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MOBY DICK – Philip Sainton

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

For three years director John Huston had long sought to bring Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel Moby Dick to the big screen. Studios were resistant because the story was depressing, had no female roles, nor romance, which they believed would not resonate with the public. Ever tenacious, Huston finally secured backing by United Artists, the Mirsch brothers and Moulin Productions with the caveat that a big-name actor had to play Captain Ahab. A budget of $2.0 million was provided, which would include shooting in the Irish Sea. Huston would direct and tasked Ray Bradbury with adapting the novel, with some edits provided by Huston. To fill the “Big-name stipulation, Huston cast Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, a decision criticized as a miscast by critics and later, Peck himself. Joining him would be Richard Basehart as Ishmael, Leo Genn as Starbuck, Orson Welles as Father Mapple, and Friedrich von Ledebur as Queequeg.

Melville’s story is a timeless classic of American literature, which deals with one man’s obsession with vengeance, which leads to the ruin of all. The story takes place circa 1841, set in the whaling seaport of New Bedford. It centers on the life of Captain Ahab who suffered a grievous injury while hunting a rare white whale when the beast snapped off his leg. From that day onward he swore an oath to avenge himself upon the beast, prepared to sacrifice ship and crew to exact revenge. And so, we see the Pequod set sail for a traditional whaling run with Ahab ever watchful for news or sighting of the white whale. When at last he does sight it, he himself takes to the whaling boats desiring to exact revenge personally. All goes awry as the beast smashes his boat and he becomes entangled in harpoons and ropes, bound to the beast’s side. Instead of freeing himself, he stabs it repeatedly until drowned. Melville relates;

“And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it”.

In a cruel irony he dies bound to the whale who secures its triumph over humanity by ramming and sinking the Pequod. The film’s budget had ballooned to $4.5 million, but it still managed to cover its production costs, earning a $700,000 profit. Critical reception was mixed with some praising the film’s adventure tale and story-telling, while others criticized the miscasting of the young Gregory Peck as a villain. The film secured no Academy Award nominations.

Director John Huston made an unusual choice to score the film, selecting British composer Philip Sainton, who had never scored a film before. His rationale was that he believed British composers expressed a natural empathy for the sea. Before hiring him Huston tasked him to write an original composition, setting music to Melville’s hymn, “The Ribs and Terrors in the Whale”. Huston believed it perfect for the scene where whalers sing in the chapel and so hired him for the project, with the caveat that he wanted the score to be “operatic”. Sainton was very pleased when Huston offered him the assignment as he had always wanting to score a film. He informed Huston that waiting for the finished reels and then creating a score in just six weeks was problematic. As such Huston inviting him to attend the filming, which provided Sainton an opportunity to time the scenes with a stop watch, as well as to gain inspiration, which allowed him to create themes and motifs.

To support his soundscape, he composed four primary themes; Captain Ahab’s Theme offers a bold and aggressive identity, borne of harsh, resounding horn declarations by trumpets and trombones bellicoso. They speak of seething anger, which rages within his tormented soul, an obsession, which cannot be assuaged, or forestalled. The Moby Dick Theme is propelled by a kinetic rising motif borne of primal monstrous power. Strings furioso, trilling woodwinds and horns feroce unleash the beast from the ocean depths below. The themes for Ahab and Moby Dick are linked in a fateful shared destiny, and Sainton brilliantly conceived them to flow seamlessly into each other in their struggle for life and death. The Pequod Theme offers a nautical construct borne of languorous strings and warm horns of hope. It flows as does the sea winds which fill her billowy sails, carrying her over shimmering ocean vistas. The Sea Theme speaks to the allure of the sea, which draws men away from the land to seek adventure. Bubbling flutes, clarinets, harp and celeste, offer gentle arpeggios, and warm horns speak of destiny, which awaits. The Friendship Theme speaks to the bond felt between Ishmael and Queequeg. The tender and affectionate construct is borne by woodwind gentile and strings amichevoli. Lastly, there is the unsettling Doom Motif, which is attached to the mysterious Elijah character who confronts Ishmael and Queequeg on the dock. He portends the death of Ahab, and the entire crew, save one. The seven-note construct offers dark, plunging chords, emoting as a three-note statement by surging strings, answered by four drum strikes.

“Main Title” offers a magnificent score highlight where Sainton introduces his three primary themes and masterfully sets the tone of the film. We open with strings dramatico, which support the Warner Brothers Studio logo. At 0:06 the roll of the opening credits commences against water color images of whalers hunting whales. Captain Ahab’s Theme resounds on horn declarations by trumpets and trombones bellicoso, full of the rage of a tormented soul committed to dark purpose. At 0:14 we flow seamlessly into Moby Dick’s Theme, a furioso which surges with primal, monstrous power from the dark ocean depths, unstoppable. A diminuendo brings us at 0:45 into the Pequod theme on languorous strings and warm horns of hope held by men seeking adventure and the bounty of whale oil to fill their coffers. A closing diminuendo takes us into the film proper. “Sea Music” offers beautiful score highlight with elegant writing. It serves as a prologue where we are introduced to Ishmael, who recounts how his story with the Pequod began. The cue title speaks to his wish for adventure sailing the seas, not the film setting, which shows him walking through verdant forests adorned with cascading waterfalls. Sainton introduces his Sea Theme to support the Ishmael’s storytelling, offering a pastorale of flutes, clarinets, harp and celeste, flowing as gentle arpeggios, like the cascading waterfalls. Warm horns are joined by full orchestral, which call him to adventure upon the sea as Melville wrote;

“The magic in water that draws all men away from the land, leads them over hills, down creeks and streams and rivers to the sea… the sea, where each man, as in a mirror, finds himself”.

“Ishmael Bonds With the Men” reveals Ishmael have a drink of rum at the local pub and bonding with the local sailors. He sings and dances, and Sainton supports the scene a perfect ambiance using a traditional sea shanty tune “I Go No More A-Rovin”;

“I’ll go no more a rovin’ with you fair maid
A-roving, A roving, since roving been my ruin
I’ll go no more a -roving with you fair maid.
Her cheeks were red,
Her eyes were brown,
What else was I to say?
Her cheeks were red,
Her eyes were brown,
Her curly hair
Was hanging down.
“I’ll go no more a rovin’ with you fair maid
A-roving, A roving, since roving been my ruin
I’ll go no more a -roving with you fair maid”.

In “Queequeg’s Entrance” Ishmael beds down knowing he will be sharing with a brown skinned Polynesian harpooner. As Queequeg enters Sainton plays to the comic as we see Ishmael amazed at the sight of the tall, brown-skinned, tattooed man. At 0:24 we have a frightful crescendo as Queequeg sets an embalmed head on the mantle. Bubbling woodwinds carry Queequeg to bed, still unaware of Ishmael’s presence. At 0:54 we crescendo again as he discovers Ishmael in bed and raises his tomahawk to strike him. Ishmael screams, and the land lord comes to his rescue, introduces him to Queequeg, and all is well. Sainton finishes the scene with warm strings emoting the Friendship Theme “Ribs & Terrors in the Whale” offers a hymn written by Melville, which Sainton supports with an original piece he composed to earn the scoring assignments. It is a simple, solemn melody joined with mixed chorus;

“The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And left me deepening down to doom.
I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell—
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints—
No more the whale did me confine.
Amen”.

In “Hymn” Father Mapple gives an impassioned sermon using the tale of Jonah to drive home the imperative of being obedient to God’s words and will. As he concludes his sermon Sainton reprises with a more hopeful orchestral rendering of his hymn, which bathes us in religioso auras, achieving a stirring confluence with Mapple’s reverent oratory;

“And Eternal Delight shall be his,
Who, coming to lay him down, can say,
O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die.
I have striven to be thine,
More than to be this world’s,
Or mine own, yet this is nothing.
I leave eternity to thee,
For what is man,
That he should live out,
The lifetime of his God”?

“Dock Scene” reveals Ishmael and Queequeg bonding in their cabin and they deciding to ship out on the same boat. Then then depart to the docks in search of a vessel. Sainton supports the scene with the playful woodwinds and strings animato of the Friendship Theme. In “Ishmael Signs Aboard” the judgmental Quaker personnel team are taken aback at this dark-skinned heathen who is not a Christian. We open with unsettling, pulsing woodwinds, joined by a solo violin triste as a palpable tension fills the air. We flow seamlessly into “Queequeg’s Signing”, carried by a spirited rendering of the Friendship Theme, which blossoms on a crescendo trionfante as he hurls his harpoon with expert precision, striking a bull’s eye on a distant deck barrel. They sign him up immediately at eight times the pay offered Ishmael. “Going Aboard” reveals provisions being brought aboard the Pequod, supported by a spirited rendering of the Friendship Theme, abounding with sunny optimism. “Stranger” reveals Ishmael and Queequeg being warned by a raving man that they go to their doom if the sail with the accursed Ahab. A grim descending line by strings terribili usher in an ominous and fateful quote of the Moby Dick Theme. As Elijah speaks the repeating seven-note Doom Motif emotes as Elijah portends their doom;

“At sea one day you’ll smell land, where there’ll be no land. On that day Ahab will go to his grave, but rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all, save one, shall follow”.

At 0:26 we segue into “Ready For Departure” atop refulgent violins as women pass out bibles to the crew as they board. The cue features the Pequod Theme borne with sunny horn declared confidence as we see the men climbing aloft ready to unfurl the sails. Interspersed in the passage are interludes of sadness, reflected in the faces of the wives and girlfriends gazing silently from the dock. We shift to and from sunny optimism, to the sadness of parting. Next, as the men pull up the mast crosstrees, their efforts are supported by them singing the shanty songs “Blood Red Roses”, followed by “We’re all Bound”. As the men toil, we camera pans back and forth between them and their wives and girlfriends’ sad faces;

“Blood Red Roses”
“My clothes are in the pawn,
Go down you blood red roses, go down
And it’s mighty draughty around Cape Horn
Go down you blood red roses, go down
Oh, you pinks and posies
Go down you blood red roses, go down
It’s round Cape Horn we’ve got to go
Chasing whales through ice and snow
Oh my old mother she wrote to me
My darling son come home from sea
Oh it’s one more pull and that will do
For we’re the bullies to kick her through”.

“We’re All Bound”
“They’re glory bound for New York town,
And dozens is bound for France.
Heave away, my Johnny,
Heave away.
And some that bound for Bengal Bay,
To teach them whales to dance,
And away me Johnny boy.
We’re all bound to go,
Come all, you hardworking sailors,
Who round the Cape of Storm.
Heave away, my Johnny,
Heave away
You’ll wish you’d never been born,
And away, My Johnny boy.
We’re all bound to go”

In “Pequod’s Departure”, as the Pequod departs strings of longing speak to the stares of the many women on the dock, reflecting their uncertainty and fears that they may never see their man again. At 0:29 a confident ascent mirrors the men climbing aloft to unfurl the sails and we flow into and sunny Pequod Theme, which shines, carried by clarinets, oboes and trombones as we see her sail out of harbor. At 1:31 we segue into “At Sea” where the tone of optimism dissipates. Dark piano chords join with languorous strings of pessimism as narration relates the crew’s origins as we see them toiling, hand scrubbing the decks. One by one they are introduced; Starbuck the wise and righteous First Mate, Stub the gregarious Second Mate, Flask the Bully and Third Mate, the ship’s carpenter, Perth the blacksmith, the three master harpooners; Queequeg, Tashtego the American Indian, and Daggoo the African Lion-killer, and lastly Pip the cabin boy. At 3:31 narration turns to Captain Ahab who remains out of sight, locked in his cabin. A solo violin triste joined by woodwinds weave a dark and misterioso, concluding on a dark chord of dread.

“Ahab’s Introduction” offers a brilliant score highlight where the confluence of music, story narrative and Gregory Peck’s oratory create a cinematic masterpiece. The crew is scrubbing the deck and we are bathed in grim auras of darkness until 0:14 where dire horns resound with Captain Ahab’s fanfare as they look upwards to see him towering above him. He orders Starbuck to assemble the men aft and as they assemble Sainton weaves a dark and menacing tapestry of fear, mirrored on their faces. At 1:09 he begins questioning the crew on how they would respond to a whale sighting. The mood lightens, empowered by confident horns, gaining vital energy as the crew correctly answers all his questions. At 1:36 a foreboding drum roll ushers is a phrase of the Moby Dick Theme as Ahab commands the crew to be on the lookout for a white whale. He relates a description of the beast, and at 2:05 we rise on his vengeful theme, swelling on a monstrous crescendo, which fuels the men’s passions as he promises a Spanish gold ounce to the man who first sights Moby Dick. Grim pizzicato bass supports Starbuck’s question “Was it not Moby Dick that took off thy leg?” Sainton sows a simmering cauldron of hateful fury, which joins in unholy communion with Ahab’s vengeful declaration;

“Aye, it was Moby Dick that tore my soul and body until they bled into each other. Aye. I’ll follow him around the Horn, and around the Norway maelstrom, and around Perditions flames before I give him up”.

At 3:49 snare drums propel the scene as Ahab calls the men to form a circle around him to splice hands with him and drink some grog. In a ritual vow of vengeance, he whips his men into fury, and binds them to his fate as they all commit in common cause to hunt down and kill Moby Dick. Sainton whips his orchestra into frenzy with Ahab’s Theme resounding in a swelling sea of violence. A diminuendo at 4:49 supports Ahab’s hand grasping the three blades of his harpooners so he might transfer his hatred, malice and vengeance into them, thus ensuring that they avenge him by striking hard and true. We close with a final crescendo of anger on Ahab’s Theme as they are all now bound to Ahab’s dark obsession, a shared fate, from which there is no turning back.

“There She Blows” offers a wondrous score highlight abounding with exhilaration. A whale is spotted and revelry-like trumpets resound, propelling the crew into their boats as they row in hot pursuit. This offers the crew’s first whale hunt of the voyage, and Ishmael’s first ever, and they row with joyous abandon, closing in on the kill. Sainton propels the scene with joyous unbridled exhilaration for some of the score’s finest moments. The traditional tune “Hill An’ Gully Rider” joins at 0:55 on clarinet animato as Ishmael enjoys the exhilaration of the hunt. Sainton then unleashes horn fare for the ages as we bear witness to an exciting duel between trombones and trumpets. At 1:53 the whale is harpooned three times in succession, which unleashes an orchestral kinetic upsurge, with interplay of the traditional tune “Hill An’ Gully Rider” as the boats are pulled for one hell of a ride by the fleeing whale. We crescendo buttressed by dueling trombones and trumpets until 3:36, where a diminuendo supports the collapse of the whale who is mortally injured and can no longer flee. Sainton’s music dramatically enhances this scene, providing excitement, exhilaration and joy.

“Journey Continues” opens darkly with portentous strings with Starbuck voicing opposition to Ahab’s obsession, only to be rebuked. At 0:13 Ishmael is ordered for the first time to go aloft and take watch in the crow’s nest. His enthusiasm is boundless and Queequeg watches in amazement as he soars ever upwards. Sainton speaks from Ishmael’s perspective with a joyous and uplifting rendering of the Pequod Theme on sumptuous string, adorned with bubbling woodwinds of life. At 0:47 there is some trepidation as he becomes unsteady. He regains his footing, and an ascent motif carries him upwards to the crow’s nest. As he marvels and savors his commanding views we are bathed is a wondrous cinematic confluence born by strings and woodwinds felici. At 1:53 exuberant horns resound as Ishmael sights whales and shouts out “There she blows”! He declares that there are 100 – 200 whales, a herd for which all whalemen dream. “Carnival” offers a magnificent score highlight, a wondrous festival of joy as the men take to their boats to partake in a killing field of bounty, as a taciturn Ahab looks on. Sumptuous violins, join with a driving string ostinato, trilling woodwinds, and horns energico to propel the hunt as we see the harpooners striking one whale after another. The contrapuntal writing for this cue is exceptional, and a testament to Sainton’s compositional gift. Yet all darkens atop the Doom Motif at 1:55 as Ishmael sees the carnage they have wrought as his mind recalls the dockside prophesy of Elijah.

In “Meeting At Sea” a fateful meeting occurs when the HMS Samuel Enderby under the command of Captain Boomer arrives. A charismatic Boomer comes aboard and attempts friendly banter with Ahab, but finds that he is cordial but cold. When Boomer advises him that he has spotted a white whale of the Cape of Good Hope heading north east to Madagascar, music enters on tense woodwinds as Ahab’s stoic facial expressions come to life. Dire horns join and foster a menacing accelerando of obsession as Ahab orders the crew to stop the harvest and set sail at once over vigorous challenges by Starbuck, Stub and Flask, which unleashes his wrath as he declares; “There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain over the Pequod”. A diminuendo supports crew challenges to his command. What unfolds is a vengeful torrent empowered by phrases of Ahab’s Theme, which drives them forward to their doom. We conclude with Ahab’s dire theme driving the Pequod amidst a sea of strings tristi. “On The Lookout” reveals the Pequod sailing east in pursuit of Moby Dick carried by swaying plaintive strings and forlorn woodwinds, which ebb and flow like the ocean waves. At 1:07 blaring horns of doom and a descent motif carry the fall of a crewman to his death – a bad omen, not lost on Ahab or the crew.

“Waiting” reveals the Pequod sails stilled by the doldrums. The aimless drifting and searing heat stall their progress and bring suffering to the crew. The bright sun illuminates the Spanish coin on the mast as we see lustful eyes gazing at its allure. Sainton speaks to this by using a solo violin sofferente and forlorn woodwinds, which create an other-worldly ambiance with feelings of monotony and hopelessness. In “The Bones of Fate” we see Queequeg rolling a set of bones, which he explains to Ishmael, portend tomorrow’s events. He cast them, gasps, and a look of horror comes across his face, supported by orchestral rumblings of doom. Muted drums and forlorn strings emote a dirge as Queequeg commissions a coffin from the carpenter, and then gives all his money and harpoon to Ishmael. He descends into a trance of contemplation and becomes unresponsive to Ishmael’s pleading. The music for this cue is not on the album. In “Moby Dick Appears” the whale is at last sighted at dusk. Ahab orders the men into the boats, with he himself joining. The beast toys with them, going deep for what seem an eternity. His primal theme erupts with monstrous power as he breeches, and returns to the surface. The music drives forward as a force of nature as he departs, leaving Ahab frustrated. A diminuendo at 0:30 takes us back to the Pequod as Ahab orders the men to row the Pequod northward into the winds. Strings of toil and a drumbeat of dread support their efforts until 1:38 when horns brilliante resound as wind fills the sails, and usher in a paean of joy.

“The Search Continues” offers a stunning score highlight. Ahab has promised his men his 10% of the profits if they assist him kill Moby Dick. They join in his blood feud and by doing so, commit to his fate. Horns brilliante resound and usher is a confident nautical construct as Starbuck sights the USS Rachel out of New Bedford under the command of Captain Gardner (music not found on the album). He informs Ahab that they attempted to kill the white whale but failed, with him losing his beloved son as the whale pulled his boat out of their reach. He beseeches Ahab to assist him find his son. Ahab hesitates and then declares to Gardner that he hunts the white whale, is losing time, and will avenge its killing of his son. Captain Gardner and the crews of both ships are stunned at Ahab’s inhumanity as we see his obsession overwhelm his Christian faith, moral decency, and conventions of the sea. Sainton masterfully composes a tortured set-piece, which speaks to Ahab’s blind obsession, and dissolution as a moral man. The music rages like a tempest, rising and falling like waves of a windswept and tortured sea, joining in unholy communion, deep within the very sinews of Ahab’s rage. At 0:34 we see him descend into madness as he declares;

“Blacksmith, I set thee a task. Take these harpoons and lances, melt them down. Forge me new weapons that will strike deep and hold fast. But do not douse them in water. They must have a proper baptism. What say ye, All ye men? Will you give as much blood as shall be needed to temper the steel? Aye! To my anger, now add your own. You be the cogs that fit my wheel… The gunpowder that takes my torch. Pledge yourselves, Heart, soul, body, life as one. Aye. And as I pledge myself. Death to Moby Dick”.

At 3:12 a crescendo of anger rises like a storm as the skies darken, winds rise, and thunder sounds, enveloping the Pequod in a shroud of darkness.

“Saint Elmo’s Fire” reveals the Pequod buffeted by a ferocious squall. Instead of shortening canvass Ahab orders more sail. Starbuck however takes an axe to lower the masts as the ship is close to capsizing. Ahab grabs a harpoon and prepares to thrust it into Starbuck when Saint Elmo’s Fire descends on the ship. Sainton supports the visual splendor with ethereal wordless women’s voices join with shimmering violins. The harpoon becomes alight, glowing radiantly and Ahab grasps its head and declares “This I put out the last fear”! “In Ahab’s Madness”, Ahab believes this sign affirms Divine sanction and orders more canvas to be hung so the forceful winds can assist him make up lost time and catch Moby Dick. Starbuck is flummoxed by Ahab’s madness and his hold over the men. He goes to his cabin, grabs a pistol and stows it in his pocket. Strings irato and unsettled woodwinds create undercurrents of rage, which speak to Starbuck’s desire to rid the ship of this madman. At 1:15 strings brilliante support the return of sunny blue skies carried by languorous strings as the storm dissipates.

In “The Great White Whale” we are treated to an astounding score highlight, a tour de force where Sainton unleashes the score’s finest action writing. Ahab and the men smell land, yet there is no land. Ishmael then speaks to all recounting Elijah’s dire prophecy, which is supported by the grim statements of the portentous Doom Motif draped in ominous auras;

“At sea one day you’ll smell land, where there’ll be no land. On that day Ahab will go to his grave, but rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all, save one, shall follow”.

At 1:19 trumpets resound as we hear “There she Blows!”, and Ahab sees his nemesis through his telescope. Sainton uses a string furioso to propel a rising crescendo of tension as Ahab and the men take to the boats. As they pursue the massive beast an orchestral torrent swells, an outward manifestation of Ahab’s vengeance, and we discern embedded within the storm the repeating trailing four-notes of the Doom Motif. The film was apparently edited, because the cue after 3:10 is not heard in the film.

We flow into “Eerie Calm” where we see that the beast has dived and disappeared deep within the ocean depths. The men hold their positions and begin a tense vigil, watching the sea gulls, mindful that they shall announce his return. Sainton sow unease and a building tension with shifting string harmonics and a fluttering by two flutes and two violins. Kindred woodwinds join providing ambient textures of uncertainty. At 2:24 the birds begin to congregate and tension rises on tremolo strings and bubbling woodwinds. At 2:44 we segue into “He Rises” and the orchestra erupts in a monstrous swell as Moby Dick rises up is an astounding display of primal power! The violent and vengeful strikes of the Ahab Theme contest with the primal power of Moby Dick’s Theme as we see each boat harpoon him. Sainton unleashes a ferocious orchestral torrent, some of the score’s most powerful and intense writing as we see the beast aggressively swim away, pulling one boat under. At 3:25 a vigorous orchestral crescendo dramatico supports Ahab closing and launching another harpoon. The crescendo crests at 3:53 and dissipates as we see all the harpoons being ripped out of the Moby Dick’s flesh, flying backwards over the boats, thus unleashing their hold on him. A monstrous resurgence of primal rage commences as Moby Dick turns about and charges Ahab’s boat with his mighty jaws wide open. At 4:10 horns of doom resound as we see Ahab’s boat crushed by the Moby Dick’s jaws as the astonished crew looks on. Soon, to their disbelief they see Ahab who has climbed atop the beast, and secured himself in harpoon lines. At 4:40 desperate strings support his grasp of a harpoon intent on driving this weapon of vengeance into Moby Dick’s flesh. At 4:53 a crescendo of rage swells as he angrily, and repeatedly thrusts his harpoon into Moby Dick’s flesh. As he does, he lashes out with hateful cries of vengeance;

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee”!

The music rises and falls in synchrony with the whales’ movement through the waves as does Ahab who maintains his death grip much to the men’s amazement. At 5:29 Moby Dick dives, taking Ahab, who is ensnared in harpoon lines to his torso, down to his doom. Sainton brings an eerie calm, the eye of the storm as the men waits for Moby Dick to return. At 6:02 weeping strings lutto support Moby Dick’s return and we see the ensnared dead body of Ahab displayed as an emblem of victory. A swaying motif syncs with his right arm flapping to and fro with the whale’s motion through the waves, as though beckoning his crew to come forth and avenge him. We commence an orchestral resurgence at 6:10 as Starbuck exhorts his men to renew the hunt as they are whalers, and whalers do not run from whales, they kill them! Yet repeating statements of the Doom Motif resound on dire horns with finality at 6:19, informing us that Starbuck decision will bring ruin to all. At 6:51 an accelerando propels the second assault, yet it is for naught as Sainton unleashes a furioso of destruction as Moby Dick turns, attacks and crushes the remaining boats. At 7:57 we shift to a surging storm of vengeance as Moby Dick charges, supported by the Doom Motif, headlong toward the Pequod, ramming it and inflicting a mortal wound, which kills Pip. At 8:27 a new furioso erupts as Moby Dick swims vigorously in a circle, creating a vortex, which consumes the Pequod. His joining of cinematography and music achieves an astounding confluence. At 8:48 a descent motif slowly takes the Pequod to her watery grave. Yet Moby Dick is not finished as horns of vengeance resound at 9:10 as he rams her dead carcass on last time out of spite. In the aftermath gull’s circle supported by a diminuendo of death.

In “Finale” a solo oboe di speranza supports the lone survivor Ishmael swimming and discovering Queequeg’s water tight coffin. He hoists himself atop this lifeboat and is rescued the next day by the USS Rachel. Sainton caresses us with swaying strings, which mirror the ocean waves. We transition to a threnody, which supports Ishmael’s closing words;

“The Drama is done. All are departed away. The great shroud of the sea rolls over the Pequod, her crew and Moby Dick. I only am escaped, alone, to tell thee”.

We close dramatically with a reprise of the Doom Motif, which ends in a flourish.

I wish to commend John Morgan and William Stromberg for this long-sought re-recording of Philip Sainton’s masterpiece, “Moby Dick”. The score’s restoration and audio quality are excellent and provide an enjoyable listening experience. The conducting of the Moscow Symphony orchestra under Stromberg’s masterful baton would have earned Sainton’s praise. When John Huston hired Sainton, he had never before composed a film score, and this singular effort earns him immortality. The story, when distilled down to its raw elements is a tale of man versus the beast. To that end he created two primary themes to drive his narrative; one for Captain Ahab which seethes with anger, raging within his tormented soul, an obsession for revenge that cannot be assuaged, or forestalled. The Moby Dick Theme by contrast is propelled by a forceful kinetic rising motif borne of primal monstrous power. The themes for Ahab and Moby Dick are linked in a fateful shared destiny, where coexistence is impossible. Sainton brilliantly conceived them to flow seamlessly into each other in their struggle for life and death. His other thematic identities all masterfully contributed to the film’s narrative, speaking to the joy of sailing, the bond of friendship and the dark portentous specter of prophesy. Powerful emotions were at play in this tale and Sainton enhanced Huston’s story-telling by giving force to their expression, achieving a masterful confluence with Melville’s prose and Oswald Morris’ cinematography. Folks, Sainton composed a masterpiece for the ages, and sadly, we can only imagine what feats he could have accomplished had he composed for other films. I consider this score to be one of the finest of the Golden Age and 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 powerful “Eerie Calm/He Rises” cue; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StkCC5azGKc

Buy the Moby Dick soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:46)
  • Sea Music (2:00)
  • Queequeg’s Entrance (1:33)
  • Ribs & Terrors in the Whale (Hymn) (1:18)
  • Hymn (Reprise) (1:08)
  • Dock Scene (0:49)
  • Dock Scene (Alternate Cue) (1:06)
  • Ishmael Signs Aboard (0:38)
  • Queequeg’s Signing (0:29)
  • Going Aboard (0:41)
  • Stranger/Ready For Departure (1:41)
  • Pequod’s Departure/At Sea (4:33)
  • Ahab’s Introduction (6:10)
  • There She Blows (3:55)
  • Journey Continues (2:13)
  • Carnival (2:25)
  • Meeting At Sea (2:27)
  • On The Lookout (1:18)
  • Waiting (2:20)
  • Moby Dick Appears (2:10)
  • The Search Continues (3:43)
  • Saint Elmo’s Fire (1:21)
  • Ahab’s Madness (1:37)
  • The Great White Whale (4:00)
  • Eerie Calm/ He Rises (10:17)
  • Finale (1:20)

Running Time: 62 minutes 58 seconds

Marco Polo 8-225050 (1956/1998)

Music composed by Philip Sainton. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Philip Sainton. Score produced by Philip Sainton. Album produced by William Stromberg, John Morgan and Anna Bonn.

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