Friday, October 08, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: Mr. Mascagni goes to the movies (1)


The title sequence of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980)

by Ken

I guess Raging Bull is now a "classic" film, one that some people kind of know, whereas once upon a time it seemed everybody had seen it. In that once-upon time, its "main theme" -- the "big tune" of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) -- was heard everywhere. Wikipedia explains:
The Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni would serve as the main theme to Raging Bull after a successful try-out by Scorsese and the editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, over the film's opening titles. Two other Mascagni pieces were used in the film: the Barcarolle from Silvano, and the Intermezzo from Guglielmo Ratcliff.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo

The website has an FAQ that includes the question "What is that nice music in Raging Bull?" The answer provides background for the three Mascagni excerpts.
1. The movie opens and closes with the Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, an opera premiered in 1890. Composition of the Intermezzo seems to predate most of the music in the opera, since a piano version of this piece is dated October 26, 1888. There are literally hundreds of versions of this piece available on record. . . .
Of those hundreds of recorded versions of the Cavalleria Intermezzo, we're going to hear three: one conducted by the composer (1863-1945), not from the complete studio recording he made in April 1940, the year Cav turned 50 (which I don't have on CD), but from a November 1938 live performance of the opera, and two quite lovely stereo versions, which time out upwards of a minute differently -- a fair difference for a piece that in the longer version, Sinopoli's, lasts 4:13. (Note: The music as heard in the Raging Bull title-sequence clip above begins at roughly 1:08, 1:01, and 1:08, respectively, of our recordings. As you can see, most of the difference in the timings occurs in what follows.)

Orchestra of Opera Italiana d'Olanda, Pietro Mascagni, cond. Bongiovanni, recorded live in The Hague, Nov. 7, 1938
Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Sept.-Oct. 1965
Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. DG, recorded June 1989


Can I admit that I've never actually seen Raging Bull? By the time it came out, I was already pretty tired of Scorsese, and I just couldn't imagine caring about boxer Jake La Motta. I may also have been put off by what seemed like pretty shameless exploitation of the Cavalleria Intermezzo.

Since as far as I know I don't have a recording of the Guglielmo Ratcliff Intermezzo on CD, and I don't think I even own a recording of the Silvano Barcarolle (check that; I see I have a pirate LP issue of a 1954 Italian Radio performance of the opera, which I should probably listen to sometime), sparing no expense -- $1.98, anyway -- I've downloaded versions of both.

MASCAGNI: Silvano: Barcarolle

Again, from the FAQ:
2. At about 40:50 into the movie, the music playing over the faded color scenes of Jake La Motta's family life is the Barcarolle (or Barcarola in Italian, which refers to a boating song, especially in the Venetian gondoliers style) from Silvano, an opera premiered in 1895. In the opera, the Barcarolle is composed of two parts:

A 2-minute part sung by the tenor, "S'รจ spento il sol" (also called Notturno).

A mostly instrumental part (the tenor singing a few notes here and there) of about 4 minutes, which is the part played in the movie in its orchestral version.

Not many recordings of this piece are available in addition to the version present on the Raging Bull soundtrack CD set, but a recently released live CD on the Dynamic label contains a purely orchestral version of both parts. . . .
It's the Dynamic recording that we hear.

Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste, Tiziano Severini, cond. Dynamic, recorded live, Oct. 6, 1995

MASCAGNI: Guglielmo Ratcliff: Act III Intermezzo ("Ratcliff's Dream")

Back to the FAQ:
3. Between around 58:00 and 59:00, and then between 1:18:08 and 1:21:25, is music from the Intermezzo from Guglielmo Ratcliff, an opera premiered in 1895 as well, but actually the first opera composed by Mascagni. Composition of the Intermezzo dates back to Mascagni's days at the conservatory of Milano (it is certain that the piece was completed by April 1885 when he left the conservatory). This part is also known as Il Sogno di Ratcliff (Italian for Ratcliff's Dream).
Our recording comes from a CD of "French & Italian Arias" by the Canadian tenor Richard Margison, where it apparently serves as, well, an intermezzo.

Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Richard Bradshaw, cond. CBC Records, recorded 1995


The Raging Bull soundtrack recording referred to in the FAQ note on the Silvano Barcarolle didn't come into existence, in the form of a two-CD set, until almost 25 years after the film was released. Scorsese has explained that he always wanted there to be a soundtrack album, but it hadn't been possible to deal with the nightmare of additional rights clearances for all the music he stuffed into the picture.

The soundtrack performances of the Mascagni excerpts, by the way, are by the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (at least that's what I think it is; apparently it's identified as "Orchestra of Bologna Municop Theatra," which doesn't track in any language I'm familiar with) conducted by Arturo Basile. There are copies available so cheap, I couldn't resist ordering one. I'll let you know what I find out when I get it.


Mr. Mascagni goes to the movies (2): Francis Ford Coppola takes a whack at Cavalleria rusticana in The Godfather, Part III. (Cav will be the subject of Sunday's main post.)

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At 10:02 AM, Anonymous mediabob said...

"I may also have been put off by what seemed like pretty shameless exploitation of the Cavalleria Intermezzo".

Ken, great post. Music in the Movies should be a blog on its own. I am, somewhat, confused by your statement regarding your possible reason for not seeing the film. When the film premiered, had your musical sensibilities matured to the point where they overshadowed your visual appreciation? It's an interesting statement I've not heard much in this context.

Again, thanks for the post.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for the kind words, Bob. In answer to your question, oh yes, I knew and loved Cavalleria rusticana quite well at the time. Which just goes to show how ancient I am. (To the best of my recollection the dinosaurs were gone by then. Right?)



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