This release follows fairly close on the heels of the Marco Polo reconstruction and it is interesting to compare that with this original motion picture soundtrack recording which sounds really splendid in its digital remastering. It must, of course be regarded as definitive.
Alfred Newman, in his capacity of Head of 20th Century Fox’s Music Department had the happy knack of utilising the right composing talents for the studio’s major productions typically Franz Waxman and Bernard Herrmann. The irascible Herrmann was notoriously difficult to work with and did not suffer fools gladly to put it mildly but he had great respect and admiration for Newman. So when a busy schedule of compositions threatened the completion of a richly exotic and complex score for The Egyptian (one of Fox’s prestigious 1954 CinemaScope productions) he called in Herrmann to collaborate with him (although Franz Waxman was also considered). Collaborations of this sort were and are not unique.
Before they commenced work, agreement was reached on the sort of material each would write – broadly speaking, Newman the romantic and mystic, Herrmann the wild and rousing and the more ceremonial and astringently dramatic. The wonder is that the two styles blend so seamlessly.
The Prelude is a fine example of this seamless collaboration. It embraces Newman’s theme for the monotheism of Pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding) which Herrmann scores and presents in a dress with exotic percussion (many tambourines and finger cymbals etc) and choir, Herrmann then adds the more powerfully astringent ceremonial music. An early cue presents quasi-folk music intermingled with flighty ‘bring-on-the-dancing-girls’ material from Newman for ‘Crocodile Inn’ where the scholarly Sinuhe (Edward Purdom) and the boisterous Horemheb (Victor Mature) are disporting themselves. Herrmann takes up the threads to underscore scenes of the sprawling metropolis Thebes with ancient sounding figures that run through whole tone scales and tritones over a modal pedal music. Newman also contributes the more archaic sounding Chant for the Dead Pharaoh’ with percussion, gongs and wordless choir. In contrast there is Herrmann’s exciting dissonant swirling and thrashing figures for the ‘Chariot Ride’.
I could go on describing thus every one of the 24 cues but that would be tedious so I will just mention a few of the many outstanding remaining tracks.
From Newman there is the delicately, exotically scored ‘The Throne Room’ slow and serene over shimmering tambourine figures, his gently romantic music for Merit (Jean Simmons); and the mystical ‘Hymn to Aton’ that recalls his other religious scores such as The Robe. Newman moves towards the wilder darker utterances of Herrmann in the twisted, dirge-like version of the hymn ‘How Beautiful Art Thou’ as the Egyptian army massacres the believers of Aton including Merit. Then ,in ‘Death of Akhnaton’ he fashions an affecting elegy for the idealistic Pharaoh so far ahead of his time. Finally I must mention the exuberant march for Horemheb as he declares ‘I Am Pharaoh’ It has all the hallmarks of Newman’s celebrated Conquest March from Captain from Castille
Herrmann’s music for ‘Party’s End’ looks back, with a languorous Arabian edge, to the style he used for The Magnificent Ambersons and forward in ‘The Perfection of Love/Violence to Psycho and Vertigo for music for the treacherous love of Nefer (Bella Darvi). This explosive cue culminates in an audaciously long series of hits that translate a left hand/right hand pianistic gesture to full orchestra as Sinuhe attempts to murder Nefer and is expelled by guards. Heavily atmospheric and brooding music underscores ‘The House of the Dead’. Calmer music is heard in the beautiful harp solo – ‘The Harp and the Couch’ but the mood of rapture ends abruptly as Nefer declares her poisonous intent. ‘Danse Macabre’ is another awesome cue, devilishly wild with braying horns, angry swirling snarling strings and a tornado of screaming picolos.
The accompanying booklet is up to Film Score Monthly’s usual high standard, with many stills from the film, notes about its production and the composition of its music; with full track-by-track analysis.