Organist's artistry brings classic silent movie to life

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David Briggs, one of the greatest exponents of improvisation on the organ, brought a silent movie classic to life at a special screening in The Leys Chapel.

Mr Briggs, Artist in Residence at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York and Organist Emeritus of Gloucester Cathedral, introduced the film, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920) and explained the art and appeal of musical improvisation.

“There’s something quite exhilarating about it, making a film score in the moment, capturing the colour of the film, appealing to the audience and expanding the emotional impact of the film. The visuals and the music should be symbiotically aligned and become one piece of art.”

He made full use of the range of the Leys Chapel’s recently-acquired Viscount electronic organ, conjuring the moods and characters of the film from the domestic refinement of Dr Jekyll’s sweet fiancée to the sinister gloom of backstreet opium dens, from the nobility of Dr Jekyll’s devoted treatment of his poor patients to his terrifying evil as his alter ego, Mr Hyde. Music lovers were amused by Mr Briggs’s occasional subtle interweaving of musical passages from various genres.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been adapted for the big screen many times. The version screened in the Chapel starred silent screen legend John Barrymore. It is one of several silent classics in Mr Briggs’s repertoire, which includes The Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre DameNosferatuJeanne d’ArcMetropolis and Charlie Chaplin films.

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