Jeanne d'Arc in the film by Carl Th. Dreyer

Voices of Light

NEW REASEARCH: Voices of Light was not only inspired by the film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc , but also polyphonic medieval music

Minimalism, New Simplicity and Simple Living…All is reflected in the music of Richard Einhorn: Voices of Light, which was inspired by the silent movie of Carl Th. Dreyer: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. And the beautiful polyphonic medieval music of the motet. New research by professor Rachel May Golden from the University of Tennessee, sheds light on the inspirational sources of the music of Eindhorn.


Widely viewed as a cinematic tour de force, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), a depiction of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc, was the first portrayal on film of the saint following her canonization in 1920.1 Although not well known in popular culture, the film enjoys much critical acclaim and scholarly commentary due to its emotional power and Dreyer’s innovative cinematography.

When New York-based composer Richard Einhorn (b. 1952) first viewed La Passion in 1988, the movie had a deep impact on him. In response, he composed Voices of Light (premiered 1994), an opera-oratorio for orchestra, chorus, and four vocal soloists that drew inspiration from the film’s “strange and deeply ambiguous material.”2 In addressing La Passion’s themes, particularly Joan’s experiences as a religious visionary, Einhorn sought in his composition to comment on the film, not as a subordinate to the primary action, but rather as a contrapuntal partner in an interactive montage. In performance, the oratorio is accompanied by the projection of Dreyer’s film, creating a multimedia artwork in which a layered, technological space links a medieval past to a collection of later presents: Dreyer’s, Einhorn’s, and ours.

Painting of Jeanne d'Arc c. 1485. An artist's interpretation, since the only known direct portrait has not survived © Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490
Painting of Jeanne d’Arc c. 1485. An artist’s interpretation, since the only known direct portrait has not survived
© Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490

The resulting synthesis of Voices of Light and La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc reinvents the motet, a medieval vocal genre distinguished by a multilingual, polytextual, and intricately layered architecture playing with different poetic genres, languages and sounds. The combined music of Voices–Passion constructs commentary over preexisting foundations, utilizes contemporary technologies, collapses disparate time periods, explores gender ambiguities, and speaks through multiple languages and voices. Dreyer’s film and Einhorn’s score reflect and complement one another as they create a contemporary, motet-like structure in multimedia, one that proclaims a mosaic of meanings and embraces contradictions.


The article contextualizes the work of Einhorn in both a medieval and modern context; at the same time it tells the musical history of the Motet. Finally it invites us to listen to the music of Eindhorn while watching the silent movie of Carl Th. Dreyer. Unfortunately this “package” is not available on the market, but must be construed by the modern watcher/listener


Einhorn: Voices of Light - CoverPolyphonies of Sound and Space: Motet, Montage, Voices of Light, and La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
By Rachel May Golden
In: Musical Quarterly 2013, online Nov 25, 2013


Voices of Light
Recorded and performed by the Netherlands Radio Choir, Anonymous 4, Susan Narucki, Ronald Hoogeveen, Corrie Pronk, et al.
Sony Classical 1995
ASIN: B0000029NX
Available as DVD, CD and MP3

A sample of Richard Einhorn: Voices of Light can be heard at YouTube


La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
By Carl Th. Dreyer
There is no evidence Carl Th. Dreyer thought of a specific score of music while he created his filmic masterpiece.

Modern Mystics, Medieval Saints
By Gwendoly Morgan
In: Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages. Ed. by tom Shippey and Martin Arnold.
Series: Studies in Medievalism
Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2003

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