Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – Maurice Jarre



Original Review by Craig Lysy

David Lean and Sam Spiegel purchased the film rights to T. E. Lawrence’s book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and hired Robert Bolt to write the screenplay on the enigmatic war hero. A stellar cast was hired that included Peter O’Toole (T.E. Lawrence), Alec Guiness (Prince Feisal), Anthony Quinn (Auda Abu Tayi), Jack Hawkins (General Allenby) and Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. The film centers on Thomas Edward Lawrence, a complex and insolent British Lieutenant assigned to Cairo during World War I. He is ordered to assess the possibility of recruiting Prince Feisal of Arabia as an ally in their struggle against the Ottoman Turks. On his own initiative he instead chooses to rally the recently defeated Arab army for an audacious trans desert assault against the port city of Aqaba. He succeeds and returns to Cairo in triumph where he is promoted and ordered to return and lead the Arab revolt. His guerrilla army harasses the Turks with surprise desert raids and train line assaults that disrupt their command and control. Along the way the war violence and his complicity in a massacre serves to plague his conscience and forever scar him. Eventually, he leads his army northward captures Damascus and helps end the control of the Ottoman Empire. With his mission complete, he is sent back to England only to die young at the age of 46 in a motorcycle accident. The film was a stunning success winning seven Academy Awards including Best Score for Maurice Jarre.

Originally three composers were hired and instructed to collaborate; Aram Khachaturian, Benjamin Britten and Maurice Jarre. When Khachaturian was forbidden to leave Russia and Britten opted out as his schedule was too busy, Jarre took full control of the reigns. He had but a month to complete the score and was under severe time duress, but managed to write a score for the ages. Jarre was himself a percussionist and used his knowledge and expertise to employ eleven percussionists to create the exotic and ethnic colors required by the setting. Additionally he utilized tritone intervals both harmonically and melodically, that by their very structure serve to create feelings of expansiveness, thus reinforcing the vast endless desert vistas of the film’s cinematography. In addition exotic instruments such as three Ondes Martenot and a cithera were integrated into the traditional orchestra to provide the unique soundscape he was seeking. Jarre created five themes to support the film’s narrative. The Desert Theme is the film’s signature theme, which underpins its narrative and speaks of the vast desert vistas with a sweeping romanticism. Fully Western in construct, its string-laden expression emotes a lush and inspiring melodicism few composers have been able to realize. Two Arab themes are also provided. Arab Theme 1 is exotic, tritonal, emoted in shifting meters and powered by pounding timpani and timbales with ethnic woodwinds and horns. Arab Theme 2 is also very percussive, but unlike theme 1 has a clear melodic construct being carried by unison woodwinds and strings with tambourine accents. Next there is the British Theme, which he uses to remind us of Lawrence’s English heritage. It has an ebullient, free flowing, scherzo-like construct that is just infectious. We also have the horn propelled 10 note Auda’s Theme, a bravado piece that speaks to the mercurial leader. For British pageantry Jarre uses Kenneth Alford’s traditional march “Voices Of The Guns”, and we are provided a splendid full rendering on CD2 cue 20.

“Overture” is a score highlight, but also a film score treasure; a composition that earns Jarre immortality. We bear witness to a magnificent interplay of his primary themes. We open with a prelude of harsh percussive power, which introduces Arab Theme 1 upon dissonant unison woodwinds and horns. At 0:39 we segue upon strings into a sumptuous and stirring presentation of the Desert Theme, whose melodic line is severed by the onslaught of Arab Theme 2. Alford’s traditional march “Voices Of The Guns” next joins and we conclude with a magnificent display of contrapuntal writing as the Desert Theme contests with a percussive assault by the entwined Arab Themes. Bravo! “Main Titles” opens over the credits and Lawrence preparing his motorcycle for his final ride. This cue is another multi-thematic gem, which introduces the British Theme that interplays with the Desert Theme. A pulsing tritone erupts atop timpani from which launches the British Theme in all its ebullient glory. The interplay with the Desert Theme is wondrous and the tritonal ending perfect.

“First Entrance to the Desert” reveals Lawrence with his Arab guide Tafas first journey into the desert. The music speaks to Lawrence’s marvel of its vastness and stark singular beauty at sunset. This superb cue features a beautiful opening by solo flute mysterioso line, which emotes the vast emptiness of the desert. Soon eerie tritones with Ondes Martenot rise and crescendo from which the Desert Theme bursts forth in all its glory over a stunning sunset vista. As the men setup camp we have interplay of the Desert Theme and British Theme, which concludes with nightfall born by flute, cithera and the sparkle of tremolo strings. “Night and Stars” reveals Lawrence and Tafas bonding over a campfire. Jarre joins Ondes Martenot, harp, two pianos and cithera in a delicate and twinkling rendering of the A Phrase of the Desert Theme. This is exquisite! In “Lawrence and Tafas” we see the men resume their journey across the desert expanse. Jarre weaves a wondrous interplay of his Desert, British and Arab 2 Themes along with a lush fragment of Alford’s traditional “Voices Of The Guns”, which join in a wondrous communion. Wow!

“Lawrence Rides Alone” reveals Sherif murdering Tafas for drinking from his family well. A morally repelled Lawrence spurns Sherif’s escort and rides on alone. We hear fragments of the Desert and British Themes entwine and rendered as travel music. In “Exodus” Lawrence arrives at Feisal’s camp, which is under aerial attack. Feisal on the advice of Colonel Brighton orders a retreat to move outside Turkish aerial range. Jarre renders the Arab 2 Theme as a dour march, from which arises a new playful theme for the boys Daud and Farraj who bond with Lawrence. “We Need a Miracle” reveals Feisal, Brighton, Sherif and Lawrence discussing war strategy. When consensus fails, Lawrence leaves and contemplates a bold plan under the starry firmament. This is a well-conceived tonal cue as Jarre speaks to the joining of Lawrence’s contemplativeness and wonderment of the starlit desert. The music’s construct is underpinned by gossamer tremolo violins and Ondes Martenot that are tritonal in both their harmonics and melody. Slowly, yet inexorably basses join to begin a wondrous orchestral ascent that culminates in a unitary dissonant climax upon twinkling piano, which fade to diminuendo upon strings! Wow!

“In Whose Name Do You Ride?” displays Feisal acceptance of Lawrence’s audacious plan to lead 50 men across the perilous Nefund Desert to attack the port city Aquba from its weakly fortified desert gate. Discordant bassoons, timpani and woodwinds emote a hesitant start as they ride off. Yet slowly confidence builds as the Desert Theme with interplay of the British Theme gains force as a marcia energico, which crescendos as we see our heroes depart to their destiny under brilliant fluttering flags. “That is the Desert” is an ambient tritone piece that speaks to the men’s entering into the dreaded Nefund Desert, from which they must cross in 20 days or die. Bassoons emote trepidation, yet Lawrence is resolved and leads them into the desert atop the Arab 2 Theme. Dancing woodwinds, cithera, Ondes Martenot, celeste and pizzicato bass join in a dazzling expression that subsides in a diminuendo. The joining of score and imagery here is first rate.

In “Mirage/The Sun’s Anvil” the oppressive and searing heat of the desert stupefies the men who struggle. Jarre expertly uses the orchestra to emote the desolation of the landscape and the travails of the struggling men. Amidst the tritone textures we hear upward and downward flowing chromatic scales, swirling woodwind arabesques, stabbing dissonant strings and random percussion. Melodic fragments of the Desert, Arab 2 and British Themes attempt to assert themselves but succumb to the desert’s searing power. The marriage of score and imagery here demonstrates Jarre’s mastery of his craft! “Gasim Lost in the Desert” reveals Lawrence turning back to rescue Gasim who has fallen off his camel and is pressing forward on foot. Jarre again provides a textural approach to speak to Gasim struggling and succumbing to the heat. A tritone cadence of dread is provided by timpani and snare drums, countered by three Ondes Martenot that pulse to the searing heat of the sun. This interplay slowly builds, mirroring the sun’s burning ascent in the sky, and achieves a crescendo finish as Gasim falls.

We begin a ternary cue. In “Lawrence Rescues Gasim” tritone percussion speaks to the bleak landscape and interplays with the B Phrase of the Desert Theme as Lawrence searches. The full theme bursts forth in celebratory splendor as Lawrence sees the fallen Gasim and rides to his rescue. At 2:09 we segue into “Lawrence Returns with Gasim” where Daud rushes out to greet his hero Lawrence who has returned with Gasim. The passage features fine interplay of the Desert, British and both Arab Themes, which join in celebratory grandeur! We conclude at 5:59 with “The Riding” where Lawrence rides forth in his new Arab garb. A spirited rendering of the British Theme supports the spectacle.

“Arrival at Auda’s Camp” reveals Lawrence and his party arriving at the camp of Auda Abu Tayi, a rival clan to Sherif’s. Lawrence diffuses the clan riffs by appealing to Auda’s pride, which unleashes a grand albeit somewhat threatening welcome. Grand fanfare announces Auda’s welcome and Jarre dazzles us with astounding and spirited interplay of his Desert, Auda’s and Arab Themes. Wow! In “Bedouin Feast” a small nativist ensemble that features alto flute, tom-toms, bongos, tambourine and drums perfectly establish the traditional ambiance as Auda entertains his guests. “On to Akaba” is a grand cue and a score highlight! We see Auda, Sherif and Lawrence leading their combined war party to Akaba. Heraldic fan fare announces this heroic effort, which unfolds as a splendid marcia grandioso. The Desert, British, Arab and Auda’s Themes join in a robust interplay replete with wailing women and chorale! Bravo!

“Attack on Akaba” features the overrun and slaughter of the undermanned Turk garrison defending the weak desert gate. Strings agitato, trilling woodwinds, Ondes Martenot and snare drums highlight the action, and the Desert, Arab 2 and Auda Themes swirl aggressively to propel the battle. At 0:48 we segue into “Lawrence at the Sea Shore” where a victorious, yet contemplative Lawrence rides along the Red Sea shore. A joining of cithera, vibraphone, Ondes Martenot and fluid harp arpeggio’s serve to create mysterioso rendering of the Desert Theme, which ends discordantly a Lawrence sees a garland wash up upon the shore. This next quaternary cue is textural as Jarre uses the orchestra to evoke the vast desolation of the desert. We open with “Sinai Desert” which features Lawrence, Daud and Farraj crossing Sinai to inform British command of their victory. Other worldly strings join with strings pizzicato and col legno glissandi, percussion and Ondes Martenot to create the unforgiving desolation of the sands. After Daud is consumed in quicksand a devastated Lawrence and Farriq push on in “After Quicksands”. Harsh hammer struck piano chords join in the eerie tritonal soundscape. At 5:17 we segue into “Hutments” where they discover an abandoned British outpost. Jarre uses a piano glissandi and two Ondes Martenot to emote the eerie desolation of the abandoned post. We conclude at 5:44 with “Suez Canal” where they at last reach canal. We crescendo atop muted tritones until the British Theme burst forth along with a fleeting reference to “Le Marseillaise” .

“A Brilliant Bit of Soldiering” reveals General Allenby commending Lawrence on his victory, yet he is troubled by Daud’s loss and his part in the carnage. Alford’s “The Voice of the Guns” heralds the victory in clear contrast to Lawrence’s troubled inner thoughts. In “Bugle Call” Allenby gives Lawrence assurances that Britain has no designs on Arabia, yet Jarre informs us of his duplicity with a militaristic bugle call. At 0:14 we segue into “Lawrence on the Terrace” as he leaves Allenby to join his compatriots. Jarre informs us of his estrangement with a reprise of the mysterioso flute line. As his compatriots surround to honor him Alford’s “The Voice of the Guns” rises in celebration. We conclude and move to Intermission atop the Desert Theme. In “Adulation” Lawrence leads his Arab army against the Turks and captures a supply train. As his men loot he walks in triumph atop its cars. There is discordance between Lawrence and the actions of his men and Jarre informs us of this by presenting an ethereal rendering of the Desert Theme that slowly mutates as it is corrupted by harsh and dissonant horns. This is brilliantly conceived.

In “The Horse Stampede” a train bearing horses is captured and Auda who claims them as his prize and declares his intention to leave the campaign. Jarre unleashes his orchestra for the stampede, which joins the Desert, Adua’s and the Arab Themes in a tour de force. A flowing line of violas and woodwinds plays as Brighton entreats Auda to stay with the campaign. We close the cue upon the Arab Themes as Auda rides off with his booty. At 2:17 we segue into “Farraj Killed” where the boy is mortally injured in a subsequent train bombing. He cannot ride and Turkish troops are closing in. Lawrence uses his pistol for a mercy killing knowing that the boy would be tortured. The pathos of his suffering is profound. Dissonant tritones reflect Lawrence’s inner pain with cithera, Ondes Martenot and woodwinds doloroso joining in grief.

In “Ali Rescues Lawrence” Lawrence is captured by the Turks, beaten and cast out in the muddy streets. Dark textural tritones and harsh orchestral strikes underscore his torture. A fleeting effort by the Desert Theme to break free fails and tritones of cithera, piano and woodwinds play as Ali rescues Lawrence and takes him to the safety of the desert. We segue into “Allenby’s Flattery” where a defeated Lawrence begs Allenby to relieve him. Allenby appeals to Lawrence’s pride and rekindles his desire for a greater Arabia for Arabs. Distant trumpets and drums usher in a muted militaristic rendering of the Desert Theme, which informs us of Allenby’s success. “Assembled Army” reveals a paid Arab mercenary army, many of which are criminals, which Jarre provides a pounding ethnic drum line. We segue at 0:29 into “Lawrence and His Bodyguard” where we see Lawrence ride in with his Arab bodyguards, many of which are also criminals. This drum line is soon joined by Arab Theme 1 in a powerful dissonant synergy, which reflects a now tainted Lawrence surrounded by ignoble troops. At 2:22 we segue into “Arab Theme”, which provides us with the percussive power of Arab Theme 2 as Sherif joins Lawrence. The stronger identities of the Arab Themes for Lawrence reflect his Arabization, and the dissonance, his fall from Grace. This is well conceived.

“Military March” reveals Allenby and his officers discussing strategy as the snare drum driven “Voice of the Guns” plays in the background. We conclude our journey with “The End” where we see Lawrence leaving Damascus with his dream of Arab unity crushed by petty intra-tribal fighting. A solo cithera and tremolo strings inform us of Lawrence’s regrets. Soon a robust “Voice of the Guns” joins to inform us of British victory, yet we close upon a last statement of the Desert and Arab Themes, for in the end, the desert is eternal. We segue at 1:07 into the “Play-off Music” for an unabashed rendering of his primary themes, including a sumptuous Desert Theme, which he infuses with beautiful woodwinds, the “Voice of the Guns” and the Arab Themes. Bravo!

CD 2 provides us with a splendid offering of some of Jarre’s most notable scores, which I will briefly explore. “Moon Over Parador” features a wondrous tango with Jarre’s customary sumptuous romantic flair! The “Symphonic Dance Suite” from “The Magician Of Lublin” offers a parade of polkas and waltzes that display a beautiful free flowing lyricism. “The Fixer” provides us with a poignant and stirring performance for solo violin by Lucie Svehlova, who captures the pathos of a man wrongly accused of murder. The accompanying stark percussion portends the fate of the condemned. This is a rare and exceptional piece! “Cimarron Strip” features Jarre in full Americana mode with his rousing Main Title for the TV series. “Prancer” marks Jarre foray into a Christmas holiday score. We hear the wonderment of a child as he provides us with both gentility and tenderness in the form of an exquisite free flowing waltz, replete with sleigh bells. This suite hits all the right notes!

“The Palanquin of Tears” features Jarre’s ethnic Chinese “End Credit Suite”. We bear witness to a perfect joining of Eastern and Western sensibilities as Jarre again carries us like a leaf atop a stream with his customary free flowing lyricism. I just love this cue! We shift gears with “Ryan’s Daughter” where we are provided with spirited parade music in “Where Was I When The Parade Went By”. This is a fun optimistic piece that fully captures the spirit of a parade march. Bravo! For “Lawrence Of Arabia” we are provided with an alternative expression of cue 24 “Lawrence at the Sea Shore”, where Lawrence’s isolation and contemplation is rendered as a Nocturne. I believe this alternate cue to b e superior to the film version. “Sunshine” is an extraordinary late career score and I believe one of Jarre’s masterworks. “The Sonnensheins”, which features solo soprano Charlotte Kinder and chorus provides us with the sumptuous beauty of his timeless main theme. The choral ending is superb! Bravo! “Solar Crisis” bombed as a film, yet Jarre’s score was transcendent! His “End Credits” is kindred to the temp tracked “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff, yet remains unique and distinctly Jarre’s. It is a choral tour de force, which brings the film to a powerful and dramatic conclusion. In “Resurrection” Jarre’s music speaks to the healing power of love born by Ellen Burstyn’s character. The “End Credits” with its homey harmonica by Steve Lockwood offer us a poignant expression of the Main Theme. “Firefox” was a personal disappointment for Jarre, yet his heroic and rousing Main Theme, which is featured in the “End Credits”, lives on.

For “Dead Poet’s Society” director Peter Weir limited Jarre’s score to the final six minutes of the film! Jarre took what little was given him and delivered one of his finest set pieces, replete with Celtic harps and a regimen of Scottish bagpipe corps! It bears his trademark percussive signature, which again joins in wondrous synergy with his romantic lyricism. Bravo! “Jesus of Nazareth” offers a “Concert Suite” that I believe transcends the film version. Zeffirelli did not allow Jarre to use a choir in the film, as he did not want an “Old Hollywood” religious sound to his film. But this version of the suite uses choir, and I believe is emotes with a greater and more profound spiritual power. I believe it to be one of the best pieces Jarre ever wrote.

Please allow me to thank James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow Records for providing us with this magnificent two CD set, that features for the first time the complete 77-Minute Score, as well as selections from twenty of Jarre’s finest scores. The sound quality is exceptional and the compilation on the second CD most welcome! Jarre gained immortality with this masterwork. His Main Theme is timeless and continues to echo in film score lore. His infusion of a dissonant percussive Arabic identity to juxtapose the lush romanticism of the Main Theme was brilliant as was his expert use of the orchestra to emote the searing desolation of the vast desert vistas. The thematic interplay and contrapuntal writing is of the highest order. Rarely have then beauty of music and cinematic imagery been so perfectly joined. This score is an essential part of any collector’s collection and the addition of the second compilation disc makes it invaluable. I highly recommend this CD package!

Buy the Lawrence of Arabia soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (4:25)
  • Main Titles (1:56)
  • First Entrance to the Desert (4:25)
  • Night and Stars (1:16)
  • Lawrence and Tafas (4:31)
  • Lawrence Rides Alone (0:50)
  • Exodus (2:24)
  • We Need a Miracle (2:40)
  • In Whose Name Do You Ride? (2:34)
  • That is the Desert (The Camels Will Die) (2:37)
  • Mirage/The Sun’s Anvil (5:19)
  • Gasim Lost in the Desert (3:29)
  • Lawrence Rescues Gasim/Lawrence Returns with Gasim/The Riding (6:37)
  • Arrival at Auda’s Camp (2:00)
  • Bedouin Feast (1:26)
  • On to Akaba (3:19)
  • Attack on Akaba/Lawrence at the Sea Shore (2:03)
  • Sinai Desert/After Quicksands/Hutments/Suez Canal (6:16)
  • A Brilliant Bit of Soldiering – The Voice of the Guns (written by Kenneth J. Alford) (2:05)
  • Bugle Call/Lawrence on the Terrace/Intermission (1:34)
  • Adulation (0:50)
  • The Horse Stampede/Farraj Killed (2:56)
  • Ali Rescues Lawrence/Allenby’s Flattery (3:11)
  • Assembled Army/Lawrence and His Bodyguard/Arab Theme (3:06)
  • Military March (1:18)
  • The End/Play-off Music (4:01)
  • Moon Over Parador (from “Moon Over Parador”) (3:54)
  • The Magician (from “Moon Over Parador”) (0:41)
  • Warsaw (from “Moon Over Parador”) (0:34)
  • The Feast (from “Moon Over Parador”) (1:48)
  • Bicycles (from “Moon Over Parador”) (1:28)
  • The Park (from “Moon Over Parador”) (0:50)
  • The Magician Flies (from “Moon Over Parador”) (1:56)
  • Suite from “The Fixer” (7:11)
  • Main Theme from “Cimarron Strip” (1:01)
  • Prancer (6:19)
  • End Credits from “The Palanquin of Tears” (2:47)
  • Where Was I When the Parade Went By from “Ryan’s Daughter” (2:37)
  • Nocturne (Alternative Version) from “Lawrence of Arabia” (1:53)
  • The Sonnensheins from “Sunshine” (4:52)
  • End Credits from “Solar Crisis” (6:51)
  • End Credits from “Resurrection” (3:25)
  • End Credits from “Firefox” (5:18)
  • Dead Poet’s Society (6:21)
  • Concert Suite from “Jesus of Nazareth” (8:28)
  • The Voice of the Guns – Original Version (written by Kenneth J. Alford) (2:41)

Running Time: 148 minutes 03 seconds

Tadlow Music 012 (1962/2010)

Music composed by Maurice Jarre. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Original orchestrations by Gerard Schurmann. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

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