Home > Reviews > JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS – Bernard Herrmann

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS – Bernard Herrmann

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Charles Schneer and famed stop-motion photography master Ray Harryhausen decided that their fourth collaboration would take them to the realm of the ancient Greek myths. They chose the epic hero’s quest tale of Jason and his Argonaut crew who sail to the ends of the earth in search of the Golden Fleece, born from a winged ram and a symbol of divine sanction and kingship. Schneer would produce the film using his Morningside Productions company in partnership with Columbia pictures. A very generous budget of $3 million was provided and Don Chaffey was tasked with directing. Beverly Cross and Jan Read were hired to write the screenplay and a fine cast was assembled, which included Todd Armstrong in the titular role, joined by Nancy Kovack as Medea, Gary Raymond as the villain Acastus, Laurence Naismith as Argus, Niall MacGinnis as Zeus, Honor Blackman as Hera, Jack Gwillim as King Aeetes, John Carey as Hylas, and Nigel Green as Hercules.

The usurper Pelias overthrows King Aristo of Thessaly, yet a prophecy foretells that one of Aristo’s children will avenge him. Pelias murders Aristo’s daughter in Hera’s temple, thus defaming her while his son Jason escapes under Hermes protection. Hera warns Pelias that a man wearing one sandal will one day overthrow him. Twenty years later Jason by chance save Pelias’ life, yet in doing so loses a sandal. He encourages Jason to seek the Golden Fleece hoping that he will be killed along the way. Well, Jason obtains the strongest ship ever built, recruits a fine crew, which includes Hercules and sets off on a journey where he must battle many mythical beasts and the forces of nature herself. He eventually arrives at the land of Colchis where the fleece resides, but is betrayed by Acastus to Aeetes, who imprisons Jason and his men. Ye Jason is freed by Aeetes daughter Medea, who has fallen in love with him. They set off for the fleece, defeat the its’s guardian the Hydra, and return a hero, marrying Medea and restoring his dynasty to the throne of Thessaly. Unfortunately, this was the first time Schneer lost money on a Harryhausen project as the film only earned $2.1 million, far short of its $3 million budget. The film however received widespread critical acclaim for its story-telling and astounding special effects. It failed to secure any Academy Award nominations; however it is today considered a cult classic.

Schneer would again select Bernard Herrmann to score the film, but this would be their last collaboration as the professional relation had soured over the music budget, which Herrmann believed was insufficient. Herrmann understood that this mythic tapestry afforded him a tremendous opportunity and so chose once again an audacious approach for scoring the film – eliminating the entire string section of the orchestra! He wanted to create music, which exuded heroism and martial power and so greatly enhanced the remaining three sections of the orchestra. The woodwinds section was increased to 4 flutes and piccolos, 6 oboes, 6 English horns, 6 clarinets including bass and contrabass clarinets, 6 bassoons including contrabassoons. The horn section was increased to 8 French horns, 6 trumpets, 6 trombones and 4 tubas. A massive 26 percussion instruments were assembled, which included two groups of 5 timpani, 4 suspended cymbals, 2 crash cymbals, 1 large tam-tam and 1 medium tam-tam, bass drums of various sizes, tenor drums, snare drums, wood blocks, tambourines, castanets, xylophones, glockenspiel, chimes, triangles and vibraphone. To top this off, he added a choir of 4 harps.

Herrmann offers a multiplicity of themes and astounding set pieces for his soundscape. There are three themes associated with the Argo and her crew; the Argonauts Anthem speaks to legendary ship Argo and serves as its proud identity as it sets forth on a glorious adventure. It is conceived to emote as support for the ship’s propulsion by its rowers, utilizing a rowing cadence provided by timpani strikes, clashing cymbals, and propelled by unison horns bravura. Subsequent statements are joined by woodwinds animato with a choir of sparking harp glissandi. The Argonauts Struggle Theme offers a six-note horn line descending in scale with an ascending line of tuba and bassoons moving in contrary motion. It supports moments when the Argo and her crew are under duress and struggling. The Argonauts Fanfare offers dramatic fanfare by trumpet and trombones brilliante and speaks to the heroism of the crew. Like all fanfares, it is boldly declarative and proudly heraldic in its expression. There are three themes associated with Olympus. The Olympus Theme offers a shimmering other worldly construct born by chimes, glockenspiel, triangle and ethereal harp that speaks to the heavenly realm of the Olympian deities, far removed from the realm of man. The Gods Theme speaks personally to the gods themselves and offers a repeating nine-note construct born by a plucked harp tranquillo joined by a strummed harp. When the melody transfers to solo flute delicato, its articulation becomes sublime. There is a serenity and calmness that is soothing to the soul. Lastly, we have the Olympian Fanfare, which resounds on heraldic horns brilliante, regal and refulgent declarations that declare the pristine beauty and magnificence of this mighty kingdom.

Hera’s Theme offers a repeating six-note construct, which emotes with a comforting and protective maternal warmth born by a choir of clarinets. Talos’ Theme speaks to the enormity of the bronze god, and is empowered by a thunderous four-note construct born by an imposing choir of four tubas and two pounding and opposing sets of five timpani. Triton’s Theme also speaks to the massive size and brute strength of the god. Powerful declarations by unison horns buttressed with swelling low woodwinds and tubas bellicoso ascend mightily as the god rises forth from the watery depths to stay the collapse of the clashing rocks. The synergy of music and Harryhausen’s dynamation is astounding. The Harpies Theme is brilliant in both its conception and execution. To support the diabolical torment of these horrific winged creatures, Herrmann uses a two-note phrase countered by rapid fluttering woodwinds, harp glissandi and four piercing piccolos to evoke their menace and flying attacks. The music ebbs and flows like currents of wind, perfecting supporting their flapping wings and horrific screeching.

Medea’s Theme serves as both her identity, and as a love theme for her and Jason. Its melody while warm and tender, lacks both ardor and passion, indeed there is a tinge of sadness in the notes as though their love is not destined to have a happy outcome. Woodwinds tenero including clarinets, oboe and English Horn carry the melodic line, later joined by soft French horns. The Golden Fleece Theme offers a “not of this world” construct as it is a gift from the gods. Three bold descending chord declarations by horns brilliante support its refulgent appearance. Restatement by vibraphone with ethereal glissandi by a choir of four harps is breathtaking. There is also nuance to be found, as the Fleece is intrinsically linked to its guardian, the Hydra. As such Herrmann weaves into the theme a darker undercurrent by unison clarinets, which speak to the Hydra’s lurking presence. The Hydra Teeth Theme offers a diabolical construct, which supports the dark magic Aeetes will evoke to transform them into horrific warriors of Hekate. Herrmann draws on classical references by joining a repeating, descending sixteen-note trilling clarinet line, replete with timpani strikes and a dramatic quote of the iconic Dies Irae theme by dark, low register horns of doom. Lastly, as was his custom, Herrmann uses short three to six-note repeating motifs to propel a scene’s narrative, to impart as sense of mystery, or sow tension.

“Jason Prelude” offers a score highlight where Herrmann showcases his three themes for the Argo with a magnificent ABC – ABC exposition. We open boldly with rhythmic timpani strikes and unison horns bravura declarations of the Argonauts Anthem as the Columbia Studios logo displays. We segue into the roll of the opening credits, which display over a stylized Greek mural on which we see images of the adventure soon to unfold. At 0:31 we flow into the Struggle Theme, which offers a six-note horn line descending in scale with an ascending line of tuba and bassoons moving in contrary motion. At 0:43 the Argo Fanfare resounds atop trumpet and trombones brilliante for a dramatic statement. We repeat the thematic cycle, ending atop the Argo Fanfare, which ends gloriously in a flourish! “The Prophecy” reveals a soothsayer reading the wisdom of the embers to portend Pelias’s fate. He declares that Pelias has the divine sanction of Zeus’s. He foretells that he will slay his brother King Aristo and become King of Thessaly. The dialogue sets the story into motion, and Herrmann creates a dark misterioso with a bassoon choir emoting shifting modal chords, replete with ethereal harp arpeggios to add potency to the prophecy. At 0:47 bass clarinets join the choir as the soothsayer cautions Pelias that he is also destined at a time of Zeus’s bidding, to lose the throne to one of Aristo’s children. The choir becomes menacing as Pelias raises his sword and declares, that all of Aristo’s children will also be slain, with a final harp arpeggio concluding the scene. At 1:53 we segue violently into “The Battle” atop martial horns bellicoso, wood block strikes, drums and tambourine as we see Pelias’ troops overwhelming royalist guards. Grim, malevolent low woodwinds join in a swelling horn propelled furioso as the carnage worsens and Pelias searches for Aristo and his children. We end with a diminuendo of uncertainty as Bresis lays her baby sister Philomena on the altar in the temple of Hera and pleads for her protection.

“The Desecration” Pelias enter the temple and demands to know if the woman is Brises, daughter of Aristo, yet he is silenced by a silhouetted figure (Hera) lurking in the shadows. Low woodwinds drape the conversation with menace and uncertainty as Pelias is advised that Brises has called upon Hera’s protection. Undeterred, he viciously stabs her declaring it is the will of Zeus, only to be rebuked by the mysterious women. She declares that the gods have abandoned him, that he alone is responsible for her murder, and that one day, a one sandaled man, Jason, son of Aristo will overthrow him. Herrmann again weaves a dark tapestry born my foreboding low woodwinds to underscore the power of Hera’s words. In “The Warning” Hera departs with words of warning supported by a menacing bassoon – “Kill Jason, and you Kill yourself.” The Olympus Fanfare resounds on refulgent horns and bells brilliante, which carry her departure and ascent to the magnificent ethereal splendor that is Olympus. Shimmering harp glissandi intone the Gods Theme and bring her to Zeus’ presence. She requests and is granted divine patronage of Jason and will be allowed to assist him five times to overthrow Pelias. Subtle harp figures support the conversation. The music for these two cues is not found on the album. It is twenty years later and we see Pelias riding alone by a river in “River Bank”. A five-note flute ostinato draped with plucked harp intensifies with flute joined to horns. At 0:17 startling horns erupt as Hera suddenly appears, causing Pelias’ horse to rear and throw him into the river. A grim bassoon with kindred woodwinds support Pelias reaching the surface to see at 0:31 Hera, graced by shimmering harp glissandi. He is angry and foreboding woodwinds carry his swim to shore. At 0:46 Hera, supported by harp glissandi, enters the waters and pulls Pelias out into deep waters where he struggles. The now urgent horn ostinato returns with a bubbling bassoon counter at 0:47 as Jason runs, and then swims to rescue Pelias. Grim woodwinds and portentous horns support Jason reaching Pelias and helping him to shore, as a harp glissandi lifts Hera out of the waters. Plaintive woodwinds express Pelias’ anxiety, which is crowned with low register horns of menace at 1:26 as he views the man’s feet and discovers he wears only one sandal – Jason.

“The Feast” opens with the Olympian harp glissandi supporting Hera’s departure. Pelias invites Jason to his camp and their arrival is supported by a festive danza exotica as women dance and entertain. To buy time, Pelias encourages Jason to build a ship and journey to Colchis to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece. He accepts and later Pelias commands his son Acastus to accompany him to ensure he never returns. In “The Oak Grove” Hermes, disguised as a man plays the Gods Theme on plucked and strummed harps. Hermes counsels Jason to seek the assistance of the gods, yet he resists as he is not a believer. Herrmann supports the discourse perfectly, and we hear a serenity in the notes, and a comforting paternal warmth as the melody is taken up by first solo flute delicato and then a woodwind choir as Hermes asks him to stand on a pedestal. We segue into “The Ascension” at 0:52 as the melody swells and assumes a regal bearing, joined by resounding declarations of the Olympian Fanfare as Hermes transforms into his god form and grows to an imposing height. Hermes, and then Jason are enveloped by a shimmering mist and transported to the hallowed halls of Olympus as the horns brilliante resounds to declare its magnificence. “Mount Olympus” reveals Hermes arrival as Hera and Zeus play a military board game. Herrmann creates the perfect ambiance with the shimmering metallic, ethereal splendor of the Olympus Theme. Hera loses, and Hermes arrives and deposits the minute Jason on the game board, supported by harp glissandi. The rest of the scene is unscored as Jason refuses Zeus’ aid, and hears that Hera will be his benefactress for the voyage. She advises him to seek the fleece in the distant land of Colchis, and he declares he will build the greatest ship ever to sail, and hold Olympic games to select the finest crew ever assembled.

In “The Olympic Games” horns reale and snare drums announce the games as we see a montage of Greece’s finest athletes competing to join the crew. Each man who wins a contest and is awarded a spot on the crew by Jason is supported with a fanfare of victory. At 0:51 an ever shifting martial five-note ostinato motif supports the bravado arrival of Hercules. The cue ends here, but in the film the Olympus Theme shimmers with radiant splendor as the gods revel in Hylas’ clever victory with the discus over Hercules. We close with the Olympus Fanfare as Jason rejoices that he has found the greatest crew in Greece. “Departure” reveals the ship has been built, and Jason honors its builder Argus, by naming it the Argo. Argus has at Hera’s bidding placed the figurehead at the stern, and when he unveils it, Jason sees it is carved in the image of Hera. Herrmann introduces her comforting and maternal theme with a soft choir of clarinets. At 0:23 the music darkens and becomes portentous as the Argo sails off to her destiny. At 0:52 things brighten as a confident rendering of the Argonauts Anthem enters and supports beautiful sea vistas with drifting cloudscapes. At 1:23 the Struggle Theme descends as the wind comes out of the Argo’s sails, and their fresh water is exhausted as the men row under the searing sun. Herrmann evokes the stifling heat and the crew’s toil with a bleak landscape of forlorn woodwinds and dire horn calls.

In “Hera’s Effigy” Jason solicits her assistance and she directs them to the Isle of Bronze, the foundry of the gods. Her maternal theme born on a choir of clarinets supports as she advises him that they must take nothing but food and water from the island. We end darkly as she issues her warning. “Set Sail!” reveals Jason ordering the crew to set sail to an island where food and drink in plentiful. Portentous horns resound as the ship’s sails are unfurled and the winds return. The music for this scene is not found on the album. In “Argo” we see the Argo sailing against a burning sunset propelled by a proud and confident rendering of the Argonaut Anthem, embellished with bright churning woodwinds. The music darkens atop timpani strikes and muted foreboding horns as the Argo arrives and sails into a large bay. We close at 1:12 with portentous horns as the men disembark to collect food and water. “The Titans” reveals Hercules and Hylas pursuing goats into the valley of the gods, where they behold massive bronze statues of the gods. They are awestruck and Herrmann speaks to their enormity with foreboding five-note phrases by horns solenne and low register woodwind grave. At 1:46 we segue into “The Chamber” as they enter the pedestal door and are stunned to discover the treasure vault of the gods. Herrmann sow’s a twinkling harp adorned misterioso that dances over foreboding clarinets as we see pearls, gold and silver shimmering in the light. Hercules, against Hylas’ counsel decides to take a metal javelin for a weapon, which leads to at 2:36 a segue into “The Door” as tension horns sound with woodwind counters as the door slams shut. Hercules forces the door open, allowing the two to escape.

“Talos” offers an awesome score highlight and its most powerful cue where Herrmann brings the guardian Talos to life, achieving a perfect cinematic synergy with Harryhausen’s dynamation. As the men look back at the monument, Talos comes to life empowered by his theme, a monstrous, repeating four-note construct born of four unison tubas joined by a choir of bassoons. The men flee as he dismounts his pedestal and at 0:36 two sets of thunderous timpani join as Talos pursues on foot. As he clears the beach side cliffs Jason and the crew flee to the Argo in a panic and prepare for an emergency departure. At 1:11 the thunderous timpani strikes transform into a marcia del’inferno as Talos advances, propelled by his menacing theme towards the Argo. At 1:33 we segue into “The Boat” as a variant of the Argo Fanfare by martial trumpets and kindred horns sound the alarm as the men desperately row to gain safety in the bay. The Argo Fanfare and Talos March contest as the men row to exit the bay and gain the safety of open water as Talos walks to the bay’s narrow inlet strait and positions himself astride to bar their escape. At 2:50, an accelerando takes us into “The Wreck” as the monstrous Talos Theme is now ascendant as the men make a futile attempt to reverse course. At 2:29 horns bellicoso resound as Talos reaches down to grab the Argo. At 3:34 horn cries declarations join as he grasps the Argo, shakes its crew from the deck, shatter’s its mast, and then tosses the ship into the bay. The full complement of woodwinds, horns and percussion swell and achieve a monstrous confluence as we see Talos avenge Hercules’ theft. We end darkly on a diminuendo of uncertainty as Jason swims to Hera’s broken figurehead.

In “Hera Speaks” Jason asks for counsel on how to defeat Talos. She advises him to seek Talos’ heel for a weakness. A sad rendering of Hera’s Theme by a clarinet choir supports the scene. The next three cues offer some of the score’s most dynamic action music. “The Attack” reveals the argonauts swimming to shore only to encounter the wrath of Talos. As the Titan moves towards the men Herrmann empowers him with his theme transformed into a monstrous anthem. At 1:08 we flow into “Talos Heel” on a diminuendo as Talos moves past Jason, who has hidden in the cliff face. The march dissipates and loses vital energy as Jason spots the weakness Hera spoke of on Talos’ heel. Talos’ Theme returns, but it is shorn of its monstrous power as aggrieved trombones sound over timpani joined by grim low register woodwinds as Jason uses a spear to unscrew a heel plug. Talos is distracted by the argonauts and at 1:40 we segue into “Talos Death” as Jason succeeds in unscrewing the heel plug. As molten metal flows out of the heel, dire horns resound in a stepped ascent over pounding timpani as Talos’ life force drains from his body. At 2:02 dissonant horns full of pain resound as Talos’ life drains away. As his bronze shell begins to crack and he starts to wobble, a horn descent empowered by timpani support his demise. At 2:33 three final declarations by writhing horns wailing in agony mark the end of Talos. We close with blaring staccato horns of death as Talos falls and crushes Hylas who foolishly went back to retrieve Hercules’ javelin.

“Restoring the Argo” reveals the men repairing the Argo to make her fit for the sea. Herrmann supports their efforts with the trio of Argo themes; Fanfare, Anthem and Struggle. The music for this scene is not found on the album. In “Sorrow” Hercules is despondent, feeling responsible for the loss of his friend Hylas. He advises Jason that he will not continue the voyage until he finds Hylas. A choir of grieving bassoons supports his departure. The men refuse to continue without Hercules, which forces Jason to reveal Hera to them. At 0:39 we segue into “Hera’s Warning” supported by her sad theme by a retinue of bassoons as she advises the men that Hylas is dead, that Hercules is not fated to continue the voyage, and that they are to sail for Phrygia to seek counsel from the Phineas the blind. Portentous horns resound as the men prepare to depart in “The Voyage to Phrygia”. Herrmann employs a repeating four-note horn motif and a descending line of grim woodwinds to support the voyage, which is not found on the album. Phineas has been blinded by Zeus and condemned to cruel harassment by the Harpies for abusing his gift of prophesy. In “The Harpies” we are offered a score highlight where Herrmann masterfully achieves a perfect confluence with Harryhausen’s beasts. Two women bring Phineas his supper, yet as soon as they leave the grotesque Harpies arrive to torment him and prevent him from eating. Herrmann supports their attacks with a full exposition of the Harpies Theme using a two-note phrase countered by rapid fluttering woodwinds, harp glissandi and four piercing piccolos to evoke their menace and flying attacks. The music ebbs and flows like currents of wind, perfecting supporting their flapping wings and horrific screeching.

Jason and his men arrive, and Phineas agrees to assist on condition that they free him from the torment of the harpies. In “The Nets” They have moved the supper table into the interior of the temple. Aloft they have set large fishing nets, which they intend to drop and trap the Harpies. Herrmann supports their trap and sow’s tension with a repeating six-note motif for clarinet. The Harpies arrive, and the motif shifts to horns as they move to the temple steps in search of Phineas. As they commence their attack the motif shifts back and forth from clarinet to muted trumpets and trombones over a descending woodwind line replete with struck harp as we see the men aloft setting the net and draping the four sides of the temple. They enter and battle the Harpies with spears to no avail. A stepped ascent commences at 1:18 as the Harpies seek escape followed by a descent as they are blocked by the nets. Trilling piccolos and kindred woodwinds join to support their rage as Jason signals his men to stand ready to cut the ropes. At 1:37 we segue into “The Rope” where Jason orders the rope cut, which drops the net. A torrent of flutter-tongue horns, woodwind surges, cymbal crashes and tam-tam support as the net descends and traps the Harpies. Victory is crowned by repeating celebratory declarations by horns triofali. We conclude at 1:19 with “The Cage” as an ethereal vibraphone supports Phineas’ joy as he eats his dinner as the caged Harpies watch from afar. As a parting gift, he gives Jason a pendant of the god Triton for protection.

“Medea’s Ship” offers a powerful score highlight. It reveals the ship of Medea, priestess daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis’ pummeled and sunk by the clashing rocks. Herrmann supports the massive rock falls with a thundering timpani storm, joined by six-note woodwind surges and a torrent of horn declarations including a choir of tuba playing in their highest register. The confluence of cinematography and music is astounding! In “Triton” Herrmann again demonstrates mastery of his craft as we behold perhaps the score’s most powerful cue. Jason orders the Argo to proceed only to trigger the clashing rocks. In disdain of the gods, he throws the Triton pendant into the sea, which to his astonishment brings forth the Titan from the watery depths. Powerful declarations of Triton’s Theme manifest the massive size and brute strength of the god as he rises forth from the watery depths to stay the collapse of the clashing rocks. Powerful declarations by unison horns emote his theme buttressed with swelling low woodwinds and contrapuntal tubas bellicose, which ascend mightily over thundering timpani. The full range of the orchestra from growling tubas to shrieking piccolos propel the action as the Argo sails safely through the churning waters. The synergy of music, cinematography and Harryhausen’s dynamation is simply astounding. In “Jason Rescues Medea” a woman is seen on floating wreckage and Jason dives in and rescues her. Herrmann unleashes propulsive horns dramatico empowered by contrapuntal thundering timpani to support the heroic rescue, music not found on the album.

“Medea” reveals Jason coming to her enclosure where he discovers she is from Colchis, and is high priestess of Hekate. She is clearly thankful and attracted to Jason, which Herrmann supports with a soft and tender exposition of her theme by woodwinds tenero including clarinets, oboe and English Horn, later joined by soft French horns. “Acastus and Jason Fight” offers a dynamic and kinetic action cue. Jason at last exposes Acastus’ treachery and a sword fight ensues. Herrmann propels the action with amazing ferocity. Woodwinds irato growl against timpani as the men arm, the music exploding into an ever-shifting ostinato by horns bellicoso and surging woodwinds as timpani pound powerfully. A crescendo of fury rises, replete with piccolo shrieks as Jason gains the upper hand. We crest atop trilling French horns as Acastus jumps ship at spearpoint. “Jason and Medea” reveals that Eupaemus has died fighting Acastus and Jason orders him to be buried at sea. Elegiac horns sound as the men prepare. Medea comes to Jason who was wounded in the fight and offers to heal him. We see a growing attraction in his eyes and a tender rendering of the Love Theme supports the scene. Later, on land she places a healing balm on the wound, which heals immediately. The Love Theme supports the moment, and an ethereal harp glissando the healing. The music for these scenes is not found on the album.

In “Temple Dance” King Aeetes hosts Jason, who is introduced by Medea. Herrmann supports her erotic dance with a syncopated danza exotica draped in Arabic auras, carried by bubbling woodwinds, and drums, replete with tambourine and harp choir adornment. At 1:44 the music darkens with subtle phrasing of the Love Theme embedded as she dons her high priestess robe and moves to greet her father. The music for the following four scenes is not found on the album. In “King Aeetes” he enters with his royal guard carried by declarations of horns reale. He greets Jason, thanks him and invites he and his men to a feast tonight. As Jason looks at Medea a tender rendering of the Love Theme reveals his attraction. Later that night an exotic flute with ornate percussion supports the feast. “Acastus’ Betrayal” reveals an enraged King Aeetes exposing Jason’s duplicity thanks to a warning by Acastus. A repeating ten-note motif by dire horns supported by timpani and a grim four-note descending motif by bassoons support the arrest of Jason and his me, joined by Acastus’ who arrives with smug satisfaction. In “Medea Prays to Hekate” Medea pleads to the goddess that she must save Jason with the choice of either betraying her people, or betraying her heart. Herrmann bathes us with plaintive woodwinds draped with darkness to support the scene. “Medea frees Jason” reveals Medea freeing Jason and confessing her love for him. We are graced with the score’s most romantic rendering of the Love Theme as all pretenses are dropped and Medea abandons her country for Jason. As they escape a kinetic, repeating four-note ostinato by horns dramatico carry their progress.

In “The Glade” Acastus traverses the glade carried by energetic snare drums and portentous woodwinds, which crescendo when he finds the Golden Fleece. As we behold its shimmering golden light, the first phrase of the Golden Fleece Theme resounds on horns brilliante. At 0:26 Jason enters the glade carried by dark three-note woodwind motif. At 1:38 we segue into “The Golden Fleece” graced by ethereal vibraphone and harp glissandi emoting the Golden Fleece Theme as Jason discovers its shimmering brilliance. We close on a diminuendo of uncertainty as he approaches the fleece. “The Hydra” reveals the monstrous nine-headed Hydra, which ambushes Jason before he can remove the fleece. Herrmann supports the beast stalking Jason by repeating two dark, other-worldly chords by vibraphone, low woodwinds, horns sinistre and ethereal harp glissandi. As the beast closes a dire four-note motif descends to the darkest regions of the orchestra until 0:34 when monstrous menacing horns of doom carry us into “The Hydra Fight”, an astounding score highlight where Jason engages the beast. Herrmann creates a menacing serpentine sense of motion with the orchestra to carry the battle. As the Hydra’s nine heads rise and fall, so do grim woodwinds and growling horns, which also shift from loud to soft statements as ethereal harps shimmer above the fray. As the fight intensifies at 1:43 and Jason loses his shield and tries to outflank the beast, dissonant horns growl as woodwinds sinistre descend to their darkest depths. Serpentine woodwinds support his dodging runs until 2:44 when a monstrous crescendo of horror swells as Jason is caught by one of the Hydra’s two tails. The crescendo dissipates at 3:24 when he manages to cut himself free, but then finds himself laying vulnerable on the ground. Yet he sees an opening at 3:34 and thrust his sword into its heart, mortally wounding it as horrific horns shriek with pain. A grotesques dissonant storm descends as the Hydra’s writhes in pain, and dissipates as death comes.

“Aftermath” reveals Jason being joined by his men who warn that Aeetes approaches. Timpani strikes and a grim repeating three-note motif for woodwinds portend danger, and Jason orders Argus to take Medea and the fleece, and flee to the Argo. As he approaches the fleece the shimmering brilliance of the Golden Fleece Theme radiates ethereal wonderment. This music is not found on the album. In “The Stolen Fleece” Jason, Medea and his men flee with the fleece as Aeetes arrives. A repeating trilling motif by an array of woodwinds, dire horns and timpani propel their flight. At 0:48 powerful horns bellicoso resound in “The Teeth” as King Aeetes calls upon the goddess Hekate to deliver to him the children of the Hydra’s teeth. Fiery bolts descend and incinerate the Hydra and dark, malignant woodwinds emote a terrible purpose. At 1:40 the Hydra Teeth Theme, a shifting diabolical sixteen-note construct by dire horns and woodwinds joins with the Dies Irae melody to support Aeetes ordering his men to cutout and bring him the Hydra’s teeth. “The Path” reveals Jason and the group fleeing with Aeetes men in close pursuit. A deafening, repeating and ever shifting martial, five-note motif propels their flight until 0:55 when Medea is shot in the back with an arrow. A dire, repeating three-note motif by low woodwinds portends death as Jason demands the fleece and we segue into “The Cure” at 1:19. He places the fleece on her and the mystical shimmering radiance of the Golden Fleece Theme supports her miraculous healing.

In “Hydra’s Teeth” Aeetes arrives and declares that Jason and his pirates will all die. As he tosses the Hydra’s teeth upon the ground Herrmann sow’s fear by reprising his sixteen-note Hydra’s Teeth Theme in which diabolical horn blares and sinister chartering woodwinds join in unholy communion with the legendary Dies Irae melody. At 0:41 we segue into “Skeletons” as a dark pedal underpins vile and grotesques chattering woodwinds and castanets, which support the eruption of hideous skeletal warriors from the earth. At 1:26 we segue into “Attack” where King Aeetes orders them to kill Jason and his men, which Herrmann supports with a monstrous marcia del’inferno replete with snare drums, castanets and wood block percussion. “Scherzo Macabre” offers a masterpiece cue, which earns Herrmann immortality. A horrific shriek initiates the battle charge, which Herrmann supports with a brilliantly conceived diabolical scherzo. Remarkable is that every conceivable method of horn playing is employed including; open, muted, stopped and flutter-tongue. The battle is propelled by dire horns, chattering woodwinds, piano, xylophone, wood blocks, tambourine and harp. The music not only supports the intense fighting, but it also syncs and mimics the movement of the skeletons. Indeed, we see Herrmann’s genius as the music and the skeletons become one. The skeletons are relentless and with Jason the only man left, they close in for the kill. As Jason leaps off the cliff into the sea below the skeletons follow to their doom as a solo trumpet blares, ending with a percussion crash as they all hit the water. In “Finale” the first 1:01 of the cue was dialed out of the film. We end with Zeus ordaining that he will save Jason for new adventures, and as Hera observes him and Medea kissing, we close with a final grand reprise of the Argonaut Anthem. The album offers Herrmann’s original conception, which opens with dark guttural woodwinds, which gradually warm and usher in at 0:24 a beautiful, idyllic melody born by woodwinds gentile with plucked harp adornment, which I believe was intended to support Jason and Medea’s closing kiss.

I wish to commend Douglass Fake and Intrada Records for this magnificent re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s masterwork, “Jason and the Argonauts”. The audio recording by Mike Ross-Trevor, and mastering by Joe Tarantino provides exception audio quality. The inspired performance of the Sinfonia of London under Bruce Broughton’s baton was just outstanding. Herrmann was renowned for utilizing unique instrument sonorities not heard in the classical music realm to create unusual soundscapes. His creative decision to shed the string section of the orchestra was audacious and for me, succeeded on all counts. Both of these contributed to one of the most unusual and spectacular film scores of the day, which has lost none of its luster. The Argo was as much a character in the story as the argonauts, and the trio of themes Herrmann conceived propelled them to legend. Also brilliantly conceived was the trio of themes used for Olympus, the realm of the gods, as well as their handiwork, the Golden Fleece. The resplendent, shimmering splendor he imparted supported their magnificence, and provided a perfect contrast to the world of men. Once again, Herrmann brilliantly conceived astounding instrument sonorities to support the beasts Jason encountered in the film, with each perfectly attenuated to their size, appearance and movement. Indeed, if you watch these scenes, we realize that the music does not accompany, rather it joins and becomes one with the beast. This score reveals Herrmann’s genius of conception and mastery of his craft. I believe it to be one of the finest fantasy genre scores in his canon, and a gem of the Silver Age. I highly recommend you purchase this exceptional album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the astounding Scherzo Macabre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj7datxrLB4

Buy the Jason and the Argonauts soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Jason Prelude (1:54)
  • The Prophecy/The Battle (3:31)
  • River Bank (1:42)
  • The Feast (0:59)
  • The Oak Grove/The Ascension (1:50)
  • Mount Olympus (0:30)
  • The Olympic Games (1:14)
  • Departure (2:11)
  • Hera’s Effigy (1:43)
  • Argo (1:33)
  • The Titans/The Chamber/The Door (2:51)
  • Talos/The Boat/The Wreck (4:30)
  • Hera Speaks (0:57)
  • The Attack/Talos Heel/Talos Death (3:21)
  • Sorrow/Hera’s Warning (1:40)
  • The Harpies (1:46)
  • The Nets/The Rope/The Cage (2:32)
  • Medea’s Ship (1:31)
  • Triton (2:25)
  • Medea (1:59)
  • Acastus and Jason Fight (1:17)
  • Temple Dance (2:24)
  • The Glade/The Golden Fleece (1:06)
  • The Hydra/The Hydra Fight (4:15)
  • The Stolen Fleece/The Teeth (2:18)
  • The Path/The Cure (2:06)
  • Hydra’s Teeth/Skeletons/Attack (2:04)
  • Scherzo Macabre (3:32)
  • Finale (1:27)

Running Time: 61 minutes 08 seconds

Intrada MAF-7083 (1963/1999)

Music composed by Bernard Herrmann. Conducted by Bruce Broughton. Performed by Sinfonia of London. Original orchestrations by Bernard Herrmann. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Score produced by Bernard Herrmann. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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