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IVANHOE – Miklós Rózsa

February 10, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1935 MGM Studio sought to bring Sir Walter Scott’s epic Medieval Knight tale Ivanhoe (1819) to the big screen. After crafting a screenplay, the project never got off the ground as production delays resulted in selecting two different casts, one in 1935 starring Fredric March, Loretta Young and Gary Cooper, and another in 1938 starring Robert Taylor, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable. Another setback to production occurred with the onset of WWII, which caused filming on location in England to be put hold. New energy for the project arose in 1946 when Æneas MacKenzie crafted a new script, which satisfied MGM executives. Pandro S. Berman was given a very generous budget to produce the film and he brought in Richard Thorpe to direct. A third stellar cast was hired, which included; Robert Taylor as Ivanhoe, Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca, Joan Fontaine as Rowena, George Sanders as Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert, Emlyn Williams as Wamba and also the Narrator, Felix Aylmer as Isaac, Finlay Currie as Cedric, and Guy Rolfe as Prince John.

The story is set in England circa 1192 C.E. and involves the Norman King Richard the Lionheart’s return home following his victories at Acre and Jaffa during the 3rd Crusade. On the way home he is ambushed, taken prisoner and held for ransom by the Austrian King Leopold. Richard’s brother Prince John uses the abduction as a pre-text to seize the throne and begin a reign of terror. What unfolds is a classic contest of good versus evil as the Saxon Wilfred of Ivanhoe battles Prince John and his fellow Norman knights to restore King Richard and save the life of the Jewish maiden Rebecca. The film abounds with colorful pageantry, jousting, swordplay and a classic love triangle between Ivanhoe, De Bois-Gilbert and Rebecca. The lavish film was a massive commercial success for MGM earning $10.9 million or nearly three times its production cost of $3.8 million. It also earned critical recognition, securing three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Film Score.

Richard Thorpe was impressed by Miklós Rózsa’s epic score to Quo Vadis (1951) and he did not hesitate to hire him. Rózsa was initially enthusiastic yet suffered disappointment when he read the script. He related in his 1982 auto biography:

“The music of Quo Vadis established me as a composer of ‘epic’ scores. I became apparently a specialist in historical pictures, much to my delight. Whether a film was good or bad, the subject was invariably interesting and worth spending time on. Such a film was Ivanhoe. The book was a favorite of my youth, in Hungarian translation, of course. I re-read my Scott and was again delighted. When I read the script, I was less delighted. It was a typical Hollywood historical travesty and the picture for the most part was cliche-ridden and conventional. So, I turned back to Scott, and Scott it was, rather than Robert or even Elizabeth Taylor, who inspired my music.”

Rózsa further relates in an interview with Bruce Duffie in 1987 on the various Medieval sources that inspired him, and for which he interpolated into the fabric of his soundscape;

“The various themes in Ivanhoe are partly based on authentic Twelfth Century music, or at least influenced by them. Under the opening narration I introduced a theme from a ballad actually written by Richard the Lionhearted. The principle Norman theme I developed from a Latin hymn by the troubadour Giraut de Bornelh. This appears the first time with the approaching Normans in Sherwood Forest. Later during the film, it undergoes various contrapuntal treatments. The love theme for Ivanhoe and Rowena is a free adaptation of an old popular song from the north of France. The manuscript of this I found in a collection of songs in the Royal Library of Brussels. It’s a lovely melody, breathing the innocently amorous atmosphere of the middle ages, and I gave it modal harmonizations. Rebecca needed a Jewish theme, reflecting not only the tragedy of this beautiful character but also the persecution of her race. Fragments of medieval Jewish motives suggested a melody to me. My most difficult job was the scoring of the extensive battle in the castle because the producers wanted music to accompany almost all of it. I devised a new theme for the Saxons, along with a motive for the battering ram sequence, thereby giving a rhythmic beat which contrapuntally and polytonally worked out with the previous thematic material, forming a tonal background to this exciting battle scene. Scoring battles in films is very difficult, and sadly one for which the composer seldom gets much credit. The visuals and the emotional excitement are so arresting that the viewer tends not to be aware that he or she is also being influenced by what is heard.”

Rózsa composed eight primary themes including; Ivanhoe’s Theme, which serves as the identity of our Saxon hero. It offers a classic ABA construct with its heroic A Phrase empowered by horns trionfanti, while the B Phrase offers warmth and elegance born by sumptuous strings. This dichotomy allowed Rózsa versatility in speaking to Ivanhoe throughout the film, with the A Phrase supporting his heroism and gallantry, while the B Phrase speaks to his passion and romanticism. The themes for the two women in Ivanhoe’s life operate on two levels, the first supporting their personal identities, with the second serving as love themes expressed from their perspectives. Rebecca’s Theme offers the score’s most beautiful theme, and one of the finest of Rózsa’s career, a sumptuous, string born romantic melody so full of yearning that we are overcome. We discern a sadness in the notes, a silent suffering for her father and the mistreatment of her people. Rowena’s Theme offers tenderness, beauty and a warm, welcoming heart. Emoted by solo oboe tenero, soft strings with harp adornment, it bathes us with a refined and gentle elegance. De Bois-Guilbert’s Theme offers a sinister construct for our duplicitous villain. Noteworthy is how Rózsa reveals his treachery, debauchery and ambition by shifting its articulation atop a serpentine clarinet or by introducing perverse dissonance. The theme offers a perfect foil to Ivanhoe’s heroic theme. Cedric’s Theme offers an austere construct full of anger, thus reflecting his sense of betrayal and estrangement from Ivanhoe. Grim low register strings irato propel it with forward purposely, yet we hear a counter line by violins in the upper register expressing a melody kindred to the B Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme, which informs us that he is conflicted and still loves his son. Wamba’s Theme is well conceived and used to support the funny court jester. Rózsa offers a playful construct full of buffoonery, carried by comic clarinet and bassoon. The Norman Theme supports these villains and emotes as a classic martial marcia bellicose, which supports their privilege, tyranny and might. Lastly, we have the Saxon Theme, which serves as their collective identity and offers a proud, trumpet declared major modal war motif with dynamic narrative flow. It provides a perfect juxtaposition to the more march driven Norman Theme, with whom it contests.

“Prelude” offers a wonderful score highlight, which supports the roll of the opening credits. It opens grandly atop fanfare maestoso, which at 0:12 launches a magnificent full exposition of Ivanhoe’s Theme. At 1:31 narration commences, supported by a diminuendo which tells the story of King Richard the Lionheart’s abduction and his devoted knight Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe’s determination to discover his whereabouts. In “Ransom” Ivanhoe has arrived in Austria, where he discovers King Richard held in captivity by King Leopold who demands ransom for his release. As Ivanhoe arrives on horseback, he sings acapella a traditional English ballad, which King Richard answers, thus alerting him of his circumstances with a note tossed out of his cell. The sung ballad is not found on the album, instead an orchestra rendering is presented by low register strings with violins dancing above. Ivanhoe is illiterate and so commands a priest at knife point to read the note so he may understand. As Prince John’s treachery is revealed, we hear the A Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme on a French horn nobile. At 2:04 we change scenes to England carried by regal French horns and trumpets where we find Ivanhoe resting in Sherwood Forest. At 2:31 Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert approaches with fellow Norman knights carried by a galloping rendering of the Norman Theme.

“Rotherwood” reveals Ivanhoe agreeing to escort the Normans to the castle of Saxon Sir Cedric, who he does not disclose is his father. Rózsa supports their progress with interplay the Norman Theme ala marcia and the B Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme on plaintive strings, which speak to his sad return home to his estranged father. In “Lady Rowena” Ivanhoe enters cloaked and unannounced and asks Wamba to take him to the Lady Rowena. Her theme carries him, informing us of his longing for her. At 0:17 Wamba’s Theme enters on comic bassoon and clarinet as the court jester advises Rowena that tonight he plays not the fool, but instead a wizard. When she turns to discover Ivanhoe, they embrace, reaffirm their love, and her theme blossoms for a sumptuous exposition. “Sir Cedric” reveals Cedric honoring the cultural courtesy of hospitality to the Normans, allowing them to dine and bed down for the night. Yet he retains unrelenting hostility to all Normans, and so departs the supper table angrily when he spots Ivanhoe in the hall. Grim low register strings irato propel his exit purposely, yet we hear a counter line by violins in the upper register expressing a melody kindred to the B Phrase of Ivanhoe Theme, which informs us that he is conflicted and still deep down, loves his son. At Rowena’s intercession he agrees to meet with his son, but it is clear there will be no reconciliation given his support of the Norman King Richard.

In “Squire Wamba” Cedric orders his son to leave within the hour departs supported by grim trombones and plaintive strings declaring his theme. Ivanhoe assures Rowena that King Richard will be rightfully restored to his throne and that they will soon be together again after the tournament. As they kiss at 0:29 their moment of love is supported by a romantic rendering of her theme. As he departs at 0:41, he finds Wamba ease-dropping, and is surprised when he offers to join him at the tournament. Ivanhoe consents and appoints him as his squire. The scene provides and extended rendering of the comic Wamba Theme with all its buffoonery, that takes on the air of regality when he is promised to be a squire. A scene change at 1:25 atop tremolo strings reveals Ivanhoe observing two Normans sneaking into the barn where Patriarch Isaac is sleeping, intent on robbing him. Strings orientali sow unease as the men make their way to the barn. We build on a crescendo of suspense as they grab his coin purse and all Hell breaks loose as Isaac resists and Ivanhoe and Wamba come to his defense. Rózsa unleashes a torrent of horn cacophony with chattering xylophone and swirling strings barabaro as Ivanhoe and Wamba subdue the Normans. Wamba is carried by his theme when Ivanhoe orders him to obtain horses so that they might escort Isaac back to York. As they arrive at Isaac’s residence a prelude by strings doloroso ushers in a sumptuous rendering of Rebecca’s Theme on strings romantico as she gazes down from an upstairs window. Interplay with French horns nobile sounding the A Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme joins the two themes in a stirring synergy.

“Rebecca” reveals a thankful Isaac welcoming Ivanhoe into his home. Ivanhoe negotiates a pact with him to raise money from his tribe to free King Richard, with a promise of justice for all Jews in the realm from King Richard in return. The men shake hands as a hidden Rebecca watches and listens from the adjoining room. The scene is supported eloquently by interplay of the sumptuous Rebecca’s Theme on strings romantico and Ivanhoe’s Theme born on warm French horns nobile. “The Intruder” offers a fine cue with exquisite writing. Tense flight music carried by clarinet and strings supports Rebecca’s foiled attempt to escape unnoticed from Ivanhoe’s room. As he pulls her into the light and her identify is revealed, she presents him with her jewel box, payment for his jousting armor and a thank you for saving her father’s life. Rózsa supports the moment with a supremely romantic, full extended rendering of her theme. We are left breathless as a solo violin plays aloft kindred strings so full of yearning. We see a nascent attraction in Ivanhoe’s eyes, taken in by her beauty. At 2:27 the prancing buffoonery of Wamba’s Theme enters as Ivanhoe orders him to escort Rebecca back to her father’s house. As she departs a solo violin ternero and kindred strings carry her from Ivanhoe, and we see him clearly affected by her beauty and gift. We close with rousing diegetic heraldic trumpeting fanfare as we see the opening of the jousting tournament. It is over quickly as the five Norman knights easily dispatch their Saxon opponents.

“The Rivals” reveals an unknown knight in black armor riding forth on the field to the king’s royal box, where he issues a challenge in the name of King Richard to all five Norman knights. Rózsa supports his audacious ride to the king with rousing heraldic declarations by six diegetic trumpeters. As he prepares for the first joust against Sir Philip de Malvosin the heraldic fanfare resounds. Heraldic fanfare supports the second joust against Sir Ralph de Vipont, the third joust against Sir Front de Boeuf, and the fourth joust against Sir Hugh de Bracy, all of whom he dispatches. The fanfare for the 2nd through 5th jousts is not supported on the album. De Bracy managed to wound Ivanhoe’s left shoulder and we see he is weakened for the final joust. For the fifth joust Ivanhoe again faces off with Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert whom he dispatched in Acre years earlier while on crusade. This time however he is injured and De Bois-Guilbert knocks him from his horse and mortally wounds him. As he is taken from the field, his theme is shorn of all its heroism and now emoted as a dirge. Rebecca tends to his wounds but an argument over treatment arises when Rowena enters. Rowena accedes to Rebecca’s assurances that she can mend him and departs. The encounter between the two women is supported by plaintive rendering of Rebecca’s Theme with interplay of repeated calls of the A Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme emoted on solo French horn doloroso. As she tends to him, we see she is in love with him, and the sadness of her theme dissipates, its sumptuous romanticism restored.

In “Sheffield” a beleaguered variant of Ivanhoe’s Theme supports his arrival at Isaac’s house. In a scene change Prince John learns of Ivanhoe’s identity and orders his arrest. As de Bracy and de Bois-Guilbert ride off with troops, their menace is supported by a martial rendering of the Norman Theme. “Rebecca’s Love” offers a supreme score highlight where Ivanhoe’s and Rebecca’s Themes join in an achingly beautiful confluence. We open with a menacing drum empowered martial rendering of the Norman Theme replete with muted kindred horn declarations. A counter line of string and horns supports Saxon archers sending messages of Ivanhoe’s health by arrow. At 1:16 Ivanhoe is sleeping, and as Rebecca tends to him, she caresses and kisses his hand. Rózsa supports the moment with a tender rendering of Ivanhoe’s Theme on solo viola. As she confesses her love for him, his theme warms on its B Phrase, and joins in sublime interplay with her theme on strings romantico. They entwine and blossom with love, achieving a confluence which brings a quiver and a tear. “Search” reveals the frustrated Normans searching for Ivanhoe empowered by a monstrous rendering of their theme, full of dread and menace. Yet a spy brings news of Ivanhoe’s departure into the forest while Cedric, Rowena, Isaac, Rebecca and Wamba travel to Rotherwood. De Bois-Guilbert departs with troops to capture Cedric in hope of flushing out Ivanhoe.

In “Torquilstone Castle” Bois-Guilbert and de Bracy overtake Cedric’s party and overwhelm them in battle. Rózsa whips his orchestra into fury as a resounding martial Norman Theme dominates the fight and crowns their victory. At 0:48 Rózsa introduces a new heraldic Fanfare Motif born by trumpets and French horns for Torquilstone castle, with a high register counter by frenetic violins. Ivanhoe resolves to ride to Torquilstone and offer himself in exchange for freeing the hostages. As he rides to the castle, we are graced with a proud and confident full rendering of his theme for one of the score’s finest moments. “Bois-Guilbert’s Bargain” reveals the Norman’s debauchery as he attempts to seduce Rebecca. She rejects him and positions herself on a ledge to jump to her death rather than surrender to him. A sinister and increasingly perverse rendering of de Bois-Guilbert’s Theme unfolds, which achieves an agonizing crescendo at 1:15 as Rebecca threatens to leap. A grotesque solo violin carries his offer to spare Ivanhoe’s life if she surrenders willingly to him. Yet she does not believe him until he hands her proof of Ivanhoe’s capture, a gold tunic pin, which is supported by the A Phrase of Ivanhoe’s Theme. She believes him and under duress consents, which give license for de Bois-Guilbert to forcefully kiss her empowered by his now twisted theme. As he departs to torture Ivanhoe, he demands that Rebecca greet him when he returns willingly and with passion in her breasts. We close full of heartache atop Rebecca’s Theme, carried by a grieving solo violin doloroso with kindred strings.

The following two action cues reveal Rózsa’s mastery of his craft as he provides what may be the best action writing in his canon. “The Battlement” offers a dynamic and ferocious score highlight. Sir Robin of Locksley and his army of Saxons announce their presence and demand that Ivanhoe and the captives be released. We open with a repeating four-note Trumpet Motif, which sounds the alarm. A serpentine clarinet and horns sinistre emoting de Bois-Guilbert’s Theme supports his order to bring Ivanhoe to the battlements. We crest on a crescendo of horror at 1:05 as de Bois-Guilbert threatens Locksley by positioning Ivanhoe for death on the battlement. But Ivanhoe manages to escape and Locksley unleashes a torrent of arrows, beginning the battle in earnest, with dynamic interplay of de Bois-Guilbert’s Theme, Ivanhoe’s Theme and the Trumpet Motif. Ivanhoe fights his way below, frees his father, Wamba and Isaac, and then set the castle keep aflame. At 1:55 martial drums propell the Norman Theme, which supports their charge out through the castle gate. They charge is short-lived as they are driven back by volleys of Saxon arrows. At 2:23 martial trumpets sound the Saxon Theme as Locksley orders a charge. As the battle unfolds, Rózsa engages de Bois-Guilbert’s and the Norman Theme in ferocious interplay with Ivanhoe’s and the Saxon Themes. At 4:36 trumpet declarations of the Saxon Theme support their storming the castle walls in battle, as defiant statements of the Norman March counter.

“Saxon Victory” continues the battle with ever greater ferocity and carnage. The Saxons are ramming the castle gate and scaling the castle walls as Normans pummel them from above with hails of rocks. We see the Saxons slowly turning the tide of battle and Rózsa supports this with the trumpet propelled Saxon and Ivanhoe’s Themes gaining ascendency. At 1:44 trombones declare a defiant Norman Theme as the battle continues to rage. Rózsa whips his orchestra into fury as de Bois-Guilbert and the Norman Themes contest with Ivanhoe’s and the Saxon Themes. At 4:09 a fierce horn and drum driven ostinato surges as the Saxons drive their battle ram into the castle gate. A powerful crescendo explodes at 4:33 as the castle gate is breeched, unleashing a ferocious accelerando as the Saxons overwhelm the Normans. A grim statement of the Norman Theme sounds at 5:22 as de Bois-Guilbert and de Bracy realize the castle is lost and plan an ignoble escape using Rowena and Rebecca as human shields. A fierce crescendo carries Ivanhoe ever upward as he fights his way to Rowena. A diminuendo a 5:57 supports de Bois-Guilbert forcing Rebecca to flee with him, and de Bracy attempting the same with Rowena. At 6:27 Ivanhoe confronts de Bracy before he can escape with Rowena, their swordplay supported by fierce trumpets and raging drums, which build to a deafening climax with De Bracy giving quarter at 6:46. An affirmation of Ivanhoe’s Theme crowns the moment as Cedric arrives and relieves Ivanhoe who leaves to apprehend de Bois-Guilbert. Yet he is too late as he escapes on horseback using Rebecca as a human shield. We close with a forlorn statement of Rebecca’s Theme as Ivanhoe looks on in despair.

“Farewell” is an aftermath cue. Isaac has delivered 100,000 silver Marks and when combined with what Locksley has collected is enough to free King Richard, yet Ivanhoe brings news that Rebecca faces trial by Prince John for sorcery and demands a ransom of 100,000 silver Marks. Isaac agonizes, yet orders the money sent to free King Richard, thus sacrificing his daughter, as this will serve to protect his people. Ivanhoe pledges to save her and departs. Rowena joins him and confides that she understands his conflict between saving King Richard or Rebecca, and hopes that he can find his way back to her heart. Rózsa supports the poignant moment with an exquisite rendering of her theme on solo oboe doloroso, the score’s finest. We conclude at court with ominous horns portending Rebecca’s doom as she prepares for trial as a witch, with a punishment of being burned at the stake.

“Challenge And Finale” provides the score’s emotional apogee. Rebecca is sentenced to death and Ivanhoe burst forth challenging the verdict and demanding trial by combat. A bold and proud statement of his theme supports his declaration and crests with a flourish, countered by the Norman Theme as Prince John appoints de Bois-Guilbert as his champion. We conclude the scene with proud affirmation of Ivanhoe’s Theme as he pledges his sword to Rebecca. At 1:44 the trial by combat assembles three day later outside at the Lists of Ashby supported by thunderous drum strikes as the camera pans over the assembly. De Bois-Guilbert makes one last plea to Rebecca, stating that he will stand down and accept exile and dishonor to save her life if she will commit to him in love. She pauses and replies, that they are all in God’s hands, thus rejecting his offer, which enrages him as he states that both she and Ivanhoe will soon be dead. As the court’s champion De Bois-Guilbert is given first choice of weapon and chooses mace and chain, Ivanhoe choose the axe. The battle is scored by source music, consisting of drum strikes that is omitted from the album. De Bois-Guilbert gains the upper hand by knocking Ivanhoe off his mount. After he smashes the shield from his hands all seems lost, but Ivanhoe manages to ensnare De Bois-Guilbert’s mace, yank him from his horse and then deliver a mortal blow to his chest. At 2:02 Rózsa supports the approach of King Richard and his knights with resounding antiphonal heraldic fanfare propelled by drums, within which we hear strains of Ivanhoe’s Theme. As King Richard arrives the usurper Prince John grudgingly kneels to affirm his fealty. A diminuendo of regret at 2:41 carries us to De Bois-Guilbert’s dying confession of his eternal love for Rebecca supported by a last, fleeting statement of his theme. At 3:40 we are graced by a stirring ascent by Rebecca’s Theme as she confides to Rowena that she does not love Ivanhoe and that he was always committed to her. The inclusion of contrapuntal French horns offers the theme’s most evocative and achingly beautiful exposition of the score. We flow seamlessly at 4:22 into a proud rendering of Ivanhoe’s Theme atop horns trionfanti, which closes the film with a bravado flourish! At 5:16 we segue into the end credits atop Ivanhoe’s Theme, which culminates in a refulgent flourish.

Please allow me to thank Douglass Fake and Intrada Records for this long-sought rerecording of Miklós Rózsa’s masterpiece, “Ivanhoe”. The production, audio quality and performance of the Sinfonia of London under the gifted baton of Bruce Broughton were all exceptional and the album provides an excellent listening experience. Quo Vadis (1951) and Ivanhoe (1952) affirmed that Miklós Rózsa was peerless in composing for Epic films. He provided eight primary themes, as well as secondary motifs and fanfares, which brought Æneas MacKenzie’s screenplay to life, and assured that Richard Thorpe realized his vision. In scene after scene Rózsa’s music enhanced and elevated the film’s narrative, often achieving a stirring cinematic confluence. His heroic theme for Ivanhoe perfectly captured his strength and nobility, while the themes for Rowena and Rebecca, the two loves of his life, offer sumptuous romantic writing of the highest order. The contrapuntal action writing in my judgement is the finest in Rózsa’s canon, revealing a ferocity, complexity and richness rarely achieved in the cinema. Folks, the score is one of the finest in Rózsa’s canon, a masterpiece of conception and execution, and a gem from the Golden Age. I highly recommend you purchase this exception album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the stunning and ferocious action cue “Saxon Victory” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrfViNEfTAs

Buy the Ivanhoe soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (2:15)
  • Ransom (3:12)
  • Rotherwood (1:09)
  • Lady Rowena (2:15)
  • Sir Cedric (0:30)
  • Squire Wamba (4:38)
  • Rebecca (1:00)
  • The Intruder (3:43)
  • The Rivals (4:55)
  • Sheffield (0:38)
  • Rebecca’s Love (5:13)
  • Search (1:53)
  • Torquilstone Castle (3:16)
  • Bois-Guilbert’s Bargain (3:31)
  • The Battlement (7:15)
  • Saxon Victory (7:53)
  • Farewell (2:36)
  • Challenge and Finale (5:58)

Running Time: 61 minutes 50 seconds

Intrada MAF-7055D (1952/1994)

Music composed by Miklós Rózsa. Conducted by Bruce Broughton. Performed by the Sinfonia of London. Original orchestrations by Hugo Friedhofer, Milan Roder, Bernard Kaun and Ray Heindorf. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Score produced by Miklós Rózsa. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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