Should the art of film music be remembered a thousand years from now, and if Bronislau Kaper is remembered as one of its practitioners, then it will doubtless be because of the efforts of Film Score Monthly. Much in the way fans of Bruce Broughton owe a great deal to the team at Intrada, Lukas Kendall and his merry men have kept the musical legacy of the Polish émigré composer alive. In the last few years the label has released the Southern family drama Home from the Hill, Biblical epic The Prodigal, Dostoevsky adaptation The Brothers Karamazov, quasi-historical romance The Swan, and Kaper’s collaboration with Heitor Villa-Lobos, Green Mansions. Not content to rest on the laurels of their recent stunning release of Kaper’s great epic score – Mutiny on the Bounty – in their latest Golden Age release they herald our attention with Kaper’s entry in the derring-do school of film-making – Quentin Durward.
Quentin Durward. It’s not a name that easily rolls off the tongue. Writing at a time when it seems no major film can have a title that reaches beyond a self-conscious hackneyed phrase, it seems inconceivable that in 1955, M-G-M’s cheap cashcow picture was a film called Quentin Durward. Nonetheless, following the successful Robert Taylor-Joan Fontaine starrer Ivanhoe (1952) and M-G-M’s Cinemascope premiere Knights of the Round Table (1953), an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Quentin Durward (Scott also authored Ivanhoe) would complete the cycle of chivalric shining armour epics. Robert Taylor would star with Kay Kendall in the more comedic tale of knighthood in a time when gunpowder was proving itself mightier than the sword.
Then bright star of historical epics, Miklós Rózsa, could not it seems be lured back for a third knighthood adventure, the Hungarian émigré having scored both Ivanhoe and Knights of the Round Table. (The original scores are available from Rhino and FSM respectively.) Perhaps it can be considered fortunate that Rózsa was choosy in his assignments – having heard the best he had to offer, the change in compositional voice is welcome.
Kaper’s score is written very much in the tradition of Korngold’s action-adventure scores, building the score from a series of themes for the various characters. For Quentin Durward – the knight errant cum fool, Kaper devised a jaunty march with more than a hint of a Scottish jig. In ‘Main Title / Lord Crawford’, we hear it as a fanfare, while its more humorous form, a comic woodwind dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place against John Williams’ Tale of Viktor Navorski’, appears frequently throughout the score. (As in ‘My Uncle / Your Grace / Poor Nation / Waiters’.) There is of course an earnest string love theme for Quentin and Isabelle (Kendall) that makes its first appearance in the ‘Main Title’, given numerous treatments for woodwind and string soloists in cues such as ‘Stop / It’s Useless / Take the Gypsy’.
There is a villain theme – the evil Overlord associated with this descending brass motif is one Count de la Mark (Duncan Lamont). His dire-as-death motif dominates the score’s first thrilling action set-piece (‘Vanished/Honorable House/Fight at Bridge’) and is never far away thereafter. There are also sprightly secondary themes, the most important of which is the theme for the amoral gypsy Hayraddin, best presented as a source cue with tambourine, santouri (or possibly cymbalon) and gypsy –sounding instrumentation. A secondary love theme with horn soloist appears in ‘I Must Go / Get Him’ between variations of Hayraddin’s theme.
Of course the greatest asset is not the themes per se, but their use throughout the score. Kaper’s counterpoint is consistently impressive, and he incorporates the motivic material so well into his many action set-pieces that it’s never hard to imagine what’s happening on screen. The orchestration has that glorious Golden Age feel – the woodwinds are like a warm hot chocolate, the violins sweet as can be, the brass threatening and noble in turns. The superb orchestral interplay in the finale cue will leave few Golden Age aficionados untouched.
Possibly the only caveat that can be stated with respect to this album is this reviewer’s slight fatigue with the Korngoldian style of action-adventure scoring. On its own, this score is a fine achievement in the tradition of leitmotific scoring, with memorable themes and a healthy sense of humour. There are fanfares aplenty, and an abundance of rich orchestral interplay. Despite all this though, I can’t imagine playing this one a great deal – with neither the dynamism of Waxman’s Prince Valiant, the familiarity of something as classic as one of Korngold’s own swashbucklers, or the immaculate style of Rózsa – it comes a little too late to really be as impressive as it might have. Interesting as it is to hear Kaper’s voice in a genre we haven’t heard him in before, I am probably not the only one for whom this score might have done more three years ago, before the market flooded with original and reconstructed recordings of many entries in the derring-do genre. Having said that, I am glad to have it, and for those who grew up with these sorts of films, this new release from FSM will surely seem like the cat’s pyjamas.
As usual, Film Score Monthly sets the standard on fringe benefits. The liner notes by Lukas Kendall place the score in the context of the film and the film in the context of the time, going on to describe the music and accompanying action in each cue. Archival stills and artwork give the listener unfamiliar with the film a fair sense of action that Kaper’s score so impressively mickey-mouses. And the sound is fantastic in stereo, remixed and remastered from the 35mm three-track recording. Those who wonder at the absence of bonus alternate tracks – normally a staple of FSM releases – should note the following extraordinary fact fromKendall’s liner notes: “Notably, the score was recorded without the need for a single revision.” Which either means the director didn’t care about the music, or Kaper was a consummate professional. On the basis of the music as presented here, I’d be inclined to give Kaper the benefit of the doubt.
Film Score Monthly News Release:
Quentin Durward(1955) was the last in an unofficial trilogy of historical adventures produced by M-G-M's Pandro S. Berman, directed by Richard Thorpe, and starring Robert Taylor. Ivanhoe (1952) and Knights of the Round Table (1953, FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 7) had been scored by Miklos Rozsa, but during the middle of 1955 Rozsa was occupied with the studio's Diane (FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 3), so the new picture was taken on by Bronislau Kaper.
Like Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward was based on a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, but took on a comic dimension as it depicted a 15th century "when knighthood was a drooping blossom."Taylorstarred as the title character, an honorable but penniless Scottish knight sent toFranceon a minor mission that grows into a battle for the country's future. The film featured lovely European photography, a mostly English supporting cast, and a charming turn byTayloras the chivalrous but somewhat hapless knight.
Bronislau Kaper's score for Quentin Durward is a delightful swashbuckling effort in the best tradition of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's '30s and '40s efforts and the CinemaScope-era scores by Waxman, Rozsa and Steiner. The themes range from a lighthearted Scottish jig to a yearning love theme, and melancholy strains of unrequited affection -- with solidly symphonic action music for the derring-do. The score has long been desired by fans of the genre.
Kaper's complete score to Quentin Durward is premiered here in stereo sound, with liner notes by Lukas Kendall.
Music Composed by Bronislau Kaper
Conducted by Johnny Green
Main Title/Lord Crawford 3:25
My Uncle/Your Grace/Poor Nation/Waiters 2:01
Vanished/Honorable House/Fight at Bridge 5:45
Quentin Arrives at Castle/Quentin Cases Castle 2:56
Begone or Hang/Palm of Your Hand/Lady Hameline/Quentin Exits 2:09
Message/Quentin Closes Shutters 2:11
De Creville/He Is a Paragon/What Are You? 3:24
France/Plot/Departure/Away/More Wine 8:34
Stop/It's Useless/Take the Gypsy 4:24
I Feel Better/Do Something/Whip/Jewel Box/Gypsy Dance 6:19
Crossroads/Liege/Distant Fanfare/Royal Fanfare 4:05
Louis's Gold/Am I Absurd?/King's Visit 3:30
I Must Go/Get Him 3:34
Goodbye Gypsy/Another Priest 1:14
It's the Room 2:30
Arrest/End and Cast 2:25
Total Time: 59:01