For their first concert with Ravinia music director James Conlon this season (July 22 at the Martin Theatre), members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform an unusual program with three 20th century works: Korngold’s String Sextet in D Major, Hindemith’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman as Sight-Read by a Bad Spa Orchestra at 7 a.m. by the Well and Hanns Eisler’s Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain, along with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.
Eisler’s Fourteen Ways, written in 1941 to honor the 70th birthday of composer Arnold Schoenberg, his teacher and mentor, will accompany a short, Dutch-made silent film from 1929: “Regen” (“Rain”), Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken’s city symphony that captures residents of Amsterdam before and after a rainfall.
From Ravinia’s program notes about the work:
Dutch filmmakers Joris Ivens and M.H.K. (Mannus) Franken collaborated on a handful of avant-garde projects in the late 1920s: the short documentary films “Branding” (“Breakers,” 1928) and “Regen” (“Rain,” 1929); Work on “Regen” exposed the growing tension between Ivens and Franken, primarily over recognition of their respective creative roles in the film. The concept originated with Franken, who outlined the scenario in two letters dispatched from Paris in October 1927. Ivens began documenting urban activity in Amsterdam on rainy days, a process that took almost two years to complete.
Eisler’s association with Ivens began in the 1930s, and together they produced three films in the 1930s: “Die Jugend hat das Wort”/”Heldenlied” (“The Youth Has the Word”/”Hero’s Song,” 1931) was a propaganda film on the “forging of the new world and new man” in the Soviet industrial city of Magnitogorsk. “Zuiderzee”/”Nieuwe Gronden” (“Zuiderzee”/”New Earth,” 1933) documented the labors of tens of thousands of Dutch workers who reclaimed land for agriculture by damming the Zuider Zee. Eisler wrote his first 12-tone film score for “400 Millionen” (“The 400 Million,” 1938), which glorified the resistance to Japanese invasion by the Chinese under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party.
For “Regen,” Ivens and Franken originally commissioned Dutch composer Lou Lichtveld to compose the soundtrack: a lyrical, contrapuntal score for flute, string trio and harp synchronized to the 1932 version of the film by Ivens’ longtime editor Helen van Dongen. Nine years later, as an “exile” living in New York City, Eisler replaced Lichtveld’s soundtrack with an entirely new 12-tone score as part of the Film Music Project, funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. His “Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain,” Op. 70, functioned dually as a soundtrack and an autonomous chamber composition for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano. Only two presentations by the composer have been documented: his Los Angeles farewell concert (1947) and a performance in New York City (1948) before his expulsion from the United States, following hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
PHOTO: Screen shot from the short silent film “Regen.”