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THE ROBE – Alfred Newman


Original Review by Craig Lysy

20th Century Fox Studio chief Darryl Zanuck chose to use “The Robe” to introduce his new creation Cinemascope to the world. Cinemascope used an anamorphic lens that allowed the filming process to create an image of up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, almost twice as wide as the industry standard. He hired veteran Henry Koster to direct and adapted the script from the novel by Lloyd Douglas, which he had envisioned for years. “The Robe” is a Biblical epic, a love story and a tale of a man’s struggle for redemption. Marcellus (Richard Burton) is a Roman military tribune from a noble family who offends Caligula, heir to the Roman throne. In retribution he is deployed to Palestine, thus separating him from his life of luxury and his lover Diana (Jean Simmons). Upon his arrival he is given command of the unit charged with executing Jesus Christ, which he dutifully discharges. While drunk he happens to win in a craps game Jesus’ homespun robe after the crucifixion. The death of Jesus affects Marcellus profoundly, and henceforth he is tormented by recurring nightmares, delusions and guilt for his role in his crucifixion. On orders from Tiberius he returns to Palestine in search of the robe, which he believes has bewitched him. He thus begins a personal journey that will lead him to discover faith, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. The film was a huge critical success, winning two Oscars and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. The film and Cinemascope were also a huge commercial success, earning profits seven times that of its production costs.

As head of the music department it fell upon Alfred Newman’s shoulders to ensure the film score contributed to a successful debut of Cinemascope. He sought to improve the limited monaural sound of the day by placing microphones strategically throughout the orchestra, recording each track twice with one recording frontal dominant and the second recording rear dominant. The blending of the two recordings on different film tracks resulted in a fuller and richer sound. For such an epic Newman created a multiplicity of themes and infused his score with significant choral support to evoke the essential spiritual component of the story’s narrative. The film’s themes include the primary Christ Theme, which resonates with a profound spiritual power. This theme and Marcellus are intrinsically bound together and both change over the course of the movie, reflecting Marcellus’ evolution as a spiritual being. The theme opens the film with solemnity and reverence, yet it becomes discordant and tormenting as Marcellus’ struggles with guilt from his role in the crucifixion. Ultimately the theme becomes refulgent and transcendent as Marcellus finds forgiveness and spiritual liberation with his embrace of Jesus Christ.

We also have the Resurrection Theme, which serves to catalyze Marcellus’ transformation and conversion. First heard on lyre and solo voice, the theme resonates a spiritual tranquility that is very moving. There is the Redemption Theme, which speaks to the transforming and liberating power of love and forgiveness that will ultimately free Marcellus from his torment. Then there is Caligula’s Theme, a classic marcia pomposa replete with heraldic horn fare and snare drum percussion. This march is Caligula’s anthem, one that perfectly captures the egomaniacal grandeur of the boy who would be emperor. Last and surely the greatest is the Love Theme, which speaks to Marcellus and Diana’s love. This theme is a masterpiece, which earns Newman immortality. It is one of those rare themes whose stirring beauty echoes through time. The construct of this complex ternary theme offers testimony to Newman’s genius. The masculine A Phrase consists of a primary and an echoing horn line, which are emblematic of Marcellus military bearing as a tribune of Rome, the feminine B Phrase is a gentile woodwind and harp line, which is emblematic of Diana, while the culminating C Phrase of lush and swelling lyrical strings emote the joining of the two. Finally, there is the Roman Motif, a repeating four-note drum and horn-propelled line used to emote the imperial power of Roman troops. I will close by saying that upon completion of the score Darryl Zanuck would comment “I wish I could find some way to tell you that this is the greatest score ever written without sounding like the publicity department – but it is”.

“Prelude – Main Title” unfolds to the 20th Century Fox logo and plays through the opening credits. We open with dramatic solemnity as Newman sets the tone of the story’s narrative with a reverential statement announced by heraldic horns, which yield to dolorosa strings, wordless chorus and sparkling glockenspiel. Evocative and compelling, we understand that this will be a journey not soon forgotten. “Rome” opens with a narrative spoken by Richard Burton that extols the power, grandeur and brutality of Rome. Newman supports this narrative by scoring the scene alla marcia di Roma, playing to the military power of the Roman state. A primary trumpet line supported by snare drums carry the Roman Motif with a purposeful and deliberate pace. At 1:30 as Marcellus enters the forum we shift gears and segue into a carefree dance-like melody carried by flute, kindred woodwinds, tambourine and metallic percussion. The piece meanders, mirroring Marcellus’ stroll through the marketplace. Newman perfectly captures the ambiance.

In “The Slave Market” Diana enters the scene and woodwinds introduce with harp and tambourine accompaniment, the B Phrase of the Love Theme. The theme’s expression here is not overtly romantic, rather it is gentile and flows with a slow almost dance-like cadence as Diana reacquaints Marcellus with his childhood sweetheart, who he has forgotten. In “Caligula’s Arrival” the heir apparent arrives to join the bidding for household slaves. The scene’s ambiance is shattered as we bear witness to Caligula’s Theme, which perfectly captures the character of this twisted and evil boy destined to be emperor. When Marcellus outbids him and shames him publicly, the die is cast and he soon receives orders from a vengeful Caligula to deploy in Palestine. The march is reprised with his departure in “Caligula’s Departure” .

“The Map of Jerusalem” is a standout cue of the score, which features a full and sumptuous expression of the Love Theme. We see Marcellus and his family receiving the grim news of his immediate deployment orders. Newman creates a complex musical tapestry where his themes interplay and entwine. We open with woodwinds subtly carrying the Love theme, which reflects Marcellus’ inner thoughts. As his father discusses Palestine Newman introduces ethnic Middle Eastern textures, evocative of Palestine, which interplay with harsh vengeful echoes of Caligula’s Theme on horns. He concludes the scene with a trumpet and drum carried marcia funebre, as it is Caligula’s desire that Marcellus die in Palestine. At 1:23 we change scenes to the dock where Marcellus is preparing to depart. Diana comes to say goodbye and tell him of her undying love, a confession for which he reciprocates. Newman appreciates the poignancy of this scene and provides an extended statement of his Love Theme, which features all three phrases. Its expression here is simply sublime, culminating with a horn flourish that leaves one breathless. Themes such as this are why I love film score music!

In “Passover” Marcellus and Paulus are seen riding into Jerusalem. The cue opens with clear Middle-Eastern textures that are soon joined by a mutated marcia di Roma emoted with harsh and discordant horn fare, which reflects mutual disdain; the Jews for the Romans, and the Romans for this harsh alien land. This is very well conceived. As the camera focuses on Marcellus and Paulus, the march regains its regal Roman bearing to conclude the cue. “Palm Sunday” is a joyous and celebratory cue that marks Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This wondrous major modal piece is alight with a chorus of adoration, tambourine and trumpet calls. At 1:04 Demetrius stops to gaze upon Jesus and is clearly transformed by the experience. Newman scores this encounter with an ethereal and solemn rendering of the Christ Theme, which is portentous of what is to come.

“The Feast” features Marcellus and Roman troops reveling at a banquet during which he orders Paulus to offer bribes so as to find and arrest Jesus. Newman provides an exotic yet unobtrusive ethnic flavored melodic line with an almost dance like cadence. “Searching for Jesus” is a very evocative cue, which features Demetrius desperately searching for Jesus so as to warn him. The music speaks of futility, torment and regret, replete with aching echoes of the Christ Theme. The pathos of Demetrius’ fateful encounter with Judas is profound and is supported by a wordless male chorus, which brings the cue to conclusion atop an orchestral clash. In “Execution Orders” Marcellus receives orders to report to the Emperor at Capri, but he must first carry out the execution of a ‘fanatic’ and two criminals. Newman provides a simple underscore using the muted four note Roman Motif expressed alla marcia with trumpet counters, which is briefly interrupted by a fragment of the Christ Theme when Demetrius pleads for him to intercede in Jesus’ behalf. In “The Carriage of the Cross” we bear witness to the terrible pathos of despair as Newman employs a powerful and heart-wrenching marcia funebre to emote Jesus’ suffering as he bears his cross to receive his fate. In “The Crucifixion” Demetrius wakes from a clubbing by Roman guards and bears witness to the crucifixion. This highlight cue is a testimony Newman’s genius in understanding the power of subtlety and simplicity. He scores the scene intimately with solemnity and reverence by using a line of shifting string chords and wailing wordless chorus that consists of a main line and an ethereal contrapuntal line. At 3:27 as Marcellus wins the robe in a craps game we hear the Christ Theme rise in the violins over bass chords. As a fierce storm comes the theme gains increasing strength until dark horn calls end its statement, as Jesus offers forgiveness and expires. A reverential violin and horn statement marks Christ’s passing and ushers in a plaintive string line. At 6:39 as rain falls and Marcellus dons the robe, harsh retributive horns sound the Christ Theme as Marcellus suffers horrific pain and is cursed by Demetrius for his part in this tragedy. This cue is perfectly attenuated to the film’s narrative.

In “The Nightmare” we open with horn fare sounding the A phrase of the Love Theme as Marcellus journeys to Capri. But the horns seem hallow, stripped of their optimism thus reflecting Marcellus’ anguished inner state. A dark Christ Theme returns with tormenting power and an ethereal wailing chorus as Marcellus is tortured by recurring nightmares. “Capri features a poignant interplay of the Christ Theme and Love Theme. We open with bright horns announcing his A Phrase of the Love Theme as we see the isle of Capri. As Marcellus joins Diana on a vista point we are treated to an extended rendering of the C Phrase of the Love Theme warmly emoted on strings. Yet as Marcellus relates his torment, bell tolls usher in the now dark pathos of the Christ Theme, which ultimately gives way to a concluding statement of the C Phrase of the Love Theme. In “Tiberius’ Palace” Newman once again juxtaposes the tormenting variant of the Christ Theme and the Love Theme. Marcellus appears before the emperor Tiberius who has been briefed on his condition. Bell tolls, tremolo violins and ominous low rumbling echoes of the Christ Theme sound as Marcellus tells his story to Tiberius. As Diana pleads on Marcellus’ behalf, woodwinds and harp tenderly emote her B Phrase of the Love Theme, which concludes with uncertainty as Marcellus leaves in search of the robe.

“The Market Place” is a woodwind lovers dream and one of my favorite cues of the score. It features Marcellus visiting a village in search of the robe, which he intends to destroy. Warm woodwinds usher in the first reference of the Redemption Theme, where a solo English horn and oboe interplay in wondrous duet. As Marcellus enters the village woodwinds, harp and a bell tree emote the gentile ambiance of Canaan. We are treated to a warm and tender melodic line carried by woodwinds that is ultimately joined by lush violins. At 3:27 chimes shift the melodic line to first solo English horn and then solo flute, which brighten and become dance-like atop chimes and bell tree as Marcellus gives a donkey to a young boy. We close on dark bell tolls, which reflect Marcellus’ dark unspoken intent. This for me is a masterpiece cue. A solo lyre introduces the Resurrection Theme in “The Resurrection”, a song sung by Carole Richards who tells the story of the resurrection. The melody is simple in construct yet succeeds in its mission. We have a complex interplay of three themes in “The Story Of Miriam”. We open with a solo piccolo emoting the Resurrection Theme as Justus relates to Marcellus the story of Miriam’s healing by Jesus. Tender flute and kindred woodwinds usher in the Redemption Theme, which in turn yields to dark horns and bell tolls that usher in a tormented Christ Theme as Marcellus breaks down.

In “Elegy” Marcellus and Miriam discuss Jesus and the seeds of faith are sown in his soul. Once again we bear witness to a score highlight of subtle elegance. Newman treats us with a sublime interplay of the Resurrection Theme born by lyre and solo flute and the Redemption Theme born by solo oboe and solo flute. When strings join the mix, the cue becomes poignant and supremely moving. This is just exquisite writing. In “Marcellus’ Redemption” Marcellus finds Demetrius, demands the robe and tries to destroy it in a fire pit. Yet the robe falls from his rod upon him and we see him healed, his guilt lifted by forgiveness. Newman scores this scene with a Christ Theme that is no longer harsh and tormented, but instead ethereal and bright, as though lifting the dark pall guilt from his soul. “Justus’ Death” features Justus preaching until an arrow from Paulus’ troops cuts him down. The cue features multi-thematic writing at its best. We open with the Redemption Theme emoted brightly on solo trumpet as Marcellus meets Peter. The trumpet line is joined by violins and woodwinds and soon entwines with the Christ Theme on religioso strings, which are cut off with Justus’ murder. In “Aftermath” Paulus who was defeated by Marcellus withdraws his troops. The repeating four-note Roman Motif sounds on timpani with harsh horns, which grow in intensity as he withdraws in disgrace. In “Hymn for the Dead” Justus is buried and Newman provides his passing with a hymn sung a capella.

“In His Service” features Peter exhorting Marcellus to accept Christ and join him on his journey to Rome. The cue features and interplay of the Resurrection Theme on woodwinds and the Redemption Theme first on solo trumpet, but later swelling in the strings to end the cue in a magnificent orchestral flourish as Marcellus converts and pledges his fidelity. Wow, this scene is perfectly scored! In “Audience with Caligula” Diana is summoned by Caligula, who is now emperor following the death of Tiberius. The Roman Motif interplays with echoes of Caligula’s Theme as she answers his summon. “The Catacombs” is a complex cue that features a multiplicity of themes. It reveals Diana distraught at Caligula’s revelation that Marcellus is in Rome. Her B Phrase of the Love Theme plays in the strings as she convinces her attendant to take her to him. At 1:19 we change scenes to the catacombs where plaintive woodwinds echo the Resurrection Theme as Diana journeys within. Warm strings mark her embrace with Marcellus and ushers in the C Phrase of the Love Theme. As he hands her the robe, the Christ Theme sounds on religioso horns with lyrical strings. We conclude the cue with the snare drum born Roman Motif as Marcellus dons his uniform. At 5:32 we segue into “Hope”, which features a lush rendering of the C Phrase of the Love Theme as Marcellus and Diana embrace and commit in love as he sets off with a rescue party to free Demetrius.

In “Demetrius’ Rescue” we hear the only action music of the score. We begin with a dark rendering of the drum and horn born Roman Motif as the party covertly approaches the prison. All hell breaks loose at 1:48 as guards are ambushed and the battle begins. Newman provides a bright almost swashbuckling horn line with strings eroica to emote the battle, which succeeds in freeing Demetrius. In “The Healing of Demetrius” Newman provides a stirring interplay of themes. A dying Demetrius is taken to Marcellus’ home where Peter comes and heals him. We open with the Roman Motif as Roman troops search Senator Gallio’s estate. After they leave plaintive strings play as Demetrius is taken from a secret crypt and attended to by a physician who declares that he will soon die. At 2:15 a stirring and refulgent rendering of the Christ Theme is heard as Marcellus prays fervently for Demetrius’ life. When Peter arrives we hear the Resurrection Theme on woodwinds, followed by a plaintive string line as the household waits for an outcome. Slowly and with increasing strength we bear witness to a stirring string led ascent for a refulgent rendering of the Christ Theme. Its expression is joined and empowered by religioso horns, which slowly subside with bell tolls as Peter departs. This music is simply breath taking.

“Marcellus’ Farewell” features Senator Gallio disowning Marcellus for betraying Roman traditions with his newfound faith. A plaintive string line conveys Marcellus’ sadness. When Diana joins him Newman provides a lush statement of the C Phrase of the Love Theme that ends with uncertainty as Marcellus prepares to take Demetrius to safety. “The Chase” is a purely textural cue where Newman uses drum and metal chord percussion to emote the Roman Motif as Roman cavalry chase a fleeing Marcellus, who allows himself to be captured so the others can escape. In “Interior Dungeon” Diana comes to visit an imprisoned Marcellus in his cell. Newman thoughtfully provides interplay of the Love Theme and the Resurrection Theme. We first hear the C Phrase of the Love Theme play as she pleads for him to not defy Caligula. As Marcellus speaks of his faith the Resurrection Theme plays on woodwinds with bell tolls. The cue concludes as it began with the Love Theme now tinged with sadness.

In “Caligula” we see Caligula enter a packed throne room at the head of his Praetorian guard in pompous regal splendor. His anthem plays with a martial yet grotesque bravado, reflective of his monstrous ego. We conclude with “Finale / Hallelujah” where Caligula decrees an edict of death and Diana and Marcellus are escorted from his presence. Discordant horns, timpani and choral wailing emote this tragic moment with a marcia funebre, yet slowly and inexorably tragedy is replaced by hope as the Christ Theme rises upon violins and chorus. Soon a refulgent and celebratory rendering of alleluia by full orchestra and chorus burst forth and ends our journey with a magnificent flourish. Bravo!

As for the bonus cues, “Palm Sunday Part One” features a celebratory rendering of the cue with only the chorus, which is quite enjoyable. In “Palm Sunday Part Two” the orchestra without chorus provides a somber rendering of the Christ Theme, which is very moving. This variant of “The Crucifixion” is emoted without choral accompaniment. I believe it still makes a compelling statement, which supports the narrative and merits a listen. Allow me to thank Nick Redman, La-La Land Records and 20th Century Fox for this re-mastered and expanded 2-CD release of Alfred Newman’s original score. The sound quality is with rare exception very good. This score marks one of Newman’s greatest achievements, one where he provides music of such extraordinary beauty and spiritual power as to transcend its film. I hear the voice of the Divine in his efforts, which is a feat not easily achieved. There are a multiplicity of great themes and motifs which are perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and that fully support its narrative. Despite the epic nature of the film, Newman understood that fundamentally this was both a love story as well as a story of a man’s quest for the Divine. As such, you will find extraordinary intimacy in his music. Indeed Newman’s genius as a composer is fully demonstrated by how he entwines and interplays his themes to create musical statements that are universal, poignant and emotionally accessible. I cannot understate the beauty of this score and highly recommend it as an essential part of your collection.

Rating: *****

Buy the Robe soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude/Main Title (1:27)
  • Rome (3:14)
  • The Slave Market/Diana (2:35)
  • Caligula’s Arrival (1:04)
  • Caligula’s Departure (1:07)
  • The Map of Jerusalem (5:02)
  • Passover/Palm Sunday (3:36)
  • The Feast (3:15)
  • Searching for Jesus (Damaged Version) (3:31)
  • Execution Orders (1:57)
  • The Carriage of the Cross (1:55)
  • The Crucifixion (7:45)
  • The Nightmare (1:37)
  • Capri (3:55)
  • Tiberius/Palace (2:31)
  • The Market Place (6:13)
  • The Resurrection (3:01)
  • The Story of Miriam (2:09)
  • Elegy (4:32)
  • Marcellus/Redemption (2:24)
  • Justus/Death (1:45)
  • Aftermath (2:00)
  • Hymn for the Dead (1:10)
  • In His Service (1:45)
  • Audience With Caligula (1:09)
  • The Catacombs/Hope (6:52)
  • Demetrius/Rescue (3:15)
  • The Healing of Demetrius (5:17)
  • Marcellus/Farewell (1:25)
  • The Chase (2:28)
  • Interior Dungeon (2:54)
  • Caligula (Extended Version) (1:53)
  • Finale/Hallelujah (1:58)
  • Palm Sunday (Part I – Chorus Only) [BONUS] (1:26)
  • Palm Sunday (Part II – Orchestra Only) [BONUS] (1:11)
  • The Crucifixion (Orchestra Only) [BONUS] (7:33)
  • Prelude/Main Title (with Slates) [BONUS] (1:52)
  • Marcellus/Redemption (Original Damaged Version) [BONUS]

Running Time: 46 minutes 57 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1203 (1953/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell and Ken Darby. Special vocal performances by Carole Richards. Score restoration by Daniel Hersch. Album produced by Nick Redman, Tom Cavanaugh, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. Donald Stallwood
    April 4, 2013 at 8:38 am

    The Robe, I had the pleasure as a prjectionist of showing this great movie three times a day When it was first distributed.and never got tired of doing it .A great film with one of the best film scores ever. I also have an original record of this 33 rpmThankyou fort the legasy Alfred Newman.

    Donald Stallwood 4th April 2013 .

  1. April 3, 2017 at 10:00 am

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