|Liner Notes on:
Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light
Imagine walking down an ordinary street in an ordinary city on an ordinary
day. You turn the corner and suddenly without warning, you find yourself
staring at the Taj Mahal. It was with that same sense of utter amazement
and wonder that I watched Carl Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC for
the first time.
That was back in January of 1988. I was idly poking around in
the film archives of New York's Museum of Modern Art, looking at short
avant garde films, when I happened across a still from JOAN OF ARC in the
silent film catalog. In spite of a deep love of cinema and its history,
I had never heard of either the director or the film, but since my friend
Galen Brandt had suggested that I do a piece about Joan of Arc at some
point, I asked to take a look at it. Some 81 minutes later, I walked
out of the screening room shattered, having unexpectedly seen one of the
most extraordinary works of art that I know. I immediately began
to write the piece about Joan of Arc
that my friend had suggested. It became a type of "opera/oratorio"
that takes place during a screening of Dreyer's masterpiece. It took
six years to put together but in February of 1994, the Northampton Arts
Council premiered VOICES OF LIGHT in Massachusetts, performed by the Arcadia
Players, conducted by Margaret Irwin- Brandon to sold-out crowds.
VOICES OF LIGHT is a meditation on the life and personality of Joan
of Arc. It is scored for soloists, chorus, orchestra, and one very
special bell (about which more later). The libretto is a montage
of ancient writings, assembled primarily from female medieval mystics including
Joan of Arc herself. The "staging" of the work is a screening of
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. The piece explores the patchwork of emotions
and thoughts that are stitched together into the notion of a female hero.
Such a hero invariably transgresses the conventions and restrictions
her society imposes. And Joan of Arc -- the illiterate teenage peasant
girl who led an army, the transvestite witch who became a saint -- Joan
of Arc transgressed them all.
ABOUT JOAN OF ARC:
Joan of Arc was deeply religious, utterly chaste, and astonishingly
brave in the face of horrific abuse. She certainly deserves the sainthood
the Church bestowed upon her. But Joan challenges the very meaning
of holiness. True, this image of the virginal shepherd girl called
to a divine mission by angels is part of her story, but it is only one
It seems to clash with the fact that her closest companions were brutal
soldiers with names like The Bastard of Orleans or La Hire (The Rage).
It seems impossible that another of Joan's close intimates was Gilles de
Rais, the infamous "Bluebeard" who was burned at the stake for the serial
murder of young boys. And the humble pious image simply cannot accommodate
a woman who, when asked about one of her childhood neighbors, a man who
sympathized with her enemies, responded that she would cut his head off
("God willing," of course).
She was born in about 1412 in Domremy, France, a tiny farming village
in the Meuse Valley. When Joan was 13 or so, she began to hear voices.
At seventeen, her voices told her that she had been given a divine mission
to reunite France. At the time, in the middle of the Hundred Years War,
much of France was in the hands of the hated English and their Burgundian
allies. Charles, the uncrowned king or dauphin, was in exile and
his path to Reims, where all the kings of France had been crowned since
time immemorial, was blocked by the English troops. Orleans, a city
that lay in a strategically important area of the strife, had been
besieged for over a year and had begun to weaken.
Spurred on by her voices, Joan implored Robert de Baudricourt, the governor
of nearby Vaucouleurs, to permit her to travel to Charles's court at Chinon.
Initially reluctant, even incredulous, Baudricourt finally granted the
permission and Joan, "borrowing" some men's clothing to disguise herself
during the journey, left with two friends for the court of the uncrowned
Joan's powers of persuasion must have been remarkable. She managed
not only to arrange an audience with Charles but also to convince him she
should travel with an army to help lift the siege of Orleans. Within
days of her arrival, the French army, with Joan's active participation,
had destroyed the besieging English forces, a turning point in the war.
Although seriously wounded, Joan helped lead the final successful assault
on the Tourelles, the English garrison, an attack that resulted in the
deaths of two of England's most important military commanders.
With Orleans secure, Joan and the army cleared a path to Reims for the
coronation, recapturing numerous towns along the way. Joan was so
feared by the English and their Burgundian allies that the mere announcement
of her presence outside the walls of a town would elicit a quick surrender.
Charles VII was crowned in Reims on July 17, 1429, with Joan of Arc by
his side. It had been less than seven months since she had left her
farm village, and Joan was seventeen years old.
For about a year or so, Joan was a mercenary knight, fighting (and winning)
numerous battles. However, after she failed to take Paris in September
of 1429, her fortunes began to change, and in May of 1430, outside the
walls of CompiŹgne, she was dragged from her horse by a Burgundian archer
and captured. She was subsequently sold to the English and transported
to Rouen, where the English and the Burgundians had arranged for a court
of the Inquisition to try her for heresy. The trial's purpose was
not only to discredit her among her people (as she was already a legend
in France), but also to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the king whom she
had helped to crown. While in prison, Joan refused to give up her male
clothes, was kept in a tiny cell and was always in chains (she had tried
to escape earlier in her captivity by leaping from the turret of a castle).
In Rouen, arraigned before a panel of learned judges, priests, and lawyers,
Joan was questioned repeatedly about her voices, her male dress, and her
sense of her mission. After months of resistance which left her ill
and exhausted, Joan was dragged out into a courtyard of the church of St.
Ouen and publicly coerced into signing a statement of adjuration in which
she denied that her voices were from God. She was sentenced to life
imprisonment and her head was shaved. Three days later, however she
retracted her abjuration and affirmed that her voices were divine.
She was promptly excommunicated for heresy and burnt on May 30, 1431.
Joan of Arc was nineteen
years old when she died.
TwentyÐfive years later, Charles VII and Joan's mother, Isabelle
RomŽe, petitioned the pope to restore her to the Church. Many of
the women and men who knew Joan from Domremy and from her career as a solider
were interviewed. These transcripts (which, like the trial transcripts,
have survived) provide substantial corroboration for a story that would
otherwise seem unbelievable. In 1920, nearly 500 years after her
death, Joan was declared a saint, the only saint who was first excommunicated
Joan's refusal to conform to our normal categories of behaviors creates
many apparent paradoxes and contradictions. Yes, she was a
great warrior, but she was also a pious mystic who would halt her soldiers
simply to listen to church bells. She was an illiterate farm girl,
but she had no problem consorting with royalty. Although she was
the most practical and skeptical of leaders -- she had quite a reputation
for debunking fraudulent prophets -- she heard voices that today would
probably earn her a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
Her powerful, complex personality has attracted an amazingly disparate
group of admirers over the years, from George Bernard Shaw to Andrea Dworkin,
to name just a few. She is a beloved Catholic saint and a hero for
many young girls, regardless of their religious background. But in
the course of my research, I also met with members of covens who worshipped
Joan as a great witch. In the United States and England, numerous
feminist and lesbian authors have written eloquently on Joan of Arc.
Meanwhile, in France, her role as the supreme symbol of French nationalism
has been co-opted by the extreme right wing. And, of course, Joan
embodies the romantic myth of the misunderstood, uncompromising artist:
true to her/his inner voice until death.
CARL DREYER'S "THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC"
The strange history of THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) nearly equals
Joan's itself. It has many of the same elements, including obsession,
madness, and even fire.
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC was financed by Societe Generale, the studio
that had just produced Abel Gance's NAPOLEON. In fact, Dreyer himself
was on the set of the Gance film and used many members of the technical
crew and several of the actors (notably Antonin Artaud, the stunningly
handsome enfant terrible of the avant-garde theater, who was later incarcerated
in a mental institution). The original screenplay for JOAN was by
Joseph Delteil, who had written a rather hyperventilated book about her.
For one reason or another, Dreyer chose to forgo most of Delteil's ideas
and instead used actual excerpts from the trial transcripts as the script.
which is set entirely at Joan's trial and burning, compresses the historical
action from seven months into a single day.
To portray Joan of Arc, Dreyer cast against type Renee Falconetti, a
leading member of the Comedie-Francais. Rumors abound about the excruciating
ordeal Falconetti suffered during the shoot: when her head was shaved
for the final sequence of the film, apparently the entire crew wept for
her and she broke down; the shooting ground to a halt while she recovered.
The film, censored somewhat by the Catholic Church prior to its release,
was soon hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. Falconetti's
performance was (and is) considered one of the most extraordinary ever
filmed. With its extreme close-ups and bizarre camera angels, with
an editing rhythm that breaks nearly every rule of the craft, THE PASSION
OF JOAN OF ARC makes virtually every movie critic and scholar's short list
of masterpieces. It clearly influenced such filmmakers as Bergman,
Fellini, and Hitchcock, and echoes of its intense style appear in the work
of such contemporary masters as Martin Scorsese. Shot without makeup
and with "natural" acting, JOAN looks like it was finished yesterday.
But a few months after the premiere, Joan's judges descended upon Dreyer's
film. The negative and virtually all prints of THE PASSION OF JOAN
OF ARC were destroyed in a warehouse fire. Dreyer, referring in all
likelihood to his workprint for the original cut, painstakingly reconstructed
the entire film from outtake footage that had survived the fire.
This second version was destroyed in a second fire! Devastated, Dreyer
gave up and moved on to his next film, VAMPYR.
From here the history of the film becomes confusing. Highly corrupt
prints that somehow managed to survive the fires circulated for a while.
In addition, the Cinematheque Francais unearthed a copy of the film in
its vaults (at the time, it was unclear which version it was). In
the late forties and early fifties, a French film historian by the name
of Lo Duca pieced together his version of the film (apparently using prints
from both versions) and added a score that was a montage of Albinoni, Vivaldi,
and other Baroque composers. The result so horrified Dreyer that
he completely disowned the "Lo Duca" version.
Then, in 1981, several film cans from the '20s were discovered at a
mental institution in Oslo, Norway, stashed in the back of a closet.
They were shipped unopened to the Norwegian Film Institute. Inside
the cans, in nearly perfect condition, was a copy of THE PASSION OF JOAN
OF ARC with Danish intertitles. The accompanying shipping information
made it clear that it was, in fact, a print of the original version of
Dreyer's great film.
VOICES OF LIGHT
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC was an inspiration for VOICES OF LIGHT,
but my goal was to attempt a standÐalone work that would speak to various
aspects of Joan's life and legend.
As I was developing the piece, I recalled my studies of medieval musical
practice, in particular the multi-lingual motets that I love to listen
to. The notion of a work of art with simultaneous layers of text
struck me as a medieval idea that was also delightfully modern as well.
Since Joan heard voices, I knew the work would have singing, but what
would everyone sing? I did a considerable amount of research into
the history of Joan's life and persona and began to explore the rich body
of literature written by female mystics from the Middle Ages. I decided
to create a libretto that would consist primarily of excerpts from these
writings, chosen for their beauty as literature and also for their relevance
to themes in Joan's life. In addition, I decided that all the words
sung in the score would be in ancient languages (Latin, Old and Middle
French, and Italian).
A brief example: Although the Inquisitors did not physically harm
Joan, she was shown the instruments of torture. I thought that, rather
than speak directly about this horror, it might be more interesting to
explore some of the stranger aspects of the medieval view of physical pain,
the tradition of suffering as a means of achieving spiritual ecstasy.
Accordingly, the chorus obsessively repeats the phrase "glorious wounds"
while a solo soprano (beautifully sung by Susan Narucki) sings a combination
of lurid texts from both Blessed Angela and Na Prous Boneta, a 13th-century
penitent and 14th-century heretic, respectively.
I didn't want to have any characters in a conventional sense, but after
reading Joan of Arc's military correspondence (although illiterate, Joan
dictated her letters to a scribe), I decided that I wanted her to make
an appearance in my piece, singing excerpts from her letters as well as
some other texts that she either certainly said or could have said.
Since no one knows what Joan looked like, I decided that no one would know
much about her singing voice: accordingly, Joan's "character" is
sung neither in a soprano nor alto range, but in both simultaneously, with
simple harmony and in rhythmic unison. In our CD, Joan is exquisitely
portrayed by the members of Anonymous 4.
Just prior to writing VOICES OF LIGHT, I traveled to France to visit
some of the important Joan of Arc historical sites. I went to Orleans
where she won her first battle and also to Rouen, where I was deeply moved
by the ruins of the castles where Joan was held and the cross erected at
the site of her martyrdom. I also traveled to the little village
of Domremy, Joan's birthplace in the southeast, where her house and church,
much restored, still stand. I took along a portable DAT recorder
and recorded the sound of the Domremy church bell and later incorporated
it into my score. I felt that Joan, who so loved church bells, whose
voices seemed to speak to her whenever they were ringing, would appreciate
-- Richard Einhorn