LP Album Cover:
Passages from Finnegans Wake

    Elliot Kaplan

A Note On The Music

for the film
Passages from Finnegans Wake
by Mary Ellen Bute


  Elliot Kaplan was both composer and conductor for "Passages from Finnegans Wake". According to Kit Smyth Basquin's Introductory Notes to the film, the orchestral part of Kaplan's original score was recorded in five hours by a 19 member orchestra. Kaplan included some unusual instruments to maintain the flavor of Joyce's eclectic musical allusions.

Kaplan prepared a short essay, "A Note On The Music", detailing his aesthetic approach to the filmscore. The essay was reproduced almost in its entirety on the album cover of the film LP soundtrack, which is pictured below. We were fortunate to be able to read the entire essay. The lone, absent paragraph references Wagner's dramatic opera "Tristan und Isolde":

The longest and purest allusion is to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde". This is mandated by the film's virtually complete reconstruction of that opera's characters, setting and symbols during the dream-fantasy of Finnegan in which he sees himself as King Mark, Wagner's benign third character.

We don't know why the essay was truncated, whether it was excised due to aesthetic or merely practical reasons. In any case, the final version of Kaplan's
"A Note On The Music" is below:

Elliot Kaplan: A Note On The Music

Joyce studded the text of "Finnegans Wake" with allusions to existing pieces of music. These constant subtle and disguised, as well as very obvious, allusions constitute an important sub-language, the knowledge of which helps greatly in the full appreciation of both the details of meaning and the ambiance of the total work.

In writing the score to the film version, therefore, the big decision which had to be faced was how to incorporate the important musical allusions while maintaining as the uppermost aesthetic consideration the need for it to work as film music.

The result takes the form of a continuous original film score during which, at spaced out intervals, and as dictated by the textual allusions, some 26 of the musical references are spotlighted or woven into the orchestral texture.

Other of the allusions encompass Irish folk and popular tunes, "pop" songs of Joyce's own period, concert, operatic and patriotic songs and pieces.

However, the main theme, ("march-Theme from Finnegans Wake") which is used throughout in connection with Finn himself, is original. This theme is developed throughout the whole film, but is not played out totally until the very end after Finnegan has waked fully, and has strode into his sunlit reality.


LP Album cover:
Passages from Finnegans Wake
Label: RCA Red Seal
Date: 1967
from the WFMU Beware of the Blog by Jeff Grimshaw
September 23, 2007, 365 Days #266 - Passages from Finnegans Wake