I was prompted to write a review of this score because the movie was screened on the BBC this week, the sprawling epic about the monumental battle that took place between the British forces under the command of Wellington and the French under the leadership of their Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte did come in for some criticism at the time of its release but has since become an epic film in every sense of the word. Filmmaker Dino de Laurentiis assembled an all star cast which was headlined by Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as a rather pompous but at the same time caring Wellington both actors produced believable performances and for me personally it was Plummer who stole the movie in his portrayal of the iconic British commander. The cast which was a truly international one also included a number of well know actors Orson Welles for example played Louis Xvlll, whilst Virginia McKenna, Ian Ogilvy, Jack Hawkins, Rupert Davies, Michael Wilding, Gianni Garko, Ivo Garrani, Andrea Checchi, Dan O Herlihy and Oleg Vidov all put in credible performances. The battle scenes were spectacular with Director Sergei Bondarchuk utilising a number of Russian army divisions as extras. The musical score was the work of Italian Maestro Nino Rota, who was no stranger to scoring a Napoleonic war drama as he worked on WAR AND PEACE some years earlier in fact the composer utilised and reworked some thematic material from his WAR AND PEACE score and wove it into the fabric of the score for WATERLOO, this being transformed into THE WATERLOO WALTZ, which is heard before the mayhem begins. Rota’s music was a crucial and also an important component of the movie, the opening in particular is highly dramatic with brass and strings giving it an urgent and imposing feel setting the scene for much of what is to follow. Rota’s music is highly effective within the battle scenes his score underlining, heightening and supporting the aggressive action that is taking place on screen.
The score accompanying the somewhat jolly and ram shackle British, Scottish and Irish and giving even more pomp and majesty to the opposing French forces, his score also purveys a sense of futility and creates an atmosphere that seems to shout why do wars and battles such as this have to be fought? The music that Rota composed to accompany the SCOTS GREYS as they charge headlong towards the French lines is masterful, it conjures up the adrenaline rush that the troopers must be feeling as they hurtle towards an unknown fate, but then as the film goes into a slow motion sequence Rota too slows the music and underlines the impressive sequence with an almost celestial and romantic piece performed on organ and strings that momentarily create a mood that is calm and serene.
The remainder of the charge is not scored the SCOTS GREYS being countered by the infamous French lancers who despatch most of the British as they become bogged down in heavy muddy ground.
The battle scene where we see an Ariel view of a number of British squares being attacked by French cavalry is impressive enough but the drama and sheer senselessness of the action by the French is heightened by Rota’s aggressive, sharp and jagged sounding soundtrack, where the composer utilises brass and percussion aided by strings to create a highly agitated and chaotic atmosphere as we see the British unleashing hails of bullets against a cavalry that has no infantry or cannon to support it, the French sustain heavy losses and as the scene comes to its conclusion Rota returns to an arrangement of the central theme that is performed on solo violin depicting again the waste and the senseless act of war and the madness and carnage of battle. The final battle scene is scored in three sections, it begins with the proud and bombastic march that accompanies THE OLD GUARD (LA VIELLE GARDE) as they go in to finish off the British, the strident drums the piccolos and the brass convince us that yes the French have beaten Wellington, in fact the British too are resigned to the fact that all is lost, until a rider informs Napoleon that the Prussians are in the woods,(I PRUSSIANI) the mood suddenly alters as we hear the strains of the Prussian theme the commander telling his children “To fly the black flags high and show no mercy”.
The music also conveys Napoleons despair and disbelief that victory has been taken from him, then the music slips into the theme for the British forces (WELLINGTON-NOW ITS YOUR TIME!) as they take advantage of the support from the Prussians and advance towards the oncoming French. Napoleon is man handled away from his troops as the battle reaches its climax and the French are beaten, surrounded by the British and the Prussians the French are given the option of surrender but refuse this and are finished off by cannon. IL CAMPO DI MORTI is a sombre and low key piece that is played as Wellington peruses the field of the dead, it gradually builds from its low and sombre beginnings and the composer transforms into an ominous sounding version of the scores central theme. This is truly an epic score, my only reservation about this particular release is the sound quality, released on LEGEND records(Italy) it consists of the same track listing as the original CAM and Paramount long playing records, and I cannot be sure but am pretty certain that no restoration or re-mastering took place for this edition, I just hope that one day soon a re-mastered version will make it to compact disc, so that we may sample the delights of this magnificent score without the distortion and sound fluctuation and also some of the additional music that was provided by Wilfred Josephs, the score is conducted by Italian maestro Bruno Nicolai.