Friday, November 02, 2007

The Constant Nymph

(Not my nickname, though should be at the moment! :-) ) No, The Constant Nymph is one of the rarest among Korngold's movies. How extracts found their way onto Youtube is a source of some wonder, as I'm told only one print exists, on 16mm film. When I last looked, there were 3 clips. All of a sudden, a whole lot more have appeared!

The film is based on the book and play by Margaret Kennedy. The novel is, as far as I can tell, virtually forgotten, but was a huge favourite of mine when I was about 12, when my mother - who adored it and Joan Fontaine and must surely have seen the film - bought me a copy that she stumbled across in a second-hand bookshop.

The story concerns an eccentric musical family, the Sangers; the 14-year-old daughter, Tessa, falls desperately in love with a gifted, unworldy young composer called Lewis who is in his twenties (he looks older in the film). But Tessa, though experiencing a woman's emotions, is still a little girl. Her heart condition includes not only intense passions but a physical weakness as well. Lewis doesn't take her affection seriously; he decides to marry her cousin, Florence, a sophisticated, rather too down-to-earth woman his own age. Disaster befalls the Sanger family and the all-but-uneducated Tessa is dispatched to boarding school. Eventually, if I remember correctly, she runs away; and ultimately Lewis realises his mistake, leaves his wife and elopes with Tessa; but it's too late. In the book, she attempts to open a very stiff window and the effort affects her heart. She collapses and dies in her beloved's arms. In the film, however, Lewis composes a cantata entitled 'Tomorrow', which goes through various permutations during the course of the action, its growth mirroring the progress of the composer's heart: first a piano trio, then a modernistic flood that Tessa loathes ("Banketybanketybang!") and ultimately the full-blooded Korngold work for mezzo-soprano and chorus that will have its FIRST EVER UK PERFORMANCE TONIGHT at the Festival Hall. And Tessa, listening on the radio, expires to its strains.

Excuse me while I go and find the Kleenex.
[snuffle. howl. sob. go back to the beginning of the book and read it all over again...]

...Here is Tessa, saying (among other things) 'Banketybanketybang!' The pianist on the soundtrack is Korngold himself. The musical attitudes espoused in the dialogue are likewise Korngold's - he had quite a hand in shaping the scripts and action of certain of his movies, was present at story conferences and made many suggestions. Especially here.