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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Raindrops in Outer Space

Chopin's Prelude in D features in Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
Renaissance android: David (Michael Fassbender) enjoys Chopin in Prometheus.
Image from Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott © 2012 20th Century Fox/Scott Free/Dune Entertainment.

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, and I took a much-needed break from the heat and hustle to see Prometheus, Ridley Scott's new science fiction opus, a prequel to the British filmmaker's first smash hit, Alien.

Alien is one of my favorite horror films of all time, a chill-inducing re-take on the sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World. It is basically a creature flick with an eight-foot-tall bio-mechanical monster stalking and killing crewmen aboard an atmospheric, dark space-ship. Prometheus is more cerebral, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired quest for the origins of life on Earth that--you guessed it--leads to crew members being horribly killed in all sorts of inventive ways.

Among the flickering lights, black goo, alien technology and tentacles that one expects from this franchise, there was a small musical pleasure: Chopin's Prelude in D minor, the Raindrop. The pianist is Philip Howard.

Found in outer space: the autograph score of Chopin's Prelude in D.
It appears twice in the film, once as accompaniment to the interstellar flight of the Prometheus which is manned by the android David (Michael Fassbender). (In these movies, humans are put into "cryostasis" to prevent aging and the effects of long-term space travel.) David, who is something a renaissance android, has an aficionado for Peter O'Toole's portrayal of T.E. Lawrence and for this tremendously powerful Prelude.



Without going into heavy plot spoilers for the movie, it could be argued that there is some parallel between the structure of the Raindrop Prelude and Prometheus. The piano piece starts slowly, almost gently, with an insistent rhythm in the left hand underpinning a lyric melody for the right. This parallels the (fairly slow) first act of the film, the arrival of the spacecraft at the planetoid and the initial explorations of the archeologists.

The second section is stormier, paralleling the unleashing of all manner of extraterrestrial horrors in the second act. In the final bars, Chopin returns to his original melodic idea, turning the phrase around halfway and leaving the listener slightly puzzled at the final cadence. The philosophical implications of Prometheus have caused similar puzzlement, mostly among Alien fanboys who expected blood and horror instead of blood, horror and cerebral science fiction.

The second appearance of the Raindrop is in the closing credits, a welcome breath of relief after being bombarded by the roller-coaster final act. Here, the piece serves as much needed balm for the senses, returning the audience slowly from the moon LV-223 to our own, less heightened reality. It's a pity that the theater cleaning crew turned on the flourescent lights at that point--it sort of spoiled the experience.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.