Sonic Self-Reflection: Jean Cocteau’s soundscape for Le Testament d’Orphée
This week’s research seminar in Lecture Theatre 1 of the School of Music will take place at 4.30pm on Thursday 23rd October.
The speaker is Dr Laura Anderson (University of Leeds)
Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was fascinated with Greek mythology and particularly identified with the poet Orpheus. Three of his films, Le Sang d’un Poète (1930), Orphée (1950), and Le Testament d’Orphée (1960)are frequently grouped together to form the Orphic trilogy. The choice of Orpheus as thematic material established his work as part of a wide network of associations and placed it at the nexus of film and music.
In this seminar, I focus on Le Testament d’Orphée, which represents the culmination of Cocteau’s artistic output as well as the stage at which he was most confident in handling the design of a film soundscape. Throughout his career, he devoted great care to the deployment of music and sound effects in film and Testament includes almost every possibility for combining images with sounds that was known to him. Indeed, Cocteau was comfortable with the selection and arrangement of sonic elements to the extent that his regular collaborator Georges Auric became almost dispensable. Nevertheless, Auric’s willing support enriched the final film and Cocteau created a highly self-reflexive work through the arrangement of the composer’s music with musical borrowings. Heavy use of pre-existing music in Testament enabled him to organise and edit sound himself effectively.
Drawing on sketch materials and Cocteau’s testimonies, I examine the nature of his creativity with music and sound for this film, and argue that his efforts allowed him to reflect on his personal concerns with the cinematograph and to situate himself sonically in the canon.