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LIONHEART – Jerry Goldsmith

October 26, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Lionheart is a perfect example of how a film studio can utterly ruin a film’s commercial success with poor distribution. A rousing historical action-adventure, the film is loosely based on the story of the Children’s Crusade of the year 1212, in which children from all over Europe adopted the cause of King Richard the Lionheart to protect Christianity from Muslim invaders. This story concentrates specifically on a young knight named Robert (Eric Stoltz), who finds himself becoming the protector of a group of children who are being threatened by the evil ‘Black Prince’ (Gabriel Byrne), a former crusader who became disillusioned with his cause and is now selling children into slavery. The film was an epic and lavish production – it was directed by the great Franklin Schaffner, was written by Menno Meyjes, and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola – but it was hamstrung by its own production company, Orion Pictures, who delayed and delayed the film and eventually only released it in cinemas in Canada in the late summer of 1987 (it didn’t play in the United States at all). As a result, the film is virtually unknown these days, and is likely best remembered for Jerry Goldsmith’s rousing, epic score.

Lionheart was the seventh and final collaboration between Goldsmith and director Schaffner, a partnership which included such classic works as Planet of the Apes, Patton, Papillon, Islands in the Stream, and The Boys from Brazil, four of which were nominated for Oscars. Schaffner’s direction somehow always brought out the best in Goldsmith, and Lionheart continued that trend. In many ways, Lionheart is a quintessential Goldsmith action score, as it is from here that many of the composer’s most beloved late 1980s and 1990s titles take their inspiration: scores like First Knight, The Mummy, The Thirteenth Warrior, and even parts of Mulan, can trace their origins back to Lionheart, which overflows with Wagnerian leitmotivic writing, aggressive and complicated action material, and soaring romance.

The score is mostly fully orchestral, save for some electronic textures which I’ll talk about later, and was recorded in Budapest with the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra. It is built around several recurring main themes, the first of which relates to Robert and his noble quest. Robert’s Theme, a bold and heroic piece for warm horns extrapolated with flourishes and accentuations, is first heard towards the end of the opening cue, ‘The Ceremony.” Robert’s Theme is the beating heart of the score, underpinning all the character’s valiant actions, but Goldsmith is also clever with it, allowing it to play against and sometimes contrapuntally with other themes as the score progresses. Subsequent large-scale performances of Robert’s Theme in cues like “Failed Knight” and “The Banner” allow him to remain at the forefront of the film’s musical drama, and often present the theme in an exciting action setting.

Robert’s Theme is counterbalanced by the theme for Gabriel Byrne’s Black Knight, a more threatening and insidious theme based off the medieval Latin chant Dies Irae, albeit twisted and tortured to give it an appropriately dark tone, in keeping with the broken morals of the Black Knight himself. The Black Knight’s theme is first introduced in “Children in Bondage,” and reoccurs thereafter in several settings, notably as an aggressive action sequence in the thrilling “Forest Hunt.”

The romantic relationship between Robert and the eldest of his rescued ‘slave children,’ Blanche, is explored in a tender love theme for oboes backed by strings in the lovely “Robert and Blanche,” and later in the equally gorgeous “The Dress.” Meanwhile, another theme for one of the other crusader children, Matilda, is rooted in old English folk music, with a dance-like structure and the capacity for grand, adventurous statements. “Matilda” presents an especially resounding series of statements of Matilda’s theme, running the gamut of emotions and rhythmic ideas, and jumping around the orchestra with infectious enthusiasm, before climaxing with a return of the love theme.

The final prominent theme is what Goldsmith calls the ‘Journey Theme,’ an upbeat processional often underpinned with snare drums and rolling timpanis, which accompanies the children as they march across Europe in search of freedom and salvation. The Journey theme is first introduced in “The Road to Paris,” which is also one of the cues where Goldsmith allows his electronics to take center stage for the first time. Goldsmith’s 1980s electronics have always been a sticking point – sometimes they work, sometimes they are a terrible distraction – but despite the incongruity and anachronism of using synths in a film set in the 11th century, they work in Lionheart. Goldsmith uses the electronics as color and texture, never to replace an organic orchestral instrument, and they add a touch of playfulness to a score which is, after all, for a film about children.

The performance of the Journey Theme in “The Wrong Flag” is superb, especially when it combines with the ominous portent of the Black Knight’s theme in the second half. The subsequent statement in “Final Fight” where the foes are vanquishes to the strains of Goldsmith’s totalitarian brass writing and relentless staccato percussion. Everything comes to a head in the magnificent finale, “King Richard,” an 8–minute extravaganza of epic proportions in which Goldsmith plays all his core themes, both sequentially and contrapuntally, with the added bonus of a relentless snare drum tattoo, as well as a final extrapolation of a three-note motif that runs through the entire score, and which here reveals itself to be the score’s overarching main theme. The sweeping and passionate performances of the themes in this cue really shine; for some reason, Goldsmith was never really lauded for his memorable theme-writing, which always struck me as rather odd considering how many masterpieces he penned. “King Richard” is on that list.

The score for Lionheart has a complicated release history. The score was initially released in 1987 by Varese Sarabande over two volumes, 40 minutes per release. Unfortunately both CDs became very rare and valuable very quickly, with Volume 2 becoming especially expensive on the secondary market. Eventually, in 1994, Varese producers Robert Townson and Richard Kraft released ‘The Epic Symphonic Score,’ a single-CD release which combined an hour’s worth of the best music from the two volumes and presented it in a more fluid, chronological order; this is the version that is being reviewed here.

Anyone who has ever fallen in love with Goldsmith’s sweeping historical epic music – from The Wind and the Lion through to The Thirteenth Warrior and everything in between – needs to have Lionheart in their collection. It’s a masterpiece of pure leitmotif thematic writing (which Goldsmith didn’t do very often) featuring at least half a dozen superb themes, rousing action, elegant romance, and a balanced blend of electronic and orchestral elements which works perfectly despite the apparent temporal disconnect. All three Lionheart discs are rare these days, but if there’s any way you can get your hands on any of them, they come with my heartiest possible recommendation.

Buy the Lionheart soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • VOLUME I
  • The Ceremony (2:42)
  • Failed Knight (3:18)
  • Robert and Blanche (3:49)
  • Children in Bondage (5:02)
  • The Banner (5:58)
  • The Lake (3:37)
  • Mathilda (5:57)
  • The Wrong Flag (3:16)
  • King Richard (8:34)
  • VOLUME II
  • The Castle (1:26)
  • The Circus (3:07)
  • Gates of Paris (2:09)
  • The Plague (5:33)
  • Final Fight (3:13)
  • The Road from Paris (2:04)
  • The Dress (2:23)
  • Forest Hunt (7:45)
  • Paris Underground (4:09)
  • Bring Him Back (2:39)
  • The Future (5:45)
  • THE EPIC SYMPHONIC SCORE
  • The Ceremony (2:42)
  • Failed Knight (3:18)
  • The Circus (3:07)
  • Robert and Blanche (3:49)
  • Children in Bondage (5:02)
  • The Road from Paris (2:04)
  • The Lake (3:37)
  • The Banner (5:58)
  • The Castle (1:26)
  • Mathilda (5:57)
  • The Wrong Flag (3:16)
  • The Dress (2:23)
  • Forest Hunt (7:45)
  • Final Fight (3:13)
  • King Richard (8:34)

Running Time: 42 minutes 13 seconds – Volume I
Running Time: 40 minutes 12 seconds – Volume II
Running Time: 62 minutes 11 seconds – Epic Symphonic Score

Varese Sarabande VCD-47282 (1987) – Volume I
Varese Sarabande VCD-47288 (1987) – Volume II
Varese Sarabande VSD-5484 (1987/1994) – Epic Symphonic Score

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton and Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross and Bruce Botnick. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Robert Townson and Richard Kraft.

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