Penderecki’s ‘The Devils of Loudun’ is the sleaziest, most depraved opera you’ll ever see

Obtaining the original cut of Ken Russell’s The Devils is still a royal pain in the ass. But it’s easy to see this gorgeous TV movie of Penderecki’s first opera, Die Teufel von Loudun, a 1969 studio production with the original cast, conductor and orchestra, subtitled in English.

Penderecki’s opera is based on the same stage play as Russell’s film: John Whiting’s adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun. All concern the real-life Satanic panic that gripped the French village of Loudun in 1632, when a whole house of Ursuline nuns was possessed by the devil, or so it was said, and their priest, Urbain Grandier, was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Frank Zappa named the record of this production of Penderecki’s opera—in particular, the exorcism by enema in Act II—as one of his favorites in a 1975 interview with Let It Rock:

The Devils Of Loudon: Krzysztof Penderecki. Because it’s also an extremely well-produced album and I think it’s an excellent piece of dramatic music. And also because Tatiana Troyanos who plays the main nun sounds absolutely marvellous during the enema scene. The story is about a hunch-backed nun who’s possessed by the Devil and has to have an exorcism. The exorcism involves the nun being given a hot herbal enema. In live performance the exorcism takes place behind a screen and you hear Tatiana singing and screeching whilst an orchestra plays enema music. You also hear the Devil chuckling from inside the nun’s bowel.

Ken Russell’s ending is quite special, of course, but Penderecki’s is no less terrifying. Cardinal Richelieu’s boys pull a reverse Wicker Man. Get ready to feel deeply uneasy!

Posted by Oliver Hall
08:07 am
Live performances of the terrifying nightmare music Kubrick selected for The Shining
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It may have warped me to a degree, but as a kid in a house with cable and HBO in the 80s, I was subjected, one summer, to at least a dozen viewings of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining.

To this day, I rank The Shining in my top five favorite films. I consider it a near-perfect piece of cinema, and a great deal of what I love and admire about the film has to do with its brilliant utilization of music.

The use of modern classical is similar to Kubrick’s “we’ll use what’s in my record collection” method of scoring 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though Kubrick selected the repertoire, music editor Gordon Stainforth can take credit for painstakingly matching musical passages to the motion picture. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind-Tourre additionally recorded new original works specifically for the film.

Before I had ever heard any avant-garde experimental or industrial music, this was the music that really spoke to me—as a (weird) kid—searching for a soundtrack that represented fear, alienation, and madness. The soundtrack to The Shining was my introduction to a whole world of 20th Century classical that sent me down a path to discovering some of my most-loved pieces and composers. I have The Shining to thank for introducing me to the work of Krzysztof Penderecki, my favorite composer.

The soundtrack remains one of my favorite, most-played albums in my collection. Due to licensing problems, it hasn’t been released on CD, but the vinyl still turns up if you look hard enough (but its rarely cheap).

The pieces found on the soundtrack album are, to my mind, almost inextricably linked to the images in the film. This is precisely why I recently set about hunting down some live video performances of these works, in an effort to deconstruct what makes this music so effective. I have to say, watching full orchestras perform these works is mind-blowing to me.

Collected here are live performances of almost all of the tracks from the soundtrack LP of The Shining. Even if you aren’t a fan of the film, you may want to cut off all the lights and play these in a darkened room for the ultimate Halloween-season soundtrack. It doesn’t get much more terrifying and madding than this. Put on some modern classical, be alone with your thoughts, and completely delve into madness.

Pleasant dreams.
Wendy Carlos “The Shining Main Theme”:

More music from ‘The Shining’ after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel
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