May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Dimitri TIOMKIN The Fall of the Roman Empire   OST    Sony-PEG Recordings 029  (38:53)

The best way to see The Fall of the Roman Empire, the acerbic critic John Simon once noted, was with a musician friend who owed you money. "After 10 minutes of Dimitri Tiomkin's music," Simon said, "he'll be limp; after three hours you can remove his wallet."

Well, perhaps. To say this is a vigorous score would be understatement. Likewise, to say it's an epic work and a classic of the now long-dead Hollywood spectacular genre also would be understatement. In his liner notes to the original LP soundtrack in 1964, Tiomkin tells of being asked if he was considering "a gimmick score" (very much in vogue at that time) to represent 2nd century Rome. But no, the then 70-year-old composer makes it clear from the opening notes of the main title -- a powerful solo organ -- that he'll stick with a standard symphonic approach, thank you very much. Building on that organ solo, Tiomkin introduces his primary theme -- later titled `The Fall of Love' -- in strings and later woodwinds, varying its development only slightly as he exercises the full orchestra with powerful flourishes of brass. This theme will recur throughout Fall of the Roman Empire, occasionally in contrapuntal form as in the aptly titled cue `Tarantella," which accompanies the furious chariot duel between Stephen Boyd and Christopher Plummer. But it is two set pieces -- `Pax Romana' and `Roman Forum' -- that are the hallmarks of this score (and the music most likely to make that musician friend go limp).

The first, `Pax Romana,' underscores a lengthy scene in which a host of foreign leaders under Rome's authority are summoned to meet with the Roman leader, played by the incomparable Alec Guinness. As each passes by, he and Guinness exchange greetings. It would be interminable but for Tiomkin's glorious music - written as an ongoing fanfare in a processional mode, if you will. The cue lasts over five minutes. I'd be tempted to call it a tour de force, but that term is better applied to `Roman Forum,' which clocks in at just under five minutes and depicts the gamut of activity portrayed on what was, at least to that point, the largest set ever built for a motion picture.

Two other cues deserve particular mention. For `Ballomar's Barbarian Attack,' Tiomkin utilizes an expanded range of bass drums supported by smaller percussion, deftly outlining the attackers' crude weaponry and tactics. In marked contrast to this, as well as to the more vigorous cues already mentioned, is `Resurrection,' a sublimely lyrical, almost hymn-like piece of music for the death of James Mason who, along with Guinness and Plummer, nearly saves Fall of the Roman Empire from collapsing under its own weight.

While Tiomkin's score is broad in scope, his approach is perhaps a bit more conservative than, say, Newman's or Rozsa's in scoring historical epics. He even eschews a chorus- perhaps wisely, given that audience tastes were changing by the mid-60s, but surprising nevertheless, given how effectively he utilized choral accompaniment in his only other sword-and-sandal epic, Land of the Pharoahs..

It's also interesting to note that Tiomkin apparently used a pickup orchestra in London to record this score. The liner notes refer simply to "110 of England's finest musicians," even though he used the Sinfonia of London to record The Guns of Navarone a mere three years earlier. That Tiomkin was able to elicit such an incredible performance from musicians presumably not accustomed to playing together regularly is tribute to his conducting skills. And all the more reason why landmark scores such as this need to be heard in their original versions. As Screen Archives' Ray Faiola has noted, Tiomkin's music is awfully difficult to reproduce, due in part to his conflicting rhythms and his conductor's "penchant for fierce attack."

While it would be nice to have another 20 or 30 minutes of Fall of the Roman Empire in an expanded release, we can at least celebrate having these 39 minutes from the original LP available on CD.


John Huether


We have had several enquiries about the availability of this disc. John Huether  obtained his copy  from Barnes and Noble who inform us their source was simply a U.S. distributor (Alliance) with no role in the U.K. UK reades might sddress their complaints/suggestions to Sony/ PEG:-

PEG Recordings, 244 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2168, New York, N.Y., 10001

Sony Music Special Products, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022-3211


John Huether


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