Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE SILVER CHALICE – Franz Waxman


November 15, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Warner Brothers studio executives decided that following the stunning commercial success of MGM’s “Quo Vadis” in 1951 and 20th Century Fox’s “The Robe” in 1953, that they would cash in on the popular religious epic genre. To that end they purchased the film rights to the popular 1952 novel “The Silver Chalice” by Thomas B. Costain. Lesser Samuels was hired to adapt the novel and write the screenplay. Victor Saville was tasked with production and directing the film with a budget of $4.5 million. Saville made the artistic decision to eschew traditional realism for the film’s visual design, instead embracing stage design with an Art Deco style by renown operatic stage designer Rolfe Gerard. It was an audacious decision, which in the end was not received well by critics or the public. A fine cast was hired, which included Virginia Mayo as Helena, Pier Angeli as Deborra, Jack Palance as Simon Magus, Joseph Wiseman as Mijamin, and Alexander Scourby as Luke.

The film’s setting takes place during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. The story explores the lore of the holy grail, which is attributed as being the cup used by Jesus Christ at the last supper. Basil, is adopted by a childless Greek Ignatius of Antioch and trained as a silver artisan. After Ignatius’ death, Basil’s evil uncle Linus sells him into slavery. However, the magician Simon helps him escape to Jerusalem where he marries the beautiful Deborra and converts to Christianity. By chance he meets the Apostle Luke who is impressed by his talent and gives him a commission to cast the cup of Christ used at the last supper in silver, and then sculpt the faces of Jesus and the twelve apostles around the cup’s lip. Basil gladly accepts the commission as this is an opportunity of a lifetime, which could buy his and Deborra’s freedom. Problems arise when their paths again cross with the cunning magician Simon who asserts he is the new messiah, and his scheming wife Helena. The film was a commercial disaster, losing $1.3 million with Paul Newman not helping with his scathing criticism of his acting performance. Critics while praising its lavish production values, found the film cumbersome and too long in reaching its conclusion. Nevertheless the film received two Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Film Score.

In the early 1950s Franz Waxman’s career was ascendent with back-to-back Oscar wins in 1950 for “Sunset Boulevard” and 1951 for “A Place In The Sun”. He was high in demand, director Victor Saville was favorably disposed to his music, and so he was offered the scoring assignment. Waxman realized quickly that the traditional orchestral expansiveness and grandeur of religious epics would not work in this film given Saville’s artistic choice for an interior focus using stage design with an Art Deco style as a backdrop for the film. Instead, he believed a more intimate approach attuned to the character emotions would be required so as to better align his music with the film’s visuals. He understood that the film’s central narrative concerned the Holy Grail, and that he would have to infuse his soundscape with the requisite religioso auras and hymns. The emotional dynamics of the love triangle between Basil, Deborra and Helena created romantic tension, as well as their interactions with villain turned madman Simon would also have to be addressed. Lastly, the cultural dynamics of Mijamin and his Sicarii Jewish nationalists, the insufferable excess of Nero and his court, as well as Roman antipathy towards Christians and Jews would also need to be expressed to speak to the growing socio-religious conflict between them.

To support his soundscape Waxman composed a multiplicity of themes, motifs, dances, and fanfares. The Holy Grail Theme permeates the film and draws inspiration from the Dresden Amen, a six-note ascending motif sung by German choirs during church services in early 19th century Saxony. Waxman joins composer’s Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner in interpolating the motif into his composition. Declarations by solemn horns reverenziali resound with repeating statements interspersed with rapidly ascending shimmering strings splendenti, adorned by chimes and shimmering glockenspiel for a reverent and mystical expression, which evoke the Divine. Basil’s Theme is first heard as a folk tune like melody on solo oboe triste as he tries to fathom be sold by his father to Ignatius. Afterwards as he assumes his new status, a more expressive and free flowing expression by solo flute orientale emerges. Luke’s Theme supports this Christian holy man guardian of the Holy Grail. It emotes in a slow, yet methodical chant-like melody borne by woodwinds solenne and pizzicato strings. Deborra’s Theme, which serves as both her identity, but also later evolving into a romantic testament for her and Basil. It emotes tenderly, if not fragilely with a yearning hopefulness. It evolves into a Love Theme, with its initial statements being tinged with the sadness of unrequited love. However, later in the film after Basil’s conversion, it adopts a more forthright and positive romanticism

Helena has two themes; her Little Helena’s Theme supports her character as a young slave in Ignatius’ home. It emotes as a solo flute delicato, which speaks with gentleness, yet we discern sadness in the notes, and we end on a diminuendo of uncertainty as she is in the end, a slave. The adult Helena’s Theme is overtly sexual, alluring and speaks to her seductive feminine wiles. For our villains we have Simon’s Theme, which supports this magician who descends into the madness of self-deification. Waxman offers a minor modal, comic-pompous misterioso. When he embraces a messianic complex, as second theme for him develops, the Messiah Theme, which offers a trombone empowered hollow marcia pomposa. Late in the film when he descends into madness, the theme mutates into a grand, yet grotesques iteration. Mijamin’s Theme support his identity as the leader of the Jewish, nationalist resistance, and by extension his Sicarii fighters. Waxman utilizes a classic string malevelo borne fugue with horn accents to support their diabolical efforts.

“Prologue” offers a stirring score highlight. It was composed to support the film’s opening with a depiction of the Last Supper so as to establish a spiritual ambiance. Editing however removed the prologue to shorten the film. We open dramatically and are graced by a boy soprano singing a hymn sacro in Baroque style supported by harpsichord and strings reverenziali. We culminate with a grand, solemn statement of the Main Theme replete with church bells to conclude the passage. “Main Title: The Cup” offers a magnificent score highlight where Waxman captures the film’s emotional core with a stirring paean religioso. We open with heraldic fanfare reale, which supports the display of the Warner Brothers studio logo. It ushers in at 0:06 the display of the film title and roll of the opening credits set against an ornate engraved metallic silver background. The inspired religioso grandeur of the Main Theme declared by solemn horns reverenziali, resound and evoke the Divine with repeating statements interspersed with fervent ascending strings splendenti adorned with shimmering chimes and glockenspiel. At 0:42 the melody shifts to strings religioso joined by horns nobile, with a pattern of repeating declarations by horns nobile, answered by strings splendenti. We conclude at 1:28 with a portentous descent on horns grave to conclude the credits. At we flow into the film proper atop a meandering oboe orientale as narration provides an overview of the cities of the Levant, and life along the silver merchants of Antioch. At 2:39 we flow into a wondrous, exotic processionale felice as we see the wealthy Greek merchant Ignatius’ carriage proceeding down the market’s street past beseeching craftsmen desirous of selling him their goods. We close at 3:06 as a descent on strings energico unleash a battle of spritely woodwinds as a young Basil battles bullies who break his wood carving.

In “The New Father” Ignatius again offers his dear friend Theron gold to allow him to adopt his youngest son as he is sad and childless. Theron is sad, but relents accepting this destiny is best for the boy. An oboe triste emotes Basil’s Theme reflecting the sadness of parting. At 0:28 His sad theme carries us to the formal ceremony of adoption as Theron signs away his legal rights and the boy is renamed Basil, and becomes legal son and heir to Ignatius. The music is sad, carried by a repeating four-note phrase by forlorn woodwinds and muted portentous trumpets as the bewildered Basil tries to absorb what is happening. At 1:34 woodwinds festive arise as Ignatius orders drinks of celebration served. At 1:38 we flow into and are graced by a beautiful exposition of Basil’s Theme borne by a solo flute delicato, which offers a young Helena’s Theme as the slave girl and Basil become acquainted. The flute speaks with gentleness, yet we discern sadness in the notes and we end on a diminuendo of uncertainty as she is in the end, a slave.

“Little Helena” offers a beautiful score highlight where we are graced by an extended exposition of Young Helena’s Theme. We open darkly with the arrival of Ignatius’ overtly hostile younger brother, who rails against the boy who now inherits Ignatius’ fortune instead of him. Waxman supports the brother’s quarrel Basil’s Theme by flute tristi, foreboding strings and dark portentous horns as the enraged Linus spurns the boy and storms out. For the remainder of the cue the film reveals significant edits, which cut the 5:30 minute album presentation to only 2:07 minutes. At 0:54 we flow atop a wondrous extended exposition of Young Helena’s Theme, which will shift its melody to and from solo flute tenero, to solo oboe delicato with harp adornment, and strings tristi. Basil has sculpted a bust of her, yet she is discontented as a slave and shares that she will be running away tonight. He bids her to wait for him to free her when he becomes master, but she says she cannot wait that long. Basil gifting her a bag of silver so she has means of surviving, and then also gifts her a lion ring he carved, which she adores. At 3:36 she kisses him goodbye and he asks if he will ever see her again. When she answers yes Waxman ingeniously expresses her adult theme, twinkling, sexually alluring woodwind misterioso. He runs to her, kisses her and she departs says she will always remember him as her first love. At 4:12 we segue years later into “Brother Linus” atop a dirge joined by wordless mourning voices as we see Ignatius laying in state. Basil, a young man has taken a mold of his face for a commemorative bust he is sculpting. At 4:24 a grim crescendo rises up as Basil displays the bust on a pedestal of honor. At 5:06 horns of doom support the arrival of Linus with police who arrest Basil. He has bribed the Roman magistrate and declares Basil a slave, which he has sold. Basil protests, but to no avail. Waxman supports the treachery with a grim, descending dirge empowered by a solitary drum beat of despair, and horns of betrayal. We close at with violence as Basil is forcibly arrested and escorted out as Linus gifts the magistrate his payoff – two bags of gold.

“Basil The Slave” opens with an exotic Basil’s Theme with bustling energy as we see Helena walking down the silver market street. A diminuendo on Basil’s Theme ushers in a misterioso as she enters the shop of Basil’s owners and insists on speaking to him so that she may explain a medallion she wishes to be made. At 1:18 strings of alarm surge as she places the medallion on Basil’s work bench and he sees the lion ring. At 1:31 Waxman unleashes a tempest of violence on Basil’s Theme as he throws a deliberate tantrum, which forces his owners to flee so he might speak to Helena alone. He cannot believe his eyes, and at 2:00 tentative violins usher in the Young Helena’s Theme as he recalls her. At 2:18 strings of woe support her revelation that she overheard Linus plan to kill him to safeguard his larceny. At 2:36 dire horns sound as she cautions him and departs, carried by a fleeting memory of her childhood theme. At 2:55 marcia violenta carries a policeman to the shop, which dissipates as they enter to find him working diligently at his workbench.

“Luke” reveals the Christian buying Basil’s freedom so that he may take on a holy task – enshrining the sacred cup of Christ in silver. Strings solenne emote the dour chant-like Luke’s Theme as he arrives after hours to the owner’s shop. He makes an offer to buy Basil, and at 0:54 the wife and owner plot treachery privately to sell Basil, then report him stolen. Serpentine strings weave treachery their web of treachery. She informs Basil of a strangers who comes to visit him and at 1:10 Luke’s Theme transfers to flute with contrapuntal violas as he is resistant to Luke’s offer of freedom and accepting his holy task. At 2:01 Luke’s Theme strengthens its resolve, buttressed by horns solenne as he tries to persuade Basil, who remains mistrustful. At 4:03 horns of alarm sound as Linus and his assassins arrive. Waxman sow urgency as Luke convinces Basil to flee with him. At 4:25 the Main Theme erupts on horns irato and strings energico as Linus storms Basil’s room to find him missing. We close with resounding horns dramatico at the headquarters of the Roman garrison where Linus reports a renegade slave.

“Simon The Magician” opens with Fanfare Romana as Helena arrives at the Roman garrison to entertain the men with Simon. At 0:07 we flow into the sensual allure of Helena’s Theme as she enters the hall. At 0:17 swarming strings and stinging woodwinds support the Romans torment of Mijamin, who is rescued by Helena. A bridge of woodwinds usher in Mijamin’s Theme at 0:46 as she meets him and then makes later arrangements for him to meet Simon. At 1:15 Waxman entertains us with a festive danza esotica, which entwines with the sexual allure of Helena’s Theme as she titillates the men and Simon entertains with magic tricks. At 3:40 harp glissandi and sardonic woodwinds support amazing feats of magic performed by Simon, which amaze the men. At 4:08 we return to the seductive allure of Helena’s Theme, which ushers in a string borne misterioso as Simon performs a mock decapitation and restoration of Helena’s Head to the awestruck men.

The following octonary cue is multi-scenic and a testament to Waxman’s craftmanship. We open with “The Caravan” where Mijamin recruits Simon’s magical talents to aid him in challenging Jesus’ pacifism to foment rebellion against the Romans in Jerusalem. Music enters to support the journey of two caravans to Jerusalem; Simon, Helena and Mijamin in one, and Luke and Basil in the other. Waxman offers eerie orchestral textures of the barren desert draped in a misterioso to support their travels. At 1:06 their guide sights Jerusalem, which is supported by three solemn chords religioso. As they enter the city mystical strings and woodwinds weave a misterioso. At 1:48 we segue into “Deborra” a score highlight where we see the beautiful young woman gazing at Basil, and their eyes lock. Woodwinds orientale usher in her tender yet reticent theme, which unfolds on a yearning solo violin with harp glissandi for a wondrous exposition. At 3:15 we segue into “Joseph as she runs to advise her grandfather Joseph a Christian, and father Aaron, an Orthodox Jew, of Luke’s arrival. The music darkens, reflecting the conflict regarding Deborra’s conversion to Christianity. An aggrieved cello orientale contests with her woodwind borne theme as father and daughter quarrel. Joseph’s support for her only worsens matters. At 5:00 we segue into “The Secret Meeting”, which reveals Mijamin introducing Simon to the Sciarii, who propose supplanting Judaism and Christianity with a new militant warrior religion that will propel the ouster of their accursed Roman overlords. As Simon rouses the crowd and elevates himself as a new nationalist messiah, Waxman supports with primal waves of menace and blood lust, which rise and fall from the deepest recesses of the orchestra.

At 5:32 we segue into “The Sacred Cup”, a score highlight of reverence, which reveals Basil meeting Christians Joseph, Luke and Deborra in secret. Waxman supports the introduction with reverence by an ascending Luke’s Theme infused with a growing anticipation, emoted by woodwinds solenne. At 6:16 Deborra retrieves a box, which is supported by a solemn Grail Theme. As Joseph opens it and sets the cup on the box’s lid with the theme’s expression becomes somber. At 7:07 a grave statement of the theme supports his revelation that there are some who wish to destroy the sacred cup. At 7:18 the theme becomes refulgent and mystical as they kneel in reverence. Horns solenne join and at 8:15 Waxman interpolates the St. Matthew’s Passion, BWV 244 by Johannes Sebastian Bach with contrapuntal woodwinds as Joseph the task, they wish Basil to assume – the casting of the cup of Christ atop a silver chalice, with its rim lined with images of Jesus and the twelve apostles. Basil accepts the task, but seems baffled at the reverence held for such a simple cup. As Deborra explains reverential statements by the Grail Theme by horns solemn support her testament of faith.

At 10:39 we segue into “The Golden Bathtub” atop an extended exposition of Helena’s sensual and seductive theme borne by woodwinds and alluring strings as she bathes rooftop in a bathtub made of gold. Simon joins and hands her his first payment – a bag of gold. She asks him to take the gold and move on from the Sicarii, but he refuses. At 12:05 we segue into “Simon the Savior” atop his woodwind carried theme, which ushers in a mystical misterioso. At 12:45 Waxman introduces his Messiah Theme, a hollow marcia pomposa as he declares that he aspires to be more, a new messiah. As Helena pours cold water on his aspirations, comic woodwinds sardonica and pizzicato strings support with his theme. We close with faux trumpets reale as he looks at his golden reflection in her bathtub. At 13:31 we segue atop mystical shimmering violins into “Basil At Work” a beautifully romantic score highlight. Deborra joins Basil as he sculpts busts of each apostle. Strings and horns solenne entwine a soliloquy of reverence entwined with an adoration by Deborra’s Theme as she tries to assist Basil with his sculpting block for Jesus. At 16:21 we flow into a sumptuous exposition of Deborra’s Theme, which bears a nascent romanticism as we see her love awakening with Basil, her sealing her affection with a kiss to his cheek. “Helena In Jerusalem” a visit by the informer Benjamin informs them that Kester lives in Jerusalem, when he adds that the beautiful Helena has also arrived, her seductive and sensual theme joins with an ominous Main Theme to support the revelation. We close darkly at 0:33 when Benji advises Basil that he may see Helena tonight when she appears with Simon the magician.

“Simon’s Orchestra” (CD-2, track 18) reveals him performing a magic trick of growing pomegranates on a tree before the audience eyes Waxman supports the scene with a mystical, oriental auras and textures, which create a sense of wonderment. In “Simon’s Miracle” syncopated woodwinds support three people joining Simon on stage for his ‘miracle’. As Simon prepares to have flames appear over each of their heads an eerie pall of anticipation descends. He waves his hand thrice, with radiant surges at 0:53, 0:56 and 0:59 supporting the appearance of flames over each of their heads. An orchestral upsurge at 1:05 follows Benji stoking the crowd by yelling “A Miracle!” At 1:16 we segue atop a grim sustain into “The Unbeliever” as Deborra yells blasphemy and decries Simon as a false prophet. At 1:34 salutatory woodwinds and horns support Mijamin’s declaration that Simon is a holy man. Benji exhorts the crowd to shout “We believe in Simon” and Waxman unleashes a dissonant orchestral torrent as Simon basks in glory. Deborra’s again exhorts against Simon, but is shouted down by hostile crowd propelled by an angry torrent empowered by dire horns. At 2:10 silence supports Simon’s threat to turn unbelievers into a pilar of stone. Waxman sow menace as Simon dares the crowd to test him. At 2:27 we segue tensely into The Red Scarf” as Deborra tries to challenge Simon only to have the crowd turn on her and Basil who tries to take her to safety. At 2:58 Roman soldiers arrive and forcibly disperse the crowd supported by menacing martial horns and an aggrieved Deborra’s Theme. A soldier begins beating Luke who has fallen and Deborra throws a rock, which knocks the soldier down. At 3:29 fugue feroce propels the Roman’s as Deborra and Basil flee for their lives.

We segue seamlessly into “The Chase” where Roman soldiers pursue Basil and Deborra through cities streets. Waxman propels the flight with an energetic fugue driven by violins and French horns. At 0:39 we segue into “Deborra Is Hurt” atop a plaintive piccolo as she is hurt dropping from a roof to the street. The fugue resumes in earnest as Basil picks her up and carries her as he runs. At 1:55 we segue into “Rooftop Fight” atop horns of menace, which resound as Basil and a Roman soldier battle on the rooftop. Waxman supports with a ferocious orchestral crescendo of violence propelled by angry churning strings as the men battle hand to hand. At 2:36 the fury dissipates as Basil tosses the guard over the wall and he falls to his doom. A dirge-like pall descends as Basil rejoins a weeping Deborra. She opens her heart to him and the Love Theme joins to support the tender moment. We close darkly as Basil takes her to have her leg mended. In “The Silver Chalice” (CD-2, track 24) Aaron informs Joseph and Luke that the suffered the humiliation of offering a gold bribe and that Deborra would be home tomorrow. Aaron departs and a statement of Deborra’s Theme by oboe triste brings relief to Joseph and Luke. Later at 0:11 Luke brings Basil and the nearly completed Holy Grail to Joseph. The Shimmering radiance of the Grail Theme glistens with its silver luster as Joseph accepts the grail, becoming solemn at 0:31 as Joseph informs Basil, he must journey to Rome to acquire Peter’s likeness. We close at 0:54 with and extended rendering of Deborah’s Theme as the misinterpret Basil’s desire to stay being a love for Deborra, when in reality, it is Helena that he seeks.

“Basil Loves Helena” reveals Basil attending to Helena, whom he loves. We open on an ascent of yearning strings, which usher in harp draped, seductive allure of Helena’s Theme. They kiss, and Basil expresses his love and desire for her to join him in Rome. Yet sadness enters when she says she cannot leave Simon. At 1:37 Simon rides in below on a donkey carried by a plodding, trombone rendering of his Messiah Theme. Yet at 2:07 the sensual allure of her theme returns as she plots to offer Simon a larger stage, Rome, in hopes of finding a way for her to join Basil. Basil moves away, unhappy that she cannot leave Simon. A solo violin’s weaves a siren song as she uses her seductive wiles to ensnare him, crowned with a kiss. At 3:25 Helena joins Simon supported by a plucky pizzicato rendering of his theme. His theme entwines with his Messiah Theme as Helena weaves her web of deception, an induces him to take the grail to Rome after he steals it and destroy it in front of his nemesis – Peter. He loves the idea, and we close darkly as he plans the grail’s theft. “Deborra’s Disappointment” offers a sublime score highlight with the score’s finest rendering of the Love Theme. It reveals her baring her heart to Basil, convinced by Joseph and Luke that he loved her. Waxman supports with a heartfelt romantic exposition of the Love Theme, with aching ascents full of yearning. Yet at 1:51 she realizes that Basil does not love her as Luke and Joseph believed and she grieves with heartache and embarrassment. The Love Theme transforms and is now rendered molto triste as she weeps and moves away from him. He acknowledges that he doe love Helena, but offers to help her any way that he can, including marriage so she may obtain her inheritance of gold to assist the struggling Christian church.

“Sicarii Search” offers a score highlight full of tragedy. It opens with the conclusion of Basil and Deborra’s wedding, as distressed strings support the arrival of Mijamin and the Sicarii, who barge into the house and begin a forced search for the Holy Grail. Their theme, full of malice and dark purpose carry their entry, transforming into a fuga malevola as they search and ransack the house. At 1:45 a violent jab supports a knife in the back threat to Joseph’s servant to reveal the treasure room or die. Violent strikes support the brutal march to the treasure room, where they fail to find the grail. At 2:04 a crescendo of cruelty supports Mijamin’s barging into Joseph bed chamber, where they find him dead and yet defile his bed searching. Horns lamentoso usher in grieving strings, which emote the Sicarii Theme to voice the aftermath of their cruelty as they find the grail’s empty box. “New Beginning” reveals Basil and Deborra’s caravan traveling to Antioch to claim her inheritance supported by the Caravan Traveling Motif, which transforms into a processionale esotica as they arrive at an oasis. A flute orientale ushers in a somnolent Deborra’s Theme with a lurking undercurrent of tension by the Siciarii Theme as she tries to sleep. At 1:25 violins of alarm support a knife ripping through the tent wall and Deborra’s capture by the Siciarii. An interlude of suspense with timpani hits supports their search of the tent. At 1:58 frantic strings of alarm support Basil, who was sleeping outside the tent, waking and attacking, with a violent torrent supporting his failed efforts as he is bludgeoned senseless while the Siciarii flee with the grail carried by their theme. As their theme fades Basil and Adam resolve to pursue. At 2:50 a forlorn statement of Deborra’s Theme supports her concern as the men depart.

For “In The Desert” (CD-2 track 25) music used in the film begins at 0:40 with the shrill woodwinds and wavering strings of the Desert Motif with interplay of a grave Sicarii Theme as Adam and Basil close in on the Sicarii and prepare to attack. We segue into “Fight For The Cup”, one of the score’s most ferocious action cues. Adam and Basil lay in ambush and we open with horns barbaro declarations as they attack. Two of the four Sicarii are killed quickly as Adam and Basil engage the last two in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Waxman launches an orchestral firestorm of impressionist violence with churning strings of the war-like Sicarii Theme contesting with the Grail Theme. Adam eventually kills his man and races to help Basil who is struggling with Mijamin for the exposed grail. With Adam charging, Mijamin at 2:26 flees and escapes on camelback carried by a defeated utterance of his theme. A grim diminuendo follows as Adam gets fresh water for the injured Basil. At 3:06 a refulgent Grail Theme supports Adam pouring water into the grail and Basil drinking from it. As Basil drinks, the theme transforms, losing its radiance to become gentle and healing as we see him refreshed.

The “Court Decision” scene was deleted from the film. We open with a grave rendering of Luke’s Theme, contests with surging anger as he outwits Linus’ attorney an secures a court decision affirming the legal sale of Basil to Luke. At 0:45 Linus is furious that he lost and ferocious surges of violence support him whipping his lawyer afterwards. At 1:15 we segue atop plaintive woodwinds and strings into “Basil Is Sailing” where Deborra bids farewell to Basil who soon sets sail for Rome. At 1:46 the Love Theme blossoms for an exquisite exposition replete with solo violin as he informs her that he has made arrangements with local Christians for her protection while he is gone. As he departs at 4:07 a majestic rendering of the Main Theme carries his progress. At 4:24 we segue into “The Cup Is Safe”, music for a scene deleted from the film where the Sicarii again raid and ransack Deborra’s home, leaving once more without finding it. A dark and menacing Sicarii Theme opens and then descends atop horns brutali and percussive violence as the house is ransacked. We close at 5:40 with a radiant Holy Grail Theme as it remains safe as the Sicarii depart. “Deborra’s Lament” offers an exquisite score highlight for a deleted scene in which Deborra bares her heart to Luke regarding he unrequited love for Basil. Waxman graces us with a duet for two aching oboe romantico, which join with her yearning theme suffering from unrequited love.

“Fanfare For Nero’s Walk To The Table” reveals the maniacal emperor’s arrival at his royal court and walk to his recliner. Waxman supports with an unsettling, dissonant antiphonal fanfare, which bares an occult menace. At 0:38 we segue into “Ballet” offers an amazing synergy as Waxman aligns his music with the tumbling and balletic physicality of the dancers. “Table Music” offers a sequence of sparkling harp glissandi, with each supported the introduction of a dinner entre choice. At 0:39 we segue into “Ballet”, which reprises the dance music for our artists. “Dinner Music” supports the feast’s gentile, relaxed ambiance as Simon performs some magic tricks for Nero, with Waxman writing in an exotic archaic idiom. “Helena At The Inn” reveals Basil speaking to Cephas, frustrated that he cannot seem to meet with Peter, which Waxman supports by weaving a tapestry of illusiveness by strings, woodwinds and forelorn horns. At 0:54 Helena’s alluring theme supports her arrival at the inn, and reunion with Basil.

“Kester Is Back” reveals the reunion of the two men, Basil’s informing him of Linus’ treachery, and Kester’s pledge to help him right the injustice. Music enters on Helena’s aggrieved theme as she makes a discreet exit as the two men talk. At 0:08 a dour march with a meandering solo violin carries the men’s exit and we shift back at 0:37 to Helena’s blossoming theme as porters carry her through the streets. At 0:50 we segue into “Walk!” atop shimmering tremolo violins and plucked angelic harp as Peter heals a lame girl and commands her to walk to him, which she does crowned with a Divine chord as he embraces her. At 2:16 we flow into another scene atop resplendent horns where Basil presents Peter with his Holy Grail handiwork. Waxman sow the essence of Heaven itself with a radiant Holy Grail Theme borne by trumpets brillante, refulgent tremolo violins, sparkling glockenspiel and twinkling chimes as Peter marvels at Basil’s handiwork. Soldiers come to escort Basil to the Emperor Nero and as he departs, he tells Basil that he will pray that one day he will see the face of Jesus so the grail may be completed.

“Simon The Magician” reveals Basil brought to Nero’s royal court where dancers entertain. He is commanded to sculpt a bust of Nero. Waxman supports with a reprise at 3:40 with festive Simon’s Theme rendered as a danza esotica, which creates a perfect party ambiance. Simon promises Nero a miracle, which will affirm he is greater than Jesus – he will fly. In “The Flying Suit” Simon explains how he will create the illusion of flight high atop a great tower he will construct. He dons the winged suit he created and as he gazes out the window at a flying eagle, an eerie, shifting tremelo by violins scintillante support his planned grand deception. “Early Christian Hymn” reveals Basil in his studio with the magnificent completed bust of Nero, being informed of Deborra’s arrival. The Christians are whipped mercilessly outside as they build Simon’s tower, and Waxman supports with a liturgical Hymn sacro. We close with Basil furious at their mistreatment, and smashing the bust of Nero to pieces on the floor. “Basil’s Conversion” offers a score highlight, which supports Basil’s stirring epiphany. We open darkly atop horns grave as surreal images of countless crucifixes display as a troubled Basil ponders by the window. Yearning strings thirst for inspiration as Basil asks Jesus to guide his hands in fashioning his image in the unfinished clay bust. At 0:32 strings descend in register as Basil falls to his knees in supplication. Slowly, an inexorable ascent by strings of hope expressing the Main Theme commences at 0:47 and blossoms at 1:12 on strings brillante draped with plucked harp. We conclude on a radiant crescendo of realization as Basil experiences an epiphany and accepts Jesus into his heart.

“Fanfare For Simon” reveals Simon’s arrival before a massive cheering crowd, his ego enshrined by antiphonal fanfare grandioso as he walks to the enormous tower. At 0:46 we segue into “Caesar’s Arrival At Tower” atop his twisted fanfare pomposa as Nero arrives for the spectacle. In “The Tower” Simon takes a drink of wine and a crazed look comes over him as he revels in the crowd’s adulation. As Helena hands him his flying suit he viciously slams it to the ground declaring he does not need it and will fly by the power of his will! Woodwinds terrore quiver to support his madness as he bolts up the stairs, empowered by a horrific ascent motif. At 0:39 tremolo violins enter as he reaches the top, closes the stairwell lid and basks in the crowd’s adulation. At 0:59 we commence a deranged prelude of death as Simon parades atop the tower and prepares to jump off and fly. At 1:20 a crescendo of horror surges as Simon basks in glory. At 2:03 a violin tremolo of suspense supports his move to the roof edge as Helena looks on in horror. Simon unfurls his cloak and at 2:17 faux trumpets divini proclaim his godhood. We build up to his leap atop horrific, twisted declarations of his theme, which end in silence as he plunges off to his doom.

“Helena’s Exit” reveals an angry, disappointed crowd, which Nero pacifies by blaming Helena and the Christians. He orders her tossed from the tower in recompense. After protesting in vain, Helena accepts her fate and walks willingly to her fate carried by her theme rendered as a grim marcia destino. At 0:27 strings of flight carry Basil’s run to Peter’s lodge where Deborra is waiting. A diminuendo of thankfulness takes him to her, the embrace and at 0:56 a violin d’amore emotes the Love Theme as Basil asks for her to forgive, and love him. The moment is lost at 1:33 when grim horns of despair sow a lamentation to support Peter’s revelation that men stole both the Holy Grail and Basil’s commemorative silver chalice. Basil rushes off to find the grail, comes across Mijamin’s dead body and finds only the silver image of Peter he crafted for the chalice in the empty bag. In “Finale” we open with a tender, harp draped Deborra’s Theme as Peter bids Basil and Deborra farewell and a long life together as they prepare to set sail to Antioch. At 0:55 Luke’s Theme carried by strings reverenziali supports Basil’s lament of his inability to restore the cup. At 1:13 we bear witness to Peter’s soliloquy, where Waxman’s profoundly moving rendering of the Grail Theme join in a sublime cinematic confluence. To fully appreciate the moment, I provide Peter’s words;

“It will be restored, but for years and for hundreds of years, it will lie in darkness; where, I know not. When it is brought out into the light again there will be great cities, and mighty bridges and towers higher than the tower of Babel. It will be a world of evil and long bitter wars. In such a world as that the little cup will look very lonely. But it may be in that age when man holds lightning in his hands, and rides the sky as Simon the Magician strove to do it will be needed more than it is needed now.”

This is cinema at its finest. “End Cast” is a misnomer as the music supports the display of “The End”, not the cast of players. We are graced by a final glorious reprise of Deborra’s Theme, which culminates in a flourish.

I would like to thank Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly for the restoration of the complete score to Franz Waxman’s masterpiece, “The Silver Chalice”. The score’s source for the restoration was the fifty-three-year-old original three-track 35 mm monaural recording. The digital assembly by Michael McDonald and digital mastering by Doug Schwartz were well done, although 21st century stereophonic qualitative standards were not achieved. Nevertheless, the recording provides an enjoyable listening experience, which does not diminish the magnificence of Waxman’s handiwork. Director Victor Saville made an audacious artistic choice for cinematography with an interior focus using stage design with an Art Deco style as a backdrop for the film. This required Waxman to adapt his scoring approach, eschewing the traditional orchestral expansiveness and grandeur of religious epics, and instead embracing a more intimate approach attuned to the character interactions and emotions. At the heart of the film is the quest of the Holy Grail, which required him to infuse his soundscape with the requisite religioso auras and hymns. Waxman, in a masterstroke of conception captured the film’s emotional core by interpolating the traditional Dresden Amen motif to evoke the Divine and embody the Holy Grail’s mystical expression. For our hero Basil, we see his theme evolve from a tentative statement filled with confusion and uncertainty to a much more assertive and confident iteration as a free man. The secondary narratives of the love triangle between Basil, Deborra and Helena, as well as their interactions with the villains Simon, a messianic madman, and Mijamin leader of the Sicarii Jewish nationalists would also need to be addressed. For the two women in Basil’s heart, Waxman juxtaposes Helena’s sexual, seductive allure with Deborra’s purity and gentleness. The evolution of Simon’s Theme from the comic-pompous misterioso of a magician trickster, to the grotesque, crazed dilution of a messianic madman was profound. While the brutality of Mijamin leader of the Sicarii Jewish nationalists served as the perfect foil for our hero Basil. I believe Waxman rose to the challenge and presented Saville with a score, which in every way enhanced his storytelling. I believe it offers one of the finest scores in Waxman’s canon, a gem of the Golden Age, and an essential album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a magnificent twelve-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xyH-nSJ0qE

Buy the Silver Chalice soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title: The Cup (3:36)
  • The New Father (2:40)
  • Little Helena/Brother Linus (6:21)
  • Basil The Slave (3:16)
  • Luke (4:58)
  • Simon The Magician (5:18)
  • The Caravan/Deborra/Joseph/The Secret Meeting/The Sacred Cup/The Golden Bathtub/Simon The Savior/Basil At Work (16:45)
  • Helena In Jerusalem (0:50)
  • Simon’s Miracle/The Unbeliever/The Red Scarf (3:50)
  • The Chase /Deborra Is Hurt/Rooftop Fight (4:03)
  • Basil Loves Helena (4:40)
  • Deborra’s Disappointment (3:38)
  • Sicarii Search (3:26)
  • New Beginning (4:07)
  • Fight For The Cup (3:54)
  • Court Decision/The Cup Is Safe And Basil Is Sailing (6:06)
  • Deborra’s Lament (1:50)
  • Fanfare For Nero’s Walk To The Table/Ballet (1:59)
  • Table Music/Ballet (Reprise) (0:54)
  • Dinner Music (3:04)
  • Helena At The Inn (1:20)
  • Kester Is Back/Walk! (3:39)
  • Simon The Magician (Reprise) (2:01)
  • The Flying Suit (0:36)
  • Early Christian Hymn (1:47)
  • Basil’s Conversion (1:42)
  • Fanfare For Simon/Caesar’s Arrival At Tower (1:04)
  • The Tower (3:33)
  • Helena’s Exit (2:06)
  • Finale/End Cast (3:12)
  • Deborra’s Theme (2:14) BONUS
  • Prologue (2:22) BONUS
  • Main Title (Original Version) (2:00) BONUS
  • Trailer (1:06) BONUS
  • Simon’s Orchestra (0:56) BONUS
  • Simon the Magician (Pre-Recording) (1:15) BONUS
  • Ballet (Pre-Recording) (2:00) BONUS
  • Simon’s Drinking Song (1:00) BONUS
  • Fanfares (1:51) BONUS
  • The Informer (Music & Effects) (0:08) BONUS
  • The Silver Chalice (Music & Effects) (2:04) BONUS
  • In The Desert (Music & Effects) (1:35) BONUS
  • End Cast (Stereo) (0:30) BONUS

Running Time: 125 minutes 16 seconds

Film Score Monthly FSM Vol.10 No.11 (1954/2007)

Music composed and conducted by Franz Waxman. Orchestrations by Leonid Raab. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Franz Waxman . Album produced by Lukas Kendall.

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