Home > Reviews > THE SONG OF BERNADETTE – Alfred Newman



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer William Perlberg of 20th Century Fox saw opportunity for the studio after reading the novel 1942 novel The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel, and so resolved to bring this inspired and miraculous story to the big screen. Henry King was hired to direct and veteran screenwriter George Seaton tasked with writing the screenplay. For the actors, a nationwide talent search found 24 year old Jennifer Jones, who was selected to play the title character of Bernadette Soubirous. Supporting actors included Vincent Price in perhaps his finest performance as (Prosecutor Vital Dutour), Aubrey Mather (Mayor Lacade), Charles Dingle (Chief of Police Jocomet), Charles Bickford (Dean of Lourdes) and Gladys Cooper (Sister Therese Vauzous). The film was made in 1943, as the world suffered under the dark pall of Nazism. Its narrative offers an intimate venerative, and sympathetic accounting of a young peasant girl, who one day beholds a miraculous vision of a refulgent “Beautiful Lady”. We bear witness to her stirring and remarkable journey of faith and courage, as well as a commentary against the banality of government, the skepticism of science and the dogmatism of organized religion. Bernadette’s sincerity, innocence, and purity of heart eventually overcome all critics, skeptics, and obstacles. A shrine is eventually built to commemorate the miracle of her vision of Mary, and she spends her final days secluded in a nunnery, suffering from a very painful form of tuberculosis of the bone, from which she succumbed at the young age of 35. The film was both a commercial and critical success, earning an astounding twelve Academy Award nominations, winning four for, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and best Musical Score.

Igor Stravinsky was initially chosen to provide the film’s original score, but all did not go well. When the maestro was invited to the film’s screening so he could plan and spot his score, he replied that he had already written music for the crucial “Apparition of the Virgin” scene. Perlberg and King felt changes were needed, and when Stravinsky demonstrated an implacable unwillingness to adapt his music, he was released from his contract. Of note is that the second movement of his “Symphony in Three Movements” evolved out of the unused score. Alfred Newman, who was Director of Music at Fox, was pressed by the film’s planned release date and so took over the reins of the film. He researched French folk songs and Gregorian Chants in an effort to infuse ethnic and liturgical authenticity for his score. In an interview about his score Newman related;

“It was not simply a question of belief or non-belief in the appearance of the Virgin in the grotto of Lourdes. It was an affirmation of the strength and singleness of heart engendered in any person, in any age, by a complete faith. It is a story of a simple peasant girl who saw a vision, and who chose to serve that vision all her life. To that degree, and in a unique way, it is a love story – the love of Bernadette for her Lady.”

Thematically he created seven themes, which included two themes for the title character; Bernadette’s Theme 1 offers one of Newman’s greatest themes, which echoes through time. It is a supremely lyrical, warm, major modal identity born by violins brillante. The repeating four-note phrasing of its A Phrase, and the descending violin statements with horn counters of its B Phrase is sublime. Bernadette’s Theme 2 is also violin carried with woodwind adornment, and built upon repeating five-note phrasing. It however bears none of the splendor of inspiration of Theme 1, instead abounding in happiness and sweet contentment. The Authority Theme has a dichotomous application in that it emotes both the power of the State, and the power of the Church, each of which stand resolutely against Bernadette. It is expressed as four note declaration by horn chorale, which bears power, majesty and at times dark purpose. Next, for the Lady Theme, Newman fully captures her divinity, bathing us in a refulgent religioso splendor born by violins brillante and ethereal chorus. His inspiring and stirring music finds a sublime synergy with the radiant imagery of the Lady. With the Grotto Theme Newman chose not to take the obvious route and speak directly to a divine revelation; rather, he chose instead to express a wondrous experience by a young girl who lacked the intellect and sophistication to fathom her circumstances other than a vision of beauty. As such he used the orchestra to emote the pastoral sounds of nature. He created an impressionistic milieu consisting of fluttering flutes for the breeze, an oboe for bird song, strings for rustling leaves, and wordless human voice to inform us of Mary’s presence. This nuanced and insightful approach was sheer genius. The Misery Theme is born by pensive woodwinds, strings doloroso and bathes us is dark orchestral colors. It speaks to us of the sad and impoverished life of Bernadette and her poor family, which each day struggle to find food and survive. Lastly, we have the Children’s Theme, a wondrous identity born by bouncing woodwinds and spritely strings, which abounds with happiness, and carries us with youthful abandon.

“Overture”, is a sublime score highlight of uncommon beauty. It is offered in the traditional Golden Age style of a classic overture designed to play as a set piece prior to the start of the film. We bear witness to a full and glorious exploration of Newman’s primary themes. We open dramatically atop the Church Theme, which ushers in a wondrous full multi-phrasic statement of Bernadette’s Theme 1. The Misery Theme follows and is provided an extended statement in all its unabiding sad and tragic beauty. We are nest treated to gorgeous interplay of both Bernadette Themes in exquisite interplay. The piece concludes slowly, yet inexorably, building eloquently to a wondrous climax. “Prelude” is a stirring cue and offers a wondrous score highlight where Newman showcases his primary themes. We open grandly with solemn and portentous heraldic fanfare and tolling bells, which emote the Church Theme as the 20th Century logo rolls. As the opening credits flow, refulgent strings with a contrapuntal woodwind line create an inspired religioso aura as they ascend and carry us heavenwards. We flow warmly into Bernadette’s Theme 1, which is presented in all its wondrous beauty. As the credits end the Church Theme reprises on horns solenne as the following statement displays;

“For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”

A segue by tremolo violins carry us to Lourdes in “Early Dawn”, where Newman demonstrates mastery of his craft with superb scoring, which informs us of her father’s sadness and life struggles. The softly repeating A Phrase of Bernadette’s Theme 1 takes us into Bernadette’s one room home where the family sleeps. The Misery Theme born by pensive woodwinds and strings doloroso entwines with Bernadette’s Theme 1 as her father François leaves to find work so he may feed his family. Horns of hope carry François to the hospital after the baker advises him of possible work. As François’ toils taking infectious waste to the city dump, Newman reprises his sad writing of the Misery Theme on pensive strings and woodwinds beset by dark horns. Newman’s music drives home François’ struggle, and elicits our pity.

“The Day Begins” offers a wonderfully happy cue! Bouncing woodwinds and spritely strings carry us with youthful abandon atop the Children’s Theme as Bernadette and her sisters run to the grotto to fetch wood. As Bernadette falls behind a handsome young man helps her across a wood bridge. A romantic variant of her theme plays to support the moment, as Antoine is attracted to her. As she reaches the grotto, the Children’s Theme returns with interplay of Bernadette’s Theme. “The Vision” offers one of the score’s supreme moments and a stunning achievement for Newman. He introduces his Grotto Theme, an impressionistic milieu consisting of fluttering flutes for the breeze, an oboe for bird song, strings for rustling leaves, and wordless human voice to inform us of Mary’s presence. This nuanced and insightful approach was sheer genius! In the scene we see that Bernadette has been left behind alone in the grotto. As she sits, the A Phrase of her theme plays as a mysterioso. An inexplicable breeze ushers in trilling woodwinds, wordless ethereal chorus and the confluence of orchestral effects mentioned earlier. Slowly, we begin a breathtaking choral ascent atop horns brillante, which culminates with the wonderment of Bernadette gazing at the luminous vision of the Lady. Tremolo strings and ethereal chorus guide her now resplendent theme on violins as she kneels, mesmerized, yet tranquil as she venerates the Lady in prayer. The rapture of the moment is lost when her sisters return. Newman’s approach to scoring this crucial scene of the first vision, demonstrates mastery of his craft, and earns him immortality.

“I Saw A Lady” offers a woodwinds lovers dream come true. Bernadette reveals to her sisters her vision. Wordless chorus, bells and solo flute carry her theme tenderly, with stirring religioso adornment. A scene change to her mother returning home reprises the sad Misery Theme, as François tells her that her laundry services have been cancelled. The mood brightens when Bernadette returns home atop her theme. Newman packs a lot into this short cue. “The Betrayal” reveals Marie squealing about Bernadette’s vision. Tremolo strings usher her theme as she explains her vision. A grim, low register, and portentous statement of the Church Theme sounds, which alludes to future problems this will bring. Her genuine testimony of her truthfulness is carried by her theme. Her defense is interrupted with “Good Fortunes”, where neighbors bring much needed food and drink in thanks for Louise saving her daughter’s pregnancy. Solo flute doloroso leads a beautiful melody that tenderly captures Louise’s hesitation, yet thankfulness of the gift. When news comes that François has also gained employment at the stables, a celebratory statement by woodwinds and strings supports the family’s joy from the good fortune today!

“A Mother’s Love” is a beautiful score highlight with exquisite writing, which features sterling interplay of Newman’s primary themes. Flight music opens the cue as we see Marie running home to alert her mother that Bernadette has fallen ill at the grotto and has been brought back.

They race to her to find she has recovered and proceeds to relate of her second vision, this one with the Lady speaking to her. Her theme is radiant as she recounts the vision, and joins in a stirring communion with the Lady’s Theme carried by solo violin. Yet the Church Theme tolls grimly as we see in the people’s faces that they are taken aback by what this suggests. The Misery Theme plays as Louise scolds Bernadette for her nonsense and forbids her to ever again visit the grotto. In “The Grotto”, Bernadette has traveled to the grotto with her mother, sister, aunt and towns folk. The Lady speaks to her, yet no one else can see or hear the Lady. We open with Bernadette’s A Phrase on flue atop The Grotto Theme. An refulgent choral ascent heralds the Lady’s return, and the joining of the Lady’s Theme and Bernadette’s Theme once again in an inspiring communion that brings a quiver and a tear. Horns dramatico sounding the State Theme shatter the moment as a harshly critical newspaper article reveals the event.

“From Her Very Depths” offers a truly exquisite passage. Dr. Dozous relates to the town council his findings, having examined Bernadette and the latest event at the grotto. He asserts that she is genuine, reverential and found no abnormal medical or psychological findings. He can offer no explanation. French horns full of foreboding sound the Church Theme, which is joined by woodwinds doloroso bearing the Misery Theme. Bernadette’s Theme attempts to gain voice, but is silenced by the State Theme. In “The Officials” Bernadette is arrested. Mayor Lacade, prosecutor Dutour and the chief of police Jocomet conspire to intimidate and coerce Bernadette into silence, as she has made Lourdes the laughing stock of France. Both Dotour and then the Jocomet fail in their mission to coerce Bernadette. Regretfully, Newman’s music was dialed out of the film. Dark woodwinds usher in a sad, lyrical and moving extended passage that features exquisite interplay of the State Theme and Misery Theme. “A Father’s Promise” reveals Bernadette ill at home and despondent at her being prevented from visiting the Lady. This elicits sympathy and a father’s love for his daughter. He promises that he will allow her to visit the Lady. Plaintive woodwinds emote the Misery Theme yet a refulgent Bernadette’s Theme ascends, breaks free, and once more joins in communion with the Lady’s Theme in joy thanks to her father’s pledge.

In “The Reverend” Bernadette travels with the town folks to visit Father Peyramale, the Dean of Lourdes, as she has been asked by the Lady to deliver him a message. He is clearly hostile to her claim, yet never the less directs her to ask the Lady for a miracle; to have the grotto wild rose bush bloom in February. Dark, yet majestic horns of the Church Theme sound with a counter woodwind line, which blossoms atop strings as Bernadette accepts his message. “The Directives” offers for me the score’s apogee, its supreme moment. The town kneels in prayer behind Bernadette as they await the miracle of the rose blossoms. The Grotto Theme returns, from out which rises a stirring and breath-taking choral ascent, that climaxes gloriously with a flourish as the Lady returns. We bear witness to a refulgent expression of the Lady’s Theme, which has returned with all its magnificence, replete with choral support. Bernadette is asked by the Lady to eat herbs and to then wash herself in grotto spring. Bernadette eats, but cannot find the spring. She never the less digs a hole, but finds only mud. She obediently wipes the mud on her face as a solo violin joins with her theme, which gains prominence. The people find her behavior bizarre and she is ridiculed as her family takes her away. Newman is a genius. In “The Spring” Antoine, who is in love with Bernadette and remorseful, remains at the grotto. To his astonishment he discovers a spring is bubbling up from the hole Bernadette dug. He is ecstatic and runs to alert everyone. The Grotto Theme returns to alert him of the spring, and once again a glorious choral ascent and climax occurs. We conclude the scene with an inspired choral rendering of the hymn “Sancta Maria”. Wow.

In “The Miracle” the doctor has told a mother that her son will soon pass. She will not accept this fate, takes the child, and runs to the grotto. She bathes him in the spring and he awakes, fully healed. Frantic and dissonant violins propel her flight. The Grotto Theme supports her entry to the grotto and a grand religioso climax informs us of the miracle. “Rumors Of Healing” reveals the father of the healed boy thanking François and Louise for Bernadette’s spring. Newman supports the scene with Bernadette’s Theme, which is provided a beautiful extended statement. As we see scenes of the infirm journeying to Lourdes seeking a cure of their infirmities, the Church Theme sounds on majestic horns replete with bells, thus creating a powerful religioso ambiance. We conclude with a grand and powerful ascent to a wondrous orchestral climax. “Immaculate Conception” reveals Bernadette in prayer and communion with the Lady at the grotto. A choir singing Sancta Maria supports the moment as her theme joins and entwines. The Lady’s Theme later joins in a resplendent statement as Bernadette departs. Later, when she is asked what the Lady’s name was, she answered “I Am The Immaculate Conception.” The Church Theme sounds on horns solenne to conclude the cue.

In “You’re Playing With Fire” the Father Payramale is perplexed by Bernadette’s knowledge of the term Immaculate Conception, but cannot bring himself to believe her story. He admonishes her and threatens that she will never have a real life unless she recants. Newman supports the encounter with interplay of the Church Theme and a gentle melodic line carried by strings and woodwinds. A grim conclusion atop the Church Theme underscores his threat. “Load Well Your Guns” reveals the Father Payramale forbidding Dutour and the psychiatrist from institutionalizing Bernadette. As his defiant declaration sounds, Newman supports him with a powerful and emphatic statement of the Church Theme. We change scenes to hospital of the Sisters of Charity, where Bernadette has been granted safe refuge. Sister Marie Therese confronts Bernadette and admonishes her for her false beliefs. Horns grave repeated sound to underscore her disdain, which in reality masks her jealousy. We conclude sadly with the Misery Theme sister Marie kneels and prays.

In “Commission Convenes” the Father Payramale request for a Church Commission is granted. Newman uses repeated solemn declarations of the Church Theme to support the unfolding drama. Interplay by the Lady’s Theme on woodwinds and Bernadette’s Theme, which struggles to assert itself also join. “Destiny” offers a truly beautiful cue and score highlight. It reveals Bernadette visiting the Father Payramale at his residence. For this lengthy cue Newman introduces his second theme for Bernadette, which abounds with happiness, sweet gentility and contentment as she is enjoying life. As they sit, they discuss the significance of the events of her life and her primary theme joins in interplay. When he counsels her that she was chosen by Mary for a special purpose and cannot now live a normal life, we see the happiness leave her. The Church Theme rises and entwines with the Misery Theme as she realizes she cannot hope to live a normal life. As he speaks to her of this singular honor, the Church Theme rises on resplendent strings as she realizes her destiny. Bernadette acquiesces to his counsel, and agrees to dedicate herself to God and enter a nunnery. We close with spiritual affirmation on a splendid restatement of her primary theme.

In “The Farewell” Bernadette joins her parents and bids an emotional farewell as she departs for her new life. Plaintive woodwinds usher in her theme, which joins with the Lady’s Theme in splendid interplay, alluding to her new life. As she bids goodbye to the Father Payramale her two themes join in beautiful interplay, as she is reconciled both with him, and her new life path.

Her secondary theme supports a heartfelt goodbye to Antoine, who we see if filled with regret, as he truly did love her. At the convent, the sisters have become aware of Bernadette’s terrible affliction in “The Spring Is Not For Me”. They try to convince her to journey to Lourdes and partake of the grotto’s waters, so she might be healed. Bernadette refuses, saying that the Lady told her that she could not promise happiness in this life, only the next. We conclude our story with “Your Life Begins”, a score highlight, where we see Bernadette on her death bed with Father Payramale at bedside. The Misery Theme fills the room with gloom as Bernadette relates to Father Payramale that she feels herself unworthy and reproaches herself for being lazy and stupid. She regrets that she will not again see the Lady. Father Payramale comforts her and offers the hope of eternal life as her life ebbs. As the sisters and priest enter for the Last Rites, her face slowly grows radiant and we see in her eyes joy, as the Lady has returned in all her radiant splendor. Newman supports her realization and vision with a refulgent and glorious expression of the Lady Theme. As Bernadette passes, majestic horns sound the Church Theme to end the film. “Exit Music” plays as end titles run. It features wondrous restatements of Bernadette’s Theme 1 and the Lady’s Theme joined in exquisite communion.

In “Bonus Tracks: Commission Convenes (Alternate)” we have an extended passage that suggests that the final film version was edited. It offers solemn declarations of the Church Theme to support the unfolding drama. Interplay by the Grotto Theme, the Lady’s Theme on woodwinds and Bernadette’s Theme, which struggles to assert itself also join. For each of the following three cues there are no notes to suggest for what scene they were intended. “Bonus Tracks: Unused Cue #1” is a beautiful piece, which features an unused theme. Gentile woodwinds and strings flow carefree and are joined by repeated statements of the Church Theme, which add gravitas. The passage offers fine writing for cello and kindred strings that supports statements of Bernadette’s Theme 1 and the Misery Theme. “Bonus Tracks: Unused Cue #2” is an extraordinary cue! It offers a resplendent statement of Bernadette’s Theme 1 with a stirring statement of the Church Theme. The interplay of the two themes is quite beautiful. I love this cue! “Bonus Tracks: Unused Cue #3” features a plaintive statement of Bernadette’s Theme 1, that brightens like the dawn.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to Nick Redman, Rick Viktor and Varese Sarabande for this precious two CD release of the complete score for “The Song of Bernadette”. While the sound does not achieve current 21st century quality standards, the restoration and mastering efforts have never the less succeeded in producing a quality product worthy of your purchase. This score stands as one of the finest in Newman’s immense canon. He created seven exceptional themes, including the genius of the Grotto Theme. His music fully captured the religioso splendor and inspiration of this heartfelt tale, as well as Bernadette’s purity and innocence. Rarely in film score art have composers been able to achieve the sublime moments of beauty created by Newman with this effort, moments that for me often elicited a quiver and a tear. This score is a testimony to Newman’s greatest, one of the finest ever written by the hand of man, and a shining example of the glories of the Golden Age. I highly recommend this score as essential to your collection.

Buy the Song of Bernadette soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (6:52)
  • Prelude and Early Dawn (7:21)
  • The Day Begins (3:37)
  • The Vision (4:18)
  • I Saw a Lady (2:44)
  • The Betrayal (0:57)
  • Good Fortunes (2:30)
  • A Mother’s Love (6:41)
  • The Grotto (2:40)
  • From Her Very Depths (2:44)
  • The Officials (7:54)
  • A Father’s Promise (1:53)
  • The Reverend (2:48)
  • The Directives (4:43)
  • The Spring (1:38)
  • The Miracle (1:06)
  • Rumours of Healing (2:55)
  • Immaculate Conception (2:03)
  • You’re Playing With Fire (1:39)
  • Load Well Your Gums (2:24)
  • Commission Convenes (1:52)
  • Destiny (6:27)
  • The Farewell (5:33)
  • The Spring Is Not For Me (2:28)
  • Your Life Begins (5:15)
  • Exit Music (1:52)
  • Commission Convenes (Alternate) (2:32)
  • Unused Cue #1 (2:32)
  • Unused Cue #2 (4:14)
  • Unused Cue #3 (1:17)

Running Time: 103 minutes 29 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6025 (1943/1999)

Music composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell. Score produced by Alfred Newman. Album produced by Nick Redman and Rick Victor.

  1. Debra Y.
    May 28, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    This is indeed a beautiful score, but mention should be made that Newman made free use of the second movement of Bruckner’s 6th Symphony – not that he shouldn’t have, but it is interesting to listen to both.

  1. November 28, 2016 at 9:55 pm

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