The Legend. The Film. The Music.


Abel Gance, Carl Davis, The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra

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A monumental film. A brilliant score. An exciting location. Napoleon is an event which no film or music lover can afford to miss. To create his masterpiece, the silent movie Napoleon from 1927, director Abel Gance pioneered a number of revolutionary film and editing techniques, including fast cutting, moving cameras and polyvision recording and screening. The result is a dynamic dramatisation of Napoleon's early years, his military campaigns and his amorous conquests. Carl Davis' magnificent film score, which includes music from Beethoven, Mozart and Davis' own compositions, blends seamlessly with Gance's epic film. Performed live by a full orchestra, this promises to be a spectacle without compare.

‘The measure for all other films, forever.’

Los Angeles Times

Background Information

French director Abel Gance's epic silent movie Napoleon (1927) is widely regarded as one of the highlights in film history. For this screening at Amsterdam's Ziggo Dome, Carl Davis' score for the film

will be performed live by the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Davis himself. In his masterpiece, Gance, whose other famous film J'accuse was presented at the Holland Festival in 2009, recounts Napoleon's early years, from his childhood in Corsica to his lightning career in the French army, his military campaigns and his amorous conquests. Being the writer and director of the production and determined to produce a film which in its grandeur would match its subject, Gance surrounded himself with some of the big names in French film at the time, including Alexander Benois and Simon Feldman. Gance introduced a range of technical innovations for Napoleon, including the use of colour, widescreen, stereoscopics, fast cutting and visual effects, but the most important novelty was the experimental use of moving cameras. At the time, the camera was mostly stationary in film making, but Gance wanted his audience to be pulled into the action more by the medium. Taking the camera off the tripod and mounting it on wheels, dollies, on the back of a horse and even on a flying trapeze, Gance created dynamic shots of scenery and action scenes, close ups of characters in movement, underwater shots etc. Initially, the complete life of Napoleon was to be filmed in six parts, but Gance had used up the whole budget before the first part had been finished, forcing him to end the film with Napoleon's Italian campaign. However, he did make a grand spectacle of this last act, developing his polyvision format, a technique which allowed him to create a triptych filmed by three cameras and screened by three projectors simultaneously.


The film premiered at the Palais Garnier, then the home of the Paris Opera, on 7 April 1927. The film had a length of three hours and forty minutes, but was cut to a shorter length for various subsequent screenings. The version which was released in the United States was cut to just 80 minutes, with the triptych scenes completely omitted. On top of that, in America the film had to compete with the first talkies, sound movies, which were just beginning to emerge. The end result was that despite its innovative merits, the film was received rather indifferently and was soon taken out of circulation. Gance's epic movie had come too late and ended up cut into various versions and fragments in film archives and private collections.

In 1954, The British collector, cinematographer and film historian Kevin Brownlow started collecting and reconstructing the film, soon helped by Gance himself. 25 years later, Brownlow's reconstruction of Napoleon was ready to be released, with the support of Thames Television, the British Film Institute, the Cinématèque Française and Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. Under Coppola an American version of the film was made, with a music score by his father Carmine Coppola. In England, Brownlow's long version was screened, with music by Carl Davis, who had created a score which was a mix of existing music mainly by composers from Napoleon's era and new, original music composed by Davis himself. Davis made extensive use of music by Beethoven, as Napoleon was an admirer and Napoleon's victory at Marengo had inspired Beethoven to write his Third Symphony, the Eroica. Davis completed his score with songs from the French Revolution (including the Marseillaise, which runs through his score as a sort of leitmotif) and folk music from Corsica, home of birth to 'Le petit Caporal'.

After restorations and recuts by Brownlow in 2000 and 2004, including the restoration of the original tinting of the film as carried out by Pathé Brothers, the current version of 5 hours and 32 minutes was screened in 2012 in the US and in 2013 in London. This meant that Carl Davis had to lengthen his score by more than 30 minutes. At Oakland's Paramount Theatre as well as at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the film, the music and the orchestra received standing ovations from a wildly enthusiastic audience, having witnessed an event they wouldn't have missed for the world.



Abel Gance (1889 – 1981) was a French film director, actor, producer and writer. In 1909 he acted in his first film, playing Molière; two years later he directed his first film, La Digue (ou pour sauver la

Hollande), about a dike in the Netherlands. In his scenarios and his films Gance conveys a very personal and romantic vision of historical figures, including Beethoven, Lucrezia Borgia, Cyrano de Bergerac, Mary Tudor and of course Napoleon. Over a period of sixty years Gance directed or produced some sixty films. He started out with a series of short films for Le Film Français, his film about Mary Tudor was a television production for ORTF. During WW1, Gance worked as a filmmaker for the French army's archives, filming footage of actual battles, which he later used for J'accuse (1919, shown at the Holland Festival in 2009), a film in which dead soldiers rise from their graves and march home to demand the horrors of the war are accounted for. J'accuse had a great impact at the time and received international distribution. Gance's next film, La Roue, was equally successful and impressive, especially due to its use of innovative lighting techniques and fast cutting.

As well as biopics about famous historical figures, other recurring themes in Gance's movies are danger (natural disaster in La Digue and La Fin du Monde, modern technology in La Roue), a glorification of the creative arts (La Dixième Symphonie, Un Grand Amour de Beethoven) and eroticism (La Dame aux Camelias, La Paradies Perdu, La Fin du Monde).

Abel Gance is now regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers in history. On a par with Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Napoleon is often quoted as the most important film from the silent era. Throughout his life, Gance strived for technological and artistic innovation, making him a unique figure in world cinema.


Carl Davis (1936) is an American composer and conductor, who is currently engaged with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Davis has written music for more than one hundred television programmes, mainly for the BBC, but he is most famous for the scores he has written for silent movies. As well as for Napoleon, he also composed the music for a number of reconstructed versions of silent movies newly released on DVD, including Ben Hur, The Phantom of the Opera and Chaplin's City Lights. In addition, he wrote musical scores for Champions (1983), Widows Peak (1994)and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981),which won him a BAFTA for Best Film Music. Davis collaborated with Paul McCartney on McCartney's fist classical work, entitled Liverpool Oratorio, which he wrote in 1991 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society.


The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra stands for tradition and innovation. Within this highly dynamic context the orchestra transmits the passion for live classical music to young and old alike. Comprising 85 musicians, the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra is a major, first-rate symphony orchestra. It aspires to bring live symphonic music to as many people as possible in its home province of Gelderland and beyond. Besides performing 100 symphonic concerts per year, the orchestra organises a large number of family concerts, educative concerts and special participatory projects for amateurs, in pursuit of its goal. It also records numerous CDs, both live and in the studio. As a result of all this the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra reaches an audience of over 400,000. The orchestra is renowned for its innovative activities, for which it has won various awards. Recently it introduced the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra LAB, a hothouse nurturing groundbreaking musical initiatives. Since 2011 the young and successful Antonello Manacorda has been the chief conductor of the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra.



film direction
Abel Gance
film score & conductor
Carl Davis
The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra
cast film
o.a. Albert Dieudonné (Napoleon Bonaparte), Edmond Van Daële (Maximilien de Robespierre), Alexandre Koubitzky (Georges Danton), Antonin Artaud (Jean-Paul Marat), Abel Gance (Louis Antoine Saint-Just), Gina Manès (Joséphine de Beauharnais), Suzanne Bianchetti (Marie Antoinette), Marguerite Gance (Charlotte Corday d’Armont), Yvette Dieudonné (Elisa Bonaparte)
film rights
American Zoetrope / The Film Preserve
music rights
Faber Music, for Carl Davis
film restauration
Kevin Brownlow, for British Film Institute and Photoplay Productions
film copy
Photoplay Productions, British Film Institute
Dick Moesker Projectie Techniek

This performance was made possible with support by