I’ve recently recorded and posted two pieces that are, in part, inspired by films.
The first is a piece from a few years back, a duet for violin and clarinet titled Lemn de Viata. The title is in Romanian because I was very into the movie Aferim! when I wrote the piece. Aferim! is a historical drama set in rural 19th century Romania. I have precisely zero recollection if the music in the movie itself (I think it was all diegetic music performed live on set) but I remember so much about the tone and mood of that film and the world it created.
I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but there can be quite a bit of confusion when I say that a given piece was influenced by a movie. People always think I mean it was influenced by the score, but most of the time that’s not the case. (Though sometimes it is!) Usually it means that I’m trying to capture something about the vibe of the movie — the drama, the setting, the atmosphere — the type of things that music is so good at capturing.
In the second case, the situation is more complicated, because the movie is about music, and that music is at the heart of my own piece.
The film in question is Tous les matins du monde, which for me is one of those indispensable music movies, right up there with Amadeus and Bleu. It made me fall in love with early baroque viol suites, and to this day I will go weeks at a time listening to nothing but Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe.
I had been wanting to write something that interacted with that music for some time. When my friend Will asked me write a solo bass piece, it seemed like the perfect fit, given that the modern string bass is the last surviving member of the viol family. (Well, among modern orchestral string instruments, at least.)
The soundtrack of Tous les matins du monde is a cornucopia of chamber pieces for viols, among them a composition by M. de Sainte Colombe titled “Tombeau Les regrets” and one by Marin Marais titled “La Rêveuse”. So when Will asked me to write a piece about the death of his father and the birth of his son (which I discuss more here) it was further evidence that this old music might supply the necessary tools for the job.
As a musical term, a “tombeau” (literally “tomb”) is a composition that memorializes the dead. As far as I know, it was exclusively used by French musicians (I’ve never heard of a tomba or a Grabkammer.) Most modern-day musicians know the word exclusively from Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin.
The other side of the title, “Les Rêves,” refers to the dreams, hopes, and desires that we imbue our children with. In a slightly complicated twist, I use a quote from Marais’ “La Rêveuse” not to represent the dream music, but rather the sorrow music (I mean, just listen to it!)
The concept of the piece ties into the movie in yet a further way. In the climactic final scene (spoilers, I guess) the old teacher, ever obstreperous, reveals what he believes to be the sole purpose of music: not to win the glory of kings or to delight the ears of the cognoscenti, but rather, to speak to the dead.