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FIRST KNIGHT – Jerry Goldsmith


Original Review by Craig Lysy

First Knight is a retelling of the classic legendary tale “The Knight of the Cart” first penned in the late 12th century by Chrétien de Troyes. Screenwriter William Nicholson stripped the tale of its magic and mythos of the Grail quest, instead focusing his lens on an intimate exploration of the passions, foibles and tragedy borne of intimate human relationships. Sean Connery succeeds in providing a sympathy and gravitas to the role of King Arthur with solid performances provided by Richard Gere as Lancelot, Julia Ormond as Guinevere and Ben Cross as the evil villain Malagant. The film was a critical failure but achieved commercial success taking in 134 million, more than sufficient to cover its 55 million production costs.

Director Jerry Zucker who had long been enamored with Goldsmith’s canon, chose him to score the film. He related in an interview “I loved Jerry personally, and he was the perfect guy to do this movie.” Goldsmith was equally thrilled and stated “It is more interesting for me to try and write music that gets into people, and “First Knight’ was perfect because it had all the romance and all the splendor and also enough action.” As we shall soon explore, Goldsmith created a leitmotif-based score in the finest traditions of film music. So my friends, let us journey back in time to explore the dream that was Camelot and the legend of the noblest of men, Arthurus Rex.

“The Legend of Camelot” introduces the score’s prime theme, the Camelot Theme, which animates the entire score. Lead by noble French horns with string accompaniment this warm major modal theme speaks to the ideals embodied in Camelot. A brief concluding trumpet coda of King Arthur’s Theme ends the cue. “Raid on Leonesse” is a bravado militaristic cue that introduces two of the three leitmotifs associated with the malignant dark Lord Malagant. The cue begins with a pastoral madrigal-like passage as Guinevere’s travels home to her city of Leonesse. At the 0:48 mark portentous gongs and timpani introduce Malagant’s Theme, a dark five-note statement by low register brass augmented with bell tolls that sounds with escalating power to reveal a brutal attack upon Guinevere’s home city of Leonesse. At the 2:59 mark Goldsmith introduces Malagant’s Attack Motif emoted as a fierce repetitive 2-4-2 note statement that joins in a dark synergy with Malagant’s Theme. This cue displays a truly evil energy carried with brutal unabashed power by harsh percussion and discordant brass.

“The Ambush” is a truly remarkable and dynamic action cue and for me a score highlight. French horns warmly introduce one of the finest themes of the score, Lancelot’s Theme as he witnesses the procession of Guinevere’s party along a forest path. Tremulous violins, trilling woodwinds and portentous horns emote disquiet as an ambush looms ahead. The ambush is sounded by potent escalating percussive strikes that launch Malagant’s Victory Theme a six note major modal brass and string statement that sounds as his troops launch the first of two attacks upon Guinevere’s party. When the battle is joined we experience an extraordinary and powerful collision of percussion and brass that is breathtaking. As Malagant’s forces are apparently routed, half of the loyalist troops are foolishly dispatched to cut them down. This plays into Malagant’s hands as he launches a secondary attack upon a now depleted guard. After a disquieting interlude of tremulous strings and trilling woodwinds, Malagant’s Attack Motif sounds with horrific and brutal power as his troops overwhelm Guinevere’s defenders. As her carriage is seized we hear sustained aggressive horn play with string counters until she bravely leaps to escape. As Guinevere flees her pursuers on foot we are treated to amazing energetic string writing that succeeds in raising alarm as she is cornered. But hope remains as a heroic Lancelot’s Theme sounds while he rises to her defense and slays her pursuers. Upon her rescue in “First Sight” the two fated lovers lock eyes for the first time and we hear a brief statement of Goldsmith’s Love Theme, which concludes this wondrous cue.

“Does It Please You” elicits in me a quiver and a tear with every listen. As Lancelot and Guinevere ride in the forest we hear a refulgent statement of the Love Theme carried by strings with interplay from a sparkling mandolin. Delicate flute and kindred woodwinds tinged with sadness play as a growing sexual attraction builds. We segue into “Look At Me” at 1:23 and we hear the Love Theme now carried by woodwinds with harp accents when Lancelot kisses Guinevere. As he rides off after promising to never kiss her again her Love Theme returns on yearning strings to conclude this brilliant cue.

“Promise Me” is another exceptional cue and testimony to Goldsmith’s genius. He understood that Lancelot and Arthur were linked in their mutual love of Guinevere, and so he played upon this dynamic by linking their themes. Goldsmith begins both Lancelot’s Theme and Arthur’s Theme with the same three notes, the difference being that the younger Lancelot’s Theme emotes in a more passionate, energetic and heroic manner, while the older Arthur’s Theme expression is more noble, regal and serene. While in her carriage, strings and flute gently render the Love Theme as Guinevere arrives at Camelot. At 0:35 muted horns signal her reception by Arthur and his honor guard which leads to a full and powerful heraldic statement on horns of his theme, which swells to a wondrous crescendo, ultimately concluding in synergy with the Camelot Theme.

“Camelot” is another score highlight that just inspires me. It is a rich cue full of pomp and pageantry that accompanies the procession of Arthur and Guinevere into Camelot. Muted horns render Arthur’s Theme that is joined by sumptuous strings as the couple view Camelot from afar atop an intervening hilltop. Flutes carry Guinevere’s Love Theme delicately as she contemplates her new role and home. As they join in procession snare drums and warm horns emote a dramatic and regal rendering of the Camelot Theme that concludes with glorious Arthur’s Court Fanfare.

“The Gauntlet” prominently features an exciting and bravado rendering of Lancelot’s Theme that includes its lyrical B phrase, heard only here in the score. A percussive ostinato with horn counters emotes as he navigates the gauntlet with a heroic reprise of his theme as he conquers the challenge. At 0:51 we segue into “No Kiss” where we hear her Love Theme born by woodwinds and sumptuous strings. As the passage continues Lancelot’s Theme burst forth with a joyous statement as he wins the crowd by declaring that Guinevere was too precious to kiss. The cue concludes with a muted rendering of Arthur’s Theme as he escorts Lancelot into his castle.

“Boat Trip” is a rousing score highlight abounding in heroism as Lancelot risks his life by boldly trying to rescue Guinevere who has been kidnapped by Malagant’s rogues. We are treated to a glorious interplay between a heroic and propulsive Lancelot’s Theme powerfully emoted by horns over furious string play with contrapuntal play by the Love Theme. The cue offers enduring testimony to Goldsmith’s genius for writing dynamic action cues. “The Cave” opens with a weakened Arthur’s Theme as Arthur processes the grim news of Guinevere’s kidnapping. Yet the cue burst forth with the heroic splendor of Lancelot’s Theme as Lancelot rides forth in pursuit of Guinevere. Her Love Theme plays delicately only to be cut down by menacing timpani and the staccato percussion of the Army Motif as she is brought before Malagant who is brimming with lust at the sight of his prize.

“Escape from the Cave” is great ride and one of the score’s many outstanding action cues. We open with the Love Theme carried by flute over tremulous strings as the two lovers lock eyes. Abruptly, Lancelot’s Theme sounds and begins a heroic arc as he slays his captors and rescues Guinevere. Goldsmith propels this action sequence with his trademark kinetic 5/4 rhythms, which display furious strings, doubling horns and xylophone accents. As they escape with a waterfall plunge Malagant’s Theme sounds with brutal power over shattering horn chords. The cue concludes with the lovers escaping on horse back as the Love Theme returns with unabashed romanticism.

In “A New Life” Arthur rewards Lancelot’s heroism with knighthood and membership at the Round Table. Muted horns announce Arthur’s Theme, which is emoted tenderly by a solo flute that flows seamlessly into Guinevere’s Love Theme as they discuss Lancelot’s knighthood. As the scene shifts to the knighting ceremony we hear a repeating line of Arthur’s Theme played first by horns and then taken up in a stirring performance by violins. We change scenes yet again as we segue into Arthur’s and Guinevere’s wedding. Celebratory strings and trumpets begin a resplendent and glorious processional rendering of the Camelot Theme which elicits yet another quiver. The cue ends darkly with news that Malagant has attacked Leonesse.

“To Leonesse” provides us with yet another powerful action cue as we see Arthur ride forth with his army to challenge Malagant to battle. Goldsmith militarizes Arthur’s Theme, which now emotes with powerful horn play set to rhythmic snare drums and supportive strings. We hear trepidation born by strings and pastoral flute as they arrive to find Leonesse in flames. At 2:41 Malagant’s Attack Motif shatters the moment as he leads his army to attack Arthur. The director cut this Malagant scene from the film, but thankfully it remains in this cue version.

“Night Battle” is a tour de force and score highlight that features a powerful interplay of the martial rendering of King Arthur’s Theme and Malagant’s Theme. An opening sustained violin chord is shattered by Arthur’s Theme, which heralds the charge of his army, their shining armor sparkling in the moonlight. Goldsmith pits Arthur’s Theme emoted by trumpets over a jagged ostinato string line and snare drums against Malagant’s Attack Motif in a stunning display. Amidst the unfolding carnage the battle between the themes continues with unrelenting ferocity. At 2:43 as the camera focuses on Lancelot, Goldsmith introduces Lancelot’s Attack Motif, a dynamic repeating line of descending horn glissandi that is countered with an echo of orchestral glissandi. The ferocity of this motif mirrors that of Lancelot, who slays without mercy all who stand in his way. Arthur’s Theme with its relentless ostinato resumes as Malagant’s army is routed with a powerful crescendo. As victory is achieved we hear the Camelot Theme play until a final reprise of Arthur’s Theme sounds to concludes the cue as it began.

“Village Ruins” is an emotional aftermath cue. Tremolo strings and subdued horns play over timpani as the troops arrive to a devastated Leonesse. A solo flute ushers in the Love Theme, as a grateful populace thanks Guinevere. The cue concludes as Lancelot, who is overcome by the peoples’ thanks, retreats to weep in solitude to tremolo strings and horn echoes.

“The Kiss” is a lynch pin scene where Guinevere offers Lancelot a parting kiss as Arthur expectantly enters the room catching them in an embrace. Piano and sumptuous strings play the Love Theme as the lovers kiss. A fade of the violins over a sustained bass chord signals Arthur’s discovery. A plaintive solo oboe emotes his utter devastation and disillusionment. The cue concludes as a weakened and sad rendering of his theme plays while the lovers are taken into custody. In “No One Move” as Lancelot and Guinevere are put on public trial Malagant’s troops seize the courtyard in a surprise attack taking Arthur prisoner. This percussive powerhouse of a cue opens with a major modal fortissimo rendering of his theme with an astounding array of drums, metallic percussion, whooping French horns and fanfare.

“Arthur’s Farewell” is a masterpiece cue, the score highlight and for me represents the apogee of Goldsmith’s choral writing. As Arthur rallies his people to oppose Malagant he is shot in the heart, which triggers the final battle. Eventually as fate would have it Lancelot secures the sword Excalibur from the dying Arthur and slays Malagant there-by avenging Arthur and regaining his honor. The cue opens with a heraldic call of Arthur’s Theme that is countered with a declaratory statement by Latin chorus as Arthur is struck down. What unfolds is an astounding battle between the martial rendering of Arthur’s Theme and Malagant’s Theme, further enhanced by ostinato chanting chorus with contrapuntal fanfare. The fact that Lancelot’s Theme is never heard reveals that Goldsmith correctly understood the film’s emotional narrative; Lancelot was not fighting for himself, but for Arthur. The complexity and synergy of this extraordinary piece cannot be understated. I adore and treasure this cue.

“Never Surrender” is yet another score highlight that inspires me as I contemplate the wonder that was Camelot. Horns open the cue with a forlorn Arthur’s Theme as Guinevere and Lancelot attend Arthur at his deathbed. A fragment of the Camelot Theme calls as Arthur hearkens back to better days. Next the Love Theme rises up tenderly before transitioning to a sad and lyrical statement by woodwinds and tremolo strings. A crescendo ascent at 2:47 leads to a scene change to lakeside as Guinevere gives a parting kiss to Arthur who is set atop a funeral barge. As the barge is set afire we hear a resplendent reprise of the Camelot Theme supported by chorus and fanfare, which heralds that the dream of Camelot lives on. The film concludes with a final statement of Arthur’s Court Fanfare that is countered by his theme. “Camelot Lives” is the film’s end title suite and for me an enduring favorite. Constructed in Goldsmith’s usual tri-part fashion, it opens with the noble Camelot Theme, which segues into the Love Theme, which returns to the Camelot Theme, concluding boldly with a flourish of Arthur’s Court Fanfare.

Regarding the 1995 soundtrack album, it is my judgment that there is not sufficient variation between it and the complete film score to warrant a review exploration. As to the alternative cues, while I found them interesting variants, I am forced to conclude that Goldsmith’s sensibilities in choosing the cues listed in the complete score were correct. I would counsel purchasers of the CD to explore these versions to understand the score’s evolution and better appreciate the final product.

I must thank La-La Land Records, Sony Music and producers Didier C. Deutsch, Bruce Botnick, Mike Matessino, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys for a truly extraordinary release of the expanded, 2CD presentation of Jerry Goldsmith’s wondrous score “First Knight”. The sound quality is of the highest quality having been expertly re-mastered from the first generation digital masters. This score in my opinion stands as the apogee of Goldsmith’s late career canon. It has a multiplicity of great themes and motifs, glorious chorale, exceptional action writing and a classic romanticism that is profoundly moving. If you love fanfare, this score is your dream come true. I believe Goldsmith again demonstrated his astute scoring sensibilities and innate capacity to expertly attenuate his music to the film’s emotional narrative. Indeed, this score offers indisputable testimony to the genius of Jerry Goldsmith and ensures his immortality. I highly recommend this score and assign it with reverence, my highest rating.

Rating: *****

Buy the First Knight soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Legend of Camelot (0:58)
  • Raid on Leonesse (5:12)
  • True Love/The Ambush/First Sight (6:24)
  • Does It Please You/Look At Me (3:25)
  • Promise Me (2:20)
  • Camelot (2:37)
  • Gauntlet Drums (1:50)
  • Meet the Queen (0:45)
  • The Gauntlet/No Kiss (2:02)
  • No Joy/Try Her/Wedding Plans/I Will Fight (2:58)
  • Boat Trip (2:03)
  • The Cave (2:14)
  • Walls of Air (1:33)
  • Escape from the Cave (3:25)
  • Prove It (2:55)
  • A New Life (5:38)
  • To Leonesse (3:24)
  • Night Battle (5:53)
  • Village Ruins (3:19)
  • The Kiss (1:59)
  • Open the Door/No One Move (1:58)
  • Arthur’s Farewell (5:25)
  • Never Surrender (5:40)
  • Camelot Lives (4:04)
  • Arthur’s Fanfare (0:45)
  • Promise Me (4:04)
  • Camelot (2:19)
  • Raid on Leonesse (4:26)
  • A New Life (4:54)
  • To Leonesse (3:25)
  • Night Battle (5:39)
  • Village Ruins (3:20)
  • Arthur’s Farewell (5:25)
  • Camelot Lives (5:40)
  • The Ambush/First Sight (Alternate) (5:46)
  • Boat Trip (Alternate segment) (1:05)
  • A New Life (Alternate 1) (5:37)
  • A New Life (Alternate 2) (3:14)
  • To Leonesse (Alternate) (2:40)
  • Village Ruins (Alternate) (3:29)
  • Never Surrender (Alternate) (5:20)

Running Time: 155 minutes 09 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1168 (1995/2011)

Music composed, conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Didier C. Deutsch, Bruce Botnick, Mike Matessino, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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  1. August 16, 2018 at 1:36 am

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