Lucky Stars (2007)

for chamber ensemble, 21 minutes.

 

Instrumentation: clarinets, violin, piano, toy piano, mini-Korg synthesizer, percussion

 

My score for the 1925 silent comedy starring Harry Langdon. Harry travels to Mexico under the spell of a quack doctor. Staged as a violin concerto (the showy violin echoes the showiness of the quack). Released on DVD (The Harry Langdon Collection: Lost and Found, All Day Entertainment, 2007).

 

DVD Title: The Harry Langdon Collection: Lost and Found

Label: Allday Entertainment (distributed by Facets) (2007)

 

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Film synopsis and musical notes:

Lucky Stars (1925) is a delightful two-reel comedy in which Harry Langdon (Harry Lamb in the film) plays a hapless, trusting, and naive young man who is persuaded to follow his "lucky star."  It is also predicted that he will become a doctor and fall in love with a beautiful dark woman. 

 

Harry boards the - wrong - train to his destiny, jumps - off - the train when he discovers this fact, and is put back on by the crew, who have stopped the train to recover him.  At this point, Harry, in his slightly frazzled state, is set upon by "Doc" Healy (Vernon Dent), a medicine man in the best snake-oil tradition, who promptly takes all of Harry's money under the pretense of teaching him all he knows about medicine. 

 

The pair arrive in San Tabasco, where Doc Healy's show is set to arrive in town.  Harry, now christened "Doctor Lamb" is in tow as Doc's assistant.  The local druggist's beautiful daughter, Senorita Mazda (Natalie Kingston), vows revenge on the charlatans for ruining her father's business. 

 

The remainder of the film details the medicine show, Senorita Mazda's attempt on Harry's life (this film features yet another of what appears to be an idee fixe in Langdon's films: the woman with a knife threatening Harry...both "Hansom Cabman" and "Soldier Man," films for which I have created scores, also feature this), sabotage of the medicine show, and the resulting hilarious chaos. 

 

The score begins with mysterious "space" music, in keeping with the opening scene, in which Harry is told by a stranger (looking through a big telescope) on the street that he must follow his "lucky star."  For just the right amount of "spaciness," one of the other members of the Snark Ensemble, for which this piece was written, brought a mini-Korg analog synthesizer to a rehearsal.  This provided the perfect amount of spacy glissando; add some tremulous glissandi on a plastic slide whistle, and the celestial effect is complete. 

 

The following section of the score is jaunty and bouncy, featuring some solid low notes for the contrabass clarinet. 

 

Doc Healy, as a flashy, fast-talking con man whose supposed learning and skill are all show, is aptly represented by the solo violin indulging in virtuosic "showy" passagework, evoking the violin showpieces of such composer-violinists as Pablo de Sarasate.

 

The Mexican town of San Tabasco is portrayed with music which owes something to the Mariachi tradition of trumpets in 3rds (although, in this case, with clarinets) and a small homage to Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. 

 

As the situation begins to detoriorate for Harry and his "mentor," the music increases in intensity and speed until the final chase, complete with exploding bottles of medicine (echoed in the ensemble)!

 

--Andrew Earle Simpson

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