Monday, July 18, 2016

The Little Mermaid, ie Malá morská víla (Liska, 1976)

     Zdenek Liska had a notable filmography with the avant-garde stop-motion film-maker Jan Švankmajer, but he also wrote a delightful score to Karel Kachyna's Czech adaptation of Han Christian Anderson's "Malá morská víla"- i.e. "The Little Mermaid".

     As in the original story, a Mermaid encounters a human Prince while visiting the surface world.  She rescues him from death, but when he wakes up, he mistakes a newly-arrived human girl for his savior.  Later, in order to be with the Prince, the Mermaid visits a Sea Witch and sacrifices her aquatic form (and voice).  All goes well until the Prince marries the wrong girl.  In the end, the Mermaid tragically chooses to die rather than harm the Prince.

     Liska uses a variety of instruments in the score including some unusual synthesizer (Moog?) textures, treated with reverb to create an "underwater" flavor.  The Sea King's celebrations are accompanied by on-screen musicians who play conch shells, and these are presented in the score with flutes and hand percussion.  The songs sung by the Mermaid are enchanting, but also sophisticated, using some exotic melodic ideas.  Several themes and textures include:

  • Pendant theme: Vibrating organ drone with swelling textures.
  • Mermaid theme: A childlike song which includes some ethnic melodic twists.
  • Sea theme: Sea King's royal theme, opens with 4 rising notes, heard in the Main Title.
  • Announcement themes: Short fanfares used to announce the arrival of the various families and rulers of the sea.
  • Sea Witch theme: Somewhat melancholy song which the Mermaid had overheard being sung by the Sea Witch.
  • Siren theme: Used to lure sailors to their deaths, choral and ethereal, derived from Sea Witch theme.
  • Prince theme: Opens with an accent followed by a 4-note figure (rising and then with a falling tail), somewhat fateful.

     The tracks below are listed in chronological film sequence. A few tracks include the Mermaid's vocal track, and these I put at the end (tracks 4, 11).
Trk Dur Title Film Sequence/Themes
1 4:02 Malá Mořská Víla 0:00: The Sea King throws a sword at the screen.  Cut to waves crashing on rocks, distorted beach camera shot with main titles, credits over waves crashing on a beach.
Pendant theme as organ drones, Sea theme (opening rising 4-note figure), choral glissandi/accents, theme, bridge, theme recap, coda.
3:02: As the camera gradually pans underwater, a voice-over explains that an aquatic race populates the seas.  The scene lands on 2 sisters at the bottom of the sea.
Sea theme coda developed on subdued choir/winds/timpani, underwater pops/Pendant theme organ drones.
5 2:20 The Pendant / The Little Mermaid (Theme) The Mermaid sings a song to her father the Sea King.  Meanwhile the King uses his magic ring to observe a ship on the surface crash and sink (version without vocal).
Pendant theme organ drones, Mermaid theme in strings/bass/guitar/synth, high percussion leads to harpsichord, then brass/percussion/bass, recap percussion/harpsichord coda
3 2:46 Pearls From The Deep 0:00: The various peoples of the sea gather and exchange gifts/food.  The Sea King displays a ship's masthead and other things he has obtained from the humans.  They joke about the humans' misconceptions of underwater people.  The Sea Prince talks to the Mermaid.
Sea theme in flute/hand percussion/synth/bass, crossfaded into electronic pulses/sliding ambient drones.
2:11: The Mermaid's sisters playfully throw pearls at her and the Sea Prince.  The king displays his collection of human weapons.
Metallic percussion/ambient drones, Pendant theme organ drones/underwater pops.
7 3:11 The Sixth Sister 0:00: The Sea Prince tells the Mermaid about her father's magic viewing room.
Pendant theme organ drones/electronic pulses/sliding ambient drone.
0:35: The Sea Prince departs.  All of the mer-people begin to ascend stairs towards the surface. 
Announcement Theme 1 in flutes/bass, tic toc guitar/hand percussion/ambient sounds, joined by strings.
1:48: The Mermaid stays behind in order to explore her father's collection.
Electronic pulses/sliding ambient drones, scuffling sounds.
2:41: The Mermaid enters the forbidden cave.
Mysterious strings dialogue with slow tic toc guitar/perc., underwater pops.
8 1:38 Statue Of Salt 1 The Mermaid comes across a beautiful statue of a woman.  Her father appears and tells her that it is her mother.
Mysterious strings/underwater pops, Pendant theme organ drones with pops developed into a rhythm, pops and ambient accents.
9 1:22 Aquatic Babička (Theme) 0:00: The Sea King's musicians play.  The Mermaid talks about her magic pendant, which glows.
Announcement Theme 2 (Crown Prince of the Sunset Sea) in flutes/bass.
0:22: The Mermaid sings the song of the Sea Witch to her grandmother (no vocal).
Sea Witch theme in harpsichord/strings/cymbals.  Theme developed with accents/swells/wind sounds.
6 1:19 The Song Of The Siren (Theme) The (human) Prince hears the Mermaid's song and tells his ship's crew to pursue it.
Siren theme in gliding choral textures, ambient textures/pops/glass clinking.
19 0:31 Ascension To Fireworks The Sea King tells everyone to ascend to see the fireworks.  The Mermaid is amazed.
Harpsichord/organ accents with tic toc guitar/hand perc./synth accents, ending in strings accent.
10 0:48 In Safe Hands On the shore, the Mermaid cares for the rescued Prince and kisses him.  She sees a rooster.  The Princess and her friends approach on horseback.
Prince theme in harpsichord in 4-note figure (rising-falling), with zigzag falling figure, mysterious string textures becoming darker.
22 0:23 Behind The Rock The Princess finds the Prince lying on the shore, as the Mermaid hides behind a rock.
Poignant strings derived from Mermaid sub-theme.
13 1:05 Statue Of Salt 2 After the Mermaid has disappeared, the Sea King visits the mother's statue, and then leaves.  The Mermaid returns from rescuing the Prince.
Pendant theme organ drones/underwater popping developed into rhythm, joined by echoed ambient sounds/roaring.
12 2:04 The Black Sea The Mermaid sits on ocean rocks and pines for the departed human Prince.  She daydreams about different natural locales on land.
Prince theme in vibraphone/bass/hand perc., joined by flute, clarinet, developed with strings/perc./flute/clarinet/music box/synth.
2 1:28 Witches Firewall The Mermaid carefully ascends a staircase to the Sea Witch's cave while evading flames.
Underwater popping in rhythm, developed with high ambient accents/hissing.
14 1:31 Čarodějnice's Castle 0:00: She asks to become human, but the Witch demands to have her song (voice) in return.
Sound effects/ambient textures, with howling/whirring sounds/accents.
1:05: The Sea Witch prepares a magic drink for the Mermaid.
Pendant theme organ drone joins.
21 1:16 The Voice The Mermaid sacrifices her voice so she can become human.
Sound effects/ambient textures, underwater pops, water sounds, Pendant theme organ drones with halting solo vocal chant.
17 3:25 Games / Echoes The Prince and his retinue playfully duel and flirt.  The Prince hears echoes from the Siren song, drawing him away from the party and towards the beach.
Medieval dance rhythm with winds/lute/percussion intercut with Siren theme in gliding choral textures and clapping, ending with gong cadence.
15 1:10 The Song Of The Siren (Song) The Prince leaves his retinue and is drawn to the beach.  He sees the Mermaid land on the sand, unconscious and transformed.
Siren theme blended with Sea Witch song vocal, clapping, joined by bass flourishes, a gong leads to a scream.
16 0:10 Prince Of The Southern Empire The Prince and the Mermaid (now human) emerge from the palace.
Regal bells texture.
18 2:06 The Kiss 0:00: On the beach, the Prince tells the Mermaid that they will have a great future together.  She kisses him and walks towards the sea and finds a dagger from her father.
Beach sounds/synth swells, strings/harpsichord rhythm, Mermaid theme fragments in strings/guitar/ambient textures leading to climax.
1:53: A ship is seen on the ocean, carrying the Mermaid with the Prince on an expedition.
Creaking sounds.
23 5:57 Sunken Dagger / The Little Mermaid (Song) 0:00: After the Prince gives up the Mermaid for the Princess, the Sea King and his people are seen on the rocks.
Accented and percussive variation of Sea theme.
0:52: The Mermaid is seen on the ship with her dagger among the sleeping crew.  Her father urges her to kill the Prince and Princess before it's too late.  She kisses the Prince instead. 
Mermaid theme fragment in strings, becoming poignant with subtle harpsichord/piano ornaments, swells, male choir/low organ/cymbal, poignant strings becoming sweetened with choir/synth/bass
3:20: The sun rises and the Mermaid is seen drowned in the ocean.
Joined by high winds/synth swells, Pendant theme organ drones.
4:01: The Prince looks for the Mermaid but only sees flowers on the ocean.  The flowers prevent the ship from being destroyed on the rocks.
Mermaid theme with vocal/winds/bass/synth/strings, joined by trumpet ornaments/percussion, sweet strings, Pendant theme organ drones.
24 0:21 The Pendant Final Pendant theme organ drones.
20 0:46 Bird In A Cage Unused: Sound effects/ambient textures. 
4 3:37 King Of The Ocean The mermaid sings a song to her father the Sea King.  Meanwhile the King uses his magic ring to observe a ship on the surface crash and sink.
Ambient textures, underwater popping, Mermaid theme in solo voice, joined by strings/synth, brass/percussion/bass, 2nd verse joined by trumpet ornaments, ending in solo voice/ambient sounds.
11 2:31 Aquatic Babička (Song) 0:00: Source music: the Sea King's musicians play.  The Mermaid talks about her magic pendant, which glows.
Announcement Theme 2 (Crown Prince of the Sunset Sea) in flutes/bass.
0:16:The Mermaid sings the song of the Sea Witch to her grandmother.
Ambient sounds, Sea Witch theme in strings/perc/harpsichord with vocal, wind sounds.

Soundtrack at
The Little Mermaid, ie Malá morská víla on YouTube (full film)
Zdenek Liska Wiki

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