Campus News

Silent Film Evangeline to be Shown; Schwartz to Provide Live Original Accompaniment

Story posted July 08, 2004

A special public showing of the classic silent film Evangeline (1929) will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, in Smith Auditorium, Sills Hall, on the Bowdoin College campus. Admission is free.

Acclaimed composer and retired Bowdoin College music professor Elliott Schwartz will provide live keyboard accompaniment.

Schwartz's original music will be largely improvised. Though he has created in advance some of the motives and musical ideas associated with the film's images and characters, his accompaniment will primarily be on-the-spot responses to whatever is happening onscreen.

"This is, to a certain degree, how these silent films were originally shown," said Schwartz. "The pianist or other musicians were in the theater, looking at the film, and responding musically to the mood suggested by the images."

Schwartz's keyboard is a versatile instrument that can create the voices of a grand piano, organ, harpsichord, bells, and other sounds, making it possible for a single musician to set many different moods and tones to go along with the story.

Evangeline, starring Dolores Del Rio and directed by Edwin Carewe, is based on the epic narrative poem "Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie" by famed American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (an 1825 graduate of Bowdoin College).

It tells the tale of a young Acadian woman who embarks on a search through the American wilderness, determined to be reunited with her exiled fiancÚ. The fiancÚ, Gabriel, was among those dispossessed of land, imprisoned, and deported by the British during a 1755 expulsion of residents of the Canadian province now known as Nova Scotia.

The recently restored film is considered a gem of the silent era, featuring indelible images and breathtaking location cinematography.

The film screening is part of the celebration of the Curtis Memorial Library's 100th birthday, and is sponsored by the Library and the Association of Bowdoin Friends.

Elliott Schwartz is the Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Emeritus at Bowdoin College. He joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1964, and retired this year. He has also held extended visiting residencies at the University of California (Santa Barbara and San Diego), The Ohio State University, Trinity College of Music (London, UK) and Cambridge University (UK). He has served as president of the College Music Society, vice-president of the American Music Center, and national chair of the American Society of University Composers. He and Daniel Godfrey are co-authors of Music Since 1945: Issues, Materials, Literature. He also co-edited Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music with Barney Childs. Performances of his compositions have included the Indianapolis Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Tanglewood, the Library of Congress, Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), the Bath Festival (England), De Ijsbreker (Amsterdam, Holland), and the Leningrad Spring (Russia). For more on Elliott Schwartz click here.

Want to learn more about "Evangeline"? Read Longfellow's poem here.

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