The 1960,s were in my opinion a great era for film music, it was after all the decade in which James Bond became active on our cinema screens in thrillers such as DR NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER et al, the 1960,s also gave us THE Man with no Name portrayed by the near unknown actor from the TV series RAWHIDE Clint Eastwood who debuted in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS which was the movie that inspired so many westerns from Italy spawning copy cat flicks made on a shoestring that attempted to imitate director Sergio Leones unique approach on the western, earning them the somewhat cruel but at the same time fitting name of Spaghetti Western and creating an entire new genre and collective of films, that ranged from revenge stories into comedy and also included its fair share of politically orientated tales. It was the era of a number of great musicals where the hills came alive and Oliver twist and Fagin burst into song asking for more and enticing young lads to pick pockets for a career, wonderful adventure movies and also the continued success of the more traditional Hollywood western, as in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE SCALPHUNTERS, COMMANCHEROS, WILL PENNY, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, plus war movies by the truck load and so many 007 clones such as Matt Helm and towards the end of the decade slick crime capers such as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and some atmospheric and colourful Gothic horrors courtesy of Hammer films and AIP. It was also a period where we saw the epic movie still being produced, not in such an abundance as the previous two decades but I suppose one could argue that this particular genre of movie had been more popular in the 1950,s because of the stars that were involved who had a following of cinema goers who had been weaned on swashbucklers and Roman and Greek tales of heroic acts and mad Emperors and Kings, but the word EPIC does not just refer to movies which had Romans, Christians being fed to lions and chariot races. Epic also is used when describing large scale productions such as 55 DAYS AT PEKING or historical war movies such as WATERLOO, KHARTOUM, ZULU and their like.
One movie that fits firmly into the epic category is EL CID, now maybe I am bias here because EL CID has always held a certain attraction for me right from when I was a young lad, there is just something about the story and its romance, its historical content, grand battle scenes and wonderful locations plus its rich and colourful photography that is mesmerizing and retains ones attention and even now some 54 years on it keeps calling me back to it. Released in the December of 1961 the movie starred Charlton Heston as the Cid (Rodrigo de Bivar) with the stunningly beautiful Sophia Loren as his love Chimene, Raf Vallone as Count Ordonez and Herbert Lom as the fearsome Emir Ben Yussef who is the driving force behind the Moors.
Spain is overrun by the Moors who are destroying Churches, taking cities and killing Christians. Rodrigo de Bivar sees that as a divided country Spain can never rid themselves of the invading hordes, it becomes his quest in life to Unite his war torn country against these merciless enemies from Africa even enlisting Moors into his ranks after sparing them from death. The movie charts his life, his loyalty to a Monarch that is not deserving of it and his undying love for Chimene and later his twin girls, taking us up till his death at the battle of Valencia where his efforts to lead a united Spain against the enemy and drive them into the sea and back to where they came finally are fulfilled but at the ultimate cost to himself and his family.
The musical score for EL CID was the work of a giant of film music Miklos Rozsa, of course the Maestro was no stranger to working on Epic productions by the time the decade of the 1960,s dawned.
Producer Samuel Bronston however mentioned in an interview at the time of the films release that he was somewhat nervous about offering or asking Rozsa to create the score for his historical epic as the composer had worked on so many big productions leading up to EL CID, including SODOM AND GOMORAH, BEN HUR, QUO VADIS and Bronston’s own ill fated Biblical epic KING OF KINGS. All of which were set Centuries before the adventures of EL CID. But thankfully Dr Rozsa agreed to work on the score and in my ever so humble opinion created one of the most stirring, romantic and emotive soundtracks of the 20th Century and beyond and also one of his most accomplished and popular. There have been various recordings of Rozsa’s music over the years the most recent being the Tadlow 2 disc set, there have also been a number of suites of the music one of my favourites being conducted by Elmer Bernstein that included a number of cues which at the time of its release had never been recorded before. I however have to say that I still prefer and go back to the original MGM release of the soundtrack and I know it is no where near a complete example of the work like the excellent Tadlow release but I suppose it holds a special place in my heart because I first purchased it on the MGM long playing record with the yellow label for the Princely sum of one pound and two shillings, then acquired the Compact Disc years later when issued on the MGM/EMI label and although it contains just 11 tracks for me it is the best and most entertaining edition. Dr. Rozsa’s score is a triumph an exhilarating listening experience whilst watching the movie as it interacts and supports, embellishes and enhances the images on screen and also stands alone as a rewarding and enriching listening encounter just as music.
It is filled with drama, pageantry, emotion, intimacy and romanticism and contains some of the most powerful and majestic sounding fanfares I have ever heard, it is a soundtrack that is brimming with an inspired and regal sound which is added to and given more depth and emotion by its poignant and heartrending tone poems and intimate and haunting love themes all of which is further enriched and augmented by some of cinemas most pulsating and ominous sounding battle music, the composer underlines the action with effervescent and thundering passages but also retains the scores sense of richness and grandiose lushness, via his proud Hispanic sounding compositions. This I think can be heard most effectively in the cue THE BATTLE OF VALENCIA where the composer enlists an array of percussion and timpani and combines these elements with driving strings that are aided and underpinned by rasping brass to depict the desperate efforts of the Spanish armies to halt the advance of the Moors, the music is the charging cavalry and the clashing of metal the endless waves of arrows that are launched at the charging Spanish forces, the cacophony and near chaotic sound of battle music is abruptly halted in its tracks by Rodrigo’s theme being introduced as he is struck by a Moorish arrow, this theme adds emotion and also gives the piece a sense of despair as our hero is wounded. As he retreats back to the safety of Valencia’s walls the theme builds but soon evaporates into a more sombre version of the motif as his troops hear the news and quickly loose morale and are thrown into a despairing and desperate retreat back to the relative safety of the fearsome walls of the City. The sombre mood continues as the seriousness of the CID,s wound becomes evident, the composer utilising dark and low strings to depict and elaborate upon the gravity of the situation and its mood. The compact disc opens with OVERTURE which bursts into life via Rozsa’s rousing and glittering fanfares that are punctuated by percussion, followed by strident strings that take on the central theme and are embellished and accompanied by martial sounding timpani and fearsome sounding brass, all of these elements combine and build into one of cinemas most appealing and powerful themes setting the scene perfectly for what is to follow on the disc. It is an unsettling sound but one that is also proud, majestic and heroic, which reaches its conclusion in a tumultuous crescendo of brass fanfares, booming percussion and romantically fervent strings.
Track two is the PRELUDE. this is the music that opened the movie playing over the credits. Hispanic sounding, with a romantic and highly emotive style filled to overflowing with pride, patriotism and oozing a sense of dedication and faith. Rozsa’s music is magnificent and highly charged brimming with emotion and as it enters into a quieter passage purveys an atmosphere of tenderness and intimacy. Track number three is PALACE MUSIC and is just that a short but pleasant piece that is basically source music but still has to it a haunting thematic quality. Track number four FIGHT FOR CALAHORRA, is for me one of the scores highlights, rousing fanfares, galloping percussion and windswept sounding strings bring us one of the soundtracks most appealing and stirring compositions, it has the WOW factor ten fold, and introduces the fight which Rodrigo must undertake to win the city of Calahorra for his King, a task he volunteers for after he has killed the Kings champion. This cue really is heard prior to the fight and is performed as both peasants, Knights and Royalty are all summoned to attend what is looked upon as a spectacle but in reality is a fight to the death. This is a cue that underlines the joyous atmosphere of the occasion but also has within it certain elements that lean towards the more serious side of the proceedings. Track number five, THIRTEEN KNIGHTS, is heard as Rodrigo sets out to rescue his future Monarch Prince Alfonso who is by order of his sibling Prince Sancho being taken to the dungeons in the town of Zamorra, accompanied by thirteen Knights, Rodrigo follows the Knights and enters into a fight with them, the music for the scene is vital and adds greatly to its impact the composer creating a theme for the said Knights and also introducing a version of Rodrigo,s theme as he enters into combat with them dispatching them easily it seems, Rozsa,s brass and percussion punctuating the ferocious swordplay until Rodrigo emerges triumphant. Track number six, FAREWELL is a more tender and emotive cue and at just over 6,minutes is one of this discs longest tracks, the cue opens with a heartrending version of Rodrigo,s theme which is performed in the first instant by woodwind, then guitar is brought into the equation and plaintive and subtle strings too underline or mirror the theme. The love theme for Chimene and Rodrigo is also given a more fuller working here performed by a achingly tender violin which is beautifully mesmerising.
The music is heard as the two lovers who are re-united spend the night in a barn after being exiled by King Sancho, however news of their whereabouts spreads and as the sun rises and they emerge from the barn they are confronted by the CID,s loyal soldiers which is given more weight by the introduction of THE EL CID MARCH and is heard as Rodrigo leads his soldiers away to fight. Track number seven is a fuller version of the march INTERMEZZO-EL CID MARCH again filled with fanfares, brass flourishes and strident strings that are underpinned and supported by percussion, clashing cymbals and martial timpani, that is swept along by driving strings as we see Rodrigo,s army grow and march. Track number eight THE TWINS, is heard as we see Rodrigo after years of fighting returns to Chimene and also for the first time meets his twin daughters, this is Rozsa at his most emotive within the score, a touching and heartbreaking piece which includes Chimene’s theme and also a variant of that to represent the children, both of which intertwine to become a passionate and tender composition. Track number nine THE BATTLE FOR VALENCIA we have already discussed, track number ten THE CIDS DEATH is heard as Rodrigo lies mortally wounded surrounded by his loyal friends and his love Chimene he manages to cling onto life long enough to hear the news that Alfonso has arrived with reinforcements to aid the fight with the Moors as Rodrigo drifts away he has at last seen a united Spain. Rozsa,s sorrowful nocturne includes shades of Chimene,s theme. The final cue on the Compact Disc is THE LEGEND AND EPILOGUE. Rodrigo is strapped to his horse in full amour to give his soldiers morale, FOR GOD,SPAIN and THE CID Alfonso cries as the gates of Valencia open the CID rides out into the sunshine to the dismay of the Moors who thought he was dead, Rozsa brings into play a grand sounding church organ which performs The CID,s theme, the Moors throw down their weapons and run the CID charging them down accompanied by Rozsa,s stirring and inspired score, the music soon alters as the CID gallops along the sea shore the composer utilising both Chimene,s and Rodrigo,s themes and cleverly combining them bring the film to its end and the score to its crescendo. I know it is probably somewhat odd to review such a classic score as EL CID because many collectors are already acquainted with it, however maybe they might have missed this particular edition of the soundtrack, if they have maybe they should remedy that very soon and track down a copy.