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JULIUS CAESAR – Miklós Rózsa

February 22, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio executives were impressed by the commercial success of Henry V in 1944 and sought to adapt another of William Shakespeare’s plays for the big screen. They chose his 1599 work Julius Caesar and tasked producer John Houseman with the project with a generous budget of $2.0 million. Houseman had a vision for the film and hired Joseph Mankiewicz to direct, as the story would be dialogue driven, which was the type of film in which Mankiewicz excelled. Once attached to the project Mankiewicz made the creative decision to personally adapt the play and write the screenplay. Houseman did not want another lavish epic, but rather a small more intimate production, which explored the drama of ambition and power politics. Second, he insisted that the film be shot in black and white because “we wanted people to relate to the newsreels, to the Fascist movements in Europe, which were still relevant”. A cast for the ages was assembled, which included Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, Louis Calhern as Julius Caesar, Edmund O’Brien as Casca, Greer Garson as Calpurnia, and Deborah Kerr as Portia.

The story is well known and takes place in Rome circa 44 B.C.E. Julius Caesar was Rome’s greatest general who seized control of the government, securing the title of “Dictator Perpetuo” from the Senate. He was a populist, who instituted many reforms, which improved the lives of the plebian class and strengthened the power of the Roman state. However, his authoritarian rule over time angered the elite patrician class who grew fearful of his undemocratic policies and threats to their wealthy privilege. A group of senators conspired to assassinate Caesar and performed the deed on the Ides of March 44 B.C.E. The assassination precipitated a civil war with the Republican armies led by Cassius and Brutus pitted against the Caesarians under Marc Anthony, Octavian and Lepidus. At the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C.E. the Republicans were decisively defeated, which led to the formation of the first Triumvirate. The film was a commercial success for MGM earning $3.9 million or nearly twice its production cost of $2.1 million. Notable was the critical acclaim it received, for all aspects of the production, which resulted in the film securing five Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Film Score. It secured however only one award win for Best Art Direction.

Miklós Rózsa had a contract with MGM, which permitted him first choice of any film of his choosing. When Julius Caesar came up, he seized the opportunity to work with Joseph Mankiewicz immediately. Rózsa, upon viewing the screenplay, debated how he would conceptualize his scoring approach. He relates;

“If Julius Caesar had been merely an historical film about Caesar, I might have attempted to use period music. However, it was much more than that. It is a Shakespearean tragedy… Should I have composed in a Roman manner, it would have been wrong for Shakespeare – should I have tried to treat it as stage music for an Elizabethan drama in Elizabethan style, it would have been anachronistic from the historical point of view. I decided therefore to regard it as a universal drama about the eternal problems of men, and the timely problems about the fate of dictators. I wrote the same music I would have written for a modern stage presentation, that is, interpretive incidental music, expressing my own musical language for his audience, just as Shakespeare expressed with his own language for his own audience”.

To that end Rózsa created a number of Roman marches and fanfares, infused his score with chorale, soprano vocal, and significantly expanded the horn section of the orchestra.[6] Two themes anchor the score, with the first supporting Caesar and by extension and legacy, Mark Anthony. The second supports Brutus his beloved friend who betrays him. Caesar’s Theme is major modal and offers a classic ABA construct with its forthright A Phrase declared with strength by strings maestoso buttressed by martial drums. It reprises with horns joining the violins taking up the main line and then dividing with horns shifting to counterpoint, which broadens and brings drama to the statement. The martial and more discordant B Phrase is propelled by drums of war and trumpets, which speak to struggle and conflict. The concluding A Phrase is rendered dramatically, buttressed by trumpets and drums. It offers the theme’s most elegant statement with the primary line emoted by violi and celli, opposed by contrapuntal violins. These two lines then shift with the violins moving to the forefront, opposed by violi and celli. Within the two phrases Rózsa captures the complexity, strength and power personified by Caesar. The molto tragico Brutus’ Theme also offers an ABA construct with a striking juxtaposition to the Caesar’s Theme. It’s heavy and dirge like A Phrase emotes as a plodding marcia cupo of dread carried by strings dolente with piercing trumpet counters. The B Phrase offers more emotion with the primary line carried by aching strings affanato, its statement also opposed by piercing trumpets. The concluding A Phrase reprises the somber, dirge like cadence of its opening statement. Rózsa informs us poignantly that Brutus, and his fellow republican assassins are destined for tragedy. Two secondary motifs are also provided; the lurking Cassius’ Motif supports him as the lead republican conspirator determined to end Caesar’s tyranny. A menacing three-note construct borne by a joining of celli, bass and trombone sinistri. The illusive and shadowlike Plot Motif offers a dark and foreboding rising and falling figure by strings sinistri. Lastly, notable is that the score was the first ever recorded in four-track stereo. Yet The Robe (1953) is the score that marks the debut of stereo sound as Houseman and Mankiewicz inexplicably chose to release the film with monaural sound.

“Julius Caesar – Overture” Rózsa composed a fine piece that was intended to proceed the film in the theater. Yet the creative team chose to replace it with Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” (1880). It offers a score highlight, which features a full rendering and dramatic exposition of Brutus’ Theme. We open powerfully with fanfare dramatico declarations by mid register horns. The statement is then reprised by trumpets with mid register horn counters. We then transfer to the full orchestra taking up the line, joined by drums and horns militare, which usher in at 0:39 the A Phrase of the molto tragico Brutus Theme. Its marcia cupo cadence plods forward, dirge-like until 1:04 when the more emotional B Phrase enters carried by aching strings affanato, its statement also opposed by piercing trumpets. At 1:42 we reprise the somber, dirge like cadence of the A Phrase. We conclude at 2:05 with an astounding demonstration of Rózsian orchestral power. Fanfare dramatico launch two intense descents of despair, from which swells a powerful crescendo that crests in a flourish leaving one awestruck. Bravo!

“Praeludium” opens on a crescendo magnifico as MGM’s Leo the lion displays, cresting as the renown golden Roman eagle emblem displays empowered by fanfare reale. At 0:17 the film title appears followed by the roll of the opening credits against the Roman eagle displayed on a black background. A forthright A Phrase of the Caesar’s Theme is declared with strength by strings maestoso buttressed by martial drums. It reprises with horns joining the violins taking up the main line and then dividing with horns shifting to counterpoint, which broadens and brings drama to the statement. The martial and more discordant B Phrase enters at 1:04, propelled by drums of war and trumpets, which speak to struggle and conflict. Discordance slowly enters and ushers in at 1:31 a plaintive statement of the Brutus’ Theme with elegant contrapuntal writing. We return to the A Phrase at 1:52, rendered dramatically, buttressed by trumpets and drums. It offers the theme’s most elegant statement with the primary line emoted by violi and celli, opposed by contrapuntal violins. These two lines then shift with the violins moving to the forefront, opposed by violi and celli. Its power and grandeur darken, slowly dissipating on a grim diminuendo with script that informs us that Caesar had defeated his rival Pompey with the Senate awarding him the title of Dictator for Life. Yet they over time many became weary and fearful of his tyranny. At 2:45 where we segue into “Idle Creatures”. Rózsa conceived this cue for the opening street scene (Rome – 44 B.C.), but never recorded it as Mankiewicz did not want music spotted here. It bathes us in ethnic auras and features an solo English horn orientalis, which dances with tambourine and drum strikes over a bass pedal.

In “Flavius Arrested” we see the senator admonishing the crowd for their support of Caesar. His tirade is overheard by a soldier patrol, which leads to his arrest. Rózsa supports with a grim statement by dire strings. “Caesar’s Procession” reveals Caesar arriving in Rome in a parade of victory as crowds cheer his defeat of his rival Pompey. Rózsa supports the pageantry with Caesar’s Theme rendered with dignity as a proud marcia maestoso. Yet at 1:14 the march becomes strident and overbearing, transforming into a marcia imperioso, which reflects Caesar’s imperious demeanor as he walks past the cheering crowds. At 2:08 the march transforms one last time to a marcia trionfante as Caesar revels in the crowd’s praise. We close with a soothsayer intoning a warning to Caesar – “Beware the Ides of March”. “Feast Of Lupercal” reveals Caesar’s arrival for his victory celebratory feast, supported dramatically with a grand marcia pomposa, which feeds on his imperious demeanor. In “Caesar And His Train” Caesar notices Cassius’ glaring eyes and advises Anthony that such men are dangerous. As he departs glorious fanfare reale by unison trumpets and French horns resound, and usher in Caesar’s Theme, again rendered as a marcia maestoso, which carries his departure, fading on a diminuendo as he moves further and further away.

“The Scolding Winds” offer a brilliant score highlight. We are introduced to Casius’ Motif, a menacing three-note construct born by a joining of celli, bass and trombone sinistri. After Brutus’ departure his lurking motif enters as Casius speaks aloud of his plan to bring Caesar down. The menace of his motif joins in dark purpose with his soliloquy. As he begins to walk his pace slowly quickens, buttressed by thunder of an approaching score. At 1:21 Rózsa masterfully creates an amazing synergy that is brilliant in its conception and execution. As Casius’ pace of departure slowly quickens, his words grow with increased menace, thunder and winds of an approaching storm join, supported by swirling strings furioso, which unleash a swelling, monstrous crescendo, which culminates with orchestral strikes of violence synced with the thunder for a truly awesome cinematic confluence. The scene concludes with a terrified Casca being joined by Cicero and Cassius as they are buffeted by the storm. Bravo!

“Brutus’ Soliloquy” offers a poignant score highlight. It reveals Brutus is conflicted by his friendship with Caesar being at odds with what he believes is good for Rome, which is reflected in Shakespeare’s masterful verse. Regretfully Mankiewicz dialed out Rózsa’s poignant music at 0:19 of the cue, preferring to let the scene unfold on Mason’s soliloquy alone. I do not agree with this decision, having played the cue alongside, finding that not only does the music support the eloquence of Brutus’ words, but also speaks to his conflicted emotions raging within. We open darkly with a serpentine rendering of Casius’ Motif by woodwinds and rolling drums as it is, he who planted the seeds of discontent in Brutus’ mind. At 0:19 we flow into a plaintive rendering of Brutus’ Theme by strings tristi, which speak the crucible of pain and doubt which besets him. At 2:38 Caesar’s Theme enters on plaintive strings as Brutus questions aloud;

“Shall Rome stand under one man’s awe? What, Rome?
My ancestors did from the streets of Rome
The Tarquin drive, when he was call’d a king.
‘Speak, strike, redress!’ Am I entreated
To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise:
If the redress will follow, thou receivest
Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus”!

The articulation of Caesar’s Theme becomes painful, reflecting Brutus’ realization of what duty requires of him – the betrayal of his friend. At 3:45 the Plot Motif enters full of dark purpose. We conclude with just an exquisite exposition by Rózsa, a pathos for strings as Brutus is joined by his fellow conspirators who commit to assassination.

In “Brutus’ Secret” Portia discerns Brutus is ill, and unsettled. She is concerned and lovingly seeks to elicit the truth of what plagues him. Rózsa’s music initially speaks from her perspective opening with loving strings tenero. Yet he does not open up and disclose his plans to assassinate Caesar. The music shifts to his perspective at 0:34 atop the Plot Motif, which informs us that he remains conflicted. She persists, and the Plot Motif continues to reprise among shifting strings as he struggles both within and without. We end with a crescendo of torment, which never culminates, dissipating on the Plot Motif as he reassures her of his abiding love. Sadly, the music for this cue was dialed out of the film. “They Murder Caesar” reveals Calpurnia waking up screaming over and over again “They Murder Caesar!”, which brings Caesar to search the house for intruders. Rózsa supports with a torrent of emotion with recurring trilling woodwinds joined by muted horns speaking to the nightmare as quotes of Caesar’s Theme shift from to and from high to low register strings. He commands his servant to seek an explanation from the priest as he ponders yet another disquieting omen for the Ides of March. We close with the omen figure shifting among the orchestra from French horns, to celli, to basses, to nothingness.

In “The Ides of March” Calpurnia tries in vain to dissuade Caesar from attending the Senate. Several senators including the conspirators and Marc Anthony arrive to escort Caesar to the Senate. Music enters darkly on the Plot Motif as wary Calpurnia returns to her bed chamber. It swells grimly, attended by recurring triplets of doom as the scene shifts to the Senate. Rózsa sow menace as Artemidorus reads a letter of warning portending Caesar’s end. Triplets of doom borne by bass and timpani are draped by shifting string tremolos and fortified by French horn chords. At 1:45 Caesar arrives and begins his ascent up the Senate stairs. His theme supports his ascent, carried by grim low register strings, which yield to a new string borne triplet figure. A repeating Plot Motif returns on menacing strings fortified with muted trombones, building inexorably with dark purpose as Caesar enters the senate chamber. As the assassins gather round him the music dissipates on a drum roll, with the assassination scene unscored.

“Anthony’s Eulogy” reveals the persuasive power of his oratory as he turns the crowd against Brutus and his fellow assassins. Anthony departs with a smiling realization that he now commands the mob. Mankiewicz made the creative decision to transplant the dramatic finale of the rejected Overture to support the aftermath of Anthony’s speech as the people create a massive funeral pyre to honor Caesar. The music commences from 2:42 with an astounding demonstration of Rózsian orchestral power from which swells a crescendo dramatico that crests in a flourish leaving one awestruck. This cue is not found on the album. “Black Sentence” reveals Caesar’s corpse being consumed in the fires of a funeral pyre. Rózsa supports the scene with a wordless choral lamentation attended by a small ensemble of woodwinds, harp and percussive accents. Script displays to reveal that the assassins have fled and that Caesar’s adopted son Octavian has forged an alliance with Anthony to avenge Caesar’s murder. At 1:16 a marcia funebre enters softly as we shift to a meeting between Octavian and Anthony where they forge an alliance to rule Rome and avenge Caesar. Slowly Caesar’s Theme emerges, swelling after Octavian departs, rising on a crescendo to a magnificent climax by horns maestoso as Anthony gazes intently at Caesar’s statue bust.

“Brutus’ Camp” reveals riders approaching Brutus’ camp. Rózsa uses repeating fanfare declarations to carry their progress. He employs a trio of French horns that play at different intensities and distances from the microphone to create variations in their statements. In “Heavy Eyes” an angry Cassius rides into camp supported by a choir of trumpets bravura. They quarrel bitterly over who is better to lead, as well as Cassius’ failure to deliver on his promise to secure gold to pay the troops. The cue from 0:17 was dialed out of the film as Mankiewicz preferred to have the compelling dialogue carry the scene unaccompanied by music. Rózsa’s conception was to speak the unfolding tragedy of two friends at odds with each other on the eve of battle. At 0:17 somber low register strings emote Brutus’ Theme, slowly descending into tragic auras of despair, which portend their doom.

“Gentle Knave” reveals Brutus meeting with his generals and making the fateful decision to attack Anthony and Octavian on the plains of Philippi rather than wait for them to come to him. After they depart, he commands his servant boy Lucius to relieve him of his stress and soothe the discord brought by the day. He plays his lute and sings parts of the hymn “Now, O Now, I Needs Must Part” by John Dowland diegetically (dubbed by Jane Emmanuel);

“Now, O now, I needs must part,
Joy once fled cannot return.
If that parting be offence,
It is she who doth so fair”.

Rózsa’s choice of this bittersweet song, which speaks of love and loss is prescient. Lucius falls asleep and Brutus lays him in bed tenderly supported by the warmth of the song’s wistful melody.

In “Ghost of Caesar” Brutus is awakened by the ghost of Caesar who chides Brutus’ evil spirit, advising him that he will see him at Philippi. Brutus is at first unnerved, but then angrily grabs his dagger intent on striking Caesar down yet again. But the Ghost departs leaving Brutus, flummoxed. Rózsa supports the scene with an eerie, other-worldly ambiance borne by celeste, shifting string harmonics and haunting fragments of Caesar’s Theme, which never coalesce, remaining illusive. “Most Noble Brutus” reveals Brutus preparing for battle in his tent supported by a molto tragico rendering of his theme. As he exits his tent in view of his commanders, his theme transforms into a resolute martial iteration buttressed by drums of war. Cassius greets him and they part friends on good terms, hopeful that this is not their last meeting. At 0:51 trumpets of war resound as Cassius mounts his horse and leads the generals out of Brutus’ compound.

In “Battle At Philippi” Cassius and Brutus foolishly lead their troops through a narrow gorge that leads to the plains of Philippi. Anthony’s and Octavian’s troops lie hidden in ambush on the rocky hillsides aloft with thousands of archers in the ready. A martial four-note drum cadence (not on the album) supports the march of the Republican troops. Anthony then raises his hand, which is acknowledged by several commanders who order their archers to ready and draw. Anthony signals to attack and the cue opens with antiphonal trumpet militare declarations to which the archers unleash a torrent of arrows, followed by another volley, and then hails of spears, which decimate the Republican troops. Anthony then orders a charge of his calvary and infantry men, which leads to a slaughter. The battle is empowered by martial declarations of Caesar’s Theme joined with an orchestra furioso. At 0:45 a triumphant Caesar’s Theme resounds as Anthony achieves victory for the Caesarean forces. The scene ends on a diminuendo where Caesar’s Theme is deconstructed, and slowly on a diminuendo, dissipates on the wind.

“Titinius Enclosed” reveals Cassius dispatching Titinius to determine the fate of their camp and survivors. As they watch from the hillside above Titinius is set upon by Anthony’s calvary and after a short pursuit, captured and slain. Caesar’s trumpeting fanfare supports the scene. In “Caesar Now Be Still!” Cassius” accepts his fate and seeks to end his life. He frees his slave Sirrah and orders him to honor his oath by following his final order to slay him. Rózsa supports with Cassius’ Theme emoted with grim finality, adorned with harp. Sirrah hesitates, yet obeys Cassius’ imperious orders, the music rising on a crescendo of death, which crests at 1:10 as Sirrah thrust his dagger. As Cassius’ life ebbs, so too does his theme. Yet his theme is reborn at 1:15 with vengeance as though lashing out from death in a scene change to Brutus’ camp where a soldier brings to Octavian, Lucius’ broken lute. When the captured commander Lucilius is brought to Octavian, he defiantly declares that noble Brutus is safe and will not be taken. At 1:41 a nobly rendered Caesar’s Theme carries Octavian’s departure. At 1:57 we shift scenes to Brutus who exhorts his remaining men to hold their heads high, yet his theme speaks to truth of his circumstances, rendered by strings as a lament. At 2:24 the music sours and Cassius’s grim theme returns as Brutus finds him slain. At 2:46 Brutus accepts his fate and speaks aloud;

“O Julius Caesar,
Thou art mighty yet,
Thy spirit walks abroad,
And turns our swords
In our own proper entrails”!

Rózsa supports him with a molto tragico rendering of his theme. He turns to his friend Clitus and asks that he slay him, but is refused, as the music descends to abyssal depths of despair. He then at 3:33 turns to Volumnius and acknowledges that Caesar has in the end, been victorious. Slowly, Caesar’s Theme rises out of the depths, strengthening inexorably as marcia solenne as Anthony’s troops close in. At 4:58 Brutus’ tragic theme joins, and the two themes become one, joined now in a shared destiny. He convinces Strato to help end his life, a request he in the end, grudgingly agrees. At 7:00 a drum strike supports Strato’s mortal thrust, with Brutus’ Theme dissipating as does his life. At 7:28 his theme dies as he utters;

“Caesar now be still,
I killed not thee
With half so good a will”.

As he dies their themes uncouple with Caesar’s Theme now ascendent, transforming into a marcia della vittoria. At 8:00 we segue to Anthony’s Camp atop drums in memoriam, which support Anthony and Octavian’s walk to Octavian’s tent where Brutus’ body lays in repose. We end with an homage to Brutus by Anthony;

“This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they in envy of great Caesar,
He, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man”!

“Finale” offers the roll of the end credits against the Roman eagle emblem. Brutus’ Theme emotes on strings tristi with a contrapuntal Caesar’s Theme on trumpets reale. Yet with a cymbal clash at 0:22 Caesar’s Theme becomes ascendant ending the film with a final triumphant statement, which ends in a glorious flourish.

I would like to Douglass Fake and Intrada for this long-sought recording of Miklós Rózsa’s masterwork, “Julius Caesar”. The score reconstruction by Daniel Robbins was extraordinary. The performance of the Sinfonia of London and Sinfonia chorus under the masterful baton of Bruce Broughton was exemplary, and the digital recording, editing and mastering served to produce outstanding audio quality, providing an excellent listening experience. Julius Caesar offered one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies, which would challenge the skill of any composer. Miklós Rózsa rose to the challenge and composed one of the finest scores of his canon. Two men of contrary visions for Rome stood opposed, and it is upon these two men that Rózsa fashioned his score. Caesar’s Theme is both imperious and martial thus reflecting his persona and ambition, while Brutus’ Theme is sad, and ultimately tragic, for he was a gentle and noble man, swept away in currents of conspiracy, which led him to murder his friend. The juxtaposition and interplay of these two themes drove Mankiewicz’s story-telling and allowed him to realize his vision. Masterful is how Rózsa supports the film’s poignant scene where Brutus concedes that even in death Caesar triumphs. His brilliant conception was to join the two themes so as to become one, emblematic of a tragic shared destiny. The secondary Cassius and Plot motifs worked to weave the narrative thread together and bring poignancy to the story. Folks, this is an exceptional effort my Rózsa and a gem from the Golden Age. I highly recommend you purchase this quality album for your collection.

Editor’s note: this is a review of the 1995 score re-recording conducted by Bruce Broughton. There also exists an album of Rózsa’s original recording of the score, released by Film Score Monthly in 2004 as a 3,000-CD limited edition part of their Golden Age Classics series.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the magnificent Overture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEm5HBBuzeM

Buy the Julius Caesar soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Julius Caesar- Overture (3:15)
  • Praeludium (3:38)
  • Caesar’s Procession (2:45)
  • Flavius Arrested (0:18)
  • Feast of Lupercal (0:44)
  • Caesar And His Train (0:51)
  • The Scolding Winds (2:42)
  • Brutus’ Soliloquy (6:34)
  • Brutus’ Secret (2:11)
  • They Murder Caesar (1:08)
  • The Ides of March (4:36)
  • Black Sentence (3:55)
  • Brutus’ Camp (1:31)
  • Heavy Eyes (1:47)
  • Gentle Knave (2:07)
  • Ghost of Caesar (1:42)
  • Most Noble Brutus (1:10)
  • Battle at Philippi (1:28)
  • Titinius Enclosed (0:40)
  • Caesar Now Be Still! (8:54)
  • Finale (1:10)

Running Time: 53 minutes 06 seconds

Intrada MAF-7056D (1953/1995)

Music composed by Miklós Rózsa. Conducted by Bruce Broughton. Performed by the Sinfonia of London and the Sinfonia Chorus. Special vocal performances by Jane Emmanuel. Original orchestrations by Eugene Zador. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Score produced by Miklós Rózsa. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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