On Friday, Oct. 20, organist Alex Gilson offers a special musical evening at First Presbyterian Church, Davenport, performing his own original musical score to the nearly century-old silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”
The film will be projected onto the sanctuary’s big screen, and Gilson will play the church’s magnificent 61-rank Casavant pipe organ. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, and are available at the door. In the spirit of providing an authentic silent movie house experience, popcorn and concessions will be available for purchase.
“The Passion of Joan of Arc” is considered a masterpiece of early film. The 1928 historical drama, based on transcripts from the trial of Joan of Arc in the 15th century, was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starred Renée Jeanne Falconetti in the title role.
Falconetti’s portrayal is considered one of the greatest performances in cinematic history, according to a church release. The original musical score does not survive, so Gilson has composed and improvised his own to enhance the drama of the film.
A 1997 review of the film by Roger Ebert said:
“You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti. In a medium without words, where the filmmakers believed that the camera captured the essence of characters through their faces, to see Falconetti in Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928) is to look into eyes that will never leave you.
“Falconetti (as she is always called) made only this single movie. ‘It may be the finest performance ever recorded on film,’ wrote Pauline Kael. She was an actress in Paris when she was seen on the stage of a little boulevard theater by Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968), the Dane who was one of the greatest early directors,” Ebert wrote.
“It was a light comedy, he recalled, but there was something in her face that struck him: ‘There was a soul behind that facade.’ He did screen tests without makeup, and found what he sought, a woman who embodied simplicity, character and suffering.”
Alex Gilson has served as assistant director of music and principal organist at First Presbyterian Church (1702 Iowa St., Davenport) since 2018. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music with a master’s degree in Organ Performance and Literature.
While at Eastman, he studied organ with Edoardo Bellotti. He graduated from the University of North Texas in 2016 from the studio of Dr. Jesse Eschbach with a bachelor’s degree in both Organ Performance and Jazz Studies (Piano Concentration).
While at UNT, he served as Organ Scholar at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas under the direction of Scott Dettra and Graham Schulz.
In 2019, Alex embarked on a masterclass and performance tour of France and England as the 2018 First Prize winner of the French Organ Seminar Young Artist Competition. Gilson advocates for the organ and its deserved place in the modern world by concertizing and showcasing its theological implications and purposes.