The score from EL CONDOR has been on my wants list for 40 years, I am being truthful about this, as soon as I saw the movie and heard the opening theme by Maurice Jarre I wanted the soundtrack. I checked the publicity posters for the film and yes there it was soundtrack album available etc. So off I went cash in hand to the local record store, but no it was not available and has never been available, this soon become my holy grail, as I had heard that certain radio stations were sent copies of the music on white label long playing records, I offered money to presenters on the BBC who looked at me as if I were mad. But the LP was never found in any archive of any radio station; even the illustrious radio 2 denied knowledge of it. So it’s been a long time coming, was it worth the wait, hell YES! EL CONDOR the movie was I think appealing to many cinema goers because at the time of its release, the Italian western had already established itself, and was a popular genre with Joe public. EL CONDOR was one of the numerous American or Hollywood produced western that had a kind of duel identity, by this I mean it was essentially an American production, but it also had certain similarities to the spaghetti western. These similarities included the location where it was filmed (in Spain) and also its unlikely but highly entertaining plot. The movie was a hit with fans of the western genre as a whole and appealed to both schools of western film connoisseurs i.e. Hollywood and European. The film has over the years retained its following because of screenings on television and also because of the movie being released on VHS (hopefully a DVD will be in the shops soon). Jarre’s score is at times as offbeat as the films storyline, but the music that the composer wrote is in many ways a reinvention of the classic western score as created by composers such as Bernstein, Moross and Steiner, plus it contains musical oddities and stand out trademarks that can too be associated with the European approach to scoring the western. In fact what Jarre did when he scored western movies was formulate, conceive and create a unique sound that was all his own and one that did not belong to any collective of styles that had been previously associated or were at that time still associated with the genre, Jarre’s unique approach was maybe influenced in small ways by certain other examples, but in essence was the style and trademark of Maurice Jarre alone.
Like in many scores by Maurice Jarre, the Main Title for EL CONDOR begins with an array of percussive instruments, in this case it is tambourines being vigorously shaken and beaten supported and punctuated by piano and castanets, these are joined by various other members of the percussion section, strumming guitars and underlying strings that build to a crescendo that ushers in the catchy central theme from the score performed on harmonica mirrored by cimbalom. The theme moves along at a brisk pace developing and picking up additional instrumentation along the way until it segues into an arrangement of the theme performed on Mexican sounding trumpet supported by strings and up tempo strumming on guitars, this returns swiftly to a full working of the theme which is taken on by the string section, and brings the opening cue to its conclusion. Stirring material which sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the score. Track 2, BALLAD FOR TWO GUITARS, is just that, a lazy but melodious sounding composition performed on two Spanish guitars, that pick out a plaintive and pleasing ballad, the guitars are later in the cue augmented by the delicate placing of a solo flute, which although short lived has the desired effect of adding a touch of melancholy to the proceedings. Track 3, BEFORE THE ATTACK, is another arrangement of the scores central theme, this time the composer utilizing harmonica, minimal brass and woods to begin with then adding cimbalom and plucked strings combined with an almost fuzzy guitar sound with harpsichord flourishes and stabs, these components combine to build an atmosphere that is tense but one that also has an air of mischief about it. This eventually leads into a more martial sounding version of the theme that in turn develops further into a short sharp up tempo working of the central theme, performed on strings, brass and supported by percussive elements. Track 4, HIGH TENSION AND BROKEN WALTZ, is a veritable smorgasbord of instrumentation and styles, Mexican flavours are fused with a comic air at the offset of the cue, but the mood changes quite quickly as the composer employs a slower tempi to the proceedings and treats us to another version of the haunting main theme, harmonica, trumpet, piano, strings and percussion all take part creating an entertaining and inventive composition.
Track 5, is one of my personal favourites on the compact disc, it is a bouncy version of the theme, performed by trumpet which is played in unison with cimbalom enhanced and embellished by tambourines being shaken, the rack develops in volume and also the tempo is increased as the strings are added to the mix punctuated by the use of castanets as a jaunty Mariachi trumpet solo takes the lead. This is a gem of a score and one that has been laying around too long, collectors all over the world should thank Stephane Lerouge for the dedication and hard work on this soundtrack and also thank him for his tireless efforts in bringing us the ECOUTEZ LE CINEMA ! series on Universal France. The collection as a whole is a must for any self respecting film music collector, as it contains some of the finest music ever written for the cinema, EL CONDOR is certainly a worthy addition to the series. Maurice Jarre could not believe that he was asked to score westerns, after all the western was an all American genre, or at least it was up until the Italians began to create their own particular take on it. Jarre who thought that he was too French to be associated with westerns just had an uncanny knack of creating infectious and highly melodic soundtracks for the genre of the sagebrush saga, his music not only serving well the images on screen but also being an entertaining entity away from those images. The most amazing thing about this release is we don’t just get EL CONDOR but we also get another Jarre classic western score, VILLA RIDES/PANCHO VILLA. The 1968 western starred Yul Brynner with hair, and Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum. Again Jarre provided a more than adequate score, and even incorporated the rather cheeky sounding, La Cucaracha into the fabric of his original score, thus giving the work shades of authenticity. The composers triumph sounding central theme which opens the score, (track 11) Comes complete with whistling, strummed guitars, slow building percussion and builds to an inspiring crescendo which is patriotic and stimulating is the foundation for the entire work, it is heard in various arrangements throughout but it remains fresh and invigorating the whole time. The composer also treats to a handful of what I call secondary themes but they are in no way second class, as in Track number 12, MUCH MORE MONEY, this is a lively and highly entertaining cue, which contains a delightful mariachi style that is contagious listening. Track 13, WALTZ IN THE CLOUDS is just a wonderful listening experience with Jarre employing strings to accentuate and carry a rousing theme to accompany Pancho Villa on his revolutionary path. THE LOVE THEME, track 16, is a variant of the central theme, but Jarre gives it a light airy waltz treatment, which is followed by a delicate and emotive Mexican serenade performed by guitar and male vocal embellished and underlined by strings.
The grand piece of the score must be track 20, THE BATTLE, Jarre squeezes everything possible into this track, arranges and links all the major themes within the score together in a masterful and high energy piece which thrills and inspires. Again, Jarre delivers a work of much quality and also a score that is exciting, stirring and entertaining, overflowing with sweeping almost epic themes and energetic passages to accompany a turbulent but thrilling period in history. The compact disc is as always packaged extremely well by Universal France, and contains striking art work and informative sleeve notes. A must have score an essential purchase.