Max Havelaar of de koffieveilingen der Nederlandsche handelsmaatschappij

Georges Delerue

" Delerue felt the film didn't need an original score. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the music as heard in the movie

Max Havelaar of de koffieveilingen der Nederlandsche handelsmaatschappij (Saidjah dan Adinda) is a 1976 Dutch-Indonesian film directed by Fons Rademakers. It's based on the famous novel by Multatuli, features fine performances by Peter Faber, Rutger Hauer and Sacha Bulthuis, and yes it features no original score. An idealistic Dutch colonial officer posted to Indonesia in the nineteenth century is convinced that he can make the kinds of changes that will actually help the local people, of whom he is in charge.

Historically, Fons Rademakers has worked with numerous of Dutch composers, most of them resulted in sparse, and not necessarily memorable scores. Jurriaan Andriessen composed original music for a total of four films, of which De Aanslag (The Assault 1986) is the most well known, while it was really the 1963 Als Twee Druppels Water, marking the very best of the director's films and the composer's efforts combined.

Presumably through the director's friendship with François Truffaut, he attracted Georges Delerue to write an original score for Mira in 1971, and another one for Mijn vriend, of het verborgen leven van Jules Depraeter in 1979. Again, both featured sparse use of original music, of which the first does in fact explore strong emotional content expressed by Delerue-ish solo woodwinds, while the second feels like arbitrarily filling in some gaps, with small memorable emotional pieces.

In between the two collaborations with Delerue, Max Havelaar was made and released in 1976. The director invited the composer to view the film, and afterwards the composer declined the offer. Delerue felt the film didn't need an original score, and advised him to keep all diegetic music – gamelan performances, a solo woodwind by a boy, the orchestral performance at a ceremony and the church music at the end of it, which Rademakers agreed upon.

As always in filmmaking, decisions made in what, and how, music is used to elevate the picture, which goes from the strong beliefs of a director, other involved parties giving their view, to spotting sessions which decides what to score and what not, and how it relates to other sound sources in the film. There are numerous of films in which only diegetic sound and music are heard to create an authentic feel, sometimes with no source music at all. But the fact that a composer, like Delerue, gave his expertise view, whose advice was followed upon, is perhaps even less common. On the one hand, it does say something about the director' limited knowledge of what an original score should do, which is somehow reflected in some of his films (even not considering the fact that even I feel there wasn't much room for it), while on the other hand it says so much about how a director puts all his trust in the judgement of a composer. In retrospective, if Delerue had not moved to the United States, I am confident he went continue his collaborations with this director. On top of that, I strongly believe Delerue, while a lot of music onwards was impressive, it rarely really was a true match, and in symbiosis, to the films he did, which I believe is more important than writing memorable scores regardless of the content of the films. Then again, given the sparse, and generally less significant use of music in so many ways in the cinema of Rademakers, I doubt Delerue would have been given carte blanche to create music to truly elevate his films. But it would have had so much to do with what the film required, how it was made, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Since this is a review of never conceived score, it does warrant a slightly closer look at the decision-making, for better or worse. Upon following Delerue' thoughts, there is much that seems righteous and spot on; what could he have possibly contributed? There is source music and sounds; the natural aura of Indonesia, the sounds of the wind, the water/the sea, the inhabitants and their cultural habits, the colonist' musical influence… All establish an 'authentic' feel. Yet, the film neglects the use of original music to allude to the author of the book on which it was based upon, and his expressions on music through writings, apart from this story, but written as independent poems and stories, that could somehow connect to some content of Max Havelaar, and could have been realized musically. This metaverse way of thinking is arguably far-fetched, but I do think another component was left unscored; the motivations of the main character.

The author wrote the book in 1859, first published in 1860, based on his own experiences as an officer in the Dutch-East Indies colony; mostly a charge against their policies, passed on through a semi-fictional character in the book and film. When thinking dramatically, this is the key element for a sense of value in musical terms. Yet, the sparse original music in the majority of Rademakers' projects, usually righteous, sometimes warranted a little more of fragmented, recurring musical motifs or themes, stripped down from all weighty dramatic outset, while evidently quite strong, is what some of his films missed. Like said, Delerue truly excelled in his more subdued scores, with little instruments – a solo woodwind and limited strings -, but still even this was most fruitful in films with Truffaut and others, even though such an approach easily could be considered melodramatic. The on-screen Indonesian solo flute performance could have been a good guideline to a sparse score; nothing but a small theme for a solo woodwind, comprising the variety of emotions connected to the overall theme of the film and the motivations of the main character. Perhaps just a few different short renditions.

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- (music as heard in the movie 1976)