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EXODUS – Ernest Gold


Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1958 Otto Preminger and United Artists studio purchased the film rights to Leon Uris’s forthcoming novel, “Exodus”. Preminger, who would both produce and direct the film, felt that this was a story that needed to be told, and for him it became a passion project. He hired Dalton Trumbo who had been blacklisted as a communist by the infamous McCarthy Committee to write the screenplay. From day one he had Paul Newman in mind to play the lead role of Ari Ben Canaan. The stellar cast rounded off with Eva Marie Saint as Kitty Fremont, Ralph Richardson as General Sutherland, Peter Lawford as Major Caldwell, Lee Cobb as Barak Ben Canaan, Sal Mineo as Dov Landau, and John Derek as Taha.

The story is based on the actual historical events in 1947, which began with the ship Exodus, and the lead up to the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Nurse Kitty’s fate becomes entwined with Ari Ben Canaan a Hagannah rebel who obtains a cargo ship and smuggles 611 Jewish inmates out of the Cypriot internment camp for passage to Israel. In Israel, the British are preparing to leave, and the unfolding partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states portends war. The film explores the struggles and tragedy of the founding of the state of Israel and ensuing conflict with Arab nationalists. The film ends with a flicker of hope as we see Ari swear on the bodies of his dead comrades that someday, Jews and Arabs would live together and share the land in peace.

The film had mixed reviews, as there was significant criticism from British and Arab commentators, as well as both the New York Times and American Council Of Judaism, which described it as “an unhistorical novel read as history.” Never the less, the film resonated with popular culture and largely contributed to forging a favorable and supportive view of Israel by the American public, which has persisted to this day. The Academy of Motion Pictures awarded the film with three nominations, earning one for Best Original Score.

Preminger brought Gold in early to score his film. He traveled with him and resided in both Cyprus and Israel during filming. Gold sought to provide an authentic sound for his score and so researched most of the indigenous instruments of the Levant. Unfortunately, Preminger would have none of it and insisted on the traditional sound of the Western orchestra. Never the less, Gold did manage to infuse the sounds of the bongo, tambourine, E-flat clarinet and a treble recorder into his soundscape. In terms of the score, he created an astounding main theme, which perfectly captured the film’s emotional core as well as seven additional themes and a motif. Indeed, the Exodus Theme, which has passed into legend, earns it place in history as one of the greatest themes in film score art. Warmly declared atop six French horns solenne the horn rich and string-laden theme resonates with a stirring spiritual power, which brings a quiver, and a tear, It’s A Phrase has a forthright bearing carried by lush strings nobile with contrapuntal French horns, while the B Phrase speaks to the struggle with strings sofferenza that are also joined by a contrapuntal French horn line. This theme is brilliant in its construct, and profound with its emotive power.

Ari’s Theme emotes as a trumpet led and snare drum propelled marcia marziale. He sees himself as a warrior who will deliver his people to their ancestral homeland. The Cyprus Theme offers a sumptuous and exotic free-flowing dance, replete with tambourine accents and bongo percussion. First carried by divided strings, then divided woodwinds, we just do not want the melody to ever end. The Jewish Theme is brilliant in its simplicity, a five-note ostinato that seeks, yet never achieves resolution, thus alluding to the historic struggle of the Jewish people and what lies in their hearts – Israel. Karen’s Theme emotes for me as a wordless song. An accordion carries its melody and although tender, it exudes sadness as she lost her mother and brothers at Dachau. The Irgun Theme offers a stark repeated six-note figure by woodwinds and tremolo strings, which speaks to their dark purpose. The lush Love Theme offers a sublime joining of strings and woodwinds, whose phrases rise and fall like leaves in a summer breeze. The Brother’s Motif speaks to the estrangement of Ari’s father Barak and his uncle Akiva. Emoted by woodwinds, its six-note statement never coalesces into to a cogent statement, instead remaining unresolved, reflective of their on-going dispute. Lastly we have the Hativkah Theme (The Hope) is expressed by this traditional Jewish folk song adapted by Samuel Cohen circa 1888. Within its notes I feel a deep abiding faith and mournful solemnity. Although the melody is minor modal in its expression, hope springs eternal in the form of a modulating shift to major key as the words Tikvatenu and Hatikva resound, both joined with a romantic octave leap, which provides dramatic energy to the melodic line.

James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow music provide a sterling rerecording of Ernest Gold’s score for Exodus. Gold provides us with a multiplicity of fine themes and motifs, which he renders in different forms and exceptional interplay. His main Exodus Theme has passed into legend and stands as one of the finest in film score art. This iconic theme resonated with popular culture and largely contributed to forging a favorable and supportive view of Israel by the American public, which has persisted to this day. Folks, this exceptional score, written in the waning year of the Golden Age offers stirring and inspired music, that perfectly captured the film’s narrative. Scene after scene there was a perfect marriage and synergy of music and imagery, a testimony to Gold’s mastery of his craft. I highly recommend this fine 2 CD album as an essential member of your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score I have embedded a Youtube link to the iconic Main Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cT3-mOHqva8

A comprehensive review of the score may be found at: https://moviemusicuk.us/2015/07/13/exodus-ernest-gold/

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (2:42)
  • Summer in Cyprus (1:55)
  • Escape/The General (2:06)
  • Ari (3:49)
  • On the Beach (2:06)
  • The Tent – Karen/Lorries/The Convoy (4:13)
  • The Star of David (0:40)
  • Odenheim’s Death/Karen’s Story (4:02)
  • Approaching Haifa/The Oath (3:03)
  • Kitty (2:02)
  • Akiva’s Hideout (1:41)
  • Love is Where You Find It/The Valley of Jezreel (6:08)
  • Yad El/He is Dead (2:26)
  • Goodbye/Intermission Music – Fight for Survival (2:44)
  • Karen’s Father (In Jerusalem) (3:51)
  • Akiva’s Arrest (3:21)
  • Execution Chamber/Don’t Let My Brother Die (1:36)
  • Acre Prison/The Chess Game (Conspiracy) (5:41)
  • D-Day/The Bombs (Prison Break) (7:43)
  • The Arsenal (1:26)
  • The Operation (1:47)
  • Children on the Hill* (2:04)
  • Dawn/Finale – The Fight for Peace (6:45)
  • Exit Music – Hatikvah (3:30)
  • This Land is Mine (written by Ernest Gold and Pat Boone) (2:20)
  • It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – Exit Music (2:06)
  • Ship of Fools – Candlelight and Silver Waltz (5:11)
  • Judith – Main Title Music (written by Sol Kaplan) (4:09)
  • QBVII – Main Title (written by Jerry Goldsmith) (2:02)
  • QBVII – The Holocaust (written by Jerry Goldsmith) (2:52)
  • QBVII – Visit to the Sheikh (written by Jerry Goldsmith) (2:14)
  • QBVII – The Wailing Wall (written by Jerry Goldsmith) (3:15)
  • QBVII – Kaddish for the Six Million (written by Jerry Goldsmith) (3:20)
  • Schindler’s List – Schindler’s List (written by John Williams) (4:18)
  • Schindler’s List – Remembrances (written by John Williams) (5:55)
  • Cast a Giant Shadow – Prelude (written by Elmer Bernstein) (3:00)
  • Cast a Giant Shadow – Land of Hope (written by Elmer Bernstein) (3:21)
  • Exodus Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra (6:56)
  • Exodus Concert Overture (4:28)

Running Time: 132 minutes 48 seconds

Tadlow Music 007 (1960/2009)

Music composed by Ernest Gold. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Gerard Schurrmann. Recorded and mixed by Jan Holzner. Score produced by Ernest Gold. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

  1. Karoly Mazak
    August 28, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    The Exodus theme has many similarities with the music Miklós Rózsa wrote for the Jewish woman Esther in Ben-Hur.

    Actually, will you step back a year to include Ben-Hur in your list?
    It surely belongs to the 100 Greatest Scores of All Time.

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