Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE ROBE – Alfred Newman

THE ROBE – Alfred Newman


Original Review by Craig Lysy

20th Century Fox Studio chief Darryl Zanuck chose to use “The Robe” to introduce his new creation Cinemascope to the world. Cinemascope used an anamorphic lens that allowed the filming process to create an image of up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, almost twice as wide as the industry standard. He hired veteran Henry Koster to direct and adapted the script from the novel by Lloyd Douglas, which he had envisioned for years. “The Robe” is a Biblical epic, a love story and a tale of a man’s struggle for redemption. Marcellus (Richard Burton) is a Roman military tribune from a noble family who offends Caligula, heir to the Roman throne. In retribution he is deployed to Palestine, thus separating him from his life of luxury and his lover Diana (Jean Simmons). Upon his arrival he is given command of the unit charged with executing Jesus Christ, which he dutifully discharges. While drunk he happens to win in a craps game Jesus’ homespun robe after the crucifixion. The death of Jesus affects Marcellus profoundly, and henceforth he is tormented by recurring nightmares, delusions and guilt for his role in his crucifixion. On orders from Tiberius he returns to Palestine in search of the robe, which he believes has bewitched him. He thus begins a personal journey that will lead him to discover faith, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. The film was a huge critical success, winning two Oscars and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. The film and Cinemascope were also a huge commercial success, earning profits seven times that of its production costs.

As head of the music department it fell upon Newman’s shoulders to ensure the film score contributed to a successful debut of Cinemascope. He sought to improve the limited monaural sound of the day by placing microphones strategically throughout the orchestra, recording each track twice with one recording frontal dominant and the second recording rear dominant. The blending of the two recordings on different film tracks resulted in a fuller and richer sound. For such an epic Newman created a multiplicity of themes and infused his score with significant choral support to evoke the essential spiritual component of the story’s narrative. The film’s themes include the primary Christ Theme, which resonates with a profound spiritual power. This theme and Marcellus are intrinsically bound together and both change over the course of the movie, reflecting Marcellus’ evolution as a spiritual being. The theme opens the film with solemnity and reverence, yet it becomes discordant and tormenting as Marcellus’ struggles with guilt from his role in the crucifixion. Ultimately the theme becomes refulgent and transcendent as Marcellus finds forgiveness and spiritual liberation with his embrace of Jesus Christ. We also have the Resurrection Theme, which serves to catalyze Marcellus’ transformation and conversion. First heard on lyre and solo voice, the theme resonates a spiritual tranquility that is very moving. There is the Redemption Theme, which speaks to the transforming and liberating power of love and forgiveness that will ultimately free Marcellus from his torment.

Then there is Caligula’s Theme, a classic marcia pomposa replete with heraldic horn fare and snare drum percussion. This march is Caligula’s anthem, one that perfectly emotes the egomaniacal grandeur of the boy who would be emperor. Last and surely the greatest is the Love Theme, which speaks to Marcellus and Diana’s love. This theme is a masterpiece, which earns Newman immortality. It is one of those rare themes whose stirring beauty echoes through time. The construct of this complex ternary theme offers testimony to Newman’s genius. The masculine A Phrase consists of a primary and an echoing horn line, which are emblematic of Marcellus military bearing as a tribune of Rome, the feminine B Phrase is a gentile woodwind and harp line, which is emblematic of Diana, while the culminating C Phrase of lush and swelling lyrical strings emote the joining of the two. Finally, there is the Roman Motif, a repeating four-note drum and horn-propelled line used to emote the imperial power of Roman troops. I will close by saying that upon completion of the score Darryl Zanuck would comment “I wish I could find some way to tell you that this is the greatest score ever written without sounding like the publicity department – but it is.”

This score marks one of Newman’s greatest achievements, one where he provides music of such extraordinary beauty and spiritual power as to transcend its film. I hear the voice of the Divine in his efforts, which is a feat not easily achieved. There are a multiplicity of great themes and motifs which are perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and that fully support its narrative. Despite the epic nature of the film, Newman understood that fundamentally this was both a love story as well as a story of a man’s quest for the Divine. As such, you will find extraordinary intimacy in his music. Indeed Newman’s genius as a composer is fully demonstrated by how he entwines and interplays his themes to create musical statements that are universal, poignant and emotionally accessible. I cannot understate the beauty of this score and highly recommend it as an essential part of your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a concert suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VE9TwcwhbY

A comprehensive review of the score may be found at: https://moviemusicuk.us/2012/07/19/the-robe-alfred-newman/

Buy the Robe soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude/Main Title (1:27)
  • Rome (3:14)
  • The Slave Market/Diana (2:35)
  • Caligula’s Arrival (1:04)
  • Caligula’s Departure (1:07)
  • The Map of Jerusalem (5:02)
  • Passover/Palm Sunday (3:36)
  • The Feast (3:15)
  • Searching for Jesus (Damaged Version) (3:31)
  • Execution Orders (1:57)
  • The Carriage of the Cross (1:55)
  • The Crucifixion (7:45)
  • The Nightmare (1:37)
  • Capri (3:55)
  • Tiberius/Palace (2:31)
  • The Market Place (6:13)
  • The Resurrection (3:01)
  • The Story of Miriam (2:09)
  • Elegy (4:32)
  • Marcellus/Redemption (2:24)
  • Justus/Death (1:45)
  • Aftermath (2:00)
  • Hymn for the Dead (1:10)
  • In His Service (1:45)
  • Audience With Caligula (1:09)
  • The Catacombs/Hope (6:52)
  • Demetrius/Rescue (3:15)
  • The Healing of Demetrius (5:17)
  • Marcellus/Farewell (1:25)
  • The Chase (2:28)
  • Interior Dungeon (2:54)
  • Caligula (Extended Version) (1:53)
  • Finale/Hallelujah (1:58)
  • Palm Sunday (Part I – Chorus Only) [BONUS] (1:26)
  • Palm Sunday (Part II – Orchestra Only) [BONUS] (1:11)
  • The Crucifixion (Orchestra Only) [BONUS] (7:33)
  • Prelude/Main Title (with Slates) [BONUS] (1:52)
  • Marcellus/Redemption (Original Damaged Version) [BONUS]

Running Time: 46 minutes 57 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1203 (1953/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell and Ken Darby. Special vocal performances by Carole Richards. Score produced by Alfred Newman. Album produced by Nick Redman, Tom Cavanaugh, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: