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THE VIKINGS – Mario Nascimbene

December 3, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Kirk Douglas came upon the 1951 novel The Viking by Edison Marshall and thought it offered a great opportunity to showcase his talents as a leading man. His production company Bryna Productions purchased the screen rights, and he brought in Jerry Bresler to produce. He tasked veteran Richard Fleischer whom he had successfully collaborated with on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) to direct. Calder Willingham and Dale Wasserman were hired to write the screenplay, and after several incarnations, a final script was realized. To achieve his vision, Douglas insisted on authenticity and so the film was shot on location in Norway, whose harsh, damp and cold weather placed actors and crew under great duress. Douglas would play the lead role of Einar and be supported by Tony Curtis as Eric, Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar Lodbrok, Janet Leigh as Princess Morgana, James Donald as Lord Egbert, Alexander Knox as Father Goodwin, and Frank Thring as King Aella of Northumbria, with narration provided by Orson Welles.

The tale is set in Medieval Norway circa the 9th century C.E. In an audacious Viking raid Lord Ragnar kills the king of Northumbria and rapes his wife before departing with the spoils of war. Unbeknownst to him he has with his brutality sired a son by the queen, who will bring about his downfall. Fate eventually brings the bastard son Eric into conflict with Ragnar’s true son and heir Einar, who contest for power, glory and the love of Princess Morgana. Eric prevails in the contest for Morgana’s affections and seals Ragnar’s doom by turning him over to the new Northumbrian King Aella after his boat founders. Ragnar is bound and to be cast into a pit of wolves, however in an act of chivalry Eric unbinds him and gives him a sword so he may have an honorable Viking death. King Aella is enraged, cuts off Eric’s left arm and banishes him from the kingdom. Einar is not to be denied, and launches a bold attack to kill King Aella, win his kingdom, and take Morgana as his queen. He successfully storms the castle, yet when Morgana declares her love for Eric he is enraged and a battle ensues between the bothers. Einar defeats Eric, but hesitates to strike him down when he sees Ragnar in his face. Eric seizes the opening and mortally wounds Einar, but allows him to die honorably with a sword in his hand. Commercially the film performed modestly, earning $6.2 million to cover its $3.5 million production costs, and it was successful enough to spawn a TV series called Tales of the Vikings, but the film did not receive critical acclaim and went unrecognized by Academy Awards.

Douglas wanted a European composer for the project and invited Mario Nascimbene to join him in Munich. Nascimbene however did not wish to leave his ailing, hospitalized wife and was set to decline when his wife convinced him that this was a career opportunity he could not refuse. He met with Douglas and Bresler, and accepted the assignment relating to his wife; “I received one of the most important contracts of my entire career.” Nascimbene’s task was challenging given that there were no records of Viking music from which to reference. He understood that Wagner in his Viking inspired Der Ring Des Nibelungen used a massive horn with great effect. In a masterstroke he seized on this conception and created a defining Viking horn declaration, which he would utilize diegetically throughout the film. The resounding declaration by six unison French horns would also be incorporated into his main theme, thus weaving the two together synergistically in his soundscape.

The score is supported by six themes; The Viking Theme offers the score’s main theme and serves as their collective identity. In a masterstroke Nascimbene captured the film’s emotional core. It offers unabashed heroica, empowered by declarations of six unison French horns bravura. It is simple in construct, opening with two three-note horn declarations, which unleash the ten-note melodic line. Snare drums percussion and martial trumpets strengthen its articulation, providing the Vikings with an anthem of war and conquest. Odin’s Theme serves as the identity of the Vikings patriarchal god of wisdom, healing and death. Imparting a not of this world ambiance, it is often articulated by solemn chorus, through which Nascimbene imparts both mysterioso and religioso auras to its articulation. Aella’s Theme serves as the identity of our vile villain, providing a perfect dark contrast to the bright heroism of the Viking Theme. Nascimbene infuses this low register eight-note tritonal statement with menace and evil, utilizing a bassoon attended by tremolo celli and bass. The Love Theme speaks to the romance between Eric and Morgana. Rendered in classic ABA form, the tender sixteen-note A Phrase is carried by flute delicato adorned with violins gentile, while its more expressive B Phrase reveals the flute carried melody adorned with contrapuntal violins. The minor modal Eric’s Theme, which serves as his identity, is expressed warmly by lyrical celli attended by contrapuntal violins. It is kindred to the Love Theme and Nascimbene subtlety, but purposely draws our sympathies to him. Lastly we have the Celebration Theme, which offers simple, repeating percussive and choral phrases that support Viking partying and bravado.

In “Prologue from The Vikings” Orson Welles provides a narrative history of the Vikings as a series of faux tapestries display on screen offering tales of their brutal pillaging and plundering of the English countryside. Nascimbene introduces the Viking Theme to launch the film, but ushers in a diminuendo, transferring its articulation to woodwinds gentile so as to not overpower Welles’ oration. Strains of Odin’s Theme join and are woven into the prologue’s statement. The film’s narrative and setting are now established, and at 2:03 we segue into the film proper with “Violences and Rapes of the Vikings” as all hell breaks loose. A martial rendering of Odin’s Theme joins with the Viking Theme to propel the horrific violence unfolding on the screen. The Dowager Queen Enid who has been raped bears Ragnar’s child and retreats to seclusion to hide her pregnancy from the new King Aella. Nascimbene supports the scene at court where Aella is installed with traditional liturgical music not found on the album.

In “20 Years On” King Aella imprisons Lord Egbert on a false charge of treason to find a scapegoat to deflect criticism of his inability to protect the people from the Vikings. His vile bassoon laden theme supports Lord Egbert’s arrest, and speaks of his wickedness. At 0:22 we segue into “Escape from the Dungeon” where we see Aella descending into the bowels of the prison with malice. He commands the guards to kill Egbert only to discover that he has escaped. Nascimbene supports Aella’s dark purpose and villainous descent with a full exposition of his sinister theme. “Ragnar Returns” offers a score highlight, which reveals Ragnar returning home to his village in triumph. The Viking Theme now rendered with counterpoint, resounds powerfully with pride and finds a wondrous cinematic confluence with the stunning beauty of the Fjord vistas.

At 1:40 Nascimbene interpolates “Ack Värmeland, du sköna” a Swedish traditional song as the men lower the sail and switch to oars. There is heartfelt longing in the notes of this ballad, which informs us of the men’s desires to rejoin their loved ones. At 2:46 we segue into “Viking Horn Calls” where a repeating diegetic declaration of the Viking Horn Motif resounds, alerting the village of Ragnar’s return. We see the villagers drop what they are doing and rush to the dock to welcome home the men. At 3:53 we conclude with “Into Port” once again supported by the heroic declarations of the Viking Theme as Einar sees his father returning and rides to the docks to welcome him. In “Drunken Vikings Song” Ragnar is celebrating a debauched homecoming feast as glutinous drunken men have their way with the women. Nascimbene supports the festivities simply with an acapella, wordless drinking song by male choir, which is supported by a steady drum rhythm.

In an unscored scene the slave Eric releases his falcon upon Einar to avenge his poor treatment. Einar loses an eye and vows to Eric an excruciating death. Yet at his sentencing the court soothsayer warns Ragnar that Odin forbids any man to harm Eric. To circumvent this Ragnar orders Eric to be tied to a post in the tide pool, and left to drown when the evening tide rolls in. “Eric Is Rescued by Odin’s Daughters” is wonderfully conceived and a score highlight, which reveals Nascimbene’s mastery of his craft. The scene reveals Eric crying out in desperation for Odin to save him. Remarkably his plea is answered and a strong offshore wind rises, which drives back the tide, thus saving Eric’s life. Nascimbene uses the sterling vocals of soprano Lucie Silken with great effect. She sings the first three notes of the Viking Theme and is attended by a female wordless choral rendering of Odin’s Theme, which weave a mysterioso filled with religioso auras to support the divine intervention. In another masterstroke, Nascimbene at 1:16 creates surging waves of orchestral wind to support the winds on screen forcing back the tide.

At 1:47 we segue into “You Can Keep Him” where a wordless female choir returns and introduces the Love Theme, a portentous allusion to his destiny. The moment is shattered when Einar arrives and confronts Egbert, which is left unscored. Egbert uses Ragnar’s own words to prevail in his claim to Eric, but with the cost of a veiled threat from Einar. We conclude at 2:51 in a scene change with “A Woman Will Point the Way” where the soothsayer uses her ruins to divine Eric’s destiny. The ruins inform here of a beautiful woman destined to be his. Nascimbene supports the moment by gracing us with a full, unabashed rendering of the Love Theme, which offers one of the score’s most beautiful moments. The theme is introduced by flute delicato and strings tenero, and then transferred to French horn. It culminates sumptuously with strings after a scene change to Morgana’s ship where she despairs of her forced betrothal to the repugnant King Aella.

“It’s the Vikings!” reveals Einar’s ship’s ambush and capture of the English vessel carrying King Aella’s intended bride Princess Morgana. Nascimbene propels the ambush and resulting hand to hand combat with an aggressive, martial rendering of the Viking Theme, intensified by a contrapuntal string line. At 2:27 a diminuendo takes us into “Pretty Bird” where the contrapuntal string line moves to the forefront as Morgana spits into Einar’s face to stave off his forced kiss. We conclude on a bold Viking Theme as Einar returns home proudly with his valuable prisoner. “Return From Wales” reveals Einar’s triumphant return to the village, which is supported by the diegetic Viking Horn Motif, countered by its echo off the Fjord’s rocky walls. At 1:06 we segue into “Dancing on the Oars”, which offers great fun. We are treated to a festive orchestral rendering of a trumpet propelled Celebration Theme, which supports Einar’s and his men’s playful bravado as they one by one run atop the extended oar handles, much to the delight of the villagers as several fall in!

In “Eric and Morgana Escape” Ragnar grants Einar’s drunken request for Morgana and he sets off to his ship to have his way with her. He throws all his guards in to the water to be alone, but is ambushed and knocked out by Eric. Eric, Sandpiper, Morgana and her handmaiden flee in a small craft. A grim Viking Theme supports their escape until 0:16 where Nascimbene introduces Eric’s Theme. His theme is carried warmly by celli and violi, and yet contrapuntal violins speak of sadness. We can see a nascent attraction between the two, yet also hesitancy as he is far below her station. At 0:41 the moment is shattered as horns bellicoso resound, ushering in kinetic pursuit music as Einar and Ragnar’s ships spot them and close in for the kill. This cue offers some of the score’s finest action scoring as Nascimbene whips his orchestra into fury driving it forth powerfully with both brutality and menace.

“Run Aground” reveals Eric’s craft escaping into the fog and Einar’s reckless decision to pursue. As the ships enter the fog Nascimbene sows disquiet with an eerie rendering of the Love Theme, which lures the Vikings ships to their doom as they run aground. Ragnar, who had fallen overboard reaches Eric’s ship, is pulled in and knocked unconscious as Einar struggles to right his ship. At 1:07 we segue into “Our Souls Must Be Touching” a supreme score highlight where we are graced with a joining of Eric’s Theme with a full rendering of the Love Theme. Emoted by solo flute delicato and then sumptuous strings, The Love Theme blossoms as we see at last the recognition of love between them as she surrenders to him with a kiss. “After the Pit” offers a multi-scenic cue. Father Goodwin notices Morgana’s pendant as the pommel stone of the royal sword Requitor. When he asks how she obtained it she relates that Eric gave it to her, something he had worn since a child. Father Goodwin now recognizes who Eric is and rushes to the pit with Morgana. A tender rendering of the Love Theme was used to support the scene.

At 0:15 we segue to the pit, where a bound Ragnar is condemned by King Aella to be cast into a pit full of ravenous wolves. Ragnar asks Eric for a sword so he may die an honorable Viking death. Eric consents, cuts his bonds as a thankful Ragnar jumps to his doom. The scene is supported poignantly by impassioned interplay of Eric’s and Aella’s Themes. At 1:35 horns of doom resound with Aella’s Theme in “Aella Cuts Off Eric’s Hand” informing us of his fury due to Eric’s defiance. When Morgana agrees to marry him if he spares Eric’s life, King Aella consents, but not before exacting a price as he severs Eric’s left hand. Eric’s Theme born by sorrowful French horns and strings affanato carry the horror of the moment with great effect.

In “Who Sails With Me?” none of the men will sail with Einar to avenge Ragnar’s death until the time of grieving has ended. An angry Einar departs and cries out to Odin for support. Odin’s Theme emotes as a ghostly mysterioso as Einar turns and is startled by Eric. Though there is great enmity between the two, they forge an uneasy pact to kill King Aella and free Morgana. At 0:41 we segue into “Setting Sail” as three ships set sail for Northumbria. The moment is boldly carried by heroic horn declarations of the Vikings Theme, which their departure as we see the soothsayer ashore reading her ruins. At 1:30 we conclude with “The Fog” as the ships enter an unending fog bank. Nascimbene sows unease with a mysterioso of Odin’s Theme, which is joined by eerie shifting upper register strings, grim low register strings, and plaintive tenor tuba calls. A slow crescendo begins to build at 4:03 as they emerge from the fog to see the shore, finally cresting as the ships make landfall.

“Vikings On Foot” offers repeating percussive driven piece, which carries the Vikings march on King Aella’s castle. At 0:43 a martial rendering of Odin’s Theme resounds on horns as Einar leads his men to the sight of the castle. At 1:35 we segue into “Castle Attack” which joins the next three cues in a stunning tour de force, presenting the score’s finest action writing. Nascimbene unleashes the fury of his orchestra to propel the battle with inspired kinetic interplay of the Vikings and Odin’s contesting with Aella’s Theme. At 3:55 we segue into “Einar Storms the Gate” where Einar orders a bold plan to breech the gate. He has his men throw several axes into the face of the inner gate and then in an audacious move single-handedly storms the gate, using the axes as a ladder to climb ever upwards through a hail of rocks and arrows. He reaches the top and releases the chain lock to lower the gate, which allow the Vikings to storm the castle. Nascimbene carries Einar’s ascent with a stepped crescendo ascent of Odin’s Theme, as though the Norse God was supporting his efforts. In “Into the Castle” the Vikings and Odin’s Themes contest Aella’s Theme in a fierce tempest as Einar leads his men into the castle courtyard. Eric’s Theme enters at 1:54 in “The Death of Aella” as we see him pursuing a fleeing King Aella. Their two themes contest, and we build on Aella’s Theme with a crescendo of desperation, but it is clear Eric’s Theme is ascendant as French horns resound his victory as he pushes King Aella to his doom into the pit of ravenous wolves.

“The Tower” reveals Einar using a rope and pic to scale the tower keep to gain Morgana. His climb is supported with a reprise of his climbing music from the cue “Einar Storms the Gate”. At 3:23 an impassioned crescendo builds powerfully and culminates with his crash through the chapel stain glass window. “Inside the Tower” reveals Einar confronting Morgana who feigns to leap out the window to her death. A grim Odin’s Theme born on French horns and strings supports the tense moment. As he attest his love for her and desire to make her his queen the Love Theme enters as she deflects his attempted kiss, informing us of her love of Eric. When she rejects Einar by declaring her love for Eric, Eric’s Theme is heard, and all is laid bare between them. At 1:56 we segue into “Where Are You Taking Me?” with Einar forcibly taking Morgana to the roof in search of Eric. Eric’s Theme alternates between cello and kindred strings and carries their progress, as she longs for him, and Einar seeks to kill him. An angry Odin’s Theme joins informing us of Einar’s fury as he sees Eric and calls him to duel. Drums of doom carry Eric’s upwards and we culminate on a dire choral carried Odin’s Theme as the two brothers face off.

In “Duel – Eric Kills Einar” Nascimbene eschewed orchestral accompaniment, preferring to let the clashing metallic sound of the sword fight carry most of the scene. Music enters at 3:56 atop a dire Odin’s Theme as Einar gains the upper hand and moves in for the kill. With Eric’s sword broken Einar raises his sword to strike him down empowered by an Odin’s Theme crescendo, but he hesitates as he sees in Eric, his father Ragnar. Eric seizes the opening and thrust his broken sword into Einar, mortally wounding him. Eric hands him a sword so he may die with honor and as Einar cries out Odin and dies, his death is supported by a solemn choral carried Odin’s Theme and the Viking fanfare.

“The Viking Funeral” offers a wondrous score highlight where Nascimbene brings the film to a glorious conclusion. Einar has secured a King’s burial, interned on his ship, which is cast off and set aflame by archers. A solemn choral carried Odin’s Theme joins with the Viking Theme to support his departure. A 1:17 the Viking Theme resounds gloriously atop chorus and culminates grandly with a refulgent flourish! At 2:33 we segue into “End Titles From The Vikings” where we are treated to perhaps the finest exposition of the Vikings Theme of the whole score, rendered gloriously with chorus, horns trionfanti, which ends in a grand flourish. Lastly, the score contains two alternative cues “Voyage and Landing in Britain”, which was a different conception than “Who Sails With Me?” “Setting Sail”, and “The Fog”. The alternative version of “Eric Is Rescued By Odin’s Daughters” differs in that it dialed out the percussion. Lastly, there is a bonus cue “Theme From The Vikings”, which showcases the score’s main them.

I would like to once again thank James Fitzpatrick for this long overdue and much coveted rerecording of Mario Nascimbene’s masterwork. The reconstruction efforts by Nic Raine, his superb conducting of the City of Prague Orchestra and Chorus, and the quality of the recording are exceptional and offer a superb listening experience. This score provides an enduring testament to the power of music to elevate a film. Nascimbene’s conception of the Vikings Theme was a masterstroke, which captured the film’s emotional core. Its heroic fanfare inspired us and propelled the film’s narrative with a stirring emotive power. Odin, the Viking patriarchal god served as the foundation of Viking culture and Nascimbene’s ethereal choral conception was brilliant. The sinister King Aella’s Theme served as the perfect embodiment of our villain, while the confluence of the Love Theme and Eric’s Theme fleshed out the irresistible power of love. The kinetic action writing was just exceptional, enhanced the film, and propelled the battle scenes with ferocious and astounding thematic interplay. This score is in my judgment Nascimbene’s Magnum Opus and a late Golden Age gem. I highly recommend that you purchase this exceptional recording for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar have embedded a YouTube link to The Viking Funeral cue; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q4MWB5bHI8

Buy the Vikings soundtrack from the Tadlow Music

Track Listing:

  • Prologue from The Vikings/Violences and Rapes of the Vikings (3:20)
  • 20 Years On/Escape from the Dungeon (1:090
  • Regnar Returns/Viking Horn Calls/Into Port (4:51)
  • Drunken Vikings Song (1:46)
  • Eric Is Rescued by Odin’s Daughters/You Can Keep Him/A Woman Will Point the Way (4:33)
  • It’s the Vikings!/Pretty Bird (3:07)
  • Return from Wales/Dancing on the Oars (3:00)
  • Eric and Morgana Escape (2:54)
  • Run Aground/Our Souls Must Be Touching (Love Theme from The Vikings) (6:01)
  • After the Pit/Aella Cuts Off Eric’s Hand (2:28)
  • Who Sails With Me?/Setting Sail/The Fog (Film Version) (5:15)
  • Voyage and Landing in Britain (Album Version) (7:26)
  • Vikings on Foot/Castle Attack/Einar Storms the Gate (5:17)
  • Into the Castle/The Death of Aella/The Tower (4:23)
  • Inside the Tower/Where Are You Taking Me?/Duel – Eric Kills Einar (5:18)
  • The Viking Funeral/End Titles from The Vikings (3:48)
  • Main Theme from Barabbas (5:11) BONUS
  • Eric is Rescued by Odin’s Daughters (alternative version without percussion) (2:21) BONUS
  • Theme from The Vikings (1:32) BONUS

Running Time: 73 minutes 40 seconds

Prometheus/Tadlow XPCD-181 (1958/2018)

Music composed and conducted by Mario Nascimbene. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Original orchestrations by Gerard Schurmann. Recorded and mixed by Vitek Kral. Score produced by Mario Nascimbene. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

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