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Lawrence of Arabia (50th Anniversary) by Maurice Jarre

Lawrence of Arabia

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Lawrence of Arabia (Soundtrack) by Maurice Jarre
Lawrence of Arabia (Soundtrack) by Maurice Jarre
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Lawrence of Arabia (Soundtrack) by Maurice Jarre

Lawrence of Arabia
Composed by Maurice Jarre
Silva America Records (2012)

Rating: 9/10

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“This release, ... , will blow you away with its sheer force at times. ”

Epic to End All Epics
Review by Edmund Meinerts

 

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA needs no introduction for film or score. Director DAVID LEAN’s ambitious portrayal of the exploits of British army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence during World War I is perhaps the defining “epic film,” released at the height of the genre’s popularity in 1962. It comes with all the prerequisites of the genre: a star-studded ensemble cast, an enormous production budget (for the time), a larger-than-life performance from the legendary Peter O’Toole, stunning cinematography in exotic locales – and, of course, a musical score that could be used as the dictionary definition of “sweeping”. In retrospect, of course, MAURICE JARRE is recognized as one of the great film composers of years gone by, so it’s hard to fathom that he was a virtual unknown at the time (it would be almost like hiring GABRIEL YARED to score a modern-day epic…oh wait…). After English composers WILLIAM WALTON and MALCOLM ARNOLD turned the assignment down, JARRE was a last-ditch solution, a man with only limited orchestral experience now faced with the task of writing a lengthy, expansive score for a vast Hollywood production. The question of whether he rose to the challenge has been decidedly answered by the score’s deservedly-legendary status.

What else is there to say about the main theme that hasn’t already been said? Introduced at 0:39 of the “Overture” (1), it is the epitome of the desert, the granddaddy of any given “Oriental-sounding” melody. Its cyclical structure is deceptively simple: three drawn-out descending notes, followed by a rising triplet that returns to the starting note. That’s the first phrase, in any case, and it is that very simplicity that allows JARRE to drop fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references throughout the score, and he does so frequently. The slow, enormously broad string and brass performances that tend to accompany desert vista shots in cues like the overture and especially “First Entrance to the Desert” (3) are perhaps the most famous portions of the score, but JARRE skillfully manipulates the theme into varying emotional settings. For instance, the delightfully playful “Night and Stars/Lawrence and Tafas” (4) is a highlight, and “In Whose Name Do You Ride?/That is the Desert (The Camels Will Die)” (7) contains two interesting versions: a vivid and sprightly version starting at 1:15 and a more subtle, ostinato-like application at 4:43. The theme turns sour and dissonant twenty seconds into “Adulation/The Horse Stampede/Faraj Killed” (16), another intriguing development. JARRE frequently alters the rhythm of the notes to suit the score’s flow at that particular time, often stopping and starting or even switching instrumentation; the progression of the notes themselves, however, always stays the same – and odds are you’ll have that progression memorized by “First Entrance to the Desert” (3) at the very latest, assuming you weren’t already familiar with it.

Though the main theme is no doubt its most famous feature, it is by no means the only thematic device to be found in this multilayered epic. An upbeat secondary theme for the British Army is perhaps the most prominent, introducing itself with pride and a touch of pomp in the “Main Titles” (2) at 0:18 and alternating with the main theme throughout that cue. Another, more source-like representation for the British comes in the form of Kenneth Alford’s World War One-era march, “The Voice of the Guns”, presented almost verbatim in the cue “A Brilliant Bit of Soldiering” (14) and rearranged for woodwinds and snare in “Military March” (20). Fragments of this piece are weaved into the score by JARRE, most notably in the fantastically complex second half of the “Overture” (1) – listen carefully, and you’ll hear no less than four themes all struggling to assert themselves at the same time. The brief “Arrival at Auda’s Camp” (11) is a similarly breathless romp that touches on a number of interlocking motifs.

Another absolutely unforgettable aspect of this score is the vast array of exotic drums, timpani and metallic percussion that rumbles through it. The timpani roll that dramatically opens the “Overture” (1) is another stylistic touch that has been imitated by other composers in similar situations, most notably JERRY GOLDSMITH in THE WIND AND THE LION. The motif that accompanies that percussion at 0:17 is reprised as a general battle theme during the score’s more frantic moments. Another theme for the Arabs, with an appropriately Oriental hue, presents itself at 2:25, its first five rising and falling notes (sometimes with a trill on the first) making for yet another easy-to-remember hook that JARRE references throughout the score. Unfortunately, there are a handful of cues where the percussion alone is left to set the atmosphere for minutes on end, such as “Gasim Lost in the Desert” (9) and “Sinai Desert/After Quicksands/Hutments/Suez Canal” (13). While they are arguably a necessary, more harshly realistic flipside to the way the main theme romanticizes the desert, they are also easily the least interesting portions of the score. The latter cue does include some very early electronic effects that must have been revolutionary in 1962, but even half a century ago they wouldn’t exactly have made for enjoyable listening – the sudden eruption of the British theme at the end is a huge relief. Another criticism that could be made of the score is that it gets all of its very best material out of the way by track 12; everything that follows is either a repetition of that admittedly very good material, or else less interesting.

On its fiftieth birthday, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was released on Blu-Ray, and to coincide with that, Silva Screen Records brought forth a new release of JARRE’s classic score. This release is not very different from that which emerged in 2010 from Tadlow Music (a few cues have been combined), and what hasn’t changed is the absolutely phenomenal recording and performance by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by NIC RAINE. This re-recording is only one of many spectacular successes for Messrs. RAINE and JAMES FITZPATRICK, whose work in reviving these bygone scores is a dream come true for any collector. This release, like their concurrent CONAN THE BARBARIAN release, will blow you away with its sheer force at times. The percussion parts in particular will shake your walls in ways the original 1962 recording simply can’t match. This release is therefore an excellent starting point for novice collectors looking to expand their horizons back into the past. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the score is a bona fide classic, a vibrant, memorable, epic work. Its flaws on album, particularly in the final third, prevent it from snagging a perfect rating, but this score still belongs in any and every film music collection.

 

Rating: 9/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Overture 4:24  *****
2 Main Titles 1:57  *****
3 First Entrance to the Desert 4:25  *****
4 Night and Stars/Lawrence and Tafas 5:44  *****
5 Lawrence Rides Alone/ Exodus 3:14  ****
6 We Need a Miracle 2:39  ****
7 In Whose Name Do You Ride?/ That is the Desert (The Camels Will Die) 5:10  *****
8 Mirage, The Sun's Anvil 5:20  *****
9 Gasim Lost in the Desert 3:30  **
10 Lawrence Rescues Gasim and Lawrence Returns with Gasim/ The Riding 6:38  *****
11 Arrival at Auda's Camp 2:00  *****
12 Bedouin Feast/ On to Akaba/ Attack on Akaba/ Lawrence at the Sea Shore 6:44  *****
13 Sinai Desert/ After Quicksands/ Hutments/ Suez Canal 6:17  **
14 A Brilliant Bit of Soldiering (The Voice of the Guns - Kenneth Alford) 2:05  ****
15 Bugle Call/ Lawrence on the Terrace/ Intermission 1:54  ****
16 Adulation/ The HOrse Stampeded/ Faraj Killed 3:44  ****
17 Ali Rescues Lawrence/ Allenby's Flattery 3:12  ***
18 Assembled Army/ Lawrence and His Bodyguard/ Arab Theme 3:07  *****
19 Military March 1:19  ***
20 The End Play-off Music 4:02  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 77 minutes  

 

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