Home > Reviews > DOCTOR ZHIVAGO – Maurice Jarre

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO – Maurice Jarre

February 16, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

doctorzhivagoMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Doctor Zhivago was adapted by screenwriter Robert Bolt from the famous novel written by Boris Pasternak. The original manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1957 and awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. Director David Lean recruited a stellar cast for his film that included Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, Geraldine Chaplin as his wife Tonya, Rod Steiger as Viktor Komarovsky, Tom Courtenay as General Pasha Strelnikov, Alec Guinness as Yuri’s half-brother Yevgraf and finally, Julie Christie as Lara Guishar. This timeless and epic film tells the tale of young lovers drawn together by fate, caught in the cruel currents of war, clinging desperately to each other to survive amidst the clash of empires, as they bear witness to a grand romantic age succumbing to a cruel and violent new order. It is a magnificent film of sweeping and poetic grandeur for which I am eternally grateful. The film was a critical success earning 10 Oscar nominations, winning five including Best Score for Jarre. It was also a commercial success earning $112 million, more than sufficient to cover its production costs of $11 million.

David Lean had collaborated with composer Maurice Jarre on the Oscar winning Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, and had only him in mind for Doctor Zhivago. Jarre writes that Lean was a very involved and demanding director, but also his dear friend. Interestingly enough, Lean rejected the first three love themes Jarre wrote after which he ordered him to a mountain retreat with his girl friend for “romantic inspiration”. Well from this sojourn came “Lara’s Theme”, and the rest is history. Interestingly enough, Jarre had only six weeks to write the score and was hard pressed to meet the deadline. He chose to not incorporate any traditional Russian folk music in his score, preferring instead to infuse his music with a Russian flavor through his orchestrations and use of the Balalaika. To achieve this he drew upon his time spent studying Russian music at the Paris Conservatory of Music. Jarre was provided an orchestra of 110 players that was augmented by 24 Balalaikas, a 40-member chorus, Shamisens (Japanese banjos), a Koto (Japanese harp), organ, novachord, harpsichord and zither!

The score features four primary themes as well as two lovely waltz’s. Lara’s Theme is the primary theme, which animates and underpins the film. It speaks to Lara’s innocence, her breath-taking beauty and Yuri’s longing. Her timeless and tender theme is carried by a host of balalaikas, violins and sparkling glockenspiel. Woodwinds and horns provide accents depending on the setting. The lush and supremely romantic Story Theme sets the tone of the film’s emotional narrative. It speaks to the fateful and timeless tale of love between Yuri and Lara and is carried by zither, electric piano, violins and twinkling glockenspiel. Next is the Russian Theme, a heavy and deliberate theme emoted by low register wordless men’s chorus. It embodies the spirit of the Russian people who suffer under the tyranny of the Tsar and later the Bolsheviks. Then there are the two Travel Themes, which are sparking, syncopated and violin led major modal melodies that abound with wonder and a joie de vivre. During travel scenes they enrich the wondrous panoramic landscapes that abound in the film. Lastly are the wondrous lyrical waltzes in which Jarre perfectly captures the graceful and refined sensibilities embodied in this classical European dance.

“Overture” is a powerful piece that features three of the score’s primary themes. Portentous drums and cymbal clashes usher in militaristic snare drums that propel us into Alexei Lvov’s famous “God Save The Tsar” which immediately establishes a classic Russian sensibility. We then segue into the Russian Theme, now augmented by snare drums and emoted as a purposeful march. At 1:33 we segue into the wondrous Travel Theme that lifts and fills us with joy. We then transition into an animated, spritely and up-tempo rendering of Lara’s Theme before returning to the Russian Theme now augmented with plucked Koto. The cue concludes with a flourish led by horns propelling a militaristic and bravado expression of the Russian Theme. Bravo! This is a wonderful and enduring piece that played during the film’s Entr’act. The “Main Title” plays over the opening credits and features a romantic and sumptuous rendering of the Story Theme. From here we segue into the timeless Lara’s Theme that makes me quiver. The cue concludes as it began with the Story Theme. The Main Title strikes an intimate tone, which clearly demonstrates that Jarre understood the story’s emotional narrative. This cue is a score highlight, simply gorgeous!

“Koutakion” features Yuri as a young boy attending the funeral of his mother. Jarre use of this classic Russian liturgical hymn is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery. We segue into “Funeral Song” where we see Yuri, now alone in the world, contemplating his future. Balalaikas initially emote vague references to Lara’s Theme, but the lyrical flow is interrupted by three harsh reverberating bass chords before the balalaikas again take up her theme in earnest. The cue is portentous and well conceived.

The next four cues feature wonderful dances that Jarre infuses with Russian sensibilities. “Lara Is Charming” is a classic waltz carried by violins and piano as Komarovsky escorts Lara for her societal debut at a formal dinner party. It is exquisitely reprised in “Interior Student Café”. “Lara and Komarovsky Dancing Up A Storm” features an up-tempo waltz again carried by violins and piano, while the wonderfully light “Sventisky’s Waltz”, which just sparkles. “Internationale” is a potent visual scene where we see a profound juxta-opposed imagery; the wealthy elite (including Komarovsky and Lara) dinning in warm ornate luxury as cold, starving and desperate workers march to the Winter Palace with a petition of grievances for the Tsar. The scene’s waltz ambiance is silenced by an a capella song sung in Russian by male and female chorus.

“Karmarovsky and Lara in the Hotel” is an emotionally potent cue that speaks to Lara’s unwilling submission as mistress to Komarovsky who rapes here. Jarre opens the cue with some jaunty travel music as Komarovsky and Lara travel to the hotel. At 0:28 discordant organ supported by bassoons radically change the tenor of the lyrical flow. Jarre provides a grotesque waltz that plays while Komarovsky forces Lara to imbibe alcohol as he begins his violent seduction. As the waltz ends, bassoons take up the dark line and are joined by harpsichord and discordant woodwinds as the rape unfolds. This cue is powerfully attenuated to the scene with Jarre’s grotesque and discordant music perfectly reflecting both the external violence and Lara’s internal revulsion.

The next three kindred cues feature the Russian Theme. In “Military Parade” we see soldiers marching in parade to cheering crowds as Russia enters World War I. Yet Jarre supports this imagery with the Russian Theme sung a capella, which unlike the crowds, is not celebratory but instead dour. At 1:14 a scene shifts reveals distraught and dispirited men, starving, freezing and dying in the frigid snow swept landscape. Repeating stark bass chords that are occasionally answered by muted trumpet counters underscores the futility and hopelessness of the troops. In “They Began To Go Home” trumpets resound and usher in an emboldened Russian Theme as we see troops abandoning the front line and deserting. The cue quiets and becomes discordant as the deserters come face to face with fresh troops marching to the front. Pounding timpani support the orderly march of the new troops, but as the two groups meet, the unit loses its cohesion and mingles with the deserters. A series of metallic crashing chords signals their disaffection. The trio of cues finishes with “After Deserters Killed the Colonel” where mutinous troops murder their commander who was attempting to exhort them to defend the motherland. After the murder the Russian Theme returns with force yet gradually fades as we shift scenes to a field hospital where Yuri, a field surgeon works with Lara, a nurse. From out the fading chorus rises a tender melody on zither, which then emotes Lara’s Theme with harp glissandi.

“Lara Says Goodbye to Yuri” reveals the end of the war months later as Yuri and Lara bid each other farewell. Much remains unspoken in their eyes and the Jarre plays to this with an extended yet bittersweet presentation of Lara’s Theme. The beauty of this cue is matched by its potency and latent emotional power; it is a perfect marriage of music to imagery. The next three cues were cut from the film, as the director did not want the music to distract the cold harsh reality of Moscow under the new order. “Tonya Greets Yuri” emotes ecstasy as Tonya rushes to greet Yuri, yet the bright melodic line sours as Yuri enters his home to find dozens of people now cohabitating. In “The Stove’s Out” Yuri scolds Tonya for letting the fire go out only to discover that she only lights the wood when he returns home. A plaintive viola that is joined by violins emote Yuri’s shame. A muted Russian Theme sounds with harsh chords, snare drum strikes and cymbals as Yuri goes out and steals wood. This stark line flows into the complex “Yevgraf Snaps His Fingers” as Yevgraf observes Yuri and follows him home. Yevgraf introduces himself as Yuri’s half-brother and spends the rest of the evening reacquainting himself to Yuri. Jarre scores the scene intimately yet with discordance as Yevgraf discerns that Yuri is a hopeless romantic completely out of step with the new order. Jarre continues the snare drum motif with strings, but adds a discordant woodwind line augmented with a muted Russian Theme. This complexity and nuance of this cue is outstanding!

On Yevgraf’s counsel, Yuri and the family resolve to leave Moscow and seek the safety of their country estate. As they wait for a train in “Evening Bells Moscow Station” we hear shamisens, Balalaikas and accordion infuse a tender folksy ambience. The following three cues were excised from the film as Lean chose to use the stark repetition of train and track sounds to support the film’s narrative. In “Flag Flying Over Train” we hear an inspired instrumental rendering of the Russian Theme that plays as we view an exterior shot of the train. As the scene shifts into the train car the music softens and becomes sad as Yuri contemplates an uncertain future. In “Yuri Gazing Through a Tiny Open Hatch” we hear a fragment of the Russian Theme with bleak orchestral colors that reflect the barren stark terrain. With “The Door Is Banged Open” repeating stark chords sound as passengers open the external door and shatter an ice sheath to dump out foul straw that is saturated with human waste. The music modulates into a dark traveling rhythm as we see the train passing by a burned and ravaged village. When the train stops we see the train bearing the avenging revolutionary General Pasha Strelnikov (Lara’s former lover) roar past. Jarre uses stark repeating bass chords and plucked Balalaika to impart the hardened coldness embodied in this cruel warrior of the revolution. “Yuri Follows The Sound Of The Waterfall” features Yuri walking the woods and following the alluring sound of a waterfall. The cue is magical and twinkles as muted horns usher in Lara’s Theme that ends abruptly with Yuri’s capture.

“Tonya and Yuri Arrive at Varykino” is a cue of uncommon beauty and a score highlight. Lyrical strings, woodwinds and glockenspiel emote the family’s arrival at Varykino and their preparation to continue on to their country estate. A duet of flute and harpsichord usher in the wondrous Traveling Theme, which plays as we see Yuri and the family traveling to their country estate in a horse drawn carriage amidst the blossoming beauty of the Siberian countryside. The synergy of music and beauty of this film scene is glorious and fills my heart to over-flowing. We proceed to “They Didn’t Lock the Cottage” where we see the family moving into the guest cottage after seeing that the main house was closed by government degree. The melodic flow of the Travel Theme continues the ambiance yet sours when they see the disrepair of the cottage’s interior. But the magic is recaptured as the family gets to work and we conclude with the lyrical brightness of the Travel Theme, which plays as we see a wondrous cinematic montage portraying the passing of the seasons In “Varykino Cottage/Winter Storm” the oppressiveness of the Siberian winter weighs heavily on Yuri’s soul and he struggles for creative inspiration. Yet as he sweeps his hand over the window, ice crystals melt, the sun bursts forth and he rejoices at the return of spring. We open with twinkling zither playing against forlorn strings and low register woodwinds. A timpani roll serves to lift the pall of winter and we are treated to an ascent by the woodwinds in their register. The melodic line just sparkles as we segue into a joyous and refulgent Lara’s Theme. This is a stirring and magical film moment for which Jarre demonstrated his genius. Bravo!

In “Yuri and the Daffodils” we see Yuri’s spirit reborn as he celebrates the joy of his existence amidst a wind swept sea of blossoming daffodils. Jarre captures this sublime moment with perhaps his most moving expression of Lara’s Theme. We conclude these kindred cues with “On A Yuriatin Street”. A fateful trip by Yuri to the local library serves to reunite him with Lara, which Jarre scores with a joyous expression of Lara’s Theme. The rapturous beauty of these five kindred cues offers testimony as to why I love film scores!

After resolving to end his affair Yuri is captured on his ride back to Varykino and pressed into the service of the Red Guard. Jarre scores “Yuri is Taken Prisoner By the Red Partisans” with the Russian Theme now expressed alla marcia. As Yuri suffers his estrangement from his family in “For As Long As We Need You” we here a bleak tonal piece that mirrors his torment and despair. In “Yuri Is Escaping” we hear a stuporous Russian Theme as he struggles with the beleaguered troops. As he gazes over the snowscape upon a brilliant Moon emerging from the clouds he gains inspiration and is refortified. Slowly Lara’s Theme emerges as Yuri creates an opportunity to escape by allowing the sullen troops to pass as he is left unnoticed and alone in their wake. Poetically in “Yuri Approaches Lara’s Apartment” Yuri, who is frostbitten and near death follows the Moon to his love and gains entry to her empty apartment. A plaintive solo oboe emotes his struggle and gives rise to Lara’s Theme, which speaks to his desperate anticipation as he reaches her apartment. In “Lara And Yuri Arriving At Varykino” Jarre introduces a happy and carefree secondary version of the Travel Theme as Yuri, Lara and her daughter travel to Varykino. This cue is simply delightful! However, the melodic line sours, becoming stark and tonal when they arrive to an abandoned cottage. Yet their exploration of the main house reveals a frost-free inner apartment with a desk and writing materials.

“Yuri Is Trying to Write” is a poignant scene and a stirring score highlight. We see Yuri at his desk with a blank piece of paper and his words struggling to emerge. This struggle is mirrored with a twinkling Lara’s Theme which also struggles to congeal and emerge. Jarre shows great creativity here by linking to first four notes to her theme with each letter of her name as Yuri writes “Lara: A Cycle Of Poems.” This is brilliantly conceived! The next four cues play seamlessly and Lara’s Theme permeates the melodic flow with subtle references to the secondary themes as Yuri’s words flow across the page; “Yuri Frightens The Wolves Away Part I”, “Lara Reads Her Poem”, “Yuri Frightens The Wolves Away Part II” and “Yuri Works On”. We come to a fulfilling conclusion with “Then It’s A Gift (End Title)”. As Yevgraf concludes his narrative of Yuri and Lara we see that Tonya carries a Balalaika. When Yevgraf asks who taught her to play, her boyfriend responds, “No one taught her”. Where-by Yevgraf concludes the film with “Ah, then it is a gift”. Jarre scores this poignant scene with a beautiful interplay of Lara’s Theme and the Story Theme, which is rich, sumptuous and simply wonderful! Bravo!

I must thank Marilee Bradford, Bradley Flanagan and Rhino Records for the remastering and release of Jarre’s complete score. Doctor Zhivago is in my judgment Jarre’s Magnum Opus, a sumptuous romantic score that gains him immortality. We are provided with a multiplicity of beautiful themes and waltz’s that are insightfully attenuated to the film’s imagery and supportive of its narrative. Lara’s Theme is one of those rare and precious film score themes whose pure and innate melodic beauty will echo through time. As such, I assign this score my highest rating and highly recommend it as an essential addition to your collection.

Buy the Doctor Zhivago soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (2:24)
  • Main Title (2:41)
  • Kontakion/Funeral Song (3:17)
  • Lara is Charming (1:15)
  • The Internationale (1:11)
  • Lara and Komarovsky Dancing Up a Storm (0:43)
  • Komarovsky and Lara in the Hotel (3:54)
  • Interior Student Café (Outtake) (1:36)
  • Sventitsky’s Waltz/After the Shooting (2:18)
  • Military Parade (2:10)
  • They Began to Go Home (2:05)
  • After Deserters Killed the Colonel (1:04)
  • At the Hospital (0:58)
  • Lara Says Goodbye to Yuri (1:28)
  • Tonya Greets Yuri (Outtake) (0:44)
  • The Stove’s Out (Outtake) (1:29)
  • Yevgrav Snaps His Fingers (outtake) (3:11)
  • Evening Bells/Moscow Station (1:03)
  • Flags Flying Over the Train (1:06)
  • Yuri Gazing Through a Tiny Open Hatch (Outtake) (0:36)
  • The Door is Banged Open (1:51)
  • Intermission (0:45)
  • Yuri Follows the Sound of the Waterfall (0:43)
  • Tonya and Yuri Arrive at Varykino (2:54)
  • They Didn’t Lock the Cottage (1:34)
  • Varykino Cottage, Winter Snow (0:56)
  • Yuri and the Daffodils (1:17)
  • On a Yuriatin Street (1:34)
  • In Lara’s Bedroom (0:32)
  • Yuri Rides to Yuriatin (0:23)
  • Yuri is Taken Prisoner By The Red Partisans (0:48)
  • For As Long As We Need You (0:41)
  • Yuri is Escaping (2:19)
  • Yuri Approaches Lara’s Apartment (0:50)
  • Yuri Looks Into the Mirror (0:31)
  • Lara and Yuri Arriving at Varykino (1:41)
  • Yuri Is Trying To Write (1:21)
  • Yuri Frightens the Wolves Away, Part 1 (0:48)
  • Lara Reads Her Poem (0:39)
  • Yuri Frightens the Wolves Away, Part 2 (1:54)
  • Yuri Works On (Outtake) (0:53)
  • Then It’s A Gift (End Title) (1:46)
  • Lara’s Theme – Jazz Version (1:58)
  • Lara’s Theme – Rock ‘n’ Roll Version (2:39)
  • Lara’s Theme – Swing Version (1:15)

Running Time: 67 minutes 45 seconds

Rhino R2-71957 (1965/1995)

Music composed and conducted by Maurice Jarre. Performed by The MGM Studio Orchestra. Orchestrations by Maurice Jarre and Leo Arnaud. Score produced by Maurice Jarre. Album produced by Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan.

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  1. March 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    I think this was a more challenging score than Lawrence, for example. Some cues are really harsh and bleak, and others are pure orchestral beauty. And I know I’m the minority here, but I prefer the Story Theme to the Lara’s Theme. Both are beautiful, but the former has a tragic beauty that really captivated me. Sadly it’s not used more frequently on the score.

    Nevertheless, excellent review as usual, Craig.

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