Australian composer James Ledger

When Chaplin Met Einstein
10 mins
flt(=picc).clt(=bcl)-perc(1):vib/med tam-t/4semi-pitched gongs/ Hammond organ(or digital equiv)-vln.vcl

Premiere: 13 February 2014
Soft Soft Loud Festival
Fremantle Arts Centre, WA

The addition of a Hammond organ into an ensemble of otherwise acoustic instruments, made me think of worlds colliding - the old with the new, so to speak. This led me to an article on the web about a meeting between Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein. Both men were universally famous, and to paraphrase, their conversation went something like this:

Einstein to Chaplin: "You do not say a word, and yet... the world understands you." Chaplin to Einstein: "The world admires you… when nobody understands you."

The other intriguing aspect about both these men was that they were both musicians. Einstein had learnt the violin and loved the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven. Chaplin learnt the cello, piano and violin and impressively, also composed the music to several of his films.

In addition to the Hammond organ, the work is scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet and percussion. This itself is a variation of Arnold Schoenberg’s ensemble for Pierrot Lunaire (1912), which is now well known as the Pierrot ensemble. I imagined Einstein coming from the long tradition of German culture and represented him with the ensemble of acoustic instruments. Chaplin on the other hand represented the new-world (cinema was after all, the only new art form in many thousands of years) and theatre organs were used for accompanying silent films.

The piece is structured around a simple rhythm that occurs at different speeds throughout. These rhythms overlap one another like different sized cogs in a machine. The two outer sections of the piece are essentially mirror images - I imagined Chaplin and Einstein staring at each other, two geniuses in their own right. In this final section we also hear snippets of imagined music for a silent film (Chaplin on the organ), as well as fragments of Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata (Einstein on violin).

When Chaplin Met Einstein was commissioned by Fremantle Arts Centre for the Soft Soft Loud Chamber Series.

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