Though the composer thought poorly of the film (understandable) as well as
his own contribution (inconceivable!), Miklós Rózsa 's "The
Robe"is yet another epic cinematic symphony. His third and final approach
to a tale of the Christ is not as dynamic as its predecessors, "Quo Vadis"and
"Ben-Hur", yet it has an unapologetic style that those classics miss.
From the beginning, we hear a choral theme that would seem clichéd, if
not entirely goofy, in almost any other composer's hands. Rózsa puts
a twist on this -- which, like most of the score, bears appropriate similarities
to his past Biblical masterworks -- with subtly, curiously oppressive orchestration.
His entire approach has an extra weight to it, to fit with the more violent
film, but also to vary his role in the genre. Challenged with underscoring issues
he was already well practised in emphasising, Miklós Rózsa took
a darker route, put more attention on Hebrew tonalities than the pseudo-Roman
idiom he previously invented, and as a devoutly romantic, leitmotivic composer,
he expressed his contempt for serial music, using it to underscore Christ's
temptation in the desert. He asserted that the 12-tone technique was appropriate
to (and deserving of) the threat of eternal damnation, and this instance marks
his only use of it within his entire career. He handles all of this with professionalism,
beauty, and some dry wit.
The album itself is the second CD issue drawn from the original masters (the
first, vinyl album was a classy re-recording). Sony Music's one-disc release
in 1992 met miserable sales, until it was discontinued in under a year, suddenly
turning it into a much sought-after collectable. Rhino Record's two-disc set
is a wonder, but some curious editing decisions work against Rózsa' score.
Such things as a six-second bit of source music (Track 9) being left hanging,
when it could easily have broken straight into the following track, and the
lack of supplemental material, are severely disappointing. How could anyone
release "King of Kings"without Rózsa's magnificent arrangement
of 'The Lord's Prayer' from the original album? The presentation clearly lacks
compared to Rhino's "Ben-Hur", though it has a more musically informative
booklet (most of it drawn from the original album, notably the composer's own
thoughts, in addition to details on the film culled from the movie's publicity
notes) and the sound, while not on the same level of excellence, is impressive
Historically, "King of Kings"is a soundtrack essential for any glimpse
into Miklós Rózsa's incredible career. Cinematically, it shows
the composer surpassing the film's tedious spectacle with the genuine article.
Musically, "King of Kings" continues Rózsa's unparalleled sophistication.
What a welcome, joyous filmusic release this is.
John Huether adds:-
It must be a sign of the rich times we lovers of classic film music live in
that my first reaction to this stunning, full-score release of a Miklós
Rózsa masterpiece is to carp about its lack of original liner notes.
Clearly, people like me are becoming spoiled. So let's put that caveat aside
for the moment and focus instead on the beauty of this 1961 score, offered here
by Rhino for the first time in all its 134-minute glory, with extended cues
in a few cases. Rózsa was never blessed with a light touch, but when
richness and soul-wrenching, religious passion were called for, who could match
him? Ironically, this score may actually be among his lesser-known works, due
largely to the fact that "King of Kings"followed close on the heels
-- both time- and subject-wise -- of "Ben-Hur,"Rózsa's magnum
opus of magnum opuses. ('Son-of-Ben-Hur' music for the Son of God, you might
say.) Indeed, we've heard this before -- the mood, the texture, the Hebraic-based
melody and orchestral complexion. What's so impressive, then, is how Rózsa
manages to make it all sound so fresh, as though he were approaching the topic
for the very first time.
"King of Kings"opens with a slow, sombre chime that quickly builds
to a massive
choral statement of the main theme, voiced as a joyous and glorious Hosannah!
by the MGM choir. This theme, clearly composed for voice, is among Rózsa's
simplest yet most memorable, and works as a frequent leitmotif throughout the film, often with a soft, wordless female choral accompaniment but otherwise
little variation. (Faced with what he later would term so much "nonsensical biblical goulash, "Rózsa clearly relies on this theme to provide the film
a semblance of unity and coherence.) The theme includes a secondary motif that's suggestive
of Rome's might and power. It's heard in the main title cue, which segues without
a break (as do many of the tracks on this double-CD release) into the cue 'Roman
Legion. ' This is one of two marches -- the other is 'Pontius Pilate's Arrival'
-- that easily call to mind similar cues from "Ben-Hur."Rózsa makes both marches interesting,
More impressive still is his music for 'Nativity,' again echoing a similar scene
from the earlier film. (The story of how director William Wyler wanted Rózsa
to score Jesus' birth with 'Adeste Fidelis' is legendary. Under no such strictures
this time, he surpasses the earlier effort with music at once delicate and inspirational.)
Another key theme underscores 'The Lord's Prayer.' First introduced in low,
almost mournful strings, the music carries the gentle cadence of the prayer.
(The LP version features a choral version of the prayer, which I'd always assumed
was sung in the film. Not so, apparently. It also apparently serves as the film's
exit music, about which more later.)
A wealth of secondary thematic material is heard throughout the 53 cues contained
here on 43 tracks. Most impressive is Mary's theme, introduced delicately on
solo oboe against widely spaced, plucked harp, and heard again in truly heart-breaking
form for deep strings in the cue 'Joy and Sadness.' The theme sounds rather
closely related to the 'Mother's Love' cue in "Ben-Hur,"though it
also seems capable of more variation and development, as required in this latter
And, for Rózsa philes, this trivia: "King of Kings"contains
the only 12-tone theme the composer ever wrote, at least for films. It depicts
the devil in the cue 'The Last Temptation of Christ.' In his autobiography,
"A Double Life,"Rózsa says he resorted to what he considers
a "stillborn"musical idea to depict the Devil – a sort of musical
in-joke that no one, unfortunately, caught onto.
Other material includes ennobling theme for 'the Elders' and 'The Disciples,'
as well as material for John the Baptist that is mostly suggestive, to me, of
the antiquity of the film's setting.
One outstanding track consists of five separate cues: The first, 'Jesus Enters
Jerusalem,' captures the excitement and expectations of Palm Sunday, opening
with tremulous strings over which Rózsa lays agitated winds followed
by brass heralding Jesus' arrival. Frenzied music ensues as Barabbas incites
a riot ('Tempest in Judea') which then gives way to an insistent, relentless
cadence of drumbeats alternating with cymbal clashes as the Roman Phalanx moves
in to crush the revolt. The nearly 15-minute track ends with 'The Feast of the
Passover,' a somber choral work -- one of several cues for which Rózsa
drew on ancient Babylonian or Yemenite melodies.
Two things in surprisingly short supply: trumpet fanfares (just one) and palace
dances -- only two, or three if you count the deleted reprise of the key one,
'Salome's Dance.' Because this cue had to serve, in effect, as source music,
it was the first one Rózsa composed for the film, and he describes the
less-than-ideal circumstances he faced: "I was almost in tears. Here was
a choreographer who had never choreographed and a dancer who had never danced."The
result was so "disastrous,"Rózsa notes in his autobiography,
that the scene was cut down to just a few minutes. What's offered here, then,
must be an extended cue which, coupled with the deleted reprise also contained
on this recording, equals the length of the cue Rózsa provided on his
re-recording of the score for LP. (And which he clearly feels strongly about,
as he modestly recommends it to readers of "A Double Life.") That
LP, by the way, is a treasure. Rózsa conducted it in Rome and, while
it contains less than one-third as much music as this new release, it's wonderfully
representative of the score. Plus, it contains several apparent changes -- both
improvements -- which the composer clearly felt appropriate. First, there is
the 'Mount Galilee' / 'Sermon on the Mount' cue, which begins on the LP with
a combination of deep, descending chimes played against rising, wordless male
and female voices. This is among my personal favourites of all the music Rózsa
wrote for biblical films – but what's heard on the corresponding Rhino cue is
a more standard orchestral version, lacking both the chimes and choral accompaniment.
The music as heard on the LP does appear here, but only in the overture. Why
didn't Rózsa use it in the actual film cue? Similarly, the LP offers
a combined 'Resurrection' and 'Finale' cue featuring the main 'Hosannah' theme
followed by a breathtaking segue to 'The Lord's Prayer' accompanied by wordless
choir. As with my misconception (noted above) over the use of 'The Lord's Prayer'
with words, I've also always assumed this combined finale was used in the film.
In fact, though, the final film cue ('Resurrection') on the CD ends, simply
enough, with the 'Hosannah' theme. This is followed by a separate, concluding
'Epilogue' consisting of 'The Lord's Prayer' and which, I assume, served as
exit music for roadshow engagements of "King of Kings."
You'll notice how often I've referred to my own assumptions in the course of
the above review. Which brings me full circle to my opening caveat about this
new release. It's shameful that such a massive score should be offered without
any explanatory detail, musical analysis or even cue/scene descriptions. Yes,
the accompanying 44-page booklet does include the cue descriptions Rózsa
provide for the LP's cues - but these were written for general consumption and
lack the insight film score aficionados should expect with a full-score offering
of this sort. Besides, these refer to the 'Sermon on the Mount' and 'Resurrection-Finale'
cues as heard on the LP, and thus are inaccurate for this recording. Imagine
what fascinating information and insight a Christopher Palmer might have provided.
To give credit, album producer George Fecklestein has done a nice job of reproducing
the deluxe production booklet sold during the film's roadshow engagement and
which also accompanied the soundtrack LP. It has production stills, background
information and a full cast list -- but nothing of value regarding the music,
which is virtually the only aspect of "King of Kings" that proved memorable.
Beyond that, this otherwise superb release desperately calls for comment on
Miklós Rózsa at this unique time in his career -- when, in the
course of three years, he scored "El Cid" and "Sodom and Gomorrah," as
well as "King of Kings" and "Ben-Hur". Has another composer
achieved anything comparable in that amount of time?
Gary S. Dalkin concludes :-
There is little point my providing a full length review to complement the two
above, as I agree almost entirely with what has been said. Almost since the
moment I became interested in film music 30 years ago I have regarded Miklós
Rózsa as one of the very greatest of all film composers, and it has long
disappointed and astonished me that far less worthwhile scores by lesser composers
have been endlessly reissued and/or re-recorded while Rózsa's work has
languished semi-forgotten. It is astonishing that it has taken over 40 years
for this score to finally be released in complete form, but now hopefully we
will have no more than another year or two to wait for El Cid, and perhaps
even Quo Vadis, though given the age of those masters a spectacular new
recording would be rather more welcome than yet another disc of a second rate
score by a second division talent.
I can't say that I am particularly concerned about the lack of detailed musicological
notes accompanying this issue, and I did not expect it to be packaged as lavishly
as the Ben-Hur set, which after all could be expected to sell many more
copies. Nor am I concerned that "bonus tracks"from the original re-recorded
LP have not being included. That was a separate project. I am simply grateful
to have this magnificent music, elegantly packed with a high quality (if reduced
in size) reprint of the original brochure. The sound, taken from the original
masters, is far superior to the 1992 single CD Sony edition, which was plagued
with a distortion far less noticeable here. My one grumble would be that Rhino
could have taken the trouble, and had the respect, to print the composer's name
correctly, with the appropriate accents over the ó's. That they have
not is something of an insulting Americanisation. Film Score Monthly get it
right on this month's other indispensable Miklós Rózsa issue,
Lust For Life. Otherwise everyone who last year swooned over the two
CD set of Cleopatra must add this to their collections. Miklós
Rózsa's King of Kings is simply one of the finest film scores
Gary S. Dalkin