Home > Reviews > SPELLBOUND – Miklós Rózsa

SPELLBOUND – Miklós Rózsa


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The 1945 Alfred Hitchcock mystery/suspense film Spellbound dealt with the new field of psychoanalysis and the inner workings of the human mind. The story offers testimony to Hitchock’s supreme mastery of suspense, camera work, and cinematography. The stellar cast included Ingrid Bergman playing Dr. Constance Peterson, a psychoanalyst working at the Green Manors mental hospital and Gregory Peck playing her love interest, the dashing Dr. Edwards. This is, at its crux, a love story. We see a cool and analytical Constance lose her professional detachment and immediately fall in love with Dr. Edwards upon his arrival. Sadly unsettling aspects of his personality slowly begin to reveal themselves. As the story unfolds she discovers that her love interest is really an imposter, an outsider trying to falsely portray himself as Dr. Anthony Edwards. Driven by love, Constance seeks to illuminate his path back to sanity by trying to resurrect repressed memories without shattering him in the process, as such the story is a classic commentary on the eternal conflict of heart vs. mind.

According to Miklós Rózsa, David O. Selznick, the producer and Alfred Hitchcock, the director asked for “a big love theme coupled with the strange sound for the paranormal.” As such, Rózsa penned one of the most sumptuous love themes in film score history and introduced the unique sound of the musical instrument the Theremin to illustrate the paranormal. Interestingly enough, it has been revealed ex post facto that Hitchcock did not like the score! Yet it is not without irony that when Spellbound was nominated for a Oscar and eventually won, both Selznick and Hitchcock sent Rózsa letters that were effusive with praise. Most interesting is the fact that Spellbound serves as the only collaboration between Rózsa and Hitchcock.

In the “Main Title”, the score opens with a grand melodramatic fanfare statement emblematic of Rózsa’s compositional style. At 0:19 minutes French horns and a tympani roll propel us into the Mystery Theme borne by the mysterious and other worldly sound of the Theremin which plays against classical strings. The selection of the Theremin is perfectly conceived and offers testimony to Rózsa’s scoring sensibilities. The instrument emits an electronic vibrato sound similar in texture and tenor to that of the Chinese instrument the erhu. At the 0:42 mark the sweeping twelve-note lyrical Love Theme is introduced by full strings, muted French horns and glockenspiel. It is a grand, lush and sweeping romantic love theme that we have come to associate with Rózsa. At the 1:57 mark we transition to incidental music that offers variants of the Love Theme as the film’s setting is presented. The Love Theme is heard throughout the score and in the final analysis is the defining theme of the score. In “The Empire Hotel” its expression is simply glorious! “The Picnic” is a sheer delight and a score highlight for this unabashed lover of the oboe! Here solo oboe and strings with glorious flute accents and trills combine to present an idyllic rendering of the theme that is simply wondrous. In “Constance And Burlov” where the theme is borne beautifully by solo violin, it is plaintive yet determined. In “The End” it is refulgent and ends with a fortissimo C-Major statement. In “End Title – Short”, an alternative ending, we again hear a fortissimo C-Major statement but this time carried brilliantly with high trumpets.

The Mystery Theme, an eerie and unsettling eight note descending chromatic statement by solo Theremin also permeates the score and perfectly juxtaposes the sumptuous love theme. In “The Burned Hand” its expression evokes terror as the Theremin is joined by English horns and muted brass in harsh rapid descending statements. In “Train to Gabriel Valley” it is tense and almost shrill. In “Constance’s Discovery” it is dramatic and carried powerfully by brass and a wailing Theremin. The second cue, “Green Manors”, opens with solo flute, harp and woodwinds, which introduce us to the outward tranquility of the Green Manors Sanatorium. Yet all is not right as dissonant strings alter the mood late in the cue. “First Meeting” is a complex cue that involves the captivation Constance feels when meeting Anthony for the first time. The cue opens with a formal prelude of strings that quickly segues into a wistful and light-hearted melody carried by violins and solo flute statements. But all is not right as Rózsa interrupts the delightful flow of the piece with a full statement of the Mystery Theme. After the eight-note statement by solo Theremin the theme repeats as twelve notes with solo oboe in duet. But the unease is short-lived as we segue back into the carefree opening theme. Yet this moment is not sustained as Rózsa ends the piece with the Mystery Theme played eerily as a fade out by solo bassoon.

The fifth cue, a score highlight, is a massive and seamless 16:49 minute suite that highlights the Love Theme and consists of music from five contiguous film scenes; “The Awakening”, “Love Scene”, “The Dressing Gown”, “The Imposter” and “The Cricket Case”. “The Awakening” opens warmly with the Love Theme, which is performed by solo cello and soon joined by violins and French horns to provide a rich and sumptuous statement. At the 1:53 mark solo oboe introduces an equally beautiful secondary variant statement of the Love Theme carried by cello with glockenspiel accents, which then returns to the primary theme. Slowly disquiet is subtly introduced into the music by violins, bass and alto flute playing fragments of the Mystery Theme as suspicions about Anthony rise in Constance. “Love Scene” is introduced by solo violin playing the love theme against first bassoon and then celli. Full string statements of both the primary and secondary statements of the Love Theme with solo oboe accents are provided in a grand statement that is simply rapturous. At the 7:21 mark Theremin with twinkling glockenspiel accents provides a lengthy expression of the mystery theme which captures the rising paranoia of “The Dressing Gown” scene. After a transition passage of truncated string triplet statements, rolling drums and flute singlets which work to further raise unease, the Theremin returns with violins and strumming harps to present with great potency, a dramatic and chilling statement of the Mystery Theme. At the 10:00 minute mark a solo oboe introduces “The Imposter” scene where a fragment of the Love Theme that is filled with disquiet plays. Muted trumpet blasts introduce a new theme, the repeating eight note Riddle Theme carried by violins, bass and glockenspiel echoes. Woodwinds introduce the final scene, “The Cigarette Case” where we hear tortured violins carry the Mystery Theme. Woodwinds resume and introduce the Investigation Theme, which consists of a repeating major key chordal statement with a four-note violin counter. Rózsa uses this theme against the backdrop of Constance’s mind working to unravel the mystery that is Anthony. For the remainder of the cue these two themes alternate and interplay as Constance searches for an answer. The cue concludes with a fragment of the Love Theme – what is ultimately guiding Constance.

“The Penn Station”, a score highlight, is a torrent of dramatic writing and a most fascinating and complex cue. Rózsa evokes a “not of this world” feeling by using a host of non-traditional and novel instruments (novachord, vibraphone and celeste) with the Theremin to achieve a truly horrific confluence. Introduced by solo oboe we hear the Investigation Theme soon picked up by the Theremin and strings with horn counters that begins building with rising urgency and tension to climax, yet the ascent quickly subsides. The cue continues with various permutations of the Investigation Theme that interplays with the Mystery Theme now carried by strings. God, this is simply a marvelous cue!

Like the fifth cue, the eleventh cue is a lengthy and seamless 10:03 minute suite that consists of music from four contiguous film scenes; “Honeymoon at Brutov’s”, “The White Coverlet”, “The Razor” and “Constance Is Afraid”. “Honeymoon at Brutov’s” opens with a solo oboe prelude that introduces the Love Theme borne exquisitely by solo violin. Full strings with muted horns offer restatements and we enjoy a stirring and very warm passage. Yet the moment is lost at the 2:16 mark, which opens the very eerie and chilling “The White Coverlet” cue as the Theremin, celeste, vibraphone and twinkling glockenspiel return to us the Mystery Theme. A return of the Love Theme commences some of the most celebrated passages of the score; “The Razor” and “Constance Is Afraid”. As Anthony begins to shave the inner fears that plague him resurface with a vengeance and Rózsa’s music begins a cascade of brilliant writing. Playing a stringless variant of the Love Theme, woodwinds with a barely noticeable Theremin and muted horn accents begin a slow but steady buildup of tension. Soon woodwinds answered by bass play over a rhythmic violin triplet. Then strings and drum duplet counters take over the melody and further escalate the tension. The strings give way abruptly to the Theremin that now plays against the drum duplet counters. Next begins a classic accelerando of increasing tension and urgency that culminates with dramatic trombone blasts, which serve to dissipate the cue’s energy. This ushers in the Riddle Theme first carried by dark strings and then dissonant horns playing over descending strings. Soon the strings again take up the theme with a sustained increase in tension and in their register that is shattered by a sequence of muted trumpet blasts and the Theremin now playing the Riddle Theme with chilling terror, perfectly emoting Constance’s on screen fear. This exhausting sequence concludes with the terror of escalating strings and dissonant horn blasts and a final descending and ominous repeating quadruplet of the Riddle Theme. This is truly one of the most powerful and well-conceived cues Rózsa ever wrote.

The extraordinary thirteenth cue, another score highlight, is a 2:37 suite that weaves together three dream sequences; “Gambling Dream”, “Mad Proprietor’s Dream” and “Rooftop Dream”. The surrealism of Salvador Dali images which are now legend are brilliantly scored by Rózsa using a dazzling array of instruments including the Theremin, novachord, celeste, glockenspiel, bells, harp, flute, and piccolo. The solo violin love theme statement, harp glissandi accents and the counterplay of all the other novel instruments make this a truly remarkable listening experience!

In “Dream Interpretation: The Decision” Rózsa again demonstrates his ingenuity creativity and innovation. The cue, which continues the previous dream sequence, provides an orchestral equivalent of a ticking “clock” through the clever use of a piccolo and xylophone. As the cue progresses we hear a beautiful interplay of the major themes; the Mystery Theme carried by the Theremin interposing with the Riddle Theme and the Love Theme played here with tender longing. We are next treated to a world premier of the pivotal “Ski Run; Mountain Lodge” cue that was excised (wrongly in my judgment) from the film in favor of recycled music from Franz Waxman and others. On screen visual’s of Dali’s dreamscape sequence play against Anthony’s personal demons amidst a riveting skiing chase scene. The cue opens with the ticking clock effect of piccolo and xylophone with celeste, glockenspiel and flute accents. Soon counters from the Riddle Theme first carried by strings and then muted trumpets play against the ‘clock’ until presto, the music just takes off with great pace and energy as the downhill skiing scene begins. Rózsa uses furious strings writing, blaring horns and rapidly descending woodwind scales against the Theremin carried Mystery Theme. As the speed and tension mounts we hear repeating and tension escalating quadruplet strings statements of the Riddle Theme playing against a now wailing Theremin. The cue dissipates with ominous horn blasts, which fade to nothingness as Anthony’s crisis comes to an end. “Mountain Lodge” opens hesitantly with the Love Theme borne by solo oboe played over strings, which interplays with the Investigation and Riddle Themes, before a concluding the cue with a statement by solo violin.

“Defeat” is a powerfully dramatic and emotive cue that prominently features the Riddle Theme. Opening with a series of dissonant horn blast and drums we hear the drama build as Rózsa pits rising celli triplets against violin triplets that climaxes with a powerful truncated statement by French horns. From here lush violins playing against French horns play the score’s fullest statement of the theme. Subsequent statements of the theme by full orchestra with solo violin passages make this an exquisite listening experience, and yes, another score highlight. “The Revolver” concludes the film and is a most complex cue where Rózsa’s Investigation and Riddle Themes interplay along with some source music of Rob Webb that was added. The cue opens with a portentous statement of the Riddle Theme carried by horns and strings playing in their lower register. The music builds the tension until at the 1:26 mark muted trumpets take up the theme and at last announce the killer in this mystery. We next hear the Investigation Theme led by celli, which begin an urgent ascent with horn counters until the Riddle Theme thrice repeats, before ending with a crescendo climax. A coda led by horns concludes the cue.

This CD provides the world premiere of the complete 1945 Academy Award-winning score by Miklós Rózsa. The score is newly performed and recorded in full 24 bit/96 kHz audio using original manuscripts vaulted at the Selznick estate and includes reconstructions made under the supervision of Rózsa authority Daniel Robbins. I again thank Intrada and Douglass Fake for their efforts of re-issuing and/or re-recording classic film scores. This innovative score was groundbreaking and serves as a milestone in the history of film scores. Rózsa’s inaugural use of the Theremin to convey a ‘not of this world’ sound to the score was perfectly conceived and executed. The score provides four outstanding themes with the lush love theme standing the test of time as being one of the most beautiful ever written. Rózsa’s dramatic writing and interplay among the themes served to produce several very complex and outstanding cues and offers us compelling testimony to his exceptional talent in interpreting the film’s emotional narrative. This historic score is an essential item for any collector, I highly recommend it and assign it my highest rating – a masterpiece.

Rating: *****

Buy the Spellbound soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/Foreward (3:13)
  • Green Manors (0:51)
  • First Meeting (2:11)
  • The Picnic (2:01)
  • The Awakening/Love Scene/The Dressing Gown/The Imposter – Parts 1 & 2/The Cigarette Chase (16:49)
  • The Letter (0:30)
  • The Empire Hotel (1:22)
  • The Burned Hand – Parts 1 & 2 (2:29)
  • The Penn Station (2:44)
  • Railway Carriage (1:16)
  • Honeymoon at Brulov’s/The White Coverlet/The Razor – Parts 1 & 2/Constance Is Afraid (10:03)
  • Constance and Brulov – Parts 1 & 2 (4:15)
  • Gambling Dream/Mad Proprietors Dream/Root-top Dreams (2:37)
  • Dream Interpretation – Parts 1 & 2/The Decision (6:10)
  • Train To Gabriel Valley (1:23)
  • Ski Run/Mountain Lodge (5:51)
  • Defeat (3:15)
  • Constance’s Discovery (2:04)
  • The Revolver (3:05)
  • End Title (0:59)
  • End Title (short version) (0:24)

Running Time: 73 minutes 32 seconds

Intrada Excalibur Collection MAF-7100 (1945/2007)

Music composed by Miklós Rózsa. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Performed by The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Miklós Rózsa and Eugene Zador. Album produced by Douglass Fake

  1. Riley KZ
    July 25, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Great review of a great score, Craig!

  1. November 28, 2016 at 10:03 pm

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