Sergei Eisenstein’s silent propaganda film The Battleship Potemkin has had several scores composed for it over the years. In fact, I’ve read that the director himself wanted a score written for the film every 20 years. Back in the mid-70s Russian officialdom took sequences from several of Dmitri Shostakovich’s symphony works (Symphonies No. 4, 5, 8, 10 and 11) and fashioned a score to accompany the film for it’s 50th anniversary release.
I watched the film just recently on YouTube and it featured Shostakovich’s score and I was immediately taken by the music I heard. At the same time giving an emotional basis to the visuals, as well as hitting the on-screen action moments, the music seems almost to have been written specifically for the film because whole swathes of Shostakovich’s music hits several key moments in the movie – just as expertly as any film composition written specifically for a film today (though the film itself may have been slightly edited to fit the chosen music). My enthusiasm for the music I heard is probably down to the excellence of Shostakovich’s writing of “classical music” in general but it fits the film so well. I even spent some time going through the symphonies used to put together the score, editing out the relevant portions and putting together my own Shostakovich soundtrack. Although chopped up (I apologise to classical music purists who must be holding their hands up in horror at the thought of this!), the music still exudes power and emotion.
The sequence of the massacre on the Odessa Steps is a sequence that is always quoted as being a key scene on film history and the music chosen to accompany this sequence (first and second movements of the 11th Symphony and part of the third movement of the 5th Symphony) is a fine example of how well Shostakovich’s music works. And this is only one example, there are many more.
A closing word should go also to Edmund Meisel’s score for the film (Edelton / 1995 / 53:40). Composed for orchestra in little over 12 days in 1927 (and which supposedly helped turn the film into a major hit), Meisel’s score feels more of a “mickey-mouse” score as it seems to follow more the on-screen actions. Lost for many years, Meisel’s score was reconstructed in the mid-90s and is well worth a listen.