Despite having heard somewhat truncated versions of Rapsodia Satanica over the last 30 years, I hadn't a clue that its composer, Pietro Mascagni, invented an approach that most film composers only began to discover more than 10 years later. Even then they were not executed to such perfection as was Mascagni's first and only attempt at cinema.
The general assumption about this score had been, like Camille Saint-Saëns and his 1908 score to L'Assassinat du duc de Guise, that the composer is sufficiently required to paint a general tableau to each scene, and his obligations to synchronization are to start, and (hopefully) end, together. Whatever happens in the middle is gravy. Mascagni, instead, took the task far more seriously than was expected of him, and carefully wrote one of the most intricate and delicate accompaniments in the history of cinema, both sound and silent. His score goes well beyond the visual perception, but contains character studies that seem to clearly define the mostly hidden conditions of their personality. This is the gift an opera composer brings to cinema. And even more importantly, a gift to early cinema where the art of in-depth character portrayal has yet to hit its stride.
The level of intricacy this score contained had only became apparent to me while working with the original 1915 piano reduction, made by Mascagni himself, playing against the latest restoration of the film made by Cineteca di Bologna. With these elements, in hand with a set of original 1915 parts used by orchestra members (under the baton of Mascagni in 1917), and a reconstituted score made by Maestro Marcello Panni in 2006, I strove to re-create (to the best of my ability) what Mascagni's intentions were.
There have been a number of performances of this score with live accompaniment since the re-discovery of the film almost 20 years ago. The most common misconception about the score is that there is simply too much music. This view set an unfortunate precedent of making large cuts in the score in order to make the music “fit” the length of the film. However why would Mascagni, who, by all historical accounts, injected so much precision in his synchronization while composing Rapsodia Satanica, have written so much more music than film? The reason for this misguided conclusion is quite simple; Mascagni's tempo markings are vague. Nowhere in the full score, nor in the piano reduction, did he give any written visual synchronization indications. Nor did Mascagni give a single metronome mark. This makes for intensive score analysis on the part of the conductor to find out where each few seconds of music should start and end, how fast or slow it should go, and for how long. The only clues the composer leaves in this regard are in the actual staves of the score itself, and in the set of original parts.
Within this jigsaw of tempi, dynamics and expression, thankfully there are a few obvious points to help guide the interpreter. The recurring appearances of Mephisto, the affirmations of Sergio and the 2 piano solos by Lyda Borelli are a handful of the (heaven-sent) musical markers to which a conductor can begin to decipher the layout of the score, but in between these moments live the some of the most important and exquisite moments in film-music history.
There is not a visual or symbolic moment (or movement) that passes unnoticed by Mascagni, and the depth of reflection within his score, is startling. The use of inverted and doubled thematic material (the 2 brothers), mirrored intervals (Borelli's final scene with mirrors) and pure musical leitmotif (symbiosis of the 2 butterflies and Borelli's flight on the terrace) plays heavily in Mascagni's designation of material. Even the reading of inter-titles was not left adorned. In Part One, there is an inter-title that reads four exchanged lines between Tristan and Sergio. Mascagni has a musical phrase for each of the four lines, so that when the viewer sees the interaction between the arguing brothers, each musical phrase recalls what the inter-title said, and is therefore compelled to remember the lines word for word as if the actors voices themselves are heard. I have never before seen inter-titles, often the most mundane features of silent film, treated with such delicate care by a musician. Every expression, dismantled shoulder and fluttering veil has it's place in the score. The question is just a matter of finding it.
And for each of these passages comes a massive assemblage of indications for tempi. In the 6-minute prologue itself there are 47 tempo changes, and nearly 400 overall. The outcome and effect of these careful manipulations is a score that has the overwhelming sense of freedom and liberty from tempo, the exact OPPOSITE of what this score is, utterly strict and precise. But it is from the set of the 1915 parts that gave me the most information in regards to metronomic indications. The changes Mascagni made in performance (and written in the player's hand on the parts themselves), such as removed repeat signs, full stops, alterations of beat-patterns from three to one and even string bowings, just to name a few, all help determine the speed and effect of each passage. In the end, amassing of these seemingly endless and miniscule indicants gives you an overall picture of how the score was conducted by Mascagni himself, and shows you how an unmarked (or in this case, lost) full score can mislead the conductor without it.
Only when a score of this caliber is anchored to its film correctly, does the clarity of musical symbolism truly exhibit composer's cognition, and more importantly, his intentions as an artist.
I am deeply indebted to the Mascagni Foundation, Mascagni's publisher, Ed. Curci-Milano, the Cineteca di Bologna and to Maestro Marcello Panni whose invaluable score reconstitution helped me enormously.