CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE – Alfred Newman
Original Review by Craig Lysy
20th Century studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck came across the novel Captain From Castile (1945) by Samuel Shellabarger and was captivated by its love story and grand adventure. He paid an astounding $100,000 for the film rights and hired trusted director Henry King to manage the project. Lamar Trotti wrote the screenplay, which had to go through several incarnations to appease the Hayes Commission and the Catholic Church who objected to the novel’s critical portrayal of the Spanish Inquisition. King brought in a fine cast, which included; Tyrone Power as Pedro de Vargas, Jean Peters as Catana Pérez, Cesar Romero as Hernán Cortéz, Lee J. Cobb as Juan García, John Sutton as Diego de Silva, Antonio Moreno as Don Francisco de Vargas, and Thomas Gomez as Father Bartolomé de Olmedo. The story is set in Spain circa 1518 CE and offers a classic romance and adventure. Our hero Pedro de Vargas and his family are opposed to the Spanish Inquisition, which is directed by the diabolical Diego de Silva.
It comes to pass that Pedro assists Coatl, a runaway slave escape his cruel master, Diego de Silva, and then later rescues barmaid Catana from de Silva’s men. For this outrage and Don Francisco de Vargas’ critique of the Inquisition, de Silva orders Pedro and his family arrested for heresy. Pedro’s friend Juan helps him and his family escape, but not before Pedro disarms de Silva, at sword point, forces him to renounce God, and then slays him. The escape party splits with Pedro’s family fleeing to Italy and he joining Juan and Catana on an adventure – Hernán Cortéz’s grand expedition to Mexico. Well, it comes to pass that Pedro and Catana fall in love and are married. De Silva, who did not die, soon lands and joins Cortéz, intent on imposing the Inquisition on Mexico. After a duel request by Pedro is rebuffed, Coatl slays de Silva in his sleep. We conclude by bearing witness to the overthrow of the Aztecs by the conquistadores of Cortéz. The film was enormously expensive and barely met its production costs. Critical acclaim was mixed and the film received a single Academy Award nomination for Best Film Score.
Alfred Newman was director of music at 20th Century Fox and was forced to choose between two period piece projects, Captain from Castile and Forever Amber. He assigned David Raksin to Forever Amber and the rest is history. Orchestrator Edward Powell related;
“I’ve often thought that Alfred chose to do this score because of the opportunities it gave him as a conductor… It was a picture that allowed him full range as a composer. It had everything: love, death, pomp and circumstance, action, scenery and the Church. The grandeur of the whole thing inspired the use of the complete orchestral palette in the grand manner.”
Newman understood that the film required brilliant colors and a grand sweep, and that he would need to impart traditional Castilian auras, as well as those for the native Indian culture of the Aztecs. He spent much time researching historical and traditional Spanish idioms and once again recruited renowned guitarist Vicente Gomez, whom he had worked with before on Blood and Sand (1941). For the Aztecs Newman discovered that like the Chinese they used a pentatonic scale. Archeological evidence also revealed they used wooden flutes, drums, whistles and gourd rattles.
For the score Newman relied on leitmotifs in the finest traditions of the Golden Age. A multiplicity of fine themes is provided. Pedro has two themes associated with him. First and foremost is Pedro’s Theme, which serves as his identity and the score’s primary theme. It is bold, rousing and propelled by proud French horns, with Castilian auras, which are emblematic of our hero. When he is fighting a secondary Fight Theme carried by strings furioso is employed to add vital energy and support his heroism. Cortéz has an amazing four themes associated with him. The Cortéz Theme, is proud, martial and carried forthrightly by aristocratic hornfare. The Conquistadores Theme is a 12 note martial identity, which fully captures their war-like nature. The Call to Arms Theme offers a classic horn declared regimental call to arms. The Conquest Theme offers a theme of such brilliance and magnificence as to earn Newman immortality. It emotes as a classic marcia bravura, which captures the irrepressible spirit of Cortéz, and propels his destiny – the conquest of the Aztecs. Powered by Castilian horn declarations and kinetic percussion, the theme drives forth gloriously with a rousing and inspired energy, which is irresistible, and unstoppable.
Juan’s Theme is carried by sad repeating string phrases, which inform us that his life has been hard, unfulfilling, and that he is not at peace as De Silva has tortured his mother. Father Bartolome’s Theme emotes with classic religioso auras, carried with warm French horns nobile, and refulgent strings. The City of Gold Theme alludes to the New World and its fabled treasure of gold. It evolves over the film, initially emoting with a refulgent ethereal, dreamy and aspirational aura, later becoming more dramatic and hopeful with bold horn declarations. Nativist ethnic instruments carry the Aztec Theme, which was necessary to speak to their identity, and offer contrast the Spanish themes. Wooden flutes, drums and horns create an exotic soundscape, which perfectly captured their spirit. Worth noting is that the theme undergoes a transformation from pastoral, peaceful, and welcoming, to one of alarm and militancy as they come to see Cortéz not as an explorer, but instead, a conqueror.
Newman utilizes three themes to speak to the story’s romance; Catana’s Theme is tender, gentile and introduced by a solo oboe. It often serves a prelude for the love theme. The yearning Love Theme for Pedro and Catana is one of Newman’s finest. It is string laden, florid, abounds with Castilian rhythms, and is adorned with guitar. The next two themes are kindred songs that are often articulated together; “A Serenade to a Lady in Spain” and “Lady Luisa”. The serenade functions as a preparatory statement, a prelude for the primary Lady Luisa Theme, which serves as the aching, bittersweet longing of Pedro’s heart for his lost love. Infused with traditional Castilian auras it has an arresting elegant beauty. In contrast to the aforementioned themes we have for our villain and Pedro’s nemesis, De Silva’s Theme. Dark horns empower his malignant menace, which is emoted as a classic marcia sinistre. Often bound in evil synergy with de Silva’s Theme is the Inquisition Theme. It emotes darkly as a grim marcia funebre. The Persecution Theme is intrinsically linked to the victims of the Inquisition, most notable Pedro’s family. It offers unbearable melancholia, a tragic unabiding sadness, which cannot be assuaged. Lastly, we have the Conspirators Theme, carried by formless dark woodwinds, which animates the Cuban mission sent to coopt Cortéz’s expedition.
“Main Title” opens the film with bravado as Newman replaces his signature 20th Century Fox fanfare with fanfare adapted from de Silva’s Theme. As the credits roll we launch into a bold rendering of Pedro’s Theme, a truly rousing and heroic rendering that perfectly sets the tone of the film. At 1:28 we segue into a presentation of Juan’s Theme, which closes the piece with a splendid flourish! In “Search for Runaway Slave” we have a complex multi-scenic cue, which features a number of Newman’s primary themes. On his way home Pedro crosses paths with de Silva with his soldiers who are hunting down his runaway slave. Pedro pledges to assist and continues his journey. Interplay between their two themes carries the scene. Soon Pedro comes across the peasant girl Catana whom he instructs to report any sighting of the runaway slave. At 0:45 her theme is introduced by flute and strings, but it is muted and cautious, as she fears the gentry. He departs and soon comes to a rocky ledge where Coatl lies waiting. As he rides under, Caotl leaps and ambushes Pedro, his friend who he mistakes for de Silva. The Aztec Theme enters quietly on flute and soft drums at 1:31, and culminates with a fierce string descend explosion as he ambushes Pedro. We end tenderly when he recognizes his friend.
“Aiding the Runaway” is a score highlight, which reveals de Silva’s soldiers, carried by his theme on the hunt. Pedro assists Coatl’s escape with money and retraces his route. He comes across Catana being accosted by de Silva’s men and dogs. He boldly rescues her supported by the strings furioso of the Fight Theme. As she joins him atop his horse we are treated to sterling interplay of Pedro’s and Catana’s themes as he rides to Rosario’s Inn, her employer. In “Pedro and Juan” we are treated to a splendid cue, rich with Gomez’s virtuoso guitar and superb thematic interplay. Juan introduces himself to Pedro and as they dine he spins a tale of the exotic New World with cities of gold. Newman supports their conversation by infusing ambiance and local color with Gomez’s warm guitar playing of the song “La Venta.” There is interplay with the shimmering notes of the City of Gold Theme, which enters at 1:10. As Juan relates the sad story of his life and his plans to return to the new world, his theme rises in prominence. When he gives Catana a gold ducut for her service her theme joins his and shines in gratitude. We conclude with comic clarinets emoting Juan’s Theme as he mounts his donkey, and Catana’s hopeful theme as we see in her eyes her nascent affection for Pedro. “De Vargas’ Terrace” reveals the de Vargas family in a tense discussion of Inquisition politics with de Silva. Newman supports the scene with Gomez’s virtuoso guitar playing of the Spanish song “Solea”.
In “Pedro and Luisa” Pedro visits his heart’s content, the Lady Luisa at her family estate. He is clearly infatuated with her stunning beauty and Newman supports the tender moment with a full rendering of “A Serenade to a Lady in Spain” and “Lady Luisa”. We are bathed with traditional Castilian auras and the marriage of music and scene is sublime. In “Pedro Captured by Inquisition Guards” Despite Catana’s warning, Pedro is captured by de Silva’s soldiers. De Silva’s theme rendered as a dark marcia brutale supports the arrest. “The Inquisition” is a powerful cue and score highlight, which reveals the de Vargas family imprisoned. De Silva has Pedro’s young sister tortured to force confessions of heresy by all, but she dies and the devastated family is returned to their cells. A confluence of evil born from the interplay of the menacing De Silva’s and the Inquisition themes, as well as the pathos of the Persecution theme supports the devastation and tragedy of the de Vargas family. Juan visits Pedro in his cell relating that he has bribed the guards and arranged the rescue of his family. His theme concludes the scene as he unshackles Pedro and leaves him a dagger and sword.
In “Duel with De Silva and Escape” de Silva visits Pedro in his cell to coerce a confession of heresy. He is startled as the unshackled Pedro commences a duel, which de Silva loses. Pedro then at sword point commands him to renounce God for defiling his church. When he does so, Pedro’s avenges his dead sister by slaying de Silva. De Silva’s theme dominates the conversation, but a joining of Pedro’s theme and the Fight Theme carries the duel and informs us of his victory. De Silva’s theme becomes a dirge as he kneels and begs shamelessly for mercy. A dire horn declaration at 1:55 supports Pedro’s lethal thrust. Juan returns, opens the cell, leads him to his family, and then to horses in the courtyard. Interplay of Juan’s theme and suspense music carries their progress. Catana’s theme joins as she greets them in the courtyard and flight music carries their escape.
“De Vargas Family Escape” is a tour de force and one of the score’s premier cues. With de Silva’s troops in pursuit, Pedro sends his parents away on the main road, while he, Juan and Catana draw the soldiers towards the coast. Newman whips his orchestra into fury as a propulsive chase scene unfolds with Pedro’s and de Silva themes shifting to and fro in rousing interplay. They loose their pursuers by jumping off a cliff into a river and swimming to the sea. In “News of the Expedition” Catana and Pedro discuss his love of the Lady Luisa and a beautiful tête-à-tête unfolds between the two women’s themes. Soon Juan arrives atop his theme and relates news of Cortez’s expedition to the New World. He exhorts Pedro to join him and Catana on a grand adventure to seek their fortune. Interplay of a horn declared Cortez’s Theme, and City of Gold Theme carry the moment, and Pedro’s fateful decision to join. This scene was perfectly scored.
“The Shores of Cuba” is a poignant scene, which offers beautiful thematic interplay. It reveals our party in Havana, where they sign up for Cortéz’s expedition. Sweeping refulgent strings adorned with Spanish auras carry us over palm trees in a scene change to the beach where we find a pensive Pedro alone in his thoughts. A bridge of woodwinds and harp usher in a plaintive rendering of Luisa’s Theme, which informs us of his regrets, and longing for Luisa. As Father Bartoleme joins him we are blessed with an extended rendering of his theme. Warm French horns solenne underpin his theme, which slowly gains a stirring spiritual power as Pedro confesses his murder of de Silva, and accepts Father Bartoleme’s terms for absolution – that he pray for de Silva’s soul. Newman’s lush and evocative string writing replete with tolling bells beautifully speaks to the powerful intersection of emotions – regret, contrition and forgiveness. For me the scene offers a sublime confluence of music and film narrative. At 3:41 we segue into “Villa Rica” atop bold fanfare as a red line traces the expedition’s journey on a map from Havana to Villa Rica. The woodwind carried Aztec Theme supports the meeting of cultures as we see Cortéz accept gifts from Montezuma’s ambassador. He resolves to conquer the Aztecs and exhorts his men with the spoils of Aztec gold. “Catana’s Dance” reveals her performing a festive dance carried by guitar as she entertains the men.
“Zarabanda” offers beautiful romance carried by Gomez’s virtuoso guitar rendering of “Granada Arabe”. Powerful emotions are in play as Catana uses the seductive dance and the ‘magical ring’ given to her by Bartello to capture Pedro’s heart. When he responds, she flees, overcome. In “Pledge of Love” Pedro comes to Catana and confesses his love for her. She resists believing the ring induced him, not genuine affection. But he is ardent, irresistible and she acquiesces to his marriage proposal. Newman carries the scene with a florid rendering of their Love Theme in all its sumptuous splendor! “Cempoala” offers a complex scene and a wonderful score highlight. The travel fanfare carries Cortéz’s progress on a map to the town of Cempoala. We launch into a wonderful extended rendering of the inspiring and heroic Conquest Theme in all its martial glory. Declarations of the Call to Arms Theme and Cortéz’s Theme create sterling interplay. A transition to the Aztec Theme reveals another ambassador offering jewels to entice Cortéz to turn back, but it only serves to amplify his avarice, which is reflected with a shimmering statement of the City of Gold Theme. New declarations of the Conquest and Call to Arms Themes sound as Cortéz entrusts Pedro with the security of the gems. In a scene change at 4:32, anguished strings reveal a drunken Juan in a rage. As Pedro intervenes, a tortured Juan’s Theme sounds as he grieves that he killed his mother, to save her from a horrific burning at the stake. Pedro’s sprinting return to the treasury reveals the jewels have been stolen. Spirited strings carry his progress and the City of Gold Theme fills the storage vault with a grim crescendo as the theft is discovered.
In “Pedro Moves to Recover the Jewels” darkness, abounds and we are treated to an extended suspense cue. Cortez gives Pedro one day to recover the jewels or suffer execution. Outside the temple Bartello informs him that he saw two Castilian’s flee with the jewels. Newman sows tension, unease and mystery with the Conspirator’s Theme carried by bassoon, kindred woodwinds and tremolo strings. As Pedro follows them to one of the ships he exposes Escudero’s fraud to keep the jewels for himself, and is imprisoned by Corio. In “Escape from Traitors” Corio frees Pedro, they recover the jewels and flee the ship for Cempoala. They succeed but Pedro suffers a mortal head wound from a crossbow. The shimmering City of Gold Theme emotes darkly over an ambient line of foreboding woodwinds as they make their escape. When Pedro is discovered, a rousing declaration of his theme carries his flight. As he reaches the rowboat we crescendo darkly as he is wounded. “Watching Over Pedro” reveals Bartello searing Pedro’s head wound and Juan, Father Bartelemo Catana standing vigil. As he lies in a coma Catana discovers Luisa’s handkerchief and Luisa’s theme flows forth. We conclude with a statement of the Conquest Theme, which supports Cortéz’s arrival to award Pedro the rank of captain.
In “Destroying the Armada” the Conquest Theme supports Cortéz orders to the burning of his ships, thus sending the message that there is no turning back. The travel fanfare carries their map progress to the Aztec town of Cholula. Martial horns sound the Conquistadores Theme as Cortéz’s men take control of the city. An Aztec army approaches and asks to parlay, to which Cortéz ascents. A full and extended rendering of the exotic Aztec Theme now sounds with horn declarations. It emotes with greater power and has assumed a strong drum powered cadence, and a more martial coloring, which informs us that they are becoming alarmed at Cortéz’s incursion into their heartland. In “Cholula Hostages” news of Governor Escobar’s arrival at Villa Rica places Cortéz in peril. He takes five chieftains hostage, and divides his army. He will take half to confront Escobar and Pedro will hold Cholula. Bold horn declarations of the Aztec Theme signal the displeasure of the Aztec prince. We flow into “Ominous Drums” atop distant nativist drums as Pedro discovers that one of the hostages is his friend Coatl. The conversation exposes a rift as Coatl queries him to explain why the Castilians come not as friends, but as conquerors to enslave his people. Pedro is taken aback and we can see within him, moral conflict. We conclude with a score highlight, the wondrous “Catana is Enciente”. While Pedro sleeps in Catana’s arms she informs Juan that she bears Pedro’s son. Newman supports the tender and intimate scene elegantly with beautiful interplay of her theme, Juan’s Theme and the Love Theme.
“Cortéz Returns from Villa Rica” reveals Cortéz triumphant return upon his theme and the horn declarations of the Call to Arms Themes. As Cortéz enters the city the Conquest Theme on horns trionfanti carries his progress. At 1:36 a comic interlude supports the joyful reunion of Bartello and Juan. We segue darkly into “De Silva Reappears” a complex scene with cauldron of raw emotions. Juan sees de Silva and tries to strangle him. An anguished rendering of his theme with interplay of de Silva’s Theme supports the scene. Father Bartoleme reminds Pedro of his vow and a religioso rendering of his theme rises to quell the palpable hatred in Pedro’s heart. As he reacquaints with de Silva, his malignant theme supports the meeting, one in which Cortéz assigns him responsibility for de Silva’s safety. In a final scene change, Pedro returns to Catana and her theme closes the cue. “De Silva Murdered” is a complex multi-scenic cue. De Silva refuses Pedro’s challenge to a duel after relishing the murder of Pedro’s daughter over dinner. After de Silva retires to his bed, Coatl sneaks into his tent and strangles him to death. The Aztec and de Silva Themes entwine in death. As Pedro is arrested the next day and charged with murder, Catana pleads with Father Bartoleme to intercede. Her anguished theme and the Love Theme support the tragic moment. In a scene change, her theme and the Love Theme entwine and support Pedro’s embrace in his prison cell. As Father Bartoleme prays for Pedro, Coatl visits him and confesses to the murder. Father Bartolome’s Theme with resplendent violins and horn solenne supports the prayer and a grim Aztec Theme, the confession. As Pedro and Catana kiss one last time her theme and the love theme entwine. She then fulfills his wish that his family not be told that he died by hanging, by stabbing him with a dagger. Tragically, Cortéz and Bartoleme arrive to inform her of Pedro’s release. She is devastated and tries to kill herself. Later, Father Bartoleme joins to inform her of God’s mercy and that Pedro lives. A stirring rendering of their themes carries this emotional scene.
“Assembly” is an extraordinary cue of juxtaposition. It opens brilliantly with repeating martial declarations of the Call To Arms Themes, which joins in inspired interplay with the Conquistadores and Cortéz themes as Cortez announces his plan to conquer Montezuma and the Aztecs. Juxtaposed is the spiritual, an inspired rendering of Father Bartoleme’s Theme as he preaches peace in vain, and that the men not lust for gold. The marriage of film imagery, narrative and music here is sublime! This brings us to journeys end with “Conquest”, a cue, which echoes through time and gains Newman, immortality. It offers one of the finest cues in film score art, which emotes as a glorious major modal marcia bravura. We behold a confident Cortéz leading his grand army to fulfill his destiny, the conquest of the resplendent Aztec capital glistening on a lake. Empowered by rousing and inspired energy, he marches forth as generalissimo, irresistible, and unstoppable. Interludes of Catana’s Theme and Father Bartoleme’s Themes reflect scene changes of her leaving their cottage to follow the army with her child, and with him in the grave yard burying Coatl.
Allow me to thank Ray Faiola, Nic Redman and Craig Spaulding for restoring and for the first time, releasing this classic Alfred Newman score. The score is almost complete – the Forward was corrupted and could not be salvaged, and nearly all of it is in stereo except for the Main Title, which offers monaural sound. The restoration is good, however the reader is advised that the sound does not achieve the pristine clarity of current modern day recordings. This revelation did not detract from my listening experience, or appreciation of this effort. For this score, Newman provided a multiplicity of fine themes, which brought our characters to life, catalyzed powerful emotions, and expertly established film setting and time period. How he augmented his themes and created interplay and juxtaposition was of the highest order. His music elevated the film, enhanced its narrative, and in scene after scene achieved a remarkable confluence. The Conquest Theme was a masterstroke, which captured the film’s emotional core, a masterpiece of both conception and expression. I believe this to be one of Newman’s finest score and a resplendent example of the Golden Age. I highly recommend you purchase this score for your collection.
I have embedded a YouTube link to a immortal Conquest March for those of you unfamiliar; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXVWSAMq6aA
Buy the Captain from Castile soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (2:00)
- Search For Runaway Slave (2:26)
- Aiding the Runaway (4:37)
- Pedro and Juan (5:02)
- De Vargas’ Terrace (2:12)
- Pedro and Luisa (3:24)
- Pedro Captured by Inquisition Guards (0:40)
- The Inquisition (4:14)
- Duel With De Silva and Escape (4:16)
- De Vargas Family Escape (5:19)
- News of the Expedition (5:17)
- The Shores of Cuba/Villa Rica (5:46)
- Catana’s Dance (0:15)
- Zarabanda (2:47)
- Pledge of Love (1:43)
- Cempoala (8:18)
- Pedro Moves to Recover the Jewels (4:07)
- Escape From Traitors (3:38)
- Watching Over Pedro (0:53)
- Destroying the Armada (5:35)
- Cholula Hostages/Ominous Drums/Catana is Enciente (5:13)
- Cortez Returns From Villa Rica/De Silva Reappears (5:40)
- Da Silva Murdered (6:47)
- Assembly (1:59)
- Conquest (4:10)
Running Time: 41 minutes 15 seconds
Screen Archives Entertainment SAECR-0007 (1947/2003)
Music composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell. Recorded and mixed by Stephen Rinker. Score produced by Alfred Newman. Album produced by Ray Faiola, Nick Redman and Craig Spaulding.