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<<  -- 3 --  John Bell Young    A NEW 'ENOCH'

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Certainly, the worlds of theater and music have always been first cousins, and while the means of expression differ, the determination to find what lies behind and between the lines is a common goal in both disciplines. What a phrase says and what it actually means are not necessarily identical in music and drama. Words can be as mellifluous and phraseworthy as music, while music can mimic the rhythms and characteristics of speech. In either case, what interests an artist is what the work has to say about the human condition.

In light of its theatrical elements, which can be combined effectively with other media, the potential of Enoch Arden goes light years beyond music alone. In an environment where so many young people remain indifferent to classical music and literature, I can think of few better ways to stimulate them. Certainly, Enoch's haunting melodic brocades and picaresque imagery moved in on me like an addiction, refusing to leave me in peace. Even in advance of finding the ideal narrator, I knew only one thing: I had to master it.

Annie with looking glass. A still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne
Annie with looking glass. A still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne

But who is Enoch Arden? Published in 1864, Tennyson's poem is the saga of a young merchant marine, a 'rough sailor's lad' who goes off to sea, leaving behind his wife Annie Lee and three small children, only to be shipwrecked on a remote tropical island. Rescued after many years, he returns home to England's Isle of Wight to find Annie married to their mutual childhood friend, the wealthy miller, Philip Ray. Devastated by the loss of his family, and the overwhelming fear that they will no longer recognize him, Enoch keeps an agonizing vigil from a distance, declining to let them know he is alive. Through all this Enoch is dying from loneliness and a life unfulfilled. 'Too much to bear!' cries a wizened and graying Enoch as the music and text coincide in a heart-wrenching climax.

'Too much to bear!' - a still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne
'Too much to bear!' - a still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne

The story, replete with themes of loyalty, suffering, and sacrifice, has been a Hollywood favorite for nearly a century. D W Griffith devoted three films to it, the last in 1915. More recently, Tom Hanks' virtuoso turn in Robert Zemeckis's Castaway (2000) proved another variation on the Enoch Arden theme.

Enoch lifts Annie as Philip looks on. A still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne
Enoch lifts Annie as Philip looks on. A still from the 1915 film 'Enoch Arden' by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne

'The diverse regions that Tennyson describes were familiar to me', says Michael York. 'I once spent a family holiday at Lyme Regis, not far from the Isle of Wight -- in a fisherman's cottage -- and had seen at first hand "the red roofs about a narrow wharf / In cluster". There I had gone nutting in similar woods. I had also filmed in the tropics, once even playing a similarly shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe, another "long-hair'd, long bearded solitary". These memories flooded and imprinted my imagination as I repeated the potent words.'

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Copyright © 23 September 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA

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