The Orlando Consort Lends Voices To Joan Of Arc During Silent Film Screening

Jan 24, 2019

It’s the kind of drama that, well, drama is made of.

Before Joan of Arc was immortalized as a saint, she was an illiterate peasant mystic who heard the voice of God, led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years’ War and was condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church and burned at the stake – all before age 20.

No wonder, then, that the life of Joan of Arc has been portrayed in dozens of films, including the silent film classic The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Danish director Carl Dreyer’s courtroom dramatization of the trial that led to Joan of Arc’s conviction and execution.

Topping off the twists and turns of all that drama, and complementing the legendary voices in Joan’s head, the world-renowned Orlando Consort will sing a live soundtrack of early music to a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc in a program title Voices Appeared, 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27 at Grandview Theater and Drafthouse. The performance and screening are part of the Early Music in Columbus series.

Above: Joan of Arc in the torture chamber in Carl Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'

Orlando Consort baritone Donald Greig compiled the score for Voices Appeared from existing sacred and secular vocal works written during the early 15th century, the period of Joan’s life.

In an article on The Guardian music blog, Greig writes that Dreyer had no say in the soundtracks that accompanied The Passion of Joan of Arc at its premieres in Copenhagen and Paris.

Film poster for The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Credit Janus Films / janusfilms.com

The film’s original negative was destroyed in a fire in 1929, and for more than 50 years, The Passion of Joan of Arc was lost to the world. In 1981, a copy of the film was found in a Norwegian mental asylum.

There then arose a tradition of compiling scores for the film using music by any number of other composers, including baroque masters Bach, Vivaldi and Albononi and, much more recently, Dutch composer Jo van den Booren, Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits, the Orlando Consort and, forthcoming in 2019, Russian-born composer Gene Pritsker

While accompanying The Passion of Joan of Arc with music from the time in which Joan lived seems an obvious choice, Greig writes that, in Dreyer’s time, it was not only not obvious – it was not possible.

“The performance of medieval music is a relatively modern phenomenon, and in 1928 there were only a handful of pieces from this period that existed in modern transcriptions,” Greig writes. “Fortunately all that has changed, and there are now many pieces by French, Burgundian and English composers available in any university library.”

Greig also considers his selection of vocal repertoire for the film especially apt, given the details of Joan’s life.

“Our version is also, as far as I’m aware,” Greig writes, “the first entirely a cappella soundtrack, a particularly appropriate mode of expression given that voices instructed the proto-feminist French saint.”

Above: The Orlando Consort performing Voices Appeared with 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' at the 2018 Chiltern Arts Festival

In 1455, 24 years after Joan’s execution, the Church opened a posthumous inquest into Joan’s case – in essence, an appeal to determine the merit of Joan’s earlier trial based on how it was handled according to canon law.

Joan was not only vindicated but hailed as a martyr. The case for her canonization was opened in 1869, and she was canonized in 1920.

Some have decried the life story of St. Joan of Arc as a myth and, to be sure, it does have the stuff of legend.

Seeing visions of saints, hearing the voice of God, defying cultural convention and taking up arms with the men of the French royal army, standing trial with the Church patriarchy, dying a martyr’s death and ending up a saint all add up to drama.

And sometimes there’s no better drama than that of real life. Except, maybe, at the movies.

The Orlando Consort performs Voices Appeared, a live soundtrack of early music to a screening of the 1928 classic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27 at the Grandview Theater and Drafthouse, on the Early Music in Columbus series.