Music in Puppet Show

Issue #3-4 • 1110

In Uzbek music of the 20th century not only new styles and trends, but also new genres were born. Among them is music written for puppet shows for children. The history of the genre, the diversity of its themes and forms, and a wide range of composer solutions create a multi-plane picture. This genre that represents a synthesis of traditional music with the achievements of the global musical culture has become firmly entrenched in the arsenal of Uzbek composers.

Music is basically an integral element of almost any kind of folk performance, including puppet-show. Puppet theatre is musical by definition, because rhythm is intrinsic to its pantomime nature and pantomime puppet action is impossible without rhythm. Words pronounced sing-song and the dance – all these are the musical manifestations in a puppet-show.

Puppet performances widely employed popular tunes, songs and traditional dances. Yet these tunes had never been firmly attached to a particular show, as improvisation was the key element in puppet performances.

Music in the shows of maskaraboz and kizikchi had different functions: a background that could be associated with the action itself; framing (introduction and conclusion); an accompaniment to the play (there are only few isolated example of it).

In contemporary puppet show, and the Republican Puppet Theatre (RPT) is not an exception, music performs different functions: it is a commentator, an information communicator and a means of anticipating an action; besides, music also plays both its natural role and the role of compositionally uniting factor. It can help refine sound phenomena such as actual noises. However paradoxical it may be, but music can also function as silence. Music for the Republican Puppet Theatre was written by composers R. Vildanov, N. Zakirov, and A. Ergashev. But particularly colourful and unique pieces were created by A. Mansurov.

Mansurov is a well-known composer working in almost every genre: symphony, opera, chamber and instrumental music, songs (popular, for children and quires), music for radio shows, television, cinema and theatre. His favourite field of creative activity is music for children. “…Music for children is my creative hobby”, admits Mansurov. Specifically, it is music for puppet performances, i.e. applied music which Mansurov began to write in early 1980s. It is a musical for children called “Ilonshokh va uning amaldori ari khakida”; a soundtrack for the film “Prophet from Galatepe”; music for the play “Kungirokli yolgonchi”; for the puppet show “Afandining 41 pashasi”; music for the radio show “Mukhabbat”; opera for children and youth “Robot The Alien”; music for plays; and musicals “The Ring of Magrib Sorcerers, “Kachak Palvan and Garmsel”, “Ur, tukmok”, “Uchar kovush”, “Shukh shaitonchalar”, etc.

Like the plots of the tales, Mansurov’s music sparkles with humour and wit. Ability to make kind-hearted fun and clear laughter of children are typical of the composer’s musical style; even today he gives much of his creative energy to children’s music. One of his first works for the Tashkent puppeteers was music for the show called “41 Flies of Khoja Nasreddin” staged at the RPT in 1985. Dramaturgically, the show maintains the traditions of a national puppet show and has a prologue and an epilogue. At the beginning of the show musical accompaniment introduces the audience into the atmosphere of action, and at the end draws a conclusion and summarizes it.

Specificity of a puppet show (small stage, peculiarities of children’s perception) is such that sometimes the means of drama alone are not enough to help show creators fully expose the plot of a story and determine where the word and drama end and “music begins”. For example, in the scene where Nasreddin rides a donkey music functions so as to represent the movement: rhythmic and melodic pattern imitates the clatter of hoofs. Interestingly exercised is a scene where smart Nasreddin deservedly punishes the Bai and Kazi: punches and boxes are emphasized by sound effects in the musical score.

Unsophisticated plot of a puppet show requires additional means of expression, and music has become one of them. Tunes in the performance have a clear traditional character, are simple and easy to remember and use intonations, rhythms and types of Uzbek folklore. Besides illustrative functions, here we encounter music that functions as a sign, a symbol, a commentator; music is used to process noises and emphasize movement. The significance of the last function on stage is unquestionable. In the theatre, movements on stage are attached to the music. Thus, in a dynamically unfolding performance music facilitates dramaturgical development of the play; it assumes a form-shaping function, it exposes and clarifies the meaning of scenes and creates the mood and spirit of the play.

Musical comedy tale “Hit, Bludgeon, Hit!” is a musical staged at the RPT in 1989. It was demonstrated at different festivals and contests and sustained 40 productions in Bulgaria. Music often helps clarify the peripeteia of the story and complex and confusing actions of its characters. For this reason a system of leitmotifs and lettembres is introduced into the score. The latter, for instance, clearly divide the characters into positive and negative ones. Musical characteristics of the former are given by traditional instruments, while the latter are “voiced” by a flute and a synthesizer.

The score consists predominantly of complete “items”. It is done to make it more convenient for the show producer/director to changes the sequencing of scenes or items, if necessary. The activity of music in this play is manifested also in that it links – differently from a plot, of course – several visual sections. Whereas action connects separate visual sections following the principle of their causal link based on the role of particular characters, way of action, their proposed experiences, etc, music connects them by its expressiveness, its style, its national colouring, its leitmotifs.

In the “Hit, Bludgeon, Hit!” tale Mansurov has succeeded in creating a colourful musical dramaturgy by harmoniously combining folklore elements with modern composing techniques, as well as by shifting the timbers of European and traditional instruments.

In 1995 season the Republican Puppet Theatre produced a show called “Shykh shaitonchalar” [The Little Devils"]. With keen interest young spectators follow the amazing adventures of the characters and delight in the happy ending. The plot, as many other tales and stories for children, conveys the grain of truth that helps the young to think of matters such as friendship, loyalty, comradeship, justice.

The music is given a special sound by expressive character puppets, still and music, which is simple, “raised” and laconic, manifesting itself in the theme, rhythm and, finally, in the orchestra composition: bass-guitar, guitar, synthesizer, the timber of each of these instruments and the combination of these timbers.

Therefore, the crucial moment in productive use of music in a puppet show can only be achieved when the dramaturgical material itself is of sufficiently high quality. As S. Eisenstein correctly observed, this material, even without music, should already possess an art quality that would determine the character and functions of music. Owing to the skill of puppet-makers, an interesting script and music composed to meet a high professional standard, the most remarkable specimens of contemporary art are synthesized.

All mentioned shows are largely comedies, yet all of them are interpreted differently. The “41 Flies of Khoja Nasreddin” is a comedy of social orientation, the “Hit, Bludgeon, Hit!” is a humorous comedy, and “The Little Devils” is a lyrical-humorous and play-based show.

Music in a puppet show is intended for children and performances for children; therefore it should always be consistent with the needs, understanding and perception of young audience. Mansurov’s works do meet these requirements. He creates vivid musical (vocal and instrumental) characteristics. Touching upon the issue of themes, one should also underline things common to the music in all three plays: primarily these are expressiveness and laconicism justified by the specificity of a puppet theatre and the audience needs, for simple and laconic themes are easily understood by children.

The orchestra part in the scores of the plays is small (chamber set prevails), and in his later compositions Mansurov limited himself to two or three folk instruments combined with a synthesizer, which was dictated by circumstances (small hall and small stage). But most importantly, there is no need in orchestra-saturated sound, because in a puppet show conversational episodes are important, just as clear and comprehensible monologues and dialogues.

The Republican Puppet Theatre of Uzbekistan is a unique and interesting phenomenon in the art history of our country. Having evolved and developed on the basis of the national traditional theatre, it was enriched with the attainments of international contemporary art of puppeteers. With already long-established connections outside the country, the puppeteers take care of their strengthening and expanding. Numerous festivals, shows and contests have taken the Tashkent puppeteers to the global arena. One of the distinctive features of the Republican Puppet Theatre is that wherever Uzbek puppets go to, they always communicate with the audience in their native language. In France it is French, in England – English, in India – Hindi and Urdu, thus making the perception easier for young spectators.

Puppet show in general and the one in Tashkent in particular are also trying to address the issues of bringing up future generation, to teach people to love and understand beautiful and high art. Through the play and fun the puppets introduce children to literature and poetry, dance and music; they teach them how to think and analyze. The work of Uzbek puppeteers is highly professional; they “remember” and understand the language of childhood, when many things reach the consciousness through feelings and sensations.

The peculiar “Mansurov” style is so salient and vivid that a melody written by him, once played in a community, is remembered and passed “from mouth to mouth”. The “child face” of Mansurov’s music is by no means an indication of its primitivism, for his professional skill is in harmonious combination of Uzbek traditional music and the achievements of composing techniques of the 20th century, which opens new opportunities for the development of composer school in Uzbekistan.

In conclusion it should be noted that the cooperation between puppet theatres and professional composers brings excellent results and that puppeteers prefer to use “designer” music written specifically for a particular show.

Composers of the most diverse trends and different generations turned to this genre. Among them are V. Meyin, M. Burkhanov, S. Jalil, E. Kalandarov, F. Yanov-Yanovskiy, and of course A. Mansurov; during the last decade all of them purposefully developed a special genre concept, i.e. music for puppet shows.

Shoista Ganikhanova

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