The Nose

Woodend Barn, Banchory, Scotland, 2nd Mar 2017
Kings Place, London, 9th Apr 2016
Cornerstone Festival, Liverpool, 23rd Nov 2015
Cheltenham Festival, 10th Jul 2016
Cardiff University Concert Series, 12th Apr 2016
Rymer Auditorium, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Heslington, University of York, 3rd Feb 2017

reflective, fast

Publisher: UYMP

Genre: Solo keyboard(s)

THE NOSE by Ed Hughes for piano solo (11’)


A score in five movements to Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker’s film, The Nose (1963)


Written for Clare Hammond


In Alexeieff’s and Parker’s film of Gogol’s The Nose, the following events occur:

Dawn over the Neva River, St Petersburg; the ice breaks; morning light strikes the home of the barber. On the morning of 25 March, barber Ivan Yakovlevich finds a nose in his freshly baked breakfast roll. He realises it is the nose of one of his customers, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov (or ‘Major Kovalyov). He is scolded by his wife who fears that he has cut it off deliberately.


Ivan throws the nose away on the street by a sentry box; he is challenged by a policeman concealed by a street light, and picks it up again. He throws it in the Neva River, and runs away. The same morning, Major Kolvalyov wakes from dreams of love to discover his nose is missing, leaving a ‘completely empty, flat spot’ on his face. His nose, he discovers, has assumed a life of its own. He sees it entering and leaving a private house, and climbing into a carriage.


Major Kovalyov pursues and confronts the nose in Kazan Cathedral, but finds that it has acquired a higher rank in the civil service than his own.


The Nose refuses to return to Kovalyov’s face with the remark, ‘There you are wrong, respected sir; I am myself’. Kovalyov sees a slim young girl in a white dress and smiles at her but suddenly remembers he is exposing his noseless face and withdraws. Meanwhile the Nose escapes. He pursues it futilely through the streets. He returns to his apartment where his nose is returned to him by the police officer who caught Ivan. Delighted, he tries to reattach the nose…


…But finds he cannot. At last, on the 7 April, Kovalyov wakes up with his nose restored. He is overjoyed. Ivan the barber enters. In the story, he is carefully shaved by the barber, and promenades about the city to show it off; Alexeieff and Parker’s film ends with the more enigmatic image of the barber’s razor hovering in close-up over Kovalyov’s nose.





The Nose was written by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852, Ukraine/Russia) between 1835 and 1836. It is a short, humorous and satirical story of a St Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops an independent life.


The story was the basis of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Nose, first performed in 1930.


In 1963, Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker made an 11 minute animation of The Nose, using their pinscreen animation technique, which they first devised when working in their Paris studio between 1932 and 1935. Their painstaking technique uses a screen filled with at least 240,000 movable pins, which create changing images when they are lit from the side. The resulting images are silvery in character and have a strongly individual and poetic character. Claire Parker argued that the resulting images are dramatic in their exploitation of chiaroscuro, escaping the comic aspect of traditional animation.


Alexeieff and Parker’s animation was silent, and originally accompanied by a synchronised musical improvisation credited to Hai Minh, which uses unpitched percussion and traditional instruments (possibly a Vietnamese zither).


As a composer, I have long been drawn to silent film. These films are often very beautiful, and different from conventional narrative sound film. They stimulate new approaches to composition and the same film can often carry alternate musical scores, shedding new light on the scenes and characters portrayed. My first project was on the silent film REGEN (Rain) by Joris Ivens which I scored for ensemble in the Bath International Music Festival in 2001. Since then I have scored films by Eisenstein, Ozu and many others, normally for screenings with live music.


In responding to Alexeieff and Parker’s beautiful and original film, it was interesting to bridge musically the initial scenes of the barber and Kovalyov since their fates are apparently randomly, yet intimately, connected.

Gogol’s original story is formed in three main parts but I created a sequence of five short compositions in response to the film’s patterns, to suggest (1) dawn and a discovery, (2) loss of the Nose, (3) pursuit of the Nose, (4) recovery of the Nose and (5) a new dawn. Interestingly Alexeieff and Parker meditate on the beauty of the dawn light over the city with its numberless characters; the reprise of this effect bears a musical quality which is distinctive to their animation and not found in the original story. The final toccata-like section in the music is matched rhythmically to the flickering images of the barber as he prepares Kovalyov for his shave.