In memoriam: Henny Vrienten

Monday 25 April, it was announced that Henny Vrienten has passed away at the age of 73. A special bond existed between Vrienten and the film museum; at the invitation of the museum, the Doe Maar frontman and composer wrote new scores for silent films from the collection, including Beyond the Rocks, a long-lost classic starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson, screened in Cannes.

By Eye Editors26 April 2022

Still from Let the Music Dance (Pim de la Parra, 1990)

After Doe Maar split up, Henny Vrienten (1948-2022) enjoyed a rich career as a solo artist, producer and film composer. He wrote music for films such as Abeltje, The Discovery of Heaven, Pietje Bell and Spoorloos; he also put his musical signature under TV programmes such as Sesame Street and Klokhuis.

Less well-known is Vrienten's interest in the history of silent film, one of Eye Filmmuseum's most important film collections.

Heart-breaking

In the 1990s, the musician accepted an invitation from Nederlands Filmmuseum's programmer-curator Peter Delpeut to write a new score for the short silent film Een telegram uit Mexico (1914, Louis Chrispijn). Vrienten was also in the orchestra that accompanied the film live – newspaper Het Parool reported Vrienten's 'heart-breaking tunes' on the harmonica that provided the western-like production with atmosphere.

Much attention was also paid to Vrienten's contribution to Zeemansvrouwen (1930, Henk Kleinman), a gripping melodrama about an Amsterdam folk woman who has to choose between 'the depraved father of her children and a faithful sailor', as the film description states.

Still from Zeemansvrouwen
Still from Zeemansvrouwen

Kleinman was partly inspired by stylistic innovations in Soviet film and Walter Ruttmann's 'big city symphony' Berlin – Die Sinfonie der Großstadt.

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Although originally intended as a sound film, Zeemansvrouwen was released as a silent film with live orchestral accompaniment. In 2003, the film museum decided to provide the production with sound. Under the direction of theatre director Lodewijk de Boer, and with the help of a lip reader, actors Jeroen Krabbé, Nelly Frijda, and Huib Broos recorded the dialogues.

Henny Vrienten composed a suitable score that does justice to both the dramatic content of the screenplay and the idea of a modernist urban symphony.

You can still watch Zeemansvrouwen on Eye Film Player:

Still from Zeemansvrouwen

Henny Vrienten explains why this film is his favourite and how he approached the project:

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Love and desire

A next project was Vrienten's score for Beyond the Rocks (1922, Sam Wood), with superstars Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in the lead roles; the tale of impossible love and desire is the only film in which Swanson and Valentino can be admired together.

The film was thought to be lost for decades until several cans of film turned up during an inventory of an estate in the collection. The restoration by the film museum became high-profile, and in 2005 it was featured in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival programming.

Not undisputed

For Beyond the Rocks, Henny Vrienten wrote a new score, a lyrical composition: dreamy-romantic but also lively, especially through the use of environmental sounds such as hoofbeats, rippling water, the starting of a car or a barking dog.

The choice to add sound effects to a silent film was not without controversy. In more purist restoration circles, the chosen working method was subject to strong criticism, but it is a sign of Vrienten's musical idiosyncrasy that he did not want to commit himself to the do's and don'ts of the specialists. Taking your audience on a musical journey, that's what it was all about – as singer/bassist of Doe Maar and as a film composer.

Scores by Henny Vrienten, commissioned bsy the Netherlands Film Museum

1993

Een telegram uit Mexico (1914, Louis Chrispijn)

2003

Zeemansvrouwen (1930, Henk Kleinman)

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2005

Het geheim van Delft (1917, Maurits Binger)

2005

Beyond the Rocks (1922, Sam Wood)

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