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May 14-29, 2006

A Tribute to Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov

Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov (b. 1936, Voronezh, USSR) was one of the major composers of the Soviet cinema in the 1960’s and 70’s. A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, he scored the first several films of young directors Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky and Andrei Tarkovsky, including the highly-acclaimed Ivan’s Childhood (1962) and Andrei Rublev (1966). Tarkovsky once said, “I cannot imagine a better composer for myself than Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov.” While still in his 20’s, Ovchinnikov was selected to compose and conduct the music for Sergei Bondarchuk’s seven-hour epic War and Peace (1965-1967), which earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Between 1971 and 1973, he created new scores for three silent films of Alexander Dovzhenko on the occasion of their restoration by Mosfilm: Earth (1930), Arsenal (1929), and Zvenigora (1927). These large-scale choral and orchestral scores could be considered among his greatest achievements, a powerful marriage of contemporary music and silent cinema.

In honor of his 70th birthday (May 29), we present a selection of the many films which feature music by Ovchinnikov. They include literary adaptations (Sholokhov, Turgenev, Bogomolov), war films (First and Second World Wars, 1918 Ukrainian Bolshevik Revolution), and historical epics (Andrei Rublev).  Many of the composer’s scores employ a wide range of musical styles; as Ovchinnikov himself stated, “I had to know how to do it all.”

Curated and annotated by Matthew Packwood, Associate Producer of Art of the States, WGBH Radio Boston. Special thanks to Mona Nagai of the Pacific Film Archive, Yuri Spitsyn of Dartmouth College, Halyna Hryn of Harvard Ukrainian Studies, The Dovzhenko National Centre of Kyiv, Ukraine
and the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.


Introduction by Matthew Packwood – Sunday, May 14
May 14 (Sunday) 7 pm
May 15 (Monday) 9 pm

Earth (Zemlya)

Directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
USSR 1930, b/w, silent, 87 min.
With Stepan Shkurat, Semyon Svashenko, Yulia Solntseva

Dovzhenko’s silent masterpiece is a paean to the cycles of nature, evoking themes of death and rebirth, joy and anguish, as it depicts the arrival of collectivization to a Ukrainian farm. Using the full range of a large orchestra and chorus, as well as a fair degree of sound mixing, Ovchinnikov creates a rich and complex aural counterpart to the poetry of Dovzhenko’s visual compositions. The relationship is most striking in the montage sequences: the harvest of the collectivist farm is accompanied by overlapping waves of sound and dancing rhythmic motives, and the village funeral procession resounds with chorus, bells, and a slow, insistent orchestral anthem.

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May 14 (Sunday) 9 pm
May 16 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Arsenal

Directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
USSR 1929, b/w, silent, 73 min.
With Semyon Svashenko, Amvrosi Buchma, Georgi Khorkov

Based on historical events, Arsenal depicts a Ukraine in turmoil and at war, from World War I and its aftermath to the 1918 Bolshevik uprising and struggle to defend a Kiev munitions factory against Ukrainian nationalist troops. Dovzhenko’s montage juxtapositions here are among his most potent and violent, in effect raising larger questions of class, morality, politics, and history. Ovchinnikov roots the film in an impassioned string orchestral lamentation, and slowly builds to the large, dissonant, pervasive orchestral tremolos signifying the tension between the Bolshevik workers and Rada partisans. The fervorous political rally in Kiev bears musical and mixing techniques reminiscent of the harvest sequence in Earth, with jubilant waves of sound interspersed with smaller musical gestures; equally inventive are Ovchinnikov’s orchestrations of the World War I battle and train accident sequences.

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May 16 (Tuesday) 6:30 pm

The Steamroller and the Violin

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
USSR 1960, color, 43 min.
With Igor Fomchenko and Vladimir Zamansky
Russian with English subtitles

Tarkovsky’s diploma film was the first of three co-written with Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky and scored by Ovchinnikov. It chronicles a day in the life of a sensitive seven-year-old violinist (Fomchenko) and the unique bond that develops between the boy and an adult steamroller driver (Zamansky). The music cues are surprisingly varied given the film’s length, and the radiance of a city seen through a child’s eyes finds a musical analogue in parts of Ovchinnikov’s score. Source music plays an important dramatic role here, most directly in the violin double-stop piece the boy performs several times throughout; an organ rendition of this theme bookends the film.

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Ivan’s Childhood

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
USSR 1962, b/w, 96 min.
With Nikolai Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgheny Zharikov
Russian with English subtitles

When Tarkovsky was invited by Mosfilm to direct this story of a twelve-year-old scout on the front lines (Burlyaev) in World War II, he agreed to do so only with the addition of four interludes in which Ivan dreams of "the life he has been robbed of — a normal childhood." (Tarkovsky) These poetic and experimental sequences recall the work of Alexander Dovzhenko, and Ovchinnikov's light, impressionistic scoring emphasizes brighter timbres of harp, winds, and strings. By contrast, the somber reality of wartime brings forth a darker orchestral palette during the suspenseful night river crossings, and aleatoric, phantasmagoric musical sequences underscore its victims. Loosely based on the short story “Ivan” by Vladimir Bogomolov, Tarkovsky’s first feature-length film received the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice Film Festival.

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May 23 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Zvenigora

Directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
USSR 1927, b/w, silent, 91 min.
With Semyon Svashenko, Nikolai Nademsky, Alexander Podorozhny

Dovzhenko referred to Zvenigora as “unusually complicated in structure, eclectic in form … a catalogue of all my creative abilities.” Anchored in a legendary tale of the search for buried treasure in Zvenigora mountain, the film proceeds to take in centuries of Ukrainian history and folklore through a series of unexpected jumps between time periods and stories. A visually exhilarating mixture of the mythical and the modern, it ultimately arrives (by train) at an ode to industrialization. Zvenigora was the third and last Dovzhenko silent to receive a new score by Ovchinnikov.

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May 23 (Tuesday) 9 pm

A Nest of Gentry

Directed by Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky
USSR, 1969, color, 111 min.
With Irina Kupchenko, Leonid Kulagin, Beata Tyszkiewicz
Russian with English subtitles

Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky's impressionistic adaptation of the novel by Ivan Turgenev teems with life onscreen and in its soundtrack. Alternately playful and brooding, it concerns a Russian aristocrat (Kulagin) who has left his adulterous wife (Tyszkiewicz) in Paris and returned to his childhood home, where he subsequently falls in love with a young woman (Kupchenko).  Ovchinnikov's sumptuous Romantic orchestral score intertwines with a variety of folk and liturgical songs, classical pieces for piano and harpsichord, and sounds of nature. Especially notable is the comic horse-buying episode featuring young actors Nikolai Gubenko and Nikita Mikhalkov (and attendant Gypsy musicians), and a recurring balalaika tune which culminates in a poignant vocal duet between the nobleman's two loves. (This theme makes an appearance in the composer's later score for They Fought for Their Motherland.)  Ovchinnikov has described A Nest of Gentry as "one breath in, one breath out."

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May 24 (Wednesday) 7 pm

They Fought for their Motherland

Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk
USSR, 1975, color, 143 min
With Vasily Shukshin, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Sergei Bondarchuk, Georgi Burkov, Yuri Nikulin, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Gubenko
Russian with English subtitles

Bondarchuk and Ovchinnikov’s second collaboration after the mammoth War and Peace is a fairly literal adaptation of the World War II novel by Mikhail Sholokhov. Set in July 1942, it follows an exhausted Soviet army regiment on the retreat to Stalingrad and the series of large-scale battles it faces. Ovchinnikov’s pastiche score draws in part upon elements from his earlier scores for A Nest of Gentry, Earth, and Arsenal, and here serves a more supporting role to the narrative. Drums and chromatic clusters punctuate the explosive battle scenes, disquieting octatonic scales hover over the marching troops, and an undulating chorale captures the hope and struggle of the soldiers and the motherland they seek to defend.

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May 29 (Monday) 7 pm

Andrei Rublev

iDirected by Andrei Tarkovsky
USSR 1966, b/w and color, 185 min.
With Anatoly Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Grinko
Russian with English subtitles

One of the great masterpieces of cinema, Andrei Rublev is an epic and episodic portrait of the 15th-century Russian icon painter (Solonitsyn) and “the ties between the artist and his epoch, his people.” (Tarkovsky) Ovchinnikov’s predominantly incidental score occupies little more than a third of the film’s three hours, but proves crucial to Tarkovsky’s mise-en-scène — the distant, plaintive folk melody in “The Jester,” for example, or the atmospheric tribal sounds in “The Holiday.” Young actor Nikolai Burlyaev, the protagonist in Ivan’s Childhood, here plays the bell-maker’s son Boriska; in a touching reference to the previous film, Boriska’s brief dream uses the same theme found in the first dream of Ivan. The climactic epilogue, an up-close adoration of Rublev’s icons, features one of Ovchinnikov’s most abstract and original musical statements.

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