This deluxe 2-disc DVD set presents Sergej Eisenstein's immortal screen classics Battleship Potemkin and October in previously unreleased and painstakingly restored versions featuring the original accompanying scores by Austrian-born composer Edmund Meisel. The ROM section includes a wide range of rare documents and detailed essays on the heavily influential creative partnership of "kindred spirits" Eisenstein and Meisel.
Bronenosec Potemkin / Panzerkreuzer Potemkin - UdSSR 1926 - Drehbuch und Regie: Sergej Eisenstein - Kamera: Eduard Tissé - Darsteller: Aleksandr Antonov, Grigorij Aleksandrov, Vladimir Barskij, Michail Gomorov, I. Bobrov - Produktion: Goskino, Moskau - Uraufführung: 24.12.1925, Moskau (Bolschoi-Theater) - Deutscher Kinostart: 29.4.1926, Berlin (Apollo-Theater) - Kinostart deutsche Tonfassung: 12.8.1930, Berlin (Marmorhaus)
Oktjabr' / Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten - UdSSR 1928 - Drehbuch und Regie: Sergej Eisenstein, Grigorij Aleksandrov - Kamera: Eduard Tissé - Darsteller: Nikolai Popov, Vasilij Nikandrov, Boris Livanov, Nikolaj Podvojskij, Eduard Tissé - Produktion: Sovkino, Moskau - Uraufführung: 14.3.1928, Moskau (Bolschoi-Theater) - Deutscher Kinostart: 2.4.1928, Berlin (Tauentzien-Palast)
Vintik-Shpintik / Die kleine Schraube - UdSSR 1927 - Regie: Vladislav Tvardovskij - Drehbuch: Nikolaj Agnivcev, nach seinem Gedicht - Kamera: Yevgenii Bogorov - Animation: Vjaceslav Kuklin, Sergej Zukov, Igor Sorochtin, Aleksandr Presnjakov - Produktion: Sovkino, Leningrad - Uraufführung: 2.5.1927 - Deutscher Kinostart: 12.8.1930, Berlin (Marmorhaus)
About Edmund Meisel
Composer and musical director Edmund Meisel stands out from the crowd of 1920s movie musiciansin many ways. Film music in the 1920s was informed by the classical-romantic repertory and by thenew music of contemporary film composers, who were bound, in their own eclectic way, to thosestyles. So Meisel, whom the industry had nominated as its avant-garde poster boy, was the objectof particular notice, especially from critics, who rarely had much to say about Meisel's compositions,never mind a good word. Kurt Weill condemned Meisel's score for Berlin. Symphony of a Great City as an unnecessarily expositive duplication of the images. Under the title "Music or Meisel," Klaus Pringsheim wrote an absolutely scathing review of Meisel and his music for October (Ten Days that Shook the World). Meisel often eschewed classic methods of composition, which was misinterpreted as a "lack of talent" and "charlatanism." Meisel's achievement in constantly seeking new ways for film music to express itself went unrewarded and was met merely with derision and mockery. Meisel was an avant-gardist through and through, yet his fellow "serious" avant-garde musicians did not take him particularly seriously (one exception was Kurt Weill, who admitted to being very favorably impressed by Meisel's stage music for Man Equals Man.
Unfortunately, only the torso of Edmund Meisel's body of film music survives. Not only was the archiving of films and music not common practice at the time, but with the ascendancy of sound films, interest in the music of silent film composers waned precipitously. In the few cases where the "original music" for silent films has survived at all, it is only as piano sheet music or as incomplete, handwritten orchestra parts. Musical directors in cinemas used the piano music as ersatz scores, since they were easier to work with than full scores. So full scores were almost never printed and when a film was no longer in distribution, the orchestra parts were stored somewhere or sometimes simply destroyed. Meisel's work suffered greatly from those practices. With the exception of a few title chansons, his stage music has disappeared entirely; what we know today of his film music comes from piano sheets, for which new instrumental arrangements have been written, and which have been adapted, re-arranged, lengthened and re-defined for longer versions of a film. Meisel himself has been downgraded to the "spiritual father" of the arrangers and new composers.
The surviving, incomplete orchestra parts for Battleship Potemkin and October have been largely ignored during the reconstruction of the music for those films, not least of all for legal reasons.That is surprising, given that apart from Berlin. Symphony of a Great City it is those two audacious "collaborations" of Meisel and Sergej Eisenstein that keep the composer's name alive. It was a collaboration of correspondence between Moscow and Berlin. Meisel was very eager to bring his music to Eisenstein's attention, so various parts were sent to Moscow and ended up in what is today the Eisenstein archive there. It contains the original orchestral version of the music for Battleship Potemkin and the original chamber music score for October. In addition, an almost complete orchestration of the parts of the score for October was found in the British Film Institute's archives. Since the end of the 1970s, both film scores have been reconstructed numerous times and edited into various versions of the reconstructed films.
Battleship Potemkin was the first narrative film for which Meisel composed the music. His score was decisive to the film's success, with the powerful music a key factor in bringing the movie worldwide acclaim. The intricate score, written in 12 days and nights, initially for a salon orchestra (including three percussionists!), virtually bubbles with inventiveness. It has bold harmonies, an elaborate structure, and strong leitmotifs. Meisel was a maestro at completely dovetailing the rhythms of the music and the images, particularly when he was conducting. His music is notably intended to simulate noise, but it goes far beyond a mere exposition of the images. Eisenstein's pictures soup boiling, sailors eating, the vision of the hanged man are imbued with an unparalleled psychological duplication that, while indebted to the characteristic style of the era, goes far beyond it. The harmonies of the music for Battleship Potemkin set themselves apart from the classic counterpoint and an expanded late Romantic tonality.
The close collaboration between director and composer is also evident in Meisel's treatment of the revolutionary songs suggested by Eisenstein: the Polish revolutionary anthem "Warszawianka," the French "La Carmagnole," the dirge of the 1905 revolution "Immortal Sacrifice," the Russian folk song "Dubinuka," and the opening of both "Smelo, tovaricˇi, v nogu" (Comrades, bravely march) and the "Marseillaise." Meisel even manages to co-opt the Johann Crüger hymn "Jesus, meine Zuversicht" (Jesus Christ, my sure Defense) for the dishwashing scene and later, as a foxtrot, for the ship's clergy.
In 1930, Meisel oversaw the German sound version of Battleship Potemkin. He cut his music drastically to make room for dialogue, used it as noise accents in combination with singing and speaking choirs and, in the process, even used the main motif of his score for October as the "overture" and a choral-like reminiscence in the shooting scene. Even the Caucasus music he used for October was recycled for the scene in which the fishing boats arrive at the battleship. Meisel turned out to be something of a visionary when it came to "talkies." He was astute at deciding when music was needed or not and used music cues only in selected sequences or moments. In comparison with the original music, this version is an entirely new work.
One of the most interesting film scores of all time came to light again with the rediscovery of the long inaccessible music for October. Its predominantly march-like character can be deceptive, obscuring the delicate composition and the captivating structure with its elements of a leitmotif. Ironic distortions (for the Kerenskij character), musical parodies (operetta sounds or the spoof of the "Marseillaise") and mawkish passages (for Rodin's "Le Printemps") alternate with the monotone stamping noise of a march, while elements of Caucasus folk dance music are evident in numerous parallel four-fifths motifs. The latter was also used by some of Meisel's contemporaries, such as Hanns Eisler, to evoke the sense of a proletarian revolution. But, for Meisel, it was a kind of manifesto: he intended his music to be the expression of a new, proletarian era, far removed from the late-Romantic cinematic wallowing. However, it failed to impress either audiences or critics.
One of the reasons why Meisel's music has been so misunderstood is the state of the parts that have pressed down on us. Prepared in a great hurry at the time, they are riddled with mistakes. Working from them in live performance must have ranged from torture to total chaos. And it explains Pringsheim's fierce criticism, "Atonal? Assuredly, it swarms with false sounds. Wrong notes are played in every bar, from every podium. How many of those are intentional, how many unintentional, unintentional by whom, intentional by whom it doesn't matter and in the confused madness and absence of method, you can't tell the difference even if you wanted to. Indeed, the craziest part is that it is presented as if it were ... well, modern music."
The reconstructed versions prove that there was, in fact, a method in play and the music was composed to conscious effect, although it is questionable how much of that was actually audible in 1928. Today, however, we have the chance to engage in a late reconciliation with Meisel's works and to understand his intentions, despite the fact that we can no longer hear his compositions in entirely authentic form.
- Battleship Potemkin (German release version) 1926, 70'
- Score performed by Deutschen Filmorchester Babelsberg conducted by Helmut Imig
- Chapter selection
- Battleship Potemkin (German sound version) 1930, 49'
- Soundtrack by Alois Johannes Lippl
- Chapter selection
- Vintik-Shpintik (The Little Screw) 1927, 10'
- Texts and documents about Edmund Meisel and the films as ROM features
- Oktjabr' 1928, 116'
- Musikbegleitung vom Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin dirigiert von Frank Strobel
- Chapter selection
- Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten 1928, 35'
- Klavierdirektion eingespielt von Mark Pogolski
- Chapter selection
- 24 page trilingual booklet with essays by Thomas Tode, Richard Siedhoff, Stefan Drössler and Petr Bagrov
Edited by: Filmmuseum München and Österreichisches Filmmuseum in collaboration with Gosfilmofond, Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsches Filminstitut, ARTE/ZDF and Goethe-Institut
DVD authoring: Tobias Dressel
DVD supervision: Stefan Drössler, Oliver Hanley
First edition December 2014, second edition February 2015