Home > Reviews > THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY – Alex North

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY – Alex North

February 8, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

20th Century Fox Studio executive Peter Levathes took notice of Irving Stone’s best-selling novel 1961 The Agony and the Ecstasy with almost 51 million copies sold and saw opportunity. He purchased the film rights for $125,000, yet was unable to proceed with the project as the studio suffered significant financial reversals in 1962 due to cost overruns on several films, most notable “Cleopatra”. Industry icon Daryl F. Zanuck was brought in to save the studio, and within 12 months it was again operating in the black. This allowed him to move “The Agony and the Ecstasy” into production. Carol Reed was hired to both produce and direct the film with a $7.2 million budget. A stellar cast was hired including Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II, Diane Cilento as Contessina Antonia Romola de Medici, Harry Andrews as Donata Bramente and Albert Lupo as the Duke of Urbino.

The film explores the contentious relationship between Pope Julius II, AKA the Warrior Pope, and artisan Michelangelo Buonarroti. The Pope conceives of painting the celling vaults of the Sistine Chapel with biblical imagery. He tasks Michelangelo to fulfill his vision, yet Michelangelo resists as he is known for his sculpting, not his painting. Yet the Pope is resolute and Michelangelo proceeds, overcoming self-doubt and initial failure. In time the Pope, whose health is declining becomes impatient and threatens to replace him with fellow artist Raphael. Raphael is awed by what he sees and counsels Michelangelo to show contrition to the Pope so as to complete his handiwork. Michelangelo does so, the Pope restores his position and the project is finally completed. At a celebratory Mass the Pope, who is now in failing health, revels at what he sees. In an act of love Michelangelo’s offers to resume work sculpting his tomb, which Pope Julius gratefully accepts. The film was a commercial flop, losing the studio $5.28 million dollars. It was also not a critical success, with Heston’s unsympathetic performance criticized and the script deemed “too wordy”. It nevertheless earned five Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Film Score.

Post production the creative team decided that to fully understand the film they needed to ‘educate’ the public of just who Michelangelo was – a sculpturer who never wanted to paint. To that end they conceived a documentary, which would be titled “The Artist Who Did Not Want To Paint”. With Alex North’s recommendation, rising talent Jerry Goldsmith was hired for the project. The twelve-and-a-half-minute documentary would consist of five movements; “Rome”, “Florence”, “The Crucifix”, “The Stone Giants” and “The Agony of Creation”. I believe Goldsmith’s composition to be one of the finest in his canon, a view shared by Robert Townson and the late Nic Redman who decided to include it in their magnificent six CD box set “Jerry Goldsmith at 20th Century Fox” by Varese Sarabande. An eight-note Fanfare Memoriam by either horns reverenziale, maestoso or di omaggio underpins the composition. But what sets it apart was Goldsmith’s exquisite writing for strings and woodwinds, which I believe may be the most classical and elegant in his career. His music brought Michelangelo’s handiworks to life and fully matched their beauty, achieving a sublime cinematic confluence.

Alex North’s career was ascendent in the early 1960s with universal praise reaped for his epic scores to Spartacus (1960) and Cleopatra (1963). Zanuck and Reed wanted an epic score for their film, were impressed by North’s accomplishments, and so hired him for the project. Given the setting of early 16th century Rome, North understood the need for infusing his soundscape with sensibilities of the Renaissance and so studied the music of the influential composer Giovanni Gabrielli. Religiosity was paramount and so he chose to compose a modal score utilizing the Dorian and Lydian modes, which were frequently employed in Medieval liturgical music. He also chose to use a 4-meter time signature with most of the score expressed in a march like 4/4 time. Lastly his writing for horns is just outstanding, frequent employing antiphonal declarations, which speak transpersonally to the tension between the Papal States and France, as well as personally for Pope Julius II and Michelangelo. He also added a number of non-tradition instruments to his orchestra including an alto flute, Eb contrabass clarinet, two baritones, ‘hecklephone,’ and bass oboe.

Assisting North would be Alexander Courage who composed period pieces to help establish time and place, as well as Franco Potenza who handled the liturgical choral works. In terms of themes, most of the film is composed of individual set pieces with one main theme underpinning the score. The Agony and the Ecstasy Theme serves as the score’s primary theme and manifests with duality. It speaks to both the suffering endured by Michelangelo, a sculpturer who undertakes the daunting challenge of painting the most immense and monumental fresco imaginable, as well as the kernel of hope, which sustains him. It offers a classical ABA construct with the A Phrase or agony phrase emoting on strings sofferenti, which reflect the plight of Michelangelo’s burden, while the B Phrase or hope phrase is borne by woodwinds tenero, which offer hope, and the realization of Michelangelo’s vision.

“Prologue” offers a twelve-and-a-half-minute documentary composed by Jerry Goldsmith, subtitled ‘The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint’. We commence splendidly with “Rome”, the first movement, which opens with a panoramic view of the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica whose construction was overseen by Michelangelo in 1546. The Memoriam Fanfare born by repeating eight note declarations by slow, emphatic horns riverenziali adorned with bells resound, answered by solemn woodwinds misterioso as narration informs us that Michelangelo was a sculpturer who never wanted to be a painter. At 0:42 soothing harp arpeggios, viola and fluttering flute offer a wondrous pastorale. We shift at 1:31 to solo violin, which ushers in a danza gentile as we hear of his early life in Caprese. At 1:49 a bubbling flute, violin tenero and tambourine sustain the dance and carry us to the marble pits where we hear how Michelangelo learned his craft as we see him chiseling. We conclude with a graceful stepped flute led descent, which supports narration speaking of his goals to bring life to the marble.

At 2:18 the Memoriam Fanfare resounds on French horns maestoso and we segue into “Florence”, Italy’s cultural capital dominated in 1469 by the supreme patron of the arts, Prince Lorenzo the Magnificent. A quivering violin delicato and kindred strings crowned by statements of the Memoriam Fanfare support narration, which relates that Michelangelo discovered the wondrous use of marble in architecture and how he felt his destiny lay in being a sculpturer not a painter. At 3:22 a woodwind pastorale with quivering violin delicato supports views of his first created sculpture at the age of 15, a bar relief called the “Madonna of the Stairs”. At 3:51 intensification by a new motif by low register woodwinds and violin again crowned with the Memoriam Fanfare supports the view of his second work at the age of 17, the massive “Battle of the Centaurs” sculpture. At 4:11 impassioned strings usher in the Memoriam Fanfare as we behold his statue “Bacchus”, commissioned by a wealthy Roman banker, closing with his sculpture, “Apollus”.

At 4:29 we segue into “The Crucifix”, a sculpture commissioned for the Dominicans of Santo Spiritu. Strings solenne usher in embellished Memoriam Fanfare by horns maestoso as we bear witness to the imposing crucifix. Tremolo violins with an ethereal Memoriam Theme in counterpoint unfolds, shifting at 5:32 to the Prologue’s most exquisitely beautiful passage as a yearning violin plays with celli in counterpoint. The melody then shifts to woodwinds and strings as we view, one by one, his magnificent creations; the “Pity Madonna”, “Saint Matthew”, and the “De Medici Tombs” where we achieve a wondrous climax at 6:06 as we view of the “Tomb of Juliana” from afar. At 6:24 fluttering flute delicato, quivering violin tenero and kindred strings support a closer examination of the tomb’s refined detail. We flow seamlessly at 6:47 to a view of “Victory”, a tribute to Lorenzo, Michelangelo’s second father. We conclude at 6:57 as horns solenne reveal the beauty of the “De Medici Madonna”

At 7:22 we segue into “The Stone Giants” atop strings reverenziale with harp adornment as we view the magnificence of the “Pieta of the Domo” in Florence. At 7:45 an exquisite solo violin takes up the melodic line, again with harp adornment, which drapes us in elegiac auras as we view the flawless detail of the “Pieta of Palestrina”. At 8:04 we flow seamlessly into the one of Michelangelo’s immortal works – “David”. Slowly we begin a breath-taking crescendo of wonder as we ascend and culminate at 8:59 with the flawless facial detail crafted by Michelangelo. At 9:06 we segue into “Moses” whom Michelangelo sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julius II, patron of his Sistine Chapel ceiling murals. Horns bravura and strings declare the magnificence of yet another immortal sculpture. At 9:41 glockenspiel ushers in an exquisite homage by strings reverenziale and woodwinds to Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the “Pieta of Saint Peter”, where we behold the pathos of the dead Christ, and serene repose of Mary. We conclude at 10:20 with harp arpeggios, which usher in a solo flute delicato as we view his “Rondanini” – his testament, which he worked on until the last day of his life.

At 10:49 we flow into “The Agony of Creation” atop strings reverenziale, which ascend with passion. Goldsmith offers an evocative exposition as we behold the magnificence of Michelangelo’s architectural legacy of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, which unfolds before our eyes. As the camera reveals the exterior of the Sistine Chapel the narrator states; “The masterpiece of a sculpturer who did not want to paint”. We conclude at 11:48 with declarations of the Memoriam Fanfare by horns di omaggio, which are joined by resplendent strings as we contemplate with one last reprise of the fanfare, the genius that was Michelangelo. Bravo!

Review of the score in Film Scene Context
“Prelude – The Mountains of Carrara” offers a dramatic score highlight where North masterfully sets the tone of the film. There is an album-film variance in that the album opens with eight powerful organ chords not found in the film. In the film, North immediately establishes religioso auras by opening the film powerfully with strings solenne, answered by fanfare maestoso buttressed with timpani as we behold the imposing Carrara mountains. The roll of the opening credits commences as we descend into the quarry where men labor to separate massive blocks of marble to be used for sculpturing or architectural use. At 0:42 horns maestoso resound to support the display of the film title. What unfolds is an extended solemn exposition by strings divisi answered by horn maestoso declarations and timpani accents. At 1:12 aching strings reveal the grueling manual labor of men. At 1:57 the music becomes impassioned as we see men sliding massive marble blocks on wood pallets down the slope where others saw them into smaller pieces. We conclude at 2:24 soaring on a stirring crescendo trionfali, which ends in a flourish as ox pulled transports laden with the marble treasure depart to the market.

“The Warrior Pope” reveals another powerfully persuasive score highlight, which offers a testament to North’s compositional skills. We open with a toccata for woodwinds pastorale, which serve as travelling music that accompanies a caravan of quarried marble weaving through the verdant Italian hills and countryside. At 0:28 dire horns intrude soon joined by field drums of war and martial fanfare as a battle between Papal and French troops erupts in front of the caravan. North utilizes a battaglia of field drums, timpani and trumpets militare to propel the Papal troops as the French flee in a route, cut down by merciless calvary and the Pope himself. Trumpets brilliante resound and support images of the fearless yellow and blue plumed Pope riding forth. We conclude victorious at 2:06 on a resplendent crescendo trionfali as the Pope reaches the city square, removes his helmet, dons the white papal cloak and performs a benediction of victory. The album audio source for “Marble” could not be salvaged, so I describe the music from the film itself. The caravan of marble arrives at the construction site of St. Peters and architect Donato Bramante goes to inspect it. Woodwinds religioso, horns solenne and bells carry their arrival. The music brightens as we see Michelangelo sculpting a massive marble block. After his rival Bramante approaches the music fades as they engage in polite but pointed repartee.

The music for the next three cues is not found on the album. “The Pope Returns” reveals the Pope returning to the Vatican with streets noticeably absent of crowds. Potenza supports his progress with a liturgical piece by boy’s and men’s choir, which is joined by fanfare reale as he enters the royal enclosure. In “The Pope’s Commission” he shelves Michelangelo’s work on his tomb and commands him to create holy frescos of the twelve apostles on the ceiling vaults of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo is dumbstruck as he gazes upwards at the blue fields set with gold stars, supported by a foreboding ascent crescendo. Michelangelo protests fervently, but it is in vain as Julius is resolute in his decision. Plaintive strings religioso support the conversation and Michelangelo’s acquiescence. We flow into “Twelve Apostles” where Julius informs him that the theme of the ceiling fresco will be the Twelve Apostles, with the 12 vaults each having appropriate themes. As Michelangelo kneels in submission, awestruck by the enormity of his task strings reverenziale brighten as though bestowing Divine inspiration. The music carries his departure from Rome and return to Florence. “The Medici” reveals a lavish banquet at the De Medici palace in Florence, which Courage supports with gentile music with the soft dance-like rhythms of the Renaissance. Cardinal De Medici and the beautiful Contessa Antonia De Medici counsel that he should not defy the Pope for a commission offered by the Ottoman Sultan.

“Bramante and Michelangelo Quarrel” reveals the Pope attempting to hold mass in the Sistine Chapel only to be disturbed by a heated argument in the rear between Bramante and Michelangelo over the scaffolding. He sides with Michelangelo and orders Bramante’s version torn down. Potenza supports the scene with another choral liturgical piece, which is not found on the album. “Sketch of the Apostles” reveals parchment sketches being created for etching onto the ceiling fresco as Michelangelo determines his color palette. We open tentatively on flute, low register strings with harpsichord adornment as the Agony Theme unfolds. At 0:44 refulgent strings of the Ecstasy Theme shimmer in religioso auras as paint if lifted upwards to the top of the scaffolding. At 1:32 as the sketches are imprinted on the ceiling, the Ecstasy Theme carried by woodwinds tenero speak of hope. The transfer of the melodic line back to the Agony Theme atop strings divisi with woodwind counterpoint bathes us in stirring religioso auras. A crescendo at 2:01 crests with horns maestoso and timpani as the first painted image is revealed. At 2:21 beleaguered violins join with contrapuntal celli to support Michelangelo’s weariness and decision to quit for the day. We close with the transfer of the Agony Theme on bass grave as Michelangelo walks the dark city streets on his way to saloon.

In “Sour Wine” Michelangelo seeks to relax in a saloon. While waiting for his wine he sketches a portrait of a patron he will use for one of the apostles. He is served sour wine, which he spits out and departs parched and weary. Courage supports the saloon ambiance with festive folk music. The music is not found on the album. “Sketch Destroyed” reveals an angry and frustrated Michelangelo who realizes that his handiwork is inadequate and unworthy. In a rage he vandalizes the two apostolic images he had painted, scraping the plaster off one, throwing red paint on the other, and then tears up his remaining sketches. North supports with a stepped ascent of fury by strings irato, which rage, revealing his torment. “The Pope’s Fury” reveals Julius preparing to depart on another campaign to subdue the city of Bologna, his rousing speech crowned by fanfare reale. He delays departure to visit the Sistine Chapel, having been informed of its vandalism. Julius is furious and insists Michelangelo be found to complete the ceiling or be hanged. As soldiers search the local towns, renaissance flute and kindred woodwinds support their efforts. The music for these scenes is not found on the album.

“Genesis” offers a sublime score highlight. It reveals men, one of which is Michelangelo, hammering spikes into marble cliffs at the Carrara quarry. Soldiers arrive, forcing him to flee into the mountains. Bass grave, forlorn horns and bell tolls support his departure. As he ascends, so too does the string borne melody, now full of yearning, which slowly gains spiritual power. The melody passes to woodwinds reverenziale, which drape us in religioso auras as Michelangelo seeks inspiration to provide him with a grand vision for the chapel. He wakes from sleep the next day and walks out to greet the dawn, draped in religioso auras. At 1:43 refulgent strings commence a stirring ascent as we slowly see the sun rise in a gap between two massive cloud figures. Michelangelo has an epiphany supported by a crescendo brilliante adorned with ethereal celeste and angelic harp, which abounds in religioso splendor as we witness a divine revelation at 2:27 – the image of God reaching out to create Adam in his own image. North evokes serenity with stirring strings reverenziale, which usher in a glorious crescendo magnificenza, offering one of the score’s most inspired moments as Michelangelo at last has a vision for his grand design. Bravo! “Intermission” offers religioso splendor with a reprise of the breath-taking music of the Genesis cue. The music for this cue is not found on the album.

“Michelangelo and Julius” reveals Julius at his siege camp outside Bologna. Fanfare reale supports the view of the camp, and the courier’s message that the Bolognese refuse to negotiate. He orders an attack announced with bugles militare. A bound Michelangelo arrives and beseeches Julius to allow him to reveal the sketches of his new grand design. As Julius kneels to view the sketches strings angelici support his awe. He consents, overwhelmed by Michelangelo’s grand design, and after intense bartering, agrees to pay him 6,000 ducats. North supports the scene playing to the battle that is raging about them with field drums bellicoso, muted trumpets militare and timpani of war. As Michelangelo departs, Julius signals the attack, launched by a ferocious assault by trumpets militare and a drum torrent. The music for this scene is not on the album. “The Sistine Chapel” offers a masterpiece cue of sublime beauty, one of the finest in North’s canon. We open with tolling chimes and views of Vatican streets. Soon we bear witness to a wondrous exposition by violins reverenziale with woodwind adornment, interwoven with contrapuntal celli and bass solenne as we see Michelangelo slowly bringing his biblical imagery bursting with color to life. Hope ascents at 0:44 borne by the resplendent splendor of the Ecstasy Theme. At 1:47 a new achingly beautiful melodic line is taken up by thirsting violins and contrapuntal strings as Julius enters and gazes aloft. He shouts out, when will this end, to which Michelangelo replies, when it is finished. The stand-off ushers in a stirring crescendo at 2:19 crescendo as Julius departs. We conclude with resplendent glory with an exterior view of St. Peter’s cathedral.

“When Will You Make and End? 1” reveals Julius celebrating mass in the chapel as Michelangelo paints. Potenza bathes us in resplendent liturgical auras with chorus reverenziale. As Julius and his retinue depart, Michelangelo accidently spills red paint. A frustrated Julius declares “When Will You Make and End?” to which Michelangelo replies “When it is Finished. The music for this scene is not on the album. In “Painting” bass solenne usher in an inspiring reverential exposition by a communion of strings and woodwinds as we are offered images of Michelangelo continuing work on his masterpiece. At 0:52 we have one of the score’s sublime moments when lyrical violins tenero, woodwinds, and horns solenne with harpsichord accents support the arrival of Julius late at night who then observes Michelangelo’s tireless commitment to the holy endeavor. At 1:31 we commence a stirring crescendo di magnificenza as an inspired Julius departs. We conclude burdened by bass doloroso as the exhausted Michelangelo departs and walks home. “The Contessina” reveals an exhausted Michelangelo arriving home to find an angry Antonia waiting. She berates him for not attending her party in is honor. Michelangelo is contrite, apologizes, and she sees that he is exhausted and that her fury has wounded him. She comforts him, kisses him, and confesses her love. He affirms his love for her, but reminds her that she is married. The scene was scored for a beautiful madrigal passage for lute and classical guitar, but Reed dialed it out of the film.

“The Agony” offers a poignant score highlight, which provides its most powerful exposition. Julius brings a retinue of cardinals who condemn the ceiling’s naked imagery as obscenity. Michelangelo vigorously, and undiplomatically defends his vision causing great umbrage among the cardinals. Julius rules in Michelangelo’s favor and departs, aggrieved at the ceiling that will never be finished. His parting words sear, as he offers the veiled threat that there are other artists in Rome. Music enters in the aftermath and offers an exquisitely painful soliloquy of suffering as we see Michelangelo struggling. Grim abyssal contra-bassoon, strings sofferenti with contrapuntal harp and celeste adornment sow auras of pain. At 1:44 we commence a crescendo of agony as Michelangelo begins losing his eyesight and commences a dizzying, tortured stumbling descent from the scaffolding. We crest powerfully at 2:50 as he falls precipitously downward holding onto a rope for dear life until he crashes on the chapel floor. We close the next day with bells tolls, strings tristi and aggrieved woodwinds as his artisans discover him. “Michelangelo’s Recovery” offers a most pleasant cue. The scene reveals Antonia nursing Michelangelo back to health. Madrigal woodwinds and strings emote a soothing dance-like ambiance. At 0:47 the melodic line passes to solo violin gentile and then to flute delicato for a wonderful exposition. Regretfully Reed dialed the music out of the film.

In “Festivity in St. Peter’s Square” Julius arrives in the St. Peter’s courtyard where he is diverted by Bramante. Bramante conspires to replace Michelangelo, and invites the pontiff to see the fresco “The School of Athens” being painted by Raphael. Julius is impressed but remains non-committal regarding his plans for the ceiling. The scene is supported by resplendent pageantry declared by fanfare brilliante. Madrigal sensibilities borne by woodwinds and horns join for the score’s finest passage of Renaissance music. “Julius in the Garden” reveal Julius visiting Michelangelo at his home. He plots to end Michelangelo’s self-pity sabbatical by relieving him of the project and reassigning it to Raphael. Michelangelo beseeches him to reconsider, but Julius departs without further word. In the garden Julius visualizes the massive marble block that will become his tomb and declares it will be placed directly under the dome. Bass grave supports his departure and we shift to a reinvigorated Michelangelo again painting as Julius gazes up from below. Violins d’amore with the hopeful muted horns emote the Ecstasy Theme. We crescendo at 0:48 with fanfare bravura as we shift to and exterior view of St. Peter’s Cathedral. We close with solemnity as we see Michelangelo putting the finishing touches on several images.

“When Will You Make and End? 2” reveals Julius again celebrating mass in the Sistine Chapel as Michelangelo paints aloft. Potenza bathes us in resplendent liturgical auras with mixed chorus reverenziale. As Julius and his retinue depart Julius looks up and mouths the words “When Will You Make and End?” to which Michelangelo mouths back “When it is Finished”. The music for this scene is not on the album. “Back to St. Peter’s” opens with martial drums supporting Michelangelo’s walk to the chapel as we see young men being drafted and outfitted in military uniforms. Grim bass supports his entry into the chapel where he finds his scaffolding being disassembled. Bass grave joined by kindred strings affanato emote the Agony Theme, revealing his devastation. The cue ends with a crescendo of pain, which resounds as he looks up believing all is lost. He races to meet with Julius who has just received grave news that superior French and German troops are converging on Rome. He refuses to surrender and orders a march north to fight. Michelangelo barges in, and defies Julius’ command in front of his cardinals that his work be shown before completion. Julius relieves him of his commission and the men part ways bitterly without further words.

“The War” reveals Julius riding off to war to what may be his last battle. A forlorn march which lacks boldness and confidence carries his departure. Michelangelo decision to come out a watch is supported by fanfare at 0:33. The music swells as the men soon lock eyes, with Michelangelo kneeling and bowing his head in reverence. Julius pauses, yet utters no words, again resuming his departure carried by resplendent religioso auras. We conclude with fanfare brilliante as we see regret in Michelangelo’s eyes. “Michelangelo Swallows His Pride” reveals Raphael and Antonia convincing him that the Pope loves his work, took pride in revealing it to others, and that he should swallow his pride and apologize to regain his commission. Since he loves the chapel more than life, he agrees and journeys to the battlefront to beg forgiveness. This pivotable scene is unscored. “The Battlefield” opens with dispirited, wounded horns as we see the battlefield’s carnage and devastation. At 1:07 aggrieved strings sofferenti carry Michelangelo into camp where he is granted an audience. At 1:38 beleaguered fanfare carries him to Julius who is wounded, ending with a diminuendo of uncertainty. He asks contritely to be allowed to finish, a request which Julius grants, while informing him that he has no money left to pay him.

In “New Cardinal” the resourceful Julius sells four cardinal appointments; three to feed and fund his army, and one to pay for the completion of the Sistine Chapel. We open with resplendent fanfare brilliante as Pope Julius places the red cardinal hat atop a very young man. Back at the chapel strings grave, which become reverential, support Michelangelo’s renewed passion for painting. At 0:43 dour drums, which usher is an aching string elegy, support the arrival of the defeated Julius and what is left of his wounded army. In “Julius and Michelangelo” Michelangelo finds Julius atop his scaffolding gazing at the “Creation of Adam” fresco. Julius is saddened by is life, which he believes is a failure, yet he is amazed at the beauty and goodness found in Michelangelo’s handiwork. They talk not as pope and artisan, but as two kindred brothers, each attempting to understand the other’s perception of God. As Julius departs, he collapses with his abdominal wound bloodying his white robes. This poignant scene was unscored. “Julius is Dying” reveals solemn liturgical chanting by men’s chorus, which supports news that Julius lay on his death bed, just as news arrives that English and Spanish allies have committed to his cause. Michelangelo arrives bedside to say his final farewell supported by a liturgical angelic boys’ choir. He kneels and proceeds to bait the Pope saying he is leaving the chapel unfinished and departing to Florence. Julius is angered that he does so without his permission. He asks for permission, but Julius denies it saying he must complete his work, to which Michelangelo replies, why should I when you have not completed yours? To the astonishment of all, this rouses Julius from his bed as he orders Michelangelo to finish and for everyone else to get out of his bedchamber. Julius’ new lease on life is supported by joyous alleluias by the choir. The music for this scene is not on the album

In “Mass” the Sistine chapel is filled for a commemorative service performed by Pope Julius II. Angelic choir sing alleluias to support the mass and a slow pan of the magnificent imagery of the now completed ceiling. Julius starts to faint but steadies himself, turns, and performs the benediction. The music for this scene is not found on the album. We flow into “Michelangelo’s Magnificent Achievement and Finale” with mixed choir singing the liturgical song “Hosanna”, which was adapted by Potenza. As the song unfolds, we see camera shot after camera shot of people gazing in awe at Michelangelo’s magnificent imagery. At 1:19 antiphonal fanfare maestoso ushers is a gorgeous string borne lamentation, which culminates with a glorious flourish. Reed excised the cue’s remaining music at 1:19 and I believe this was unfortunate as the final shared moment between the men was very moving with all barriers between them dropped. In the film Michelangelo bids farewell to Antonia, and then joins the ailing Julius. He commands Michelangelo to paint a fresco behind the altar, yet when he protests that the tomb must come first, Julius relents and asks him to proceed with the tomb as he will need it soon. Julius then drops all pretenses, speaks paternally, marveling at what they have accomplished, and advises that he intends to leverage the magnificence of the ceiling with God to shorten his time in purgatory. In “To Work My Son (Finale)” Julius departs and Michelangelo remains to contemplate his handiwork, which consumed four years of his life. North supports the scene and roll of the end credits against the backdrop of the chapel ceiling with a stirring homage by strings reverenziale and horns solenne.

I would like to thank Robert Townson and the late Nick Redman for this magnificent re-issue of Alex North’s masterpiece, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. I chose this album version with North conducting over an earlier Varese Sarabande re-recording conducted by Jerry Goldsmith as it contained eight additional cues, North’s original conducting, and the sublime Prologue by Jerry Goldsmith. The mixing and digital mastering provide excellent audio quality and a wonderful listening experience. North in a masterstroke of conception created a dichotomous main theme, which captured the emotional core of the film. The Agony and the Ecstasy Theme is in reality a coin with two sides – opposed, and yet bound to a common destiny. The A Phrase offers the Agony Theme, which relates to the physical suffering and terrible psychic toll experienced by Michelangelo as he labored to complete his grand design, while the B Phrase, or Ecstasy Theme offers the kernel of hope residing in his spirit, which speaks to the promise of joy he will realize in completing his masterpiece. I believe it was North’s use of this theme, which allowed Reed to achieve his vision. Additionally, North’s soundscape is perfectly attenuated to the film’s narrative, bathing us in inspired religioso auras, liturgical solemnity and supplication to the Divine. In scene after scene a stirring and often sublime cinematic confluence is achieved, which offers an enduring testament to North’s genius. I consider this score to be one of the finest in his canon, a masterpiece of conception and execution, and a Silver Age gem. I highly recommend the purchase of this album for your collection.

Personal note: I would like to thank Henry Stanny for his invaluable assistance with my review through the loan of his Varese Sarabande CD album.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a magnificent 15-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_SLh4UAGCc

Buy the Agony and the Ecstasy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue: The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint – Rome/Florence/The Crucifix/The Stone Giants/The Agony of Creation (composed by Jerry Goldsmith) (12:23)
  • Prelude: The Mountains of Carrara (2:57)
  • The Warrior Pope (2:40)
  • The Medici (2:34)
  • The Sketch of the Apostles (3:12)
  • Sketch Destroyed (0:58)
  • Genesis (3:36)
  • The Sistine Chapel (3:01)
  • The Contessina (2:47)
  • Painting (2:26)
  • The Agony (3:58)
  • Michelangelos’s Recovery (2:13)
  • Festivity in St. Peter’s Square (2:07)
  • Julius in the Garden (1:23)
  • Back to St. Peter’s (0:56)
  • The War (2:06)
  • The Battle Field (1:58)
  • New Cardinal (2:00)
  • Michelangelo’s Magnificent Achievement and Finale (2:39)
  • To Work, My Son (Finale) (1:05)
  • Mountain Scene (3:37) BONUS

Running Time: 60 minutes 36 seconds

Varese Sarabande VCL-1104-1032 (1965/2004)

Music composed and conducted by Alex North. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. “The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint” prologue music by Jerry Goldsmith Choral music composed and conducted by Franco Potenza. Score produced by Alex North. Album produced by Nick Redman and Robert Townson.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.