Program Notes: I was introduced to this film in Professor Timothy Van Compernolle’s “Knowing Cinema” class at Amherst College during the fall semester of 2014 and was immediately engrossed by both Joan of Arc’s story and the story behind the production of this film. Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s performance put me, like many others, in a trance. The slightest movements in her face repeatedly trigger emotional evolutions that range from fear to determination to utter despair and back again. I saw the way this film is overflowing with such enthusiastically expressed emotions as a composer’s dream, and I am not the only one. Numerous composers including Richard Einhorn, Nick Cave, Roger Eno, and Julia Holter have written music for the film since the original cut was rediscovered and there have always been multiple versions of possible scores to be played along with the film ever since its premier.
There is a foundational sense of hopelessness that underlies the narrative of The Passion of Joan of Arc. In a film where the sense of space and time are blurred to an extreme, this foundation provided a place to start and a place to return throughout my score. I decided early on in this project to artificially assign “acts” to this film in order to fuel motivic development and a compelling emotional arc throughout the score. “Act One” covers the majority of Joan’s time in court being questioned by judges. “Act Two” begins in the torture chamber and lasts until Joan makes her heroic decision to accept her fate of dying at the stake. Finally, “Act Three” consists of her execution. Using this structure, I was able to create meaningful leitmotifs within the music that grow in both intensity and importance. The most frequently heard of these motifs is what I have unofficially called “Joan’s theme.” This simple four-note phrase is introduced by the horn in the ninth measure of the piece and is passed among the ensemble throughout the duration of the score. Inspired partially by the musical signature and cruciform melody used extensively by J.S. Bach, it is meant to mirror the internal conflict churning within Joan of Arc throughout the film. The first three notes dance close to one another, seeming to prepare a triumphant cadence upward, but the final note falls hopelessly downward foreshadowing Joan of Arc’s ultimate fate.
While writing this score, I drew from a variety of influences. I’ve long admired composer Bernard Herrmann for his work in film and television, specifically his work with Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone. I felt the aesthetic of The Passion of Joan of Arc often matches the aesthetic of these films Herrmann for which was known. I drew inspiration specifically from his orchestration. I wanted to stay true to the setting and subject of the film, so I focused my listening to some of my favorite French composers, even though these composers are not necessarily from the same time period as Joan of Arc. Finally, in an attempt to simulate the distortion of time and space in the film, I pulled from my fascination with minimalism. Because of Dreyer’s emphasis on framing faces in close-up shots, the smallest changes in the cast’s emotions carry a lot of power. I felt this equated to the tendency in minimalist music to rely on repeating patterns in which even the smallest variations become powerful.
Premiered February 2nd, 2018, Buckley Recital Hall, Amherst College