Pianist Stuart Oderman lives in the classical past. Not that of Bach or Mozart, but instead, that of Rudolf Valentino, Lillian Gish, and other stars of the silver screen. For the past 45 years, Oderman, 64, has traveled the United States and Europe providing piano accompaniment for silent films.
Oderman accompanies the 1921 classic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at 3 p.m. Sunday in Bowling Green State University's Gish Film Theater.
Accompanying silent film is like putting "mustard on a sandwich. You don't even notice it unless it isn't there," Oderman said last week by phone from his home in East Orange, N.J.
"You have to be subtle. The music is important because it establishes the mood and comments on the action, but you have to watch out that it doesn't overpower the film. You try to play what is good for the film and what people don't know. You don't want people humming along or tapping their feet."
It was at New York's Museum of Modern Art that Oderman, then all of 14, met silent film star Lillian Gish. "She told me that I belonged in school and I told her that I wanted to learn to play piano for silent films. So, she took me by the hand and walked me down to Arthur Kleiner, the museum's pianist. Then she said, 'Mr. Kleiner, my young friend wants to play for the silent films.'●"
And that was that. Kleiner became Oderman's teacher; Oderman and Gish began a written correspondence that continued for years.
The movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is based on the antiwar novel of the same name by Vincent Blasco Ibanez, who drew imagery from the Book of Revelations as well as the horrors of World War I. Told is the story of an Argentine family with European roots caught on different sides of the conflict. Rudolf Valentino, in the role that made him a leading man, portrays Julio Destroyes, dissolute playboy-turned-valiant-soldier.
In accompanying the film, Oderman draws material from a variety of sources. Prominently featured is composer Andre Previn's score from director Vincente Minnelli's commercially unsuccessful 1959 remake (with the same name, but set in World War II). Expect to hear Valentino's famous tango scene accompanied by the Argentine classics "El Chocolo" and "La Cumpasita," both pieces the actor used in stage performances. Oderman also draws from period music and improvises. Always, he works to be totally in step with the story's nuances.
Pianist Stuart Oderman accompanies the 1921 silent film classic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at 3 p.m. Sunday in BGSU's Gish Film Theater and Gallery, First Floor, Hanna Hall.
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