Composer Irene Buckley is bringing her musical passion to Joan of Arc

Irene Buckley: 'I incorporated part of the Requiem Mass to portray her feelings.'

Cork composer Irene Buckley will have her score to a 1920s silent film performed in Bandon this week, writes Ellie O’Byrne

"MOST composers think that their composition is only going to be performed once. It’s performed, and then you start working on a new piece.”

Irene Buckley is talking about her original score for the 1928 silent movie The Passion of Joan of Arc, considered a masterpieces of cinema, both for director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s innovative techniques and for the mesmerising performance of stage actor Renée Jeanne Falconetti in her role as the French martyr, her only appearance on screen.

Rather than disappearing into the vault, though, Buckley’s score, originally commissioned for the Cork French Film Festival in 2012, will enjoy its eighth performance at the Engage Bandon Arts Festival on Thursday.

The 80-minute composition for soprano, pipe organ and electronics was a departure for Buckley when she wrote it. “I always wanted to write for film and I had, but mostly documentaries and short films,” Buckley says. “It was a big step up for me to write something this long; continuous music for an hour and twenty minutes is a big challenge, but it was also enjoyable.”

Buckley hadn’t seen Freyer’s classic before she was approached to write the piece, but the strong imagery and emotion resonated with her from the beginning and she paid particular attention to the vocal elements of the composition; a soaring soprano evoking the devotion of Joan of Arc throughout her trial, torture and execution. Freyer famously based his script on the actual historical records of her trial.

“The vocal part is the voice of Joan really, all the way through,” Buckley says. Ecclesiastical music was a departing point for capturing the religious fervour of the French catholic martyr: “I incorporated part of the Requiem Mass to portray her feelings through the trial.”

Buckley’s inclusion of pipe organ in the piece also adds to the religious overtones and simultaneously limits performances, fittingly, to churches that have a pipe organ. The piece has been performed in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and Triskel Christchurch in Cork, and twice in Union Chapel in London.

Buckley, from a family of nine children, four of whom are now full-time musicians, was fascinated by movie scores from a young age and has worked on many film projects, as well as composing for theatre.

She’s constantly aware of the interplay between her work and the visual elements of a film, and doesn’t want to overshadow the intentions of the director, particularly important in the case of Joan of Arc as Dreyer himself never commissioned music for the film, and wanted it to be played in silence.

“The nature of my music is quite restrained and subtle. I’m always conscious that the film is number one priority and visually what’s coming across is central, so I’m definitely supporting what’s already there.”

  • The Passion of Joan of Arc will be screened with a live performance in St Peter’s Church, Bandon, as part of Engage Arts Festival on Thursday

Other Bandon highlights

Katie Kim with Crash Ensemble

Fans of Katie Kim’s subtle yet deft folksy pop are in for a preview of her recently completed third album, Salt, which is set for release next month, when she takes to the stage with the festival’s artists-in- residence, Crash Ensemble, for some special arrangements of songs from the new album.

  • Friday at 9pm in The Court House, tickets €15.

You Have It All Backwards

A one-woman play telling the timely tale of a woman’s journey from university lecturer in Syria to shop cleaner in Ireland, You Have It All Backwards is performed by Bandon’s own Pauline O’Driscoll, who has most recently appeared TV3’s Smalltown.

  • Sunday at 9pm in the Town Hall, tickets €10.

Junk Ensemble

Twin sisters, former artists-in-residence at Tate Britain and directors of dance companyJunk Ensemble, Jessica and Megan Kennedy, will appear in conversation with artist Anne Ffrench to discuss the cross-over between dance theatre, visual art and installation in performance.

  • Sunday at 3pm in the Allin Institute, free event.



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