Vladimír Franz: The way of incidental music from a semantic sign to a dramatic character

20.10.2013 18:25

Incidental music as a simultaneous dramaturgy

Music is one of the essential parts of a theatre performance. Together with stage managing, stage designing, costumes and dramaturgy, it creates a certain dramatic complex. The hierarchy in arrangement of these parts builds up the character of the whole "body" of a performance. In my lecture Incidental music as a dramatic character that I gave in Denver I tried to emphasize some of the ways of using incidental music and the meanings resulting from this use. I stressed the fact that music cannot be understood only as an arbitrary emotional or time background (as it is in movies and older performances), but that its macro- as well as microstructure creates an autonomous plan of a performance. I also highlighted some of the various ways of manipulation with the meaning of music and its relationship to the design components, i.e. the stage and the costumes. In my habilitation paper, I stressed and extensively analyzed the inner correlation between music and time. 

Two years have passed already since my Denver lecture and on my path of creation I have accomplished and adopted another ways of using and treating incidential music. 

Music that does not serve as a background or a kind of "instrumental shape" (dance, march) can - from the viewpoint of a higher dramatic sense - take on itself two basic forms: 

  1. Form of a semantic sign
  2. Form of a dramatic character 

Semantic musical sign is based on 

       a) direct non-metaphoric description of the phenomenon, and 

       b) repeating of this description, i.e. rotating of the meaning. 

Semantic sign can be thus characterized as in-itself closed, autonomous and vertically effective unit that carries meanings and counter-meanings as its independent hermetic component. The semantic sign does not require dramatic succession. The musical shape of the performance, that is built excusively from semantic signs, creates the effect of static vertical, points or stops that immensely stress the chosen meanings and at the same time provide oneself with the insight from the outside. 

In my music for the theatre performance Rút (which is a dramatic apocrypha of a biblical motif) I have used as a building principle predominantly the principle of a semantic sign. I will give you three examples: 

a) Bees - over the rythmical African mode the bass guitar brings on a slow-motion movement. Human voice constantly repeats the word honey. It is the characteristics of bees (i.e. fruitility, ordered community, picked up grains of desert sand, multiplicity) by the means of their final product. 

b) Harvest festival - hot furry night full of hysteria, dance and sex. Five cellos create the whole of sound mass. Strikes of electric guitar evoke the sound of motorcycle (compare with the loneliness of March squares in Fellini´s movies). From this sound mass the sound of helicopter arises. The music doesn´t dramatize nor does it judge in the moral sense. We observe the harves festival from elsewhere - from the view-point of a sort of a metal flesh-fly. 

c) Rút - Rút is the main character of the drama. At the moment of dramaic peak there is always this reggae motif arising - unexcited, indifferently comic, constantly repeating the name Rút. 

The development of music plays the role of simultaneous dramaturgy in the performance Rút. It denominates the junction points of the play and thus creates certain construction that stands as a semantic counterpoint to the story of the performance. We could call it "a cord body of an oratorium in points". 

Form of a dramatic character

While working on a performance Marketa Lazarová I have gone in use of music even further as for the meaning, architectonic and also the space sound plan. The play is based upon a novel by famous Czech writer, a contemporary of Karel Čapek, a great master of Czech language Vladislav Vančura. The novel Marketa Lazarová was written in 1931 with the primary intention to present full-blooded, vital and sovereign human types not yet deformed by the Christian guilt complex and by the civilization. 

The plot goes back to the 13th century, at which time the Czech Kingdom consolidated its power and Christianity was beginning to defeat various pagan cults. The story itself is quite simple. It depicts the life of two clans of highwaymen that profit from the unquiet times. Marketa, the daughter of the head of one clan, is abducted and raped by Mikoláš, the son of the head of the other clan, though she was vowed to God. Mikoláš´s family is in open war with the king and state power. They are captured and finally sentenced to death. Mikoláš and Marketa get married just before Mikuláš´s execution. Marketa, carrying Mikoláš´s child, chooses the path and destiny of earthly life and also an earthly and passionate love. Along with this story there is a love story of Mikoláš´s sister Alexandra and of a captured Saxon Earl Kristian. Kritian, however, due to the hardships of war and winter goes insane and Alexandra that deeply loves him prefers to kill him in the mercifull act of love. 

This story can be put up realistically in the terms of stage realization. But it would loose its inner tension. We decided to take the way of autonomization

  • of each of the story categories - desire, love, violence, cold, belief and power, and
  • of separate parts of the staging.

This autonomy is freely connected with the story. It tokk the form of theme with variations. 

Stage designing deals mostly with an empty space. This space is inhabited with post-modern costumes, sign motion and sometimes with spoken word, that is rather harming the whole effect of the performance. The music chooses its independent way. 

Brief final demonstration (video footage) from chosen parts of the performance "Marketa Lazarová": 
  • Nunnery - physical energy producing fanaticism. The way from pageantry to Christianity
  • Meeting of Alexandra and Kristian - silent ecstasy in music, following the love explosion.
  • The world of battles - motion.
  • Love - hymn of expanding consciousness of physical being in the midst of night.
  • Killing Kristian - dramatic counterpoint between the plot and the liberation in music.
  • Waltz - execution and inner liberation of Marketa - catharsis ending of the performance.
Vladimír Franz; a lecture was given at the OISTAT "Theatre&Sound Colloquium" in London, June 12-15, 2002
(Musical examples used during the lecture are not available here.)