Friday, 10 February 2017

Nella fantasia: part 1

Title: Cuore di cane (Dog’s heart)
Year: 1976
Composer: Piero Piccioni

This series will probably be my shortest one because there really isn’t a large Italian fantasy film scene. However this film from 1976 was filed under that description and the premise seems quite fantastical: a doctor performs an imaginative surgery on a stray dog which transforms then into a misbehaving human. The film is based on a satire by Russian author Bulgakov who tried to depict how communism was to transform mankind. The score for the film was written by Maestro Piccioni who created a varied, Russian-flavoured, orchestral piece of music which wonderfully bends to all the twists and turns the story requires.

The opening track introduces the two identities the score has: the mischievous comedic music inspired by compositions of Russian composers such as Prokofiev, and the sentimental romantic material which is extremely dramatic in contrast. This juxtaposition is evident during the album’s whole duration and it gives a certain tension to the listening experience. The comedic opening soon turns to the first full performance of the main romantic theme for the whole orchestra. This long-lined theme has to be one of the greatest ones Piccioni ever created. It might be a little overplayed eventually but all the variations it gets are just astounding. Seq. 2 pairs the melody with mysterious atmospheres before turning to romantic major version followed by the comical theme. The sentimental mood returns at the end. Seq. 5 is a dreamlike reprise of the theme’s B section which by itself would be already an amazing melody but joined to the main verse it’s just phenomenal. There are several long performances of the theme in the album’s latter half, for instance in Seq. 16 where tasteful piano flourishes accompany the B section, Seq. 18 performed by a solo mandolin and a moog synthesizer and Seq. 22  which emphasizes the synthesizers even more but simplifies the harmonies. Luckily the final track on the album returns to the norm and gives an emotional sendoff and closes the arch beautifully yet unceremoniously as it should.

However by far the best version of the romantic theme is Seq. 10 previously released under the title Lied all'improvviso. It’s a classically romantic lied complete with a soprano vocalist singing in Russian. The passionate performance is accompanied by moving yet understated string and piano performances. This cue has to be one of my all-time favourite Piccioni compositions because the woeful and agonizing quality of the music is just so heartbreakingly beautiful that it makes your eyes water. The vocal version is reprised in Seq. 13 which drops the orchestra and has only the pure voice singing over the nocturnal solo piano which is almost as moving as its predecessor.

The comedic cues feature an array of woodwind and brass instruments often accompanied by martial drums and jazzy harmonies. They have a certain parade-like quality to them mixed with hints of fox-trot. Seq. 3, 9 and 15 are prime examples of this style. Another theme, namely a Russian polka is introduced in Seq. 4. This melody is cheesy as hell but insanely catchy and makes you want to start dancing tropak. The melody is performed with an authentic sounding band featuring a mandolin, an accordion and a saloon piano. That same piano returns in Seq. 6 this time playing a tune in waltz groove and reminding me slightly of a merry-go-round before changing into middle-eastern bazaar harmonies with pounding umpa-umpahs provided by the tubas. Catchy ragtime jazz melodies are featured heavily in Seq. 7 before the Russian polka is reprised with same harmonies but the main melody sounds like it had been reversed somehow. Great fun nonetheless. The comedic theme has also a saloon performance in Seq. 12 but the harmonies get more and more insane as the track goes on making it sound like the record was broken by the madness.

There are also some weird suspenseful cues that represent the scientific experiments and transformations. First one is Seq. 8 that consists of swirling and wandering high strings which have all kinds of barking noises made with electronics, bassoons or brass instruments played over them. More introverted electronic effects are at play in Seq. 11 which has also sound effects resembling the cold wind and radar-like signals. There’s also hair-raising metallic screeching and tinkling in Seq. 14. But by far the most challenging piece is the 6-minute Seq. 17 with its atonal brass clusters and ‘laboratory’ music for primitive echoing synthesizer elements which is unlike anything else on the album but unfortunately it becomes rather annoying after a while. I respect the creativity here but it’s pretty hard to consider even as music. The final montage of all moods heard previously: the comedy, the romance and the suspense, is presented in the 7-minute Seq. 20 which might feel somewhat disjointed but shows great mastery of implementing the different moods into a single piece of music.

There’s so much to love about this score and I highly recommend checking it out. The great amount of additional material on the Beat Records album might be a hindrance, as there might be just a bit too much making it hard to enjoy the score on a single listen. Hence I can’t give it a full 5 star rating. The detailed and complex orchestrations and harmonic language is among the composer’s very best and provide a great deal of positive chills.

Rating: ****1/2

1. Cuore di cane (seq. 1) (03:28) *****
2. Cuore di cane (seq. 2) (04:00) *****
3. Cuore di cane (seq. 3) (02:53) ****
4. Cuore di cane (seq. 4) (03:35) *****
5. Cuore di cane (seq. 5) (01:59) *****
6. Cuore di cane (seq. 6) (03:08) ****
7. Cuore di cane (seq. 7) (04:43) *****
8. Cuore di cane (seq. 8) (02:06) *****
9. Cuore di cane (seq. 9) (02:45) ****
10. Cuore di cane (seq. 10) (04:44) *****
11. Cuore di cane (seq. 11) (03:14) ****
12. Cuore di cane (seq. 12) (02:23) *****
13. Cuore di cane (seq. 13) (03:16) *****
14. Cuore di cane (seq. 14) (01:38) ****
15. Cuore di cane (seq. 15) (02:26) ***
16. Cuore di cane (seq. 16) (03:03) *****
17. Cuore di cane (seq. 17) (06:32) ***
18. Cuore di cane (seq. 18) (02:08) ****
19. Cuore di cane (seq. 19) (02:02) ****
20. Cuore di cane (seq. 20) (07:09) ****
21. Cuore di cane (seq. 21) (01:23) ****
22. Cuore di cane (seq. 22) (02:16) ****
23. Cuore di cane (seq. 23) (03:03) *****

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