The Maids

Quotations in The Maids

Contrary to what some commentators have assumed, there's only one single quotation in the score of The Maids.

The quote is very brief, but it’s important: when Madame sings Such is love, Solange, I quote four bars from Bernard Herrmann’s music to Hitchcock’s Vertigo from 1958.

The quotation is from the Love Scene in Vertigo, where Judy finally emerges from the bathroom as Madeleine, reborn against her will to satisfy the glamoured and necrophiliac desires of Scotty. The superimposition, in Vertigo as well as in The Maids is deeply ironic: Love? Really? Is this really love? Is love even possible?

You can hear the four bars in their original at 7:54 to 8:04 — a mere 10 seconds — in this clip:

That four-chord progression appears in many places in Vertigo, but this is where it’s most poignant. And most deceitful (more about that below).

Apart from this, there are no quotations whatsoever in the score. Those commentators who have suggested there are quotations from scores from 1930s film scores have missed the point entirely. You’re not hearing references to film music; you’re hearing parodies of Schönberg and Strauss – composers who inspired film music composers.

Forget about Gone with the Wind and Wuthering Heights — film music worked in a completely different way back in the 30s. I don’t even like those old-fashioned scores very much, and I’m certainly not trying to evoke that world, nor the world of cinema.

No, my reference is to the modern, acerbic, anguished, and deeply pragmatic world of Bernard Herrmann and to the European expressionism that inspired him, as we encounter it in Elektra, Erwartung, Lulu, etc.

Even though there are references and even pastiche, there are no quotes; I composed all those late-romantic and expressionist outbursts because the drama needed them. They are artefacts, stereotypes, archetypes — fake ready-mades if you will — needed by the two maids as ammunition for their game.

There are even deeper layers to the dissemblance. Bernard Herrmann instructed his string players to play without vibrato in most of his scores; he wanted to break away from the typical romantic string sound of his predecessors in film. He needed a much more modern sound, and a modern, quicker kind of dramatic pacing.

In the Love Scene, however, he prescribes full vibrato á la Tristan und Isolde. And he does this to underline the fakeness and duplicity of the situation. The strings may soar and sing — but their song is full of lies.

More about Bernard Herrmann:

The Overture

There is, however, one reference which few have discovered. It’s in the Overture, which in its first draft version was completely atonal in the modernist style of the following scene. I soon realised I had to get the attention of the audience in a much powerful and immediate way, and thus I had to resort to hyper-emotional tonality right from the start.

The Overture is written in extended tonality throughout, in the style of the early Schönberg of Verklärte Nacht and Gurrelieder:

The violin solo, which soon is subsumed into the chromatic, writhing mass of the orchestra, is a reference to the main theme of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by British composer Carl Davis.

I had admired Davis’ string writing in The French Lieutenant’s Woman for a long time. It’s technically very accomplished, it’s highly Schönbergian, and, moreover, the mixture of longing and hysteria is reminiscent of The Maids.

Thus, the plaintive attack of his violin motif is alluded to, briefly and in disguised form, by the solo violin at the beginning of my Overture, though the texture in my score soon takes a much more expressionistic path.

The Maids quotations film music Bernard Herrmann Vertigo Carl Davis The French Lieutenant's Woman expressionism

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