July 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE July 2003

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Knights of the Round Table and The King's Thief  
Music composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa
  Film Score Monthly Golden Age Classics FSM Vol 6 No 7
  Disc 1: 70.31 (Knights of the Round Table)
Disc 2: 78.24 (The King's Thief - 42.25, bonus tracks, 14.22, plus bonus tracks from Knights of the Round Table, 15.54)
Total running time: 148.55
Limited edition: 3000 copies
Available from Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588;
e-mail: Info@filmscoremonthly.com

knights of the round table

This double album thoughtfully packages the complete scores by Miklós Rózsa for two early MGM CinemaScope British-set adventures, the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table (1953) and swashbuckler, The King's Thief (1955). The clever thing is that by making this a two CD set Film Score Monthly have been able to include the complete 70 minute score of the former film on the first CD and the much shorter (42 min) score of the later film on the second disc, leaving room on CD two for bonus material from both pictures. Thus in total there is over 86 minutes of music recorded for Knights of the Round Table, an amount it is obviously impossible to fit onto a single CD.

The release notes from FSM and a complete track list are appended below this review, so I won't go into detail about the films. Suffice to say MGM pulled out all the stops to make Knights of the Round Table a lavish spectacle, complete with a large, no expenses spared score by Rózsa, the company's composer of choice for period adventures since Quo Vadis (1950) and Ivanhoe (1952). Miklós Rózsa would excel in this genre, his music later gracing such massive productions as Ben-Hur, King of Kings and El Cid. However, with only six weeks to write an 80 minute score there was no time for the composer's customary historical research, and he fell back on his musicology undertaken for Ivanhoe, drawing on Gregorian modes for the religious sequences. He noted that in any case there is very little known about 6th century English music, and on top of that, the film bore little relation to real history. Thus what we have is typically familiar robust and muscular Rózsa, bold rhythms, striking brass, powerful orchestrations, and a plethora of themes, from a noble theme for King Arthur to more upbeat fanfare for Lancelot to mysterious chords for the Holy Grail, with additional melodies for Guinevere, Mordred and Morgan Le Fay, and an especially plaintive love theme for Lancelot and Elaine.

For many film music listeners their first acquaintance with this score may well stem from the short but brilliant "Hawks in Flight" sequence Charles Gerhart recorded in the 1970's for his Classic Film Scores series of LPs. Here that music is presented in a cue called "Hawking/Sacrifice" and remains as thrilling as ever. However, this is a score rich in exciting action music, from the virtuoso set-piece "First Battle" - continuing motifs the composer would rework in many later famous epic scores - to the "Pict Battle" and nine minute "Morte D'Arthur / Resignation / To the Death!" which climaxes with a grimly ferocious finale combat sequence.

Elsewhere the score offers delicate court dances not so dissimilar to those heard in Quo Vadis, music of great romance and melancholy, and underscoring of real sensitivity - ""Distant Thoughts/Dreams". Had this film and therefore its score been as famous as Ben-Hur we might now consider this one of the greatest film scores ever written. As Miklós Rózsa's later scores so dominate our perception of him it is both enlightening and in a way a little disappointing to discover that those epic masterpieces were already so thoroughly foreshadowed in his earlier work. To anyone who knows Rózsa's music there will be no surprises on this release - for example "Holy Grail/Finale" could easily come from the final sequences of Ben-Hur, the heavenly choir soaring to allow audiences to leave suitably uplifted, while key action riffs reappeared throughout the composer's scores, surfacing as late as 1979's Time After Time. Nevertheless, with for its time remarkably fine stereo sound, this score is an absolutely essential addition to any serious collection.

As for The King's Thief; well normally that would deserve a full review in its own right, but lets just say it is another first-rate score, the sort of rousing, highly melodic action adventure piece Rózsa could apparently knock out in his sleep, but which quality seems almost entirely to elude modern Hollywood. With Pirates of the Caribbean getting generally superb reviews, all except for the score which is being reviled from all quarters, we need work of this calibre, with its effortless wit, grace and dashing verve, more than ever.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

  • DISC ONE
  • Knights of the Round Table
  • 1. Prelude/Excalibur** 3:58
  • 2. King of England*/On the Road*/Modred's Plot 2:37
  • 3. Lancelot and Elaine* 2:05
  • 4. Lancelot and Arthur/Chivalry** 4:51
  • 5. Percival 2:33
  • 6. To the Battlefields*/Prelude to War 2:25
  • 7. First Battle 5:15
  • 8. Defiance/Guinevere/Good Knight/Farewell 2:38
  • 9. Cortege/Queen's Champion 2:04
  • 10. Happy Island/Court Life/Court Dance #1/Court Dance #2 2:45
  • 11. Hawking/Sacrifice 4:43
  • 12. Departure 2:34
  • 13. Pict Battle 4:01
  • 14. The Quest/Distant Thoughts/Dreams 6:36
  • 15. Merlin's Death/Homecoming 2:03
  • 16. Proclamation Fanfare/Jousting Fanfare/Pillow Fight Fanfare 0:57
  • 17. Egg Dance/Wager/Nocturnal Visit 2:48
  • 18. Discovered/Devastation 4:10
  • 19. Morte D'Arthur/Resignation/To the Death! 9:00
  • 20. Holy Grail/Finale 1:50
  • Total Disc Time: 70:31
  • DISC TWO
  • The King's Thief
  • 1. Prelude/Foreword 1:49
  • 2. Bad News/Holdup 2:59
  • 3. Robbery 0:47
  • 4. Secrets 1:56
  • 5. Escape/Camouflage 1:26
  • 6. Pursuit 3:07
  • 7. Evidence 1:45
  • 8. Defeat 2:50
  • 9. Plots and Plans 1:47
  • 10. Mission/Frameup/Prison/ Chimney/Breakthrough/Belltower/Descent 18:43
  • 11. Ransom/Discovered 1:22
  • 12. Duel/Finale 3:27
  • Total Time: 42:25
  • The King's Thief Bonus Tracks
  • 13. Prelude/Foreword (original version) 1:48
  • 14. Pursuit (revision) 2:28
  • 15. Frameup (revision) 1:51
  • 16. Breakthrough (revision) 0:37
  • 17. Gaming Room 5:51
  • 18. Tavern Music 1:31
  • Total Time: 14:22
  • Knights of the Round Table Bonus Tracks
  • 19. Prelude (alternate performance)* 2:22
  • 20. Excalibur (original version)* 1:36
  • 21. Modred's Plot (original version)* 1:39
  • 22. Prelude to War (alternate performance)* 1:18
  • 23. First Battle (original version)* 5:48
  • 24. Christmas Carol/Christmas Chimes 2:58
  • 25. Source Music Suite 5:42
  • Total Time: 15:54
  • Total Disc Time: 78:24
  • *Conducted by John Green
  • **Contains Portion Conducted by John Green

FSM release notes:

This 2CD set features two Miklos Rozsa scores for chivalrous knights and dashing swordsmen: Knights of the Round Table and The King's Thief.

Knights of the Round Table (1953) was M-G-M's first CinemaScope production, a colorful telling of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle that has since been filmed as Excalibur (1981) and First Knight (1995). Robert Taylor, fresh from the studio's hit Ivanhoe, was cast as Lancelot, opposite Ava Gardner as Guinevere, and Miklos Rozsa was likewise recalled to the genre for one of his legendary action-adventure outings. Rozsa provided a complex score for large orchestra, with bountiful themes for knights and ladies, and extended action cues for sprawling battles.

A previous release of Knights on a Varèse Sarabande LP and CD was an English recording (conducted by Muir Matheson) that was at one time intended for the film. FSM's CD features the premiere release of the original film soundtrack as conducted by Miklos Rozsa (and to a lesser extent John Green) in Los Angeles.

The King's Thief (1955) was a late attempt at the swashbuckling genre, with Edmund Purdom as an outlaw thief (with noble intentions) and a young Roger Moore as his right-hand man. Rozsa rose to the occasion with a majestic main theme and rollicking action cues, as well as romance for the love interest. Suspense figures prominently in an 18-minute prison escape sequence.

FSM's premiere release of both Rozsa gems features the complete underscore to Knights of the Round Table on disc one; and the complete underscore to The King's Thief; alternate and source cues from The King's Thief; and then alternate and source cues from Knights of the Round Table on disc two. Both CDs are entirely in stereo, and the thorough liner notes are by Jeff Eldridge. The two CDs are packaged in a regular-sized jewel box.

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