My score to Frau im mond score is my largest-in-scale to date. Something about human-beings building a gargantuan rocket to fly to the moon, and nearly killing themselves in the process, seems to me to begs for an overwhelming sound. And once landed on the lunar surface, the music develops a stranger characteristic while in the shadows of the moon's dark side. The film's characters deeply lose themselves and their inhibitions in the process, as does the music. It's quite a journey for all.
Pure musical symbolism is a hard thing to achieve in silent film score, for usually it does nothing to advance or enhance the story. If anything it is a distraction. However in the opening bars of Frau im mond I use a rather blatant specimen of symbolism in the opening chords. Two colossal forces (rising major triads, starting a half-step up from the root) working against each other until the persistently rising upper chord eventually pulls away from the anchoring pedal tone, ultimately freeing itself. This was, for me, a structure symbolically large enough to counter the force of 'gravity' in the 'D' pedal point in the low brass, contrabassoon, timpani and strings, until the orchestra finally pulls itself upward to a weightless conclusion. And since this occurs during the opening titles, there were no competing images or story to suspend. Just pure music, like an overture, and therefore I was free to utilize this musical symbolism without fear being confused by any associating imagery.
Other types symbolic gestures occur as well, especially in instrumentation. In the scene of the five industrial tycoons who take control of the expedition, I use predominantly a contrabass-clarinet and contrabass-bassoon in a grotesque one-step dance to exemplify the grotesque nature of these thieving fat cats. For the American spy, Walt Turner, I use a painfully slow and deliberate fox-trot pattern which, at the tempo I set it, gives him a cold and calculating manner, despite the traditionally upbeat musical form. The most obvious musical choice was the procession of the rocket to the launch pad from the hangar. This scene, which last nearly twenty minutes, has an assortment of percussion ostinanti and marches, which finally culminates in a chorale for the brass.
Lastly, this is probably the largest percussion part I've written for a silent film. I've written this score for 5 percussionists plus timpani in order to carry out the enormous task this score requires of them. They not only lead the orchestra in the procession of the rocket out of the hanger, but they also drive its engine at full speed to the to the moon itself, and provide the strangest ambiance after landing. The percussion section employs a wide variety of instruments, both common and uncommon. Besides the use of various bells, flexatones, car-suspension springs, chimes, whistles and sirens, my score also calls for a set of rare and unique instruments called 'spring drums' that delivers a very unearthly sound which I felt might capture what the atmosphere of the lunar surface (might) sound like. It is heard (subtlety) whenever the characters are outside the rocket, on the lunar surface.
I am honored to have been commissioned for this score by the four institutions involved in this project. My many thanks to the Vienna Konzerthaus, Orchestre National de Lyon, the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and Philharmonie Luxembourg.