Although he composed a number of substantial orchestral and chamber works,
Rózsa may be better for his many film scores which earned him quite a
reputation in that field. They also enabled him to compose his concert
works. When he had left Leipzig for Paris, the composer had to find a way to
make some extra income and thus composed a number of so-called popular songs
under the pseudonym of Nic Tomay. As Andrew Knowles remarks, they were only
moderately successful. Arthur Honegger then suggested that Rózsa should
write music for films and that he should go to see Les Misérables
for which Honegger had composed a substantial score. This experience proved
important as we now all know. Rózsa then left Paris and went to London.
There he composed a ballet that apparently proved successful. He was however
still in need of some income. It was at this point that he met his friend,
the film director Jacques Feyder whom he had known in Paris. Feyder engaged
him to compose the music for his next film Knight without Armour
(1937) for Korda's London Films company. Rózsa was to write the music
for a number of Korda films among which we find The Thief of Bagdad
(1939/40) and Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book
last two are amongst the finest of the composer's many film scores
although I am ready to admit that others may feel differently.
One of the most striking characteristics of Rózsa's film music is
that, like his concert music, it is deeply rooted in the composer's
Hungarian soil and breathes some decidedly Hungarian air that cannot be
mistaken. Rózsa rarely attempts 'cheap' imitation of exoticism
and chooses to remain himself. While listening to his music, be it his film
scores or his concert works, one is quite often reminded of Kodály and
sometimes – to these ears at least – of Vaughan Williams. This has probably
to do with the modal character of much of the music. That said, Rózsa cannot
be mistaken for any other composer.
This quite generously filled release offers much. Here are three
large-scale suites and one smaller example. They are presented in
chronological order so that it is thus possible to observe the deep
stylistic coherence found in Rózsa's music, the short suite from
being a possible exception.
Earlier in this review I mentioned the name of Kodály and Rózsa's
magnificent score for The Thief of Bagdad
sometimes harks back to
Kodaly's Hary Janos
. Several episodes such
as The Sultan's Toys
[track 4] and The Flying Horse
[track 5] clearly reminisce around episodes in Kodály's
work. The music is again superb and vintage Rózsa throughout in that it is
colourful, wonderfully scored and warmly melodic. It may be light in tone
but it is not lightweight. This is superb fairy-tale music - full of magic
It seems that Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book
was a great
success so that RCA Victor wanted to make an album of the music emulating
Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
. A text was
put together by Anthony Gibbs and Rózsa devised a suite for narrator and
orchestra with Sabu recounting the story. It is here presented without
narration. Thus, as with the Prokofiev piece, characters, human beings and
animals are each represented by a leitmotif so that it is quite possible to
'follow' the story even without narration provided one has
absorbed Andrew Knowles' detailed notes. All characters are thus
presented in the long opening section. Then episodes follow each other in
quick succession which allows Rózsa to display his seemingly inexhaustible
imagination. This magnificent score abounds in colourful orchestral touches
as well as deploying often quite beautiful thematic material.
As hinted at in the above, Rózsa's score for the war film
is somewhat more traditional in many respects. The music is
much more redolent of similar scores by Alwyn, Walton and Vaughan Williams.
The short suite arranged by the late Christopher Palmer opens with a
energetic and appropriately war-like gestures followed by a big
'Elgarian' march tune that one might have heard in many a
British war film of that period. However, Rózsa manages to remain himself in
some slower, more meditative episodes.
(1959) is not Rózsa's first attempt at writing
music for a film set in ancient Rome. In fact he had already done so in
(1951) and Julius Caesar
was to be a much bigger affair for which Rózsa composed
around three hours of music. As is quite often the case, the
composer's use of leitmotifs representing various characters allowed
for some development which is absent from the suite drawn from the film
grouping six key moments. (A so-called choral suite arranged and
reconstructed by Daniel Robbins is available on Telarc SACD-60631 review review
). As far as I am concerned, this is by far the
most familiar music, were it only because I have seen this film repeatedly.
I must admit that I was not born at the time when the other films were made.
What one has here is the powerful Prelude again presenting some of the main
leitmotifs (Ben-Hur, Christ, Esther). The following Love Theme is another
purely Hungarian outpouring. The next episodes The Burning Desert
in which the almost unbearable heat is remarkably suggested by sun-drenched
music that pauses for the short episode in which the Stranger (Christ) gives
Ben-Hur water and The Rowing of the Galley Slaves
form a strongly
contrasting diptych within the suite. This section is again impressive in
the way the music piles up from a fairly simple start to a ferocious climax.
In The Mother's Love
Rózsa draws on a Hebraic theme of
Yemenite origin to express the sorrow of Ben-Hur's mother. The final
movement is probably the best-known of all, Parade of the
, full of fanfares, pounding drums and martial themes.
The Chandos Movies Series has gone from strength to strength from the very
beginning. There have been many marvellous releases without which one would
be the poorer. There is so much fine music to unearth from film scores which
passes unnoticed most of the time. Once heard without the pictures one
realises that their respective composers actually put much of their deeper
self into the making.
I need not mention that performances and recording are up to the best
Chandos standards. Andrew Knowles' excellent and detailed insert
notes are – again – an unquestionable asset.
This generously filled release is self-commending to every Rózsa fan. They
will welcome new recordings of some much loved music but this will also
speak to many others who simply enjoy fine, superbly crafted music.
Previous review: Brian Wilson
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