Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) - Walther Ruttmann
Silent film - duration: 65 min
Instrumentatio: large symphony orchestra
Filmed in 1926 in a wild and industrial Berlin, this documentary by Walter Ruttmann recounts a day in Berlin, from its early morning activities to its voluptuous nocturnal happenings.
Filming steam trains, streetcars, crowds on foot, workers, dancers, children and beggars, Ruttmann brings us to life the almost uninterrupted flow of a booming megalopolis by juxtaposing shots at a frenetic pace.
Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt is an urban symphony, a true homage to movement, speed, modernity, and to life. Almost a century later, the film has lost none of its dynamism and continues to fascinate with the modernity of its editing.
Watching this film today is an immersion in a city that no longer exists; a Berlin that we hardly recognise today. In fact, Ruttmann’s images are a moving tableau that attest to a city that has disappeared and has been forever transformed by time.
Why the choice of this film for a new setting in music?
The film’s rhythm and its rapid activity resonates with my current musical concerns.
The editing of the different shots combined with the internal rhythms specific to each shot gives this film a particularly interesting musicality that attracts me as a composer.
The composition of the shot itself and the mechanical and rhythmic structure of the sequences are extremely in line with my research and interest in pulsating rhythms, and provides an impetus to create a score with a clear pulse. I am also inspired to consider a timbral palette that orients the orchestral sound towards that of the concrete and electronic world.
The spectacular dimension of this film with its monumental shots of the city and the buildings requires the use of a sizable orchestral formation to balance out the power of the images – hence my choice of an orchestral force of 3 3 3 3/4 3 3 1/timp./Perc(3)/harp/Piano/ Strings.
Very importantly, the subject of this film touches on fundamental contemporary themes that inspire me as a composer: the human and his place in the urban environment, the biological rhythms and those of our contemporary society. Already central to the concerns of the Futurist movement at the start of the 20th century, these themes remain fully relevant in a society where biological rhythms are shaped by the urban environment. Flow, organization, space, everything must contribute to making our pace of life consistent with a society based on speed, performance and productivity.
In general, I wish to highlight the aesthetic and structural construction of the shots of this urban symphony by writing a score that takes into account its rhythmic characteristics, while simultaneously proposing differing degrees of disassociation from the images.
These musical strategies in my composition will allow the relationship of the music and image to be both complementarity and independent of one another.