Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Simon Wiesenthal had quite an amazing life. Born into a Jewish family in Austria in 1908, he was captured and sent to a concentration camp after the outbreak of World War II; after surviving against terrible odds, Wiesenthal spent the rest of his life as one of the world’s most famous ‘Nazi hunters,’ tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazi war criminals so that they could be brought to trial. He was involved as a key witness in the Nuremberg Trials, and instrumental in the 1960 capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust who personally sent hundreds of thousands of people to die in Auschwitz. Wiesenthal was also a writer and philanthropist, and lent his name to a research and human rights center in Los Angeles. He died in 2005, but not before this acclaimed TV movie of his life was released on HBO in 1989. The film was directed by Brian Gibson and starred Ben Kingsley in the titular role, with support from Craig T. Nelson, Anton Lesser, Paul Freeman, and Renée Soutendijk as Simon’s wife Cyla.

The score for Murderers Among Us was by the great Bill Conti. The score was written in a period when Conti, having firmly established himself as a pioneer of orchestral-disco scores in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was going in a slightly different direction from many of his contemporaries, by exploring a much fuller symphonic sound. He had won an Oscar for The Right Stuff in 1983, and had explored the full range of the orchestra in subsequent scores like North & South, Masters of the Universe, and many others. Murderers Among Us was performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and Choir, and is built around two recurring main themes, one for Simon, and one for Simon’s wife Cyla. Simon’s theme tends to act as an all-encompassing main theme for the film overall: the use of orchestra and choir is intended to reflect Simon’s determination in bringing those responsible for the Holocaust to justice. However, there is a profound sense of sadness to Simon’s theme, of remembrance and reverence, and when Conti combines the orchestra with the soaring vocal performance of the choir, it comes across almost like an adagio for the victims – serious, weighty, and full of a sense of religious respect.

The theme for Cyla, on the other hand, is quieter, more intimate, and full of love. Wiesenthal was a sensitive man, who often leaned on his wife for moral support and comfort during his darkest times, and the music represents that relationship. Cyla’s theme is obviously inspired by Ennio Morricone’s music for The Mission, and the beauty inherent in that music carries over into Conti’s score. The theme is anchored by a gorgeous flute solo, which frequently rises to join the orchestra and choir, and when this confluence is at its greatest it stands as some of the most stunningly beautiful film music Conti ever wrote.

The score for Murderers Among Us has been released twice. The first release, on the Bay Cities label in 1990, was produced by Nick Redman and saw Conti’s score arranged into two long suites of 25 minutes and 18 minutes, respectively. The second release, on the BSX Records label in 2009, was produced by Ford A. Thaxton and presented the entire film score for the first time, including 25 minutes of previously un-released music. The score was also presented in a much more user-friendly fashion, breaking the music down into 21 individual cues, which are then augmented by a half dozen or so alternates and bonus tracks. The 1990 Bay Cities release is the one being reviewed here and it has both pros and cons. The 2-track presentation allows the music to develop seamlessly, almost like a classical tone poem, but the drawback of that is that it is then very difficult to properly connect the score to specific scenes in the film, and if that’s important to you, then you will likely find it to be a somewhat frustrating listening experience. However, one thing that is not in doubt, irrespective of which release you hear, is the fact that Conti’s music is gorgeous.

“Suite I” begins with a searing statement of Simon’s theme; the combination writing for choir and orchestra is just sublime, and there is a moment where the cello takes over the lead melody that is hauntingly beautiful. At 3:32 there is a second statement of Simon’s theme, performed a little slower, with a little touch of bitterness in the phrasing. A gorgeous solo cello line emerges at 4:53, which then gradually melts into the first performance of Cyla’s theme at 5:38, a trio for cello, flute, and harp. A new theme for oboe and strings is introduced at 6:23, and it has a slightly hopeful sound, but it is also surrounded by dark chords, as well as clear allusions to Cyla’s theme in the woodwinds.

Simon’s theme returns at 8:34, and it gradually grows darker, more insistent, with strong string writing, a heavy bass line, and a prominent oboe. As the suite moves past the 12 minute mark the music becomes stark and aggressive, eventually developing into the score’s only action sequence, which is filled with pulsing, galloping string phrases under woodwinds, and a vigorous setting of Simon’s theme. At 14:02 there is a beautiful duet for flute and harp performing another new melody, which eventually morphs back into Cyla’s theme at 14:52. Another elegant theme for strings and harp emerges at 15:29, cleverly played contrapuntally against Cyla’s theme on flute; the score’s most romantic, hopeful, pretty statement of the theme comes at 17:35. At 18:22 the music turns bitter and desolate, performing a solemn trumpet elegy offset by stark string writing and religioso chord progressions. There are hints of Jewish folk music in the clarinets at 21:12, and then as the suite concludes the music returns to Simon’s theme for a sweeping, soaring finale.

“Suite II” is essentially more of the same. A statement of Simon’s theme, performed without choral accompaniment, is heard at 0:58, and then for the next five or six minutes the music oscillates between lighter, more pleasant writing for woodwind combos, interrupted by a more militaristic section. The romantic theme returns at 6:40, cleverly blending with Simon’s theme beginning at 8:47. After the ten minute mark there is a dark section for rhythmic strings and intense horn calls that is quite compelling, and then the two main themes come back for one final sweeping statement to complete the score – Cyla’s theme at 13:35, and then a massive choral refrain of Simon’s theme beginning at 15:29.

It’s frustrating that, in the minds of too many people, Bill Conti is a composer whose sound is stuck in the 1970s, and whose entire canon is either rousing Rocky-style sports music or orchestral disco pop. He’s actually a much more varied composer than many give him credit for, and Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story is one of the best illustrations of that. The blatant Ennio Morricone homage in Cyla’s theme is perhaps a little unfortunate – he has always been prone to temp-track bleed-through – but the rest of the score is quite superb. Overall, it’s a serious, somber, but reverentially beautiful score which is appropriately respectful of the life of Simon Wiesenthal, and the six million Jews whose terrible deaths he sought to avenge.

Buy the Murderers Among Us soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Suite I (25:10)
  • Suite II (18:02)
  • 2009 BSX RELEASE
  • Liberation/Main Title (4:09)
  • Out of the Camp (0:42)
  • Simon’s Wife (1:32)
  • Mother/Train Search (3:28)
  • Suicide Attempt (0:50)
  • Bodies, Ovens & Sunflowers (2:09)
  • The Address (1:52)
  • She’s Alive/Reunion (2:22)
  • Simon and Cyla (2:56)
  • The Books (2:51)
  • Memories of Camp (3:55)
  • I Swear – End of Part One (2:27)
  • Following Simon (1:19)
  • Father and Daughter/Home (1:53)
  • Apartment Search (1:37)
  • Photo Hand Off/Search (1:13)
  • Anne Frank/Family History (3:33)
  • The Photo (1:28)
  • Eichmann (3:10)
  • Muller/Cyla at Church (2:04)
  • Not Forgotten/End Credits (4:26)
  • Choir Suite (9:06)
  • Liberation/Main Title [No Choir] (4:09) – Bonus
  • The Books [Alt.] (2:51) – Bonus
  • Apartment Search [Alt.] (1:39) – Bonus
  • Anne Frank [Alt.] (1:02) – Bonus
  • Eichmann [Alt.] (3:12) – Bonus
  • Cyla at Church [Alt.] (1:51) – Bonus
  • End Credit [No Choir] (2:33) – Bonus

Running Time: 43 minutes 12 seconds (Bay Cities)
Running Time: 76 minutes 19 seconds (BSX)

Bay Cities BCD-3004 (1989/1990)
BSX Records BSXCD-8861 (1989/2009)

Music composed by Bill Conti. Conducted by Harry Rabinowitz. Orchestrations by Jackson Eskew. Recorded and mixed by Alan Snelling. Edited by Stephen A. Hope. Score produced by Bill Conti. Bay Cities album produced by Nick Redman, Bruce Kimmel, Michael Rosen and Alain Silver. BSX album produced by Ford A. Thaxton.

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