Tag Archives: BEN HUR

BEN HUR (2016).

BEN HUR

In cinema history there have been many what people call re-makes of classic movies, one of the latest stories to get a make over is BEN HUR, now the 1959 version of the movie with CHARLTON HESTON,(did you hear the fanfare, and see the cast of thousands, when I said his name, in that booming trailer voice over style) was and still is a remarkable movie, it is a great film, and in fact every thing about it is epic and iconic. Its ironic however that the new version which seems to be annoying cinema goers or watchers of the film rather than entertain them is being compared with the 1959 version, which when you think about it was itself a re-make of the silent version of the story. But, Hey come on guys everything should be given a chance ,right? Hello that’s right isn’t it people? Anybody there? Seriously I don’t expect this new version of BEN HUR to be anything like the 1959 take on the story, it cant be can it? But I was in fact not that interested in the film but was intrigued by the film score by Marco Beltrami, when I saw it announced that he would score the film I was interested to see or hear what he would do with it musically. Beltrami in my opinion is a very talented composer, I have followed his career right from the early days and it was evident right from the off that he was a composer of note that could easily adapt his musical style to any genre of film. He is not as many thought merely a slasher/horror film music smith but can also turn his hand to create rousing themes for westerns, adventure movies and also tender romantic scenarios and when you think about it his scores for the horror genre are pretty operatic and imposing. So BEN HUR, would this be a chariot race to many, well I am pleased to say he has risen to the challenge and created a score that is stirring and filled with strong and melodic thematic material. Ok its not Miklos Rozsa but was he trying to be I doubt it very much, anyone who aspires to outshine Rozsa,s inspirational, gorgeously rich and momentous soundtrack is surely going to be thrown to the lions in the arena. Or given a bad review… Released by Sony Classical BEN HUR (2016) contains a soundtrack that although is suitably periodic in its sound and style evoking images of the pomp and ceremony and brutality of ancient Rome also has to it a somewhat contemporary feel and atmosphere. I am not sure but I think I do detect the use of synthetic strings in certain parts which for me did spoil the effect and the ambience a little, but I suppose in these days of restricted budgets things have to be adapted and also approaches and working practices alter.

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The opening track THE BEN HUR THEME is a lilting and highly emotional piece, with layered strings acting as a background to a poignant violin solo, which introduces a pleasant and effecting soprano solo, this in turn acts as an introduction to a more pronounced version of the central theme performed by strings woodwind and brass with choir giving its support. The theme reaches its crescendo and then the track melts away with woodwind taking the cue to its end. Track number two BEN AND ESTHER is a short lived but haunting piece again the composer bringing into play the BEN HUR THEME, performed on woods with subtle support from the string section. Track number three is where for me it all goes a little out of kilter with the subject matter, JERUSALEM 33 AD is dramatic yes, but it is for me too contemporary sounding and it’s a theme that would not be out of place in any one of the thousands of Marvel comic book superhero movies that are doing the rounds at the moment. So moving on we go to track number four, CARRYING JUDAH, the composer re-introduces briefly female solo voice, but this is just a fleeting performance, the cue then transforming into a more down tempo dramatic piece for strings and percussive elements. I once spoke to Gabriel Yared about his score for TROY he said the reason he was given for its rejection was that it was too modern sounding, well I think I have the same problem here with Beltrami,s BEN HUR, its true to say that there are numerous references that can be deemed as being suitable for a story set in this period in history, but for me there are just to many modern sounding nuances and quirks of orchestration. This is a good soundtrack, as in there are many themes and beautiful melodies listen to the cue MESSALA AND TIRZAH and you will hear evidence of the romanticism and delicate colours that the composer employs , but is it suitable for a story set in the times of Ancient Rome? I will leave that up to you to decide, take a listen.

MIKLOS ROZSA.

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To say that Miklos Rozsa was a prolific composer of music for the cinema is certainly an understatement, plus we should not forget Rozsa was not just a composer of magnificent film scores but also wrote music for the concert hall another area in which he excelled. Born in Budapest Hungary in 1907, Rozsa was the son of an influential industrialist and land owner. Rozsa came from an affluent family and most of his early years were spent at the family’s country estate in the county of NOGRAD which lay close to the Matra mountains. His first encounter wit music came when his was just five years of age, it was then that he began to study the viola and piano, just three years later after celebrating his eighth birthday he began to perform in public and made his initial attempts at composing music. His Father however was convinced that music was not the right career move for his Son, so insisted that Rozsa should set out to get an all round good education. Miklos attended a High school in Budapest for this education, but still remained actively involved in his study of music. After a while he moved to Leipzig where he began to study Chemistry. These studies however were short lived and after some intervention by Herrmann Grabner Rozsa’s Father was persuaded to allow his son to study music on a full time basis and concentrate on making it his career. He began to study at the Leipzig conservatory and in his last years there would often stand in for Tutors giving lectures and also instructing fellow students. Rozsa’s first published orchestral work was a piece entitled HUNGARIAN SERENADE for small orchestra which was given its premiere performance in Budapest during the summer of 1929 by The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Erno Dohnanyi (sometimes known as Ernst von Dohnányi). The piece was well received and garnered Rozsa much acclaim from composers such as Richard Strauss.

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Rozsa soon established himself as a composer of note and built up an impressive musical canon, he collaborated with his friend and fellow composer Arthur Honegger to stage a concert of their combined musical works at the Salle Debussy in Paris. It was whilst working alongside Honegger that Rozsa heard the composer’s music for the move LES MISERABLES and became interested in the concept of writing music for the cinema and utilizing music to heighten the dramatic impact of film. After watching LES MISERABLES and seeing how music enhanced the images on screen Rozsa decided that composing music for movies was what he wanted to do. In 1936, he travelled to England to work on a ballet entitled HUNGARIA, and whilst there was asked to compose the score for Alexader Korda’s production of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937).

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The movie and also Rozsa’s musical score were a great success and later that year the composer was engaged to write the music for another Korda production THUNDER IN THE CITY (1937), shortly after this assignment the composer was signed to the permanent staff of London films which was Korda’s production company. Rozsa first major scoring assignment came in 1939, when he wrote the music for THE FOUR FEATHERS, after this he worked on a movie that is probably still regarded by many as the composers most accomplished and memorable work for cinema which was THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940). The film and the music thrilled and delighted audiences all over the world and became a lucrative production for the Korda organisation and was also the score that would lead Rozsa to Hollywood, this was because of the outbreak of WWll and the entire production of the movie including Rozsa being relocated to the United States who at that time were not involved in the conflict. The composer’s first Hollywood score was to come two years later when he penned the soundtrack to Korda’s THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942). The composer made a recording of a suite of music from the movie and also included narration on the recording by the films star Sabu, this was the first time that film music had been released on a recording in the United States and it proved to be very popular.

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In 1945 the composer wrote the score for Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND and his hauntingly mesmerising soundtrack established him even more as a composer of worth and also garnered him an Academy Award for his efforts, in the same year Rozsa composed the music for Billy Wilders THE LOST WEEKEND and for this he employed what is probably the first electronic instrument within the score the Theremin. In 1947 the composer was awarded the Oscar for his music to George Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE and one year later Rozsa joined the staff at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, it is probably true to say that it was whilst at M.G.M that the composer was at his most prolific, writing the scores to such movies as QUO VADIS (1951), BEN HUR (1959), EL CID (1961) and KING OF KINGS (1962). He was awarded an Oscar for his monumental soundtrack to BEN HUR and received much acclaim for his epic score to EL CID. The latter becoming a firm favourite among numerous collectors of film music. As the Golden age of film music reached its sunset and the Silver age began to dawn film making trends and practices altered and styles of film production changed (not necessarily for the better) thus many up and coming film makers were attempting to create their own unique approaches to making movies and this did include the way in which music was utilized within film. Younger composers were beginning to break into the film music arena and although not turning their backs on the what had up till then been the traditional way of scoring movies were inventing new sounds and styles.

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Rozsa however still remained busy during this period even though he had himself acknowledged that EL CID was his last major film score. The composer created a number of noteworthy scores that in many connoisseurs opinions were more worthy than the films they were intended to enhance. There were also thankfully a number of production that were creditable vessels for his wonderful themes, these in my opinion included, PROVIDENCE, THE LAST EMBRACE, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, TIME AFTER TIME and DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, the latter title including a score that parodied Rozsa’s own style and sound that he had employed in movies such as THE NAKED CITY, THE KILLERS and BRUTE FORCE.

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During the 1980,s the composer was forced to retire from writing music because of failing eyesight, he passed away on July 27th 1995 aged 88, he left behind a rich and varied tapestry of musical works and is still influencing film music in the 21st Century via his powerful, sumptuous, haunting and innovative style of composing for the motion picture industry.

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