THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD – Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Original Review by Craig Lysy
In 1935 Warner Brothers Studio sought to bring an epic swashbuckling film to the big screen and William Keighley was hired to direct. Screenwriters Norman Reilly Raine and Seton Miller were brought in to write the script, for which they drew inspiration from the Medieval Robin Hood legends. A stellar cast was assembled including; Errol Flynn (Sir Robin of Locksley AKA Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Lady Marian Fitzwalter), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Reins (Prince John), Patrick Knowles (Will Scarlett), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale Sr. (Little John) and Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham). The story reveals that in 1,191 C.E. King Richard the Lionheart of England has been taken captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, as he returned from the Third Crusade. Regretfully his imprisonment provides a pretext for his treacherous brother Prince John to usurp the throne. As a member of the ruling Norman elite, he begins a reign of terror and oppression of the native Saxons, raising taxes supposedly to ransom Richard’s freedom, but in reality the money flows into his personal coffers for his own enrichment. Only one nobleman has the conscience to oppose John’s duplicity, the Saxon knight Sir Robin of Locksley. At a court dinner he boldly declares that he will do all in his power to oppose John and restore Richard to the throne. For this affront John issues an arrest warrant. With his lands and title now forfeit, Robin assembles a band of “Merry Men” who rob from the rich and provide for the poor. When Lady Marion becomes his prisoner, her initial disdain turns to admiration and then love when she sees Robin’s nobility and care for the people. Eventually Robin discovers Richard has returned and devises a plan to overthrow John. He and his men enter Sir Guy’s castle dressed as monks and succeed in winning the day, which features an epic duel with Sir Guy. Now vanquished, a contrite John begs for Richard’s forgiveness, and is exiled. Richard then pardons the Merry Men, knights Robin as Baron of Locksley and Earl of Sherwood and Nottingham. He then commands Robin to marry his ward, the Lady Marian resulting in a classic happy ending! The film was both a huge commercial success and critical success, earning four Academy Award nominations, winning three, including Best Original Score.
The studio’s original intent was to use contract composer Max Steiner, however based on the very favorable reception of his Anthony Adverse (1936) score, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was given the assignment. After he arrived from Austria he reviewed the script and initially turned down the assignment as he felt that his musical style was ill suited for “adventure spectaculars”. Yet he soon had a change of heart as the Nazi Anschluss followed, which foreclosed his return as a Jew to his homeland. Now unable to return home, he would need income to make a new life for himself and his family. Years later Korngold would remark that coming to America for “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” literally saved his life. At the suggestion of his father, Korngold interpolated music from a classical piece he’d written in 1919, “Sursum Corda” (Lift Up Your Hearts) – a large-scale symphonic overture with a wonderfully heroic trumpet theme. The score has a multiplicity of fine themes that includes Viennese waltzes, bombastic marches, and exciting swashbuckling action music.
Viewed in totality, the score contains fourteen themes: The March of the Merry Men Theme offers a classic marcia vivace, which speaks to men’s cheerful and indomitable spirit. Its jaunty major modal colors instantly bonds us with our “good guys”. Richard the Lionheart’s Theme provides a lush major modal violin carried identity, replete with horns solenne, which informs us of his exalted nobility. The Norman Theme is declared with bravado by heraldic horns brillante and speaks to the power of the ruling Norman elite and subjugation of the indigenous Saxons. The Saxon Plight Theme offers a grim repeating eight-note figure carried by upper register strings sofferente with a counter low register horn and bass reply. Replete with harp glissandi and fierce xylophone strikes, this theme perfectly captures the grim fate of the Saxons. Sir Robin Locksley Theme is our hero’s theme, a bright major modal line carried by trumpets brillante and glistening glockenspiel, which inform us of our hero! Korngold interpolates his horn fare from “Sursum Corda”, which perfectly captures Robin’s identity as a bold, fearless and noble defender of the poor and powerless. For our villain Sir Guy of Gisbourne’s Theme Korngold provides horns bellicoso, growling bass, replete with fierce drums, which propel his menace and brutality. Much’s Theme offers comic and playful woodwinds, which speak to us of this hapless fellow caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Norman Court Theme features a declaration by solo trumpet royale. Its formal melodic line unfolds in the manner of a processional, which perfectly captures the pomp and circumstance of this medieval court. The Old England Theme features a repeating line of triplets carried by reverential strings, which bathes us in nostalgia. Friar Tuck’s Theme is a woodwind lover’s dream come true and I believe one of the best themes of the score. For it’s A Phrase Korngold uses warm strings and woodwinds pastorale to speak to us of the Friar’s good nature and gentility. Its B Phrase is carried by refulgent strings, bells and gentile woodwinds, which serve to impart a religioso aura. The Waltz Theme reveals Korngold Viennese sensibilities as he offers up this classic waltz, which flows with gentile elegance. The Archery Tournament Theme is perhaps the finest example of heraldic fan fare in film music! In his youth, Korngold created a signature theme for himself, which he named “The Motif of the Cheerful Heart”. Structurally it is based on two interlocking, rising fourths and a rising fifth. First heard in “Marchenbilder” (1910), he reprised it in “Another Dawn” (1937). It is here however, in this film that the motif becomes transcendent, achieving a sublime expression, which causes all subsequent attempts by other composers to pale in comparison. Lady Marian’s Heartsong offers unabashed romanticism of the highest order, and contends as one of film score music’s greatest love themes. Strings, celeste, vibraphone and woodwinds join in a sublime communion, achieving a sumptuous outpouring of ardent love, which culminates in a breath-taking climax!
“Main Title” offers a score highlight where Korngold introduces some of his themes replete with resounding heraldic fanfare. As the opening credits roll we begin atop the festive Merry Men Theme, a classic marcia vivace, which speaks to men’s cheerful and indomitable spirit. Its jaunty major modal colors sets the film’s tone. We segue atop a horn bridge to the King Richard Theme, whose lush violins and horns solenne inform us of his exalted nobility. A full screen parchment informs us of King Richard’s fate. At 1:29 we bear witness to the Norman Theme declared with bravado by heraldic horns brillante. It supports the grim proclamation that King Richard is held hostage for ransom, A scene change takes us to Nottingham Castle where, Prince John and Sir Guy of Gisbourne conspire to enrich themselves at the expense of the Saxons. The Norman Theme reprises with muted horns, which allude to their treachery. What a fine opening!
In “Sir Guy and Robin Hood” the conspiracy scene continues as we see Prince John upend his goblet of red wine, an allusion that their evil plot will fail. Korngold cleverly supports the portentous moment with a descending clarinet line. We shift grimly atop the Saxon Plight Theme to a montage of scenes, where we see the cruelty of Prince John’s edict. As Norman soldiers bleed the Saxon people of what little wealth they have, Korngold’s music makes us feel their pain. At 0:49 we shift scenes to Sherwood Forest where we see Robin and Will arrive atop his heroic theme! A scene change reveals Sir Guy pursuing and arresting the peasant Much for slaying one of the King’s deer. Korngold supports Much with his theme and Sir Guy’s menace atop the relentless fury of his war-like theme. The “The Meeting” offers a fine contrast between our hero and villain’s themes. It reveals Sir Guy preparing to smite the insolent Much with his mace when Robin shoots it out of his hand with a brilliant arrow strike! He rides to join Sir Guy heroically atop his theme! Woodwinds sow tension as Sir Robin mocks Sir Guy, who take offense and rides off in fury atop his theme. In “The Banquet” a full screen parchment declares an assembly of King Jon and nobles at Sir Guy’s castle in Nottingham. The Norman Court Theme supports the proclamation. The initial declaration by solo trumpet royale is taken up by gentile strings and woodwinds as we bear witness to the gathering and sumptuous feast. A toast to King John by Sir Guy elicits the affirming of Norman might atop the fanfare of Norman Theme. As King John converses with Lady Marion, Korngold transforms the Norman Court Theme into a minuet dance form. This is brilliant! We conclude warmly atop the reverential strings of the Old England Theme, which bathes us in nostalgia.
Well, hold on to your seats folks, because Korngold just brings the house down with this amazing score highlight! We open this extended cue with “Robin Hood Outside – Robin Hood’s Entrance” where a defiant Robin boldly enters the banquet hall carrying the slain deer on his shoulders. Korngold offers a tougher and more strident rendering of his theme, which fully captures his swagger. Although King John welcomes him, Robin brashly proceeds to declare him and his Norman nobles traitors to King Richard and vows to lead a revolt. At 1:04 in “The Fight” King John orders him arrested and all hell breaks loose as Robin fights off the Normans with stunning heroism, guile and agility! Korngold interpolates music from “Sursum Corda”, which propels this amazing fight scene, where he whips his orchestra into frenzy. Wow! At 3:52 we segue into “The Chase of Robin Hood” where we see Robin miraculously escape and flee into Sherwood Forest with the Normans in hot pursuit. Korngold propels the chase with Sir Guy’s menacing theme rendered as pursuit music, interspersed with Robin’s Theme as his arrows find their mark! At 5:57 in “The Victims” we shift scenes to the castle where we see slain Normans prepared for burial and Prince John signing a proclamation declaring Robin an outlaw. Three somber chords sound to support the scene.
The ternary cue “Robin Hood Meets Little John – Robin Hood Fights With Little John – Jolly Friendship” is just a delight! Robin and Will stroll in the forest with Robin’s Theme transformed by woodwinds into a beautiful pastorale. They encounter Little John, who is whistling an English folk song. Robin challenges Little John with quarterstaves for right of first passage over a log bridge and his theme sounds warmly on trumpet to support his bravado. As they battle Robin’s Theme is modulated into a fun-loving variant, which concludes comically when Little John bests him. Robin bears no ill will, and invites him to join in common cause. Korngold celebrates their friendship with a gentle reprise of the Merry Men Theme. In “The Oath and The Black Arrow” Robin and his men swear allegiance to King Richard, which Korngold affirms with Richard’s Theme. We segue into a montage of cruel images of Normans oppressing the Saxons in search of Robin, which Korngold supports with an anguished Saxon Plight Theme. In each case its melody is severed by a solo trumpet emoting Robin’s Theme as a black arrow strikes down a Norman. This really is nicely done!
“The Fish” is a score highlight. It reveals a sleeping Friar with whom Robin plays a prank. As he wakes Robin asks him to join his men and orders him at sword point to carry him across the stream. Korngold introduces his idyllic Friar’s Theme, a gorgeous pastorale of woodwinds, refulgent strings and bells, which I believe makes it one of the score’s most beautiful passages. At 2:20 we segue into “Robin Hood Fights With Friar Tuck”, a delightful cue! The Friar tosses Robin into the stream and takes up a fight with swords. Robin’s Theme supports the contest, but in a more playful and fun-loving form as Robin bears the friar no ill will. We end with a sterling flourish. In “A New Companion” Friar Tuck joins Robin and his men and Korngold supports the newest member’s joining with a reprise of the Merry Men Theme. We come now to another truly exceptional cue in “Robin Hood Attacks Sir Guy’s Party”. Robin sets up an ambush of Sir Guy who is escorting Lady Marion and the ill-gotten tax money to his castle. The Merry Men Theme supports the preparations. As the caravan rolls through the forest, Korngold transforms Sir Guy’s Theme into a more dance-like and lyrical form as he tries to charm Lady Marion. Slowly Korngold weaves a wondrous tête-à-tête between these two themes in a slow crescendo to the ambush. At 3:25 we launch into “The Attack” atop a robust Merry Men’s Theme and descending string lines, which animate the men swooping down from the trees. Heroic statements of Robin’s Theme resound as we see the Sir Guy and the Normans completely overwhelmed.
In this quaternary cue we begin with “Flirt” where Sir Guy, Lady Marion, the treasure and their retinue are escorted to Robin’s Camp. Korngold’ Viennese sensibilities unfold as he provides a beautiful free-flowing Waltz Theme to support the gentle strolling and Much flirting with Beth. At 1:32 we segue into “Feast” atop a festive rendering of the Merry Men’s Theme that assumes dance-like expression. We see Robin and his men celebrating their victory. At 2:21 we flow into “Poor People’s Feast”, which Korngold supports with his elegant Waltz Theme. We see Marion begin to warm to Robin’s charms, which we hear in the waltz, which becomes more romantic in its expression. At 4:49 we conclude with “Gold” where Robin asks his men if they should divide the gold among themselves or use it to free King Richard. They all declare “For King Richard!” Korngold supports this inspiring moment with a warm rendering of King Richard’s Theme. The marriage of music to film in these cues is superb! “The Poor People” offers fine interplay of a multiplicity of Korngold’s themes. It reveals Robin showing Marian the plight and misery of peasants who have suffered under Norman tyranny. Korngold supports the pathos of the moment with an elegiac rendering of the Saxon Plight Theme. As Robin relates why he fights for the poor his theme assumes a warm and gentle expression. When he speaks of his desire to fight injustice, King Richard’s Theme carried by solo cello supports his nobility. Marian’s heart is touched by his words and after he kisses her hand we hear at 2:18 a nascent expression by solo violin of the Love Theme. As he escorts her back to camp violins tenderly play a passage from “Old England”. After some comedy from Little John and Friar Tuck we conclude atop the Waltz Theme as Marian waves a fond goodbye from her horse to Robin. Cues like this are why I love film music!
Well, here we go with another complex multi-scenic cue. In “The Tournament” An archery tournament has been organized as a deception to lure Robin into capture, believing his ego will not turn down an opportunity for glory. We are treated to film music as it most grand. Korngold unleashes his Archery Tournament Theme based on his beloved “The Motif of the Cheerful Heart”. We bear witness to one of the greatest fanfare scenes in film music history as the pageantry of the tournament unfolds before our eyes. The Norman Theme also resounds as King John and the Norman nobility are seen. At 1:34 we segue into “Robin Hood’s Appearance at the Archery Field” as Robin takes to the field, his men stand ready in the crowd. A muted and playful rendering of the Merry Men’s Theme supports their movements. At 2:03 we flow into “Preparation for the Archery Contest” atop the Norman Fanfare as Robin prepares to assume his position. At 2:25 we bear witness to an astounding cue with “Robin Hood Starts to Shoot” where we are treated to fine interplay of the Merry Men’s Theme, Robin’s Theme, Norman Fanfare and the Archery Tournament fanfare! We conclude at “Finale of the Archery Contest” with a menacing rendering of the Saxon Plight Theme, which sows tension as guards slowly encircle Robin, cutting off any avenue of escape. As Robin continues to win his theme resounds with every bull’s eye. When last he defeats Phillip of Arras by splitting his bull’s eye arrow he is proclaimed champion atop a glorious sounding of his theme!
In “Arrest of Robin Hood” he receives his golden arrow trophy from Lady Marian and is exposed by Sir Guy. His valiant attempt to escape is foiled by overwhelming numbers and he is captured. Korngold supported the passage by interpolating music from “Sursum Corda”. “Tribunal – The Jail” reveals Robin imprisoned in the dungeon. The Saxon Plight Theme sounds as a marcia funebre as he awaits his fate. A scene shift to a grieving Lady Marian is supported by a minor modal rendering of the Old England Theme, which yields to a tender expression of the Love Theme. In “The Gallows” growling horns of the Saxon Plight Theme sound as Robin is brought to the gallows for execution. As he ascends the platform rising arpeggios join in a tête-à-tête, repeatedly take flight as his theme resounds on solo trumpet. At 2:28 his men save him in “The Flight of Robin Hood” and he escapes with Korngold supporting the flight with a reworking of the finale of his “Sursum Corda”. What an exciting cue!
“Love Scene” is a masterpiece cue where the score achieves its supreme moment. Robin visits Lady Marion in Nottingham castle. As he ascends to her the music begins with a gentile minor modal rendering of Robin’s Theme replete with stirring harp and piano arpeggios. As he arrives he professes his love, which she at first refuses. Korngold supports the moment with a full rendering of his exquisite Lady Marian’s Heartsong with interplay of King’s Richard Theme on solo cello for Robin, and countered on violins when Marian speaks – ingenious and sublime! We bear witness to solo violin, kindred strings, celeste, vibraphone and woodwinds joining in a sublime communion, achieving a sumptuous outpouring of ardent love, which culminates in a breath-taking climax! Korngold earns immortality with this piece. In “Arrest of Lady Marian” she earlier over heard Prince John and Sir Guy plotting King Richard’s murder. They suspect her and Sir Guy confronts her in her bedchamber where he discovers her letter warning King Richard. He orders her arrest, which Korngold supports darkly with the Saxon Plight Theme. “Much: The Knife Fight” is a bizarre cue and hard for me believe written by Korngold. It opens with Much laying in ambush to kill Prince John’s assassin. An eerie chord sustain opens and ushers in repeated harsh and discordant phrases of Robin’s Theme to support the fight.
In “Richard Meets Robin Hood – Richard The Lion Heart” we open with King Richard’s Theme as he and his guards, masquerading as monks, ride in Sherwood Forest. Robin, atop his theme, ambushes them and playful string descents support the Merry Men descending on the party. While Robin invites them to their camp, we change scenes to see Will rescue Much. They ride back quickly to the camp to alert Robin of King Richard’s return. Exciting flight music supports their travels. At camp Much reveals Prince John’s plot to murder the King, at which point King Richard reveals himself. Korngold supports the moment with some warm renderings of King Richard’s Theme. They all agree to Robin’s plan to infiltrate the castle, save Lady Marion and restore King Richard to the throne. “The Procession” is a marvelous cue and a wonderful score highlight! Robin, King Richard and his guards, and the merry men enter the castle in formal procession disguised as monks. A faux if not comic processional rendering of the Merry Men Theme replete with tolling bells supports the deception. A scene change reveals a pompous Prince John ready for his coronation. As we enter the great hall Korngold unleashes his orchestra to provide some amazing and grandiose pageantry the likes of which has rarely been heard! We begin a steady crescendo with the Old England Theme, which is joined atop horns brillante with the Merry Men’s Theme. The music replete with tolling bells and antiphonal fan fare swells magnificently with full royal pomp and circumstance! What an astounding marriage of imagery and music!
In “Prince John” his entry is announced by heraldic fanfare followed by the Norman Fanfare, yet its luster has been tarnished and its power, muted. The Old England Theme joins and supports the procession. As Prince John declares himself king, King Richard and Robin reveal themselves atop Robin’s trumpet calls and we flow seamlessly into a stunning ternary action cue where the score achieves its apogee! In “The Battle” all hell breaks loose as the great hall is consumed in fierce battle. Korngold supports the fighting by interpolating the finale of “Sursum Corda”. We flow into “The Duel”, one of film score art’s greatest moments – the epic duel between Sir Robin and Sir Guy where we bear witness to Korngold’s mastery of his craft. As they engage in spectacular swordplay he unleashes his orchestra with astounding contrapuntal interplay of their themes! As they duel on screen, their themes duel in the orchestra. Slowly, Robin’s Theme gains ascendency and we climax at 3:57 with a gong clash and orchestra descent as Sir Guy is slain and falls to his death. We segue into the very satisfying “The Victory” where we see Robin supported by “Sursum Corda” fighting guards to rescue Marian. Korngold supports their reunion with his trumpet calls and a refulgent joining of their Love Theme and King Richard’s Theme, thus informing us her rescue and the restoration of King Richard.
In “Epilogue” King Richard banishes his brother for life, pardons the Merry Men, and knights Robin as Baron of Locksley, and Earl of Sherwood and Nottingham. He then commands Robin to marry his ward, the Lady Marian resulting in a classic happy ending! For the scene, Korngold transmutes Robin’s Theme into a new lyrical string laden identity of sublime beauty. As our lovers depart for their new life together we crescendo to a magnificent climax atop a glorious rendering of King Richard’s Theme! As the end credits display in “End Cast” we end as we began with the March of the Merry Men. Lastly, we have a bonus cue, “Original Trailer Music”, a score highlight, which offers the restored music of the film’s 1938 theater trailer. As the film’s dramatic fight and romance scenes flow across the screen Korngold graces us with a wondrous parade of his primary themes and rousing fanfares, which fully captures the magnificence of his score.
Please allow me to express my heartfelt thanks to Anna Bonn, John Morgan and William Stromberg for yet another masterful rerecording of a treasured Golden Age score. Performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, the sound quality is superb as is conductor Stromberg’s mastery of Korngold’s music. This expert team have once again superbly reconstructed and re-recorded the entire score with outstanding quality. This score is a rousing, rich, multi-thematic effort that offers you the regal splendor and gallantry of Medieval England. The story was Errol Flynn’s vehicle, and his brash, bold, charismatic and fiercely defiant persona animated the film. Korngold music is perfectly attenuated to his heroic persona and expertly captured his irrepressible spirit. From the fanfare of the Main Title, to the lush Love Theme where the Lady Marian succumbs to his charm, to the epic and culminating Duel, this score is a testimony to Korngold’s genius, and mastery of his craft. His countless melodies and fan fares are timeless, peerless, and continue to echo through time. I believe this score to be Korngold’s Magnum Opus, one of the finest of the Golden Age, and an essential score for your collection.
Buy the Adventures of Robin Hood soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title/Muted Fanfare (1:49)
- Sir Guy and Robin Hood (1:48)
- The Meeting (1:10)
- The Banquet (2:13)
- Robin Hood Outside/Robin Hood’s Entrance/The Fight/The Chase of Robin Hood/The Victims (6:12)
- Robin Hood Meets Little John/Robin Hood Fights With Little John/Jolly Friendship (3:55)
- The Oath and The Black Arrow (1:58)
- The Fish/Robin Hood Fights With Friar Tuck (3:28)
- A New Companion (Friar Tuck) (0:55)
- Robin Hood Attacks Sir Guy’s Party/The Attack (5:11)
- Flirt/Feast/Poor People’s Feast/Gold (5:58)
- The Poor People (4:19)
- The Tournament/Robin Hood’s Appearance at the Archery Field/Preparation for the Archery Contest/Robin Hood Starts to Shoot/Finale of the Archery Contest (6:37)
- Arrest of Robin Hood (0:47)
- Tribunal/The Jail (2:26)
- The Gallows/The Flight of Robin Hood (4:39)
- Love Scene (6:24)
- Arrest of Lady Marian (0:45)
- Much: The Knife Fight (1:10)
- Richard Meets Robin Hood/Richard The Lion Heart (4:03)
- The Procession (3:08)
- Prince John (1:32)
- The Battle/The Duel/The Victory (5:36)
- Epilogue (1:33)
- End Cast (0:35)
Running Time: 78 minutes 11 seconds
Marco Polo 8-225268 (1938/2003)
Music composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by R. H. Bassett, Hugo Friedhofer and Milan Roder. Recorded and mixed by Gennady Papin. Score produced by Leo F. Forbstein and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Album produced by William Stromberg, John Morgan and Anna Bonn.