La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc

for viola sola, electronics, and film

for Jordan Voelker

The music for La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is the outcome of a seemingly endless two-year project, which has undergone many revisions, re-orchestrations and re-conceptions since I first saw the film in November 2000.

The 1927 film was brought to my attention a few weeks after I had finished my score for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. I was immediately struck by the stark beauty of the Dreyer's film; not only by its controversial use of continuous close-ups and the novel construction of parallels between Jeanne and Jesus Christ, but by the sheer impact of the director's visual and narrative aesthetics. I immediately connected with the film, and knew, before seeing even five minutes of it, that I had to do something with it. I originally planned on scoring the film for chorus and chamber orchestra, but due to time constraints, I was forced to put the project aside while I worked on other projects. It wasn't until December 2001 that I began to rethink my approach to scoring the Passion. I had the realization that I should score the film in an economic way, i.e., solo instrument with tape, not only to ensure multiple performances, but to keep the technical problems of silent film scoring to a minimum.

The arduous task of scoring the Passion took me just under 16 months to complete, the longest time I have ever spent writing a single piece. I began the tape part for Part Two first, in January 2002, and then worked on the tape for Part One that summer and autumn. The viola part came last, written between December 2002 and May 2003.

The music for the Passion was extremely difficult to write, and took months to solidify a clear plan about the way the music would unfold. The Passion turned out to be a survey of uncharted musical territory for me, not only because of the sheer size of writing a 79 minute solo piece, but because the music I wrote had been a radical departure from all of my previous work. This unfamiliarity was terrifying at first, but soon began to feel more comfortable as the piece grew in size.

Like my other pieces for instrument(s) and tape, I began with the tape part first, which allowed me to work intuitively, freely setting the stage for the structure, mood and direction the solo part would soon take. In the Passion, the tape part is comprised almost entirely of viola samples, with the exception of some sparsely placed mechanical sounds like train engines (which blended surprisingly well with processed violas!) and the occasional struck and bowed glass bells.

As Jeanne undergoes a transformation in the film from one state to another, the music does as well. The piece begins a lot like a big bang, with all of the principal material of the piece coming from the opening 3 minutes of the viola part; throughout the piece this material comes back in various guises, stretched and mangled beyond recognition. At first, when the tape enters, there is a long interplay between both live and pre-recorded parts, with the tape accompanying the viola and vice versa. However, over time, the viola begins to separate itself from the tape so by the end of the piece, the tape and the viola are running in two musical modes parallel to each other. The harmonic language is also transformed, beginning in a very obvious g minor and arriving in cloudy microtonal tunings about 50 minutes later. Therefore, the musical styles in which the violist must combine and reference throughout the work ranges from the renaissance through modern and at times accessing peculiar country-and-western type fiddle techniques.


P A R T   O N E :
1. Chaconne
2. La chapelle
3. Poulses et la couronne des pailles
4. La trahison
5. Le Cachot
5a. L'état de grâce
6. Fille de Dieu 

- i n t e r m i s s i o n -

P A R T   T W O :
7. Dans de la torture
7a. Sirènes, poulses et mensonges
8. Fleurs et poussiere
9. Gymnopedie
10. Les moments de bois dans une chaîne
11. Les préparations et un moment de repos
12. La procession
13. Sur la bucher


Viola sola (amplified), Sound Projection [Pre-recorded stereophonic audio accompaniment], Film [La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc (1927, Carl Theodore Dreyer, Gaumont) – ‘Criterion Version’] 


80 Minutes


17 May 2003
Jordan Voelker – Viola
Fairchild Chapel – Oberlin, Ohio