. “The River” reveals Arthur rejection of his former life by staging his death by suicide. He leaves a suicide note in his hat along the riverbank and then departs Italy, intending for his hat’s discovery to cover his trail. Shostakovich offers exquisite pain borne by strings affanato, which transform to a dirge as Arthur departs to assume his new life – an allegory of his death and rebirth. “March [The Church Supports the Austrians]” reveals a Catholic Bishop honoring the Austrian general and blessing his troops. Shostakovich speaks to the Church’s complicity in aiding and abetting the enemy occupiers with drum propelled marcia sardonica.

In “Folk Dance” Young Italy members are meeting in an inn, reading the latest communique when they are alerted of approaching Austrian troops. The rebels begin dancing a Tarentella in hopes of distracting the Austrians from their activities. The Austrian commander will have none of it and after suffering insults, slaps a woman. A fight commences and Rivares (Arthur), a scar faced man shoots a Austrian soldier as he prepares to fire, earning the admiration of the crowd. “Barrel Organ” offers a wonderful ambiance cue where Shostakovich masterfully captures the pulse of the town square. It reveals Rivares walking across the town square supported by an intersection of music from a diegetic barrel organ, a minstrel singing the traditional Italian song Caro mio ben and also some distant liturgical singing. Rivares comes to meet Giovanni and Gemma who are now married. They have surreptitiously infiltrated the Austrian supporting bourgeoise in hopes of undermining it from within. Rivares is impatient and direct, exhorting them to violence.

“Divine Service” reveals a Bishop performing church services, supported by an extended rendering of the liturgical organ of the Church Theme. Outside in the square the music is sustained as Gemma discusses Arthur with Rivares. In “Dona Nobis Pacem” Cardinal Montanelli arrives by carriage and is unsettled when he seems to recognize Arthur in the crowd. Montanelli’s inviting eyes offer love, yet Arthur’s are off-putting and disdainful. Shostakovich supports the stand-off with the irony of the liturgical song Dona Nobis Pacem – Grant us peace. The cue “Ave Maria” was Shostakovich’s original conception for the scene where he interpolated music by French Renaissance composer Antoine de Fevin. It was replaced with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from his B Minor Mass, which I believe better spoke to the emotional dynamics of the scene. Cardinal Montanelli, Gemma and Rivares all enter the cathedral with the masses and John Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor is interpolated to support the services. As Montanelli preaches about God’s son, he thinks of Arthur, is overcome and freezes in a vacant stare.

“Exit From the Cathedral” reveals a bishop coming to him, and we see Montanelli snap out of his trance, and depart. He aches and Shostakovich sow pathos with a bassoon and strings doloroso. At 0:37 the melodic line transfers to strings, which support Rivares’ exit. In the square Rivares is gripped with pain, and collapses. Gemma and Giovanni come to his aid and she at last recognizes him. “Gemma’s Room” offers an exquisite score highlight. A doctor has ministered to Rivares and departs. Gemma shows Arthur a photo of him she has kept all these years and all pretenses are dropped. Shostakovich supports the moment with a reprise of the Love Theme, but here its articulation is altered, emoting as a Romance for solo cello doloroso, as it speaks of unrequited love.

“The Rescue” reveals over a dozen rebels, men and women lined up before an Austrian firing squad. The Commander reads off their names one by one, but before he can order their execution, Rivares and armed men arrive and force the Commander at gun point to order his men to disarm. Rivares then frees the hostages and exacts revenge by ordering his men to kill the Austrians. This scene was unscored. “Guitars” reveals Rivares returning to the rebel camp in the local forest. Shostakovich interpolates Yevgeni Larichev’s arrangement of “Guitars”, which includes accompaniment by strings. The music is restful and provides a calm and folksy ambiance as we see the men eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company.

In “Contredanse” Rivares joins Giovanni, Gemma and the local bourgeois at a party, where we see everyone is dancing. He asks Gemma to join him in private and then confides to her that he is indeed Italian, and that he leads the revolution under the pseudonym “The Gadfly”. Shostakovich supports the gentile ambiance with the traditional French country dance, the Contredanse. “Galop” reveals Rivares’ departure from the party, which Shostakovich energetically supports with a delightful scherzando, one of the score’s most enjoyable cues.In “Fanfares” Gemma visits the prison, as the Commander is receiving a communique. He reads it and fanfare dramatico resounds as he orders his men to assemble for immediate departure.

Bazar” offers an astounding score highlight where we bear witness to the Maestro’s compositional brilliance. Rivares meets with comrades at the Bazar to plan his next attack. The town square is bustling with activity, which Shostakovich supports with another amazing scherzando, this one animated by strings animato, horns and an incredible virtuoso performance by clarinet festosa. Unknown to Rivares the militia has been trailing him, surrounded the square, and prepare to move against him. As Rivares prepares to fight to the death his father, Cardinal Montanelli orders him to surrender, which he does. In “Rout” Rivares makes a desperate, yet futile attempt to escape and is recaptured. He has managed to cut through the bars and descend from the roof by a rope made of sheets, but fails because of his injured leg. Shostakovich sow auras of sadness with his escape grimly supported by portentous strings emoting a threnody.

“Prison” reveals a dejected Rivares being visited by his father, Cardinal Montanelli, who at first does not recognize him. Rolling timpani and horns dramatico declarations resound when Rivares discloses that he is indeed Arthur. Cardinal Montanelli is thunderstruck, and falls to his knees, offering a heartfelt mea culpa. They embrace and we flow into “Youth [Reprise]” with the exquisite Romance for Violin again rendered for this special father-son moment. He offers to assist him escape, and for a moment we see both affection and hesitation in Arthur’s expression. After pondering the offer Rivares resolutely refuses to beholden to an Austrian collaborator church, which he despises. We segue into “Montanelli Leaves the Prisoner’s Cell” an evocative score highlight, which features Shostakovich’s most impassioned writing. Repeating statements by grievous strings affanato, rolling timpani and horns di sventura express Cardinal Montanelli’s devastation and despair. At 0:40 rolling timpani support Cardinal Montanelli departure, which is expressed molto tragico by resounding fanfare dramatico and strings affanato. We conclude at 1:33 with snare drums rapido, which support Rivares walk to the firing squad. His death is unscored. He defiantly refuses last rights and miraculously survives the first two volleys. He is unrepentant to the end proclaiming freedom for Italy. The third volley at last ends his life. A grievous Cardinal Montanelli arrives falls to his knees and sobs over Arthur, shocking the priest, Commander and troops. He then rises, looks heavenwards, and curses his faith and God.

In “Letter” a stranger hands Gemma a letter as she and Giovanni depart in a carriage. Arthur’s explains his planned suicide thirteen years ago. She sobs, and Shostakovich supports the moment with a reprise of the Love Theme, heard in the earlier “Gemma’s Room” cue, the Romance for solo cello doloroso, which as it speaks of unrequited love. We flow dramatically into “The River [Reprise]” where the letter reveals his fervent love for her. Shostakovich offers exquisite pain expressed molto tragico by strings affanato, as Gemma realizes that she has lost him forever. “Finale” reveals the rebels again assembled on the shoreline cliff honoring Rivares’ sacrifice, and renewing their vow to liberate Italy. A powerful reprise of the Young Italy Theme supports the scene.

I commend Mark Fitz-Gerald for this magnificent offering of Dimitry Shostakovich’s masterpiece “The Gadfly”. His extraordinary restoration, and inspired conducting of the Rheinland-Pfalz Staatsphilharmonie and Bachchor Mainz has succeeded brilliantly in providing collectors with one of the most precious and long desired Holy Grails of film score art. The audio quality is excellent and provides a wondrous listening experience. Shostakovich had recently suffered an anno horibilis with a number of deaths in his family. “The Gadfly” offered him an opportunity to resume his career and liberate himself from his melancholia. The emotional outpouring in this score leaves me breathless. I believe his conception of the score was spot on and brilliantly executed. The Young Italy Theme provided the film’s revolutionary anthem, which perfectly captured its narrative. Yet it is with his Romance for orchestra that the score achieves a sublime cinematic confluence. Whether rendered warmly by solo violin tenero, or with regret by solo cello doloroso, the melody is timeless, earns Shostakovich immortality, and merits its place in the hallowed halls of the Pantheon of great film score themes. Also, his two scherzandi, especially the cue “Bazar”, which features a virtuoso performance by clarinet festosa, demonstrate his mastery of his craft. Folks, this score is a testament to Shostakovich’s genius, a Golden Age masterpiece, and one of the finest film scores ever composed. I highly recommend you purchase his exceptional album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the timeless Romance for Orchestra heard in the cue “Gemma’s Room”, where we are graced by a wondrous solo cello doloroso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8ZST08VHBg

Buy the Gadfly soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (2:00)
  • The Cliffs (2:02)
  • The Austrians (2:22)
  • Youth (1:45)
  • Political Meeting (1:11)
  • Divine Service at the Cathedral (1:42)
  • Arrest (0:57)
  • A Slap in the Face (1:42)
  • Laughter (1:24)
  • The River (0:39)
  • March [The Church Supports the Austrians (1:39)
  • Folk Dance [Tarentella] (0:24)
  • Barrel Organ (0:33)
  • Divine Service (1:49)
  • Dona Nobis Pacem (3:45)
  • Exit From the Cathedral (1:00)
  • Gemma’s Room (2:34)
  • Guitars (2:25)
  • Contredanse (1:14)
  • Galop (2:01)
  • Fanfares (0:33)
  • Bazar (2:42)
  • Rout (2:05)
  • Prison (0:19)
  • Youth [Reprise] (1:54)
  • Montanelli Leaves the Prisoner’s Cell (1:53)
  • Letter (1:40)
  • The River [Reprise] (0:37)
  • Finale (2:10)
  • Confession [Excluded from Soundtrack] (2:21)
  • Ave Maria [Excluded from Soundtrack] (2:53)

Running Time: 61 minutes 28 seconds

Naxos 8.573747 (1955/2017)

Music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald. Performed by the Rheinland-Pfalz Staatsphilharmonie and Bachchor Mainz. Original orchestrations by Dmitri Shostakovich. Recorded and mixed by Bernd Nothnagel. Score produced by Dmitri Shostakovich. Album produced by Stefan Lang, Sabine Fallenstein, Michael Kaufmann and Johannes Kernmayer.

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