Program Note: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, February 26, 2013, 7:30pm at City Performance Hall
Brian Satterwhite on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is a very famous film. It is an exemplar of German expressionism and one of the most influential movies of all time. Directed by Robert Wiene from a script penned by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, it features Werner Krauss as the indefatigable Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Caligari’s sideshow somnambulist, Cesare. The film is widely considered to be the first legitimate horror film ever made and the first film to be told almost entirely in flashback. It is also credited for inventing the ubiquitous “twist ending” prevalent in modern films. A quick glance at its visual idiosyncrasies instantly renders visions of Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and James Whale, just to name a few.
My approach to scoring this film was a bit of a surprise. At times, I often felt more like a painter rather than a composer. Inspired by the iconic set design (by Hermann Warm), I tried to complement the jagged edges, slanting walls, and obtuse angles with melodies employing spacious intervals and herky-jerky rhythms. I juxtaposed major/minor tonalities creating subtle shades of polyharmony intensifying the psychopathic nature of the mindscape. To emphasize the stark contrast between light and dark, I composed the score entirely for strings with a deliberate imbalance favoring more celli and basses than would typically be required for an ensemble this size. This gives the music a darker hue and heavier weight overall.
Although there are individual themes representing certain characters and situations within the narrative, their usage is not as strict as it would ordinarily be in other pictures. To me, it was always about the visual state of the film using aural “spotlights” to draw attention to these optical peculiarities.
The task of composing a fresh score for a film so highly regarded was a daunting challenge. My intention is that this experience will expand upon a growing appreciation for this film while simultaneously introducing its brilliance to new audiences. The opportunity to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari performed live to picture by the talented men and women of the Dallas Chamber Symphony is one that I hope you will never forget. It is an honor to have this opportunity and I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.
Pre-Concert Conversation with Brian Satterwhite starts at 6:45pm at City Performance Hall. (Map It)
Concert starts at 7:30pm.
To purchase tickets, click here, or call (214) 880-0202.
To learn more about Brian Satterwhite, visit his website by clicking here.