Monday, 1 November 2010

Pulling focus - working with Mozart's music for film

The Guardian reported today on a new British film starring Richard E. Grant and based on Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte - the working title of the film is First Night.

As you'd expect, the film features plenty of music from Cosi but also uses Mozart's music for the score as a whole. This posed some interesting challenges for writing/production team Morgan-Pochin who were given the task of turning Mozart's music into a modern film score.

James Morgan took the time to answer a few questions about the process.

How much of the music is from Cosi and what else is used?

Anything the characters perform in the film is from Cosi (we deliberately went for all the best bits!), but most of the incidental music is other pieces of Mozart - the soundtrack as a whole uses a whole range of his best loved works. Of course, none of the music was written with a movie in mind, so we've had to adapt and arrange so that it works with the picture. There's also an original arrangement of ours, the classic Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps performed in an operatic, Carmen-esqe style by Juliette Pochin, and a great big band number by crooner Rick Guard - all of these are used in the party scene in the movie.

What were the challenges of adapting Mozart's music to another medium?

The challenge of adapting the existing music is that, having chosen a piece that suits the general mood of the sequence it's accompanying, we then had to make sure it enhances the action rather than getting in the way - Mozart does have the habit of pulling focus! For example, we used the famous Don Giovanni opening for a sequence where there's a horseriding accident. The director wanted an imperceptible start to the music, so we had to rewrite the opening, starting only with lower strings, and reducing the size of the orchestra. The music then needed to quicken its pace and build to a terrifying climax - so we had to truncate the opening bars of the piece and rework all the dynamics to suit the picture.

In another, much longer sequence, we used the 'Elvira Madigan' piano concerto, but there's a lot of dialogue during the sequence, so we had to switch from Mozart to 'underscore Mozart' depending on what was happening on screen. The idea is with this and every other sequence is that the viewer doesn't notice the changes we've made, but is only aware of the score when it's the right moment in the film to hear it - otherwise it sits underpinning the picture, so that the viewer is barely aware of it.

Was it daunting working with such well-known (and revered) music

It was daunting working with such revered music, but it's also fantastic to see Mozart's genius brought to a whole new audience - people have reacted to test screenings with great enthusiasm. The film is a romantic comedy that happens to have the most amazing music within it - it's not an opera film - so it's a brilliant way to introduce some of the best music ever written to a whole new audience.

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