May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE Classical Score June 2000


More Music from The Fall of the Roman Empire
[As this title is now officially deleted finding a copy might prove difficult. Best "first port of call" would be SOUNDTRACKS DIRECT. Their new web-site and they can be e-mailed on:]

I very much regret that my choice this month is of a recording that has been deleted but assiduous searching may well reward keen Tiomkin fans (I saw one copy in HMV’s London Oxford Street flagship store). But quite frankly this score stands head and shoulders above practically all the material that has come into this office this month.

(With the exception of Rozsa’s Ben-Hur music but that was only a short suite in the Rózsa album reviewed this month)

Last month John Huether reviewed the Sony-PEG original soundtrack recording of Tiomkin’s The Fall of the Roman Empire music and in his concluding paragraph, John said that it would be nice to have another 20 or 30 minutes of the score in an expanded release. The Sony-PEG disc lasts for some 39 minutes. This expanded original soundtrack edition, boasting some 14 new selections, when it was released in 1991, clocks in at 44:35 minutes (an additional five minutes or so of music).

I agree with everything John Huether said last month about this score -- it is absolutely magnificent. That huge organ chord at the beginning of the Prelude lifts you from your seat and the magnificence and majesty of the treatment of the love theme through the Prelude with those powerful brass flourishes is hair-raising.

Pax Romana never fails to impress either no matter how many times one hears it, what a wonderful processional and as John Heuther aptly observed how it heightened the effectiveness of that long scene where the rulers of Rome’s far flung Empire paid tribute to the ailing Marcus Aurelius. And the Forum Romanum music, too, is full of splendour.

I will now pass on to a description of those 14 new selections that are included in this album.

The ‘Fanfares and Flourishes’ are heard as the cinema/theater lights dim and are a tingling anticipation. The misty delicate music of ‘Dawn on the Northern Frontier’ heralds a new day as Marcus Aurelius prepares to preside over the gathering of tribunes, consuls and kings – that is the Pax Romana. A busy orchestral flourish heralds ‘Livius’s Arrival’ speeding his chariot along treacherous Alpine byways. ‘Old Aquaintances’ underscores the early scenes where Livius (Stephen Boyd) warmly embraces Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness) and greets Timonides (James Mason) before the lovers reunion with the beautiful Lucilla (Sophia Loren); at this point the love theme is serene, unsullied by the dark portents of the Prelude. ‘Decoy Patrol’, ‘Battle in the Forest’ and ‘Reinforcements’ are all brilliant combat evocations steel clashing on steel, braying brass, fiery cross-rhythms and most impressive of all, wild and brutal timpani cross-rolls and hammer-like blows -- all tremendously muscular and immensely thrilling. Brutish, angular, oddly-accented rhythms for the barbarians are pitched against the remorseless formality of the Roman legions.

The Intermezzo: Livius & Lucilla is a vocal arrangement of the love theme. ‘Conflict in the Caverns’ is another wild confrontation with material very akin to ‘Battle in the Forest’ and ‘Decoy Patrol’. ‘Aftermath and the Journey to Rome’ has dissonances for the evil excesses perpetrated by Commodus. There is also more noble material as the rebellion (led by Lucilla with brief reference to the love theme) gains momentum. ‘The Army Enters Rome’ is music of celebration – pomp mixed with festive mandolins suggesting more intimate celebrations as the legions enter Rome but they have been won over by Commodus's gold. The cue finishes on a sour note reflecting Commodus’s increasingly unstable mental condition and continues in a twisted manner as the personal duel between Commodus and Livius becomes startlingly public and the two men engage in mortal combat.

Summing up, for those who already have a version of this score in their collection including the Sony-PEG edition which John Heuther reviewed last month (that seemed to contain yet other selections not included on this album), I am listing below what were claimed to be, when this album was released in 1991, the new selections so that you can see if there is some gap you might want to fill:-

Fanfares and Flourishes (0:51 set before the Prelude)
Dawn on the Northern Frontier (2:17)
Livius’ Arrival (1:02)
Old Aquaintances (4:31)
Decoy Patrol (0:57)
The Battle in the Forest/Reinforcements (3:49)
Intermission Title (?)
Intermezzo: Livius & Lucilla 92:17)
Conflict in the Caverns (1:45)
Aftermath & the Journey to Rome (2:27)
The Army Enters Rome/The New God/The Challenge (4:03)

Restoring this masterpiece

This recording comes in part mono-part stereo format for when the record producers approached the owners of the film’s rights they discovered that the original music masters were no longer available. A world-wide search was instigated and it was three years before an excellent tape of certain cues was discovered – albeit in mono sound.

To quote from the booklet: "Although this find in no way constituted all or the best of the full score, it still contained some prime material and it was possible to draw additional selections from the Music and Effects track – including the original mix of the PRELUDE music, the opening fanfares and choral INTERMEZZO (these in stereo). All the available cues were transferred to digital tape and subsequently edited, sequenced and equalised utilising solely digital technology. However the recordings have not been "limited" in any way – effectively preserving the broad acoustic gained during the original sessions at Shepperton Studios and the Central-Hall at Westminster where the massive pipe organ had to be warmed by an array of electric fires for two days to bring it up to concert pitch. Much of the music on this album is being heard on disc for the first time – with other more familiar pieces being presented in the relatively fresh guise of their original soundtrack performances".

The 16 page booklet contains David Wishart’s full and articulate track analysis, two essays, "Profile of an Epic" (about the background and the making of the film) and "Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for The Fall of the Roman Empire" plus many colour and black and white stills from the film.

A magnificent score and an invaluable album. Although it is now deleted, perhaps Silva Screen will one day decide to reissue it for Tiomkin’s many fans, old and new?


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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