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University’s world-renowned composer scores soundtrack to highly-anticipated film on Monet

Dr Stephen Baysted

AN ACADEMIC of the University of Chichester who has composed the soundtracks to award-winning films and videogames has spoken of his latest work on French Impressionist Claude Monet - to be released into cinemas this month.

Dr Stephen Baysted, Reader in Film Composition in the Department of Creative and Digital Technologies, recorded the music and backing tracks for I, Claude Monet by renowned director Phil Grabsky. The film is a detailed biopic of one of the most significant artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is released in cinemas worldwide from Tuesday 21 February.

Shot on location in Paris, London, Normandy, and Venice, the film traces Monet’s troubled artistic and personal life from his childhood in Le Havre using his letters and other private writings through his turbulent poverty-stricken period in Argentueil to more prosperous times at Giverny where, eventually, his work would be celebrated and his legacy assured.

Narrated by multiple Olivier award-winning Henry Goodman I, Claude Monet brings new insight into the artist’s battle with depression, his bouts of loneliness and self-doubt, and his struggle to reconcile his perception of the world with what he was able to reproduce on the canvas. The film marks Dr Baysted’s fourth collaboration with Phil Grabsky and his Exhibition on Screen project which brings exhibitions, art documentaries, and artist biographies to audiences throughout the world through the medium of cinema.

Using the very latest in high definition camera and broadcast technologies, I, Claude Monet is an immersive cinematic experience drawing viewers into the heart of the most iconic scenes in the history of western art. The score fuses period French piano repertoire researched, curated, and adapted with a series of experimental “stream-of-consciousness” improvisations which, according to Dr Baysted, are stylistically congruent.

Dr Stephen Baysted in Air Edel studios

He adds: “Music written for film specifically follows the narrative arc of the material on screen and it is usually carefully synchronised to the moving image in order to underpin or emphasize significant moments of action and to convey to the audience an appropriate emotional response to it. Conventionally when composing for film you must determine the eventual style, tempo, and pacing by analyzing each scene in minute detail, deciding where - and when - the most significant points of action occur.

“You organize your music in such a way that it matches the overarching shape and content of the scene. Obviously time becomes a critically important factor governing and indeed determining the form of the music, the composer is always extremely conscious of every single frame of the film that elapses.”

The music shadows the trajectory of Monet’s biography, reflects the artist’s state of mind and responds directly to the subject matter of the paintings. Recorded and mixed at Air-Edel Studios in London, the soundtrack will be released on the RedRocca label in February, and features performances by the University of Chichester’s Head of Vocal Studies Susan Legg (piano) and Peter Gregson (cello).

I, Claude Monet

Dr Baysted continues: “In this film I wanted to explore a very different process, one that wasn’t restricted by an over-analytical approach. During my first viewing of the film I recorded my initial spontaneous musical responses to each scene which meant that I was simply reacting to the narrative, the visual content, and the prevailing emotional context as I encountered it.

“I didn’t play to a metronome and the music as a result has a natural ebb and flow to it, unfolding and evolving from moment to moment. This approach is not without its challenges: translating free-form improvisation to notated score so other musicians are able to record it in the studio is very difficult and is riven with compromises. On the one hand, the notated music must make sense in itself and be ‘playable’, but on the other one must not destroy the fluidity and immediacy of one’s original musical responses.”

For more about Dr Baysted and his research at the University of Chichester go to www.chi.ac.uk/staff/stephen-baysted or see www.stephenbaysted.com.

Alternatively to find out more about I, Claude Monet visit exhibitiononscreen.com/en-uk/our-films/season-4/i-claude-monet.