Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

New Music for an Old Film

FRANK J. OTERI: Another layer to this dialogue with the past for you has been the subject matters that have excited you. A lot of your inspirations are from things that are deep into the past and, in a sense, we’re talking about history and sort of the ghosts of history onto the present. The work that you’re most known for was created to go along with this amazing, amazing Dreyer film from the twenties, which in itself is about something that took place about five hundred years previously. So you’ve got three layers of history going on and potentially four. You’ve got the Joan of Arc historical reality. You’ve got Dreyer’s interpretation of that reality from 1928. You’ve got your reality of it from the nineties and you have the perception of everyone in your audience experiencing this superimposition of three historical layers. By adding new music to this old film, is it a new film?

RICHARD EINHORN: Mmhmm. Well, answering that question, no it’s not a new film. Well, let me puncture everything and say that there is a reason why many composers are interested in old topics and that is that they are out of copyright.

FRANK J. OTERI: So is the Dreyer film out of copyright?

RICHARD EINHORN: It gets very complicated but to put it mildly, it has to do with the GATT treaty and everything connected with the project has that mysterious out-of-proportion aspect to it. I think the second thing to do to sort of puncture everything is to realize that none of what you’re talking about occurred to me when I was writing it or developing the project. The only thing that interested me was the fact that, there were two things: One was the fact that this was a great masterpiece, you know, the end. And the other was that Joan of Arc was a very extraordinary human being that I responded to on many, many levels. It never occurred to me that there was any kind of a joining of histories at all. And in terms of the general overall working of the project, taking Joan of Arc first because in some senses she’s a little bit easier, the film, let’s see, the music that I developed was an attempt to kind of deal emotionally with this person and she comes from a very simple background. I also had an amateur, a semi-amateur orchestra with some great professional musicians in it who were first-class, so what, what happened was that between the fact that Joan was a simple person with a great deal of subtlety, and the fact that I wanted to make sure that the orchestra could get through it and that we could rehearse it in a reasonable amount of time, the music has a very, very pared down, at least for my style and many other people’s styles, a very pared down kind of feel to it. It’s very stripped down and it was that way on purpose. The texts are, were really carefully researched. I love words; I love writing, so I do a lot of work trying to find the best texts I can and those texts are used to comment on Joan of Arc’s life in various ways and they are locked in the period from the fifteenth century and earlier. Basically, that’s about it. In terms of the musical language, it’s one of those things where what I wanted and what I love is music that kind of floats outside of a period, outside of a time. Where if you were listening to it on the radio or at home, you just don’t know when or where it was. I mean, some of it, some music has that ability for me. It has a sense of timelessness to me and that’s what I was going for. If you listen to it, you think, "Oh, you know, this guy’s just writing Gregorian chants." Well, there really isn’t anything in there that could possibly be a Gregorian chant or anything Baroque at all. If you listen to it carefully, there’s only one time it could ever have been composed, which is in the twentieth century. To a great extent, it shows the influence of back then, but nobody could ever mistake it for anything else than what it was. I think that in terms of the film, I don’t look at it as an historical document. I look at it as something that’s living and breathing right now because that’s the way that it affected me. I don’t even know if I can come up with a contemporary analog ‘cuz it’s something that’s more present to me than a lot of other things are. I didn’t look at it as trying to resurrect an old film because frankly, I couldn’t care less. I mean, what I cared about was that I’d found by sheer accident what I knew was one of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth century and I just wanted to bring it to people’s attention and write some music. So, sorry. I didn’t quite answer the question.

FRANK J. OTERI: No, it’s a great answer. But to take it further, what are the things in music that you feel are timeless? Is a string quartet timeless? Is a symphony orchestra timeless?

RICHARD EINHORN: Again, everybody answers this differently. You know, the media aren’t necessarily timeless, but the way in which the music is approached is, in a certain sort of way. You know, like if you listen to the Lydian mode movement from the Beethoven quartets. That floats outside of time for me. I just don’t know; maybe it’s modalism, I don’t know. But, but it sort of floats out of time. Or the Pavane for a Dead Princess by Ravel. You just don’t associate that with its time period, although it could only have been written when it was written. There’s some kind of emotional directness to it. Or Music for Airports, which is truly timeless in many ways.