Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA – Max Steiner



Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1936 Warner Brothers Studio executives Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke received a proposal from Heinz Herald, a literary agent, that they consider a making a biopic film of Émile Zola and the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Wallis and Blanke were favorably disposed to the idea and hired Harold and Geza Herczeg to write the script. Their 200-page script was accepted, but underwent editing by Herczeg, Wallis, director William Dieterle and actor Paul Muni. The final script was approved in early 1937, and Blanke was assigned production with a budget of $699,000. William Dieterle was tasked with directing, and a fine staff was assembled, including Paul Muni as Émile Zola, Gloria Holden as Alexandrine Zola, Gale Sondergaard as Lucie Dreyfus, and Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

The film is set in France during the latter half of the 19th century and offers a classic morality play, which pits institutional corruption against justice. An intercepted letter for the German embassy exposes a spy within the French government. French army commanders forego a formal investigation and arbitrarily decide that Captain Alfred Dreyfus must be the traitor as he is a Jew. He is arrested, court-martialed and imprisoned in the infamous penal colony of Devil’s Island. At the behest of Dreyfus’ wife Lucie, Émile Zola, a renown writer agrees to advocate for her husband’s innocence. He publishes an open letter titled J’accusé in the French newspaper L’aurore accusing the French Army of gross misjustice, and unleashes a hornet’s nest of anger as the army foments public anger that nearly costs Émile his life. Émile is charged with libel, convicted and fined, yet remains defiant, fleeing to London where he mobilizes global outrage. Dreyfus’ case is reopened, he is exonerated and reinstated as a Commandant. Regretfully Émile dies of carbon monoxide poisoning from a plugged chimney the night before Dreyfus is exonerated. The film was a commercial success and won universal praise by critics and secured an unprecedented ten Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Recording, Best Original Story, Best Assistant Director, and Best Film Score, winning three for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay.

In 1937 Max Steiner had recently resigned from RKO Pictures and signed a contract with Warner Brothers, which made him their chief composer. Upon seeing the film, he realized that this was a character driven morality play with several scenes displaying riveting dialogue or oration. As such, Steiner spotted his score sparingly, allowing the dialogue alone to carry much of the film’s narrative. Yet when he did provide music, it was impactful, and worked synergistically to enhance the film’s storytelling. He decided to augment his orchestra with additional instruments, including; celeste, vibraphone and organ.

Steiner again created a soundscape that employed leitmotifs to empower the film’s musical narrative; including; Émile’s Theme, which offers a string borne statement imbued with confidence, dogged determination and moral force. Its rendering as a marcia maestoso in the opening credits is perhaps its finest offering. Alexandrine’s Theme supports his loving wife and emotes with gentility as well as tender strings romantico. Paul Cezanne’s Theme was integral to the story as he served as Zola’s muse, as well as his conscience. Cezanne is a humble man, a gentle soul content with the life of a poor artist forever struggling. Tender strings emote with a tinge of sadness, with the theme most emotional rendering supporting his goodbye to his dear friend Émile. Mama Zola’s Theme is caried tenderly by strings bearing her inexhaustible maternal love. Nana’s Theme offers a slow valzer triste, which speaks to her sad existence. Lucie’s Theme in reality is a love theme for her and her husband Arthur Dreyfus, rendered as a warm romance for strings. A Smoke Motif was created and used two times in the film, the first time being portentous, alluding to Émile’s future death, and the second the tragic cause of his death. Steiner created a misterioso by low register flutes, harp, celeste, piano and vibraphone, which perfectly express the wafting smoke. Lastly, Steiner interpolated two pieces into the tapestry of his score, the French national anthem “Les Marseilles”, and a classical piece excerpt from Puccini’s “La Boheme”.

There is no commercial release of the full score, so as such I will review in film scene context using scene descriptors and film time indices. 00:00 “Main Title” opens with the Warner Brothers studio logo without Steiner’s Warner Brothers anthem, which had not yet been written. Instead, Steiner offers Émile’s Theme as a marcia maestoso exuding confidence, optimism, and rendered alla giocoso. At 00:54 we are presented narrative script offering disclaimers. In 01:12 “Paris 1862” we flow into the film proper. It is winter and we see Émile stuffing rags in the broken roof skylight as his roommate the artist Paul Cezanne paints, and wryly comments on the futility of their circumstances. Steiner provides juxtaposition by interpolating Puccini’s “La Boheme”, offering a delightful scherzando rendered allegro giocoso. At 02:34 the music gains playfulness as Émile decides they should burn some books in the stove to warm themselves. Yet as the pages begin to burn, the smoke wafts into the room, as its chimney appears blocked. Steiner speaks to this with smoke motif misterioso by low register flutes, harp, celeste, piano and vibraphone.

03:21 “The Land Lord” reveals Steiner, in these two cues, masterfully speaking to a complex scene with a spectrum of emotions. A knock on the door by what they dread is the land lord, elicits fear as they are behind in their rent and face being tossed out into the cold streets. Steiner sows tension with a foreboding musical narrative. 03:42 “The Visit” Paul’s query to the knocker is answered by Émile’s mother. Tension drains from both men and we are graced with her theme brimming with maternal tenderness and gentility. She admonishes him for being in bed and at 4:07 summons Alexandrine, who happily enters the room. Her theme, borne tenderly, yet happily by strings romantico supports her news that they have secured a job for him. As he calls out that he has a job, Steiner supports with a paean of joy, which quickly dissipates as he asks, what type of job. Alexandrine happily advises that he will be a clerk at a great book publisher, which means they will have the means to marry. Strings felice surge, abounding with joy as he claims he will finally be able to publish his book!

05:11 “Émile’s New Job” reveals him setting up books in the store’s display window. Alexandrine visits carried by a beleaguered musical narrative, complaining that the butcher will not extend anymore credit, and that the landlord is demanding the rent. He reassures her and departs, summoned to his boss’ office. Buoyant strings carry him into the office where he is confronted by an agent of the police, who relates that the public prosecutor is highly displeased with Émile’s book “Confessions of Claude” saying it is an offensive book that attacks public officials, as well as distinguished men of the arts and letters, which is detrimental to public morals. He orders him to stop and departs offering veiled threats to Émile and his boss. His boss orders him to stop, Émile refuses and is fired, departing angrily as he pummels his boss with a searing rejoinder. 08:08 “Street People” reveals Émile walking home by the river Seine and seeing a woman jump in to kill herself. He runs to give aide but is advised by a homeless man that she is better off. We see him stunned as he gazes at the dozens of destitute people lining the shore. Steiner sows a musical narrative of woe and hopelessness, which has a profound effect on Émile.

08:47 “Émile’s Discontent” opens with dire strings as a factory explosion kills many workers. When Émile inquires why there were no safety doors, a policeman orders him to leave. Later as he seeks to publish his articles exposing government corruption, his editor offers ten Francs, take it of leave it. Émile takes it grudgingly and leaves. 09:48 “A Fateful Meeting” reveals the red light district where prostitutes work. A woman cries out to Antionette to run as the police are coming. A frantic, string propelled musical narrative erupts as the women scatter and are rounded up by the police. Nana, a prostitute, runs into a restaurant to escape, and Émile and Paul take her in at their table, successfully foiling a policeman’s attempt to arrest her. Steiner introduces her theme, which despite her sad circumstances, and bitter complaints about her life, offers a subtle, yet irrepressible flow of happiness. Her theme becomes wistful borne by strings tristi as she reminisces of happier times, relating how her daughter died at a convent, as she falls asleep on his bed.

14:40 “Émile’s Muse” reveals Paul coming home with the sketch he made of Nana at the restaurant. Émile has an epiphany and writes “Nana” on the sketch, declaring that this will be the title of his book. Hopeful strings and harp glisten as we shift to a store where dozens of books titled “Nana” by Émile Zola display in the store window. Steiner supports with a soft flowing valse lente as we see patrons buying the book. At 15:19 a surge of spritely strings supports the store owner running after a woman who left her umbrella. Émile arrives and sheepishly asks the store owner for a few Francs advance, only to be presented a letter he just wrote saying “Nana” sales are a stunning success, that they have sold 36,000 in three days, and then offers a check of 18,000 Francs! 18:17 “Émile’s Happiness” reveals him departing full of happiness supported by joyous strings felice as he sees a poster with his picture and name displayed in the store window. 18:53 “Nana” reveals a door bearing a sign displaying “Nana”. Émile arrives, hangs a present, knocks, and then quickly departs down the stairs supported by a playful musical narrative. As Nana unwraps the gift, warm strings, full of thankfulness support. It is Émile’s book Nana, and inside he scribed; “With kindest wishes and sincere appreciation.”

19:30 “War!” Drums and trumpets intrude and propel a patriotic marcia militare as French soldiers march to the front to herald the start of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. A dark chord at 20:02, joined by a dispirited “Les Marseilles” supports a montage of newspaper headlines declaring the defeat of the French army at Sedan, the capture of French Emperor Napoleon III, and the Prussian siege of Paris. At home, a grim musical narrative unfolds as mama Zola, Alexandrine and Paul fret to Émile over France’s impending defeat and uncertain fate of Paris. Émile rails against the corrupt and incompetent French military command for starting a war for which they were unprepared. The music becomes dire as Émile vows to expose the betrayers, which lead to France’s downfall. Later we see France’s highest military generals reading Émile’s latest book “The Downfall”, where he offers a scathing diatribe against their pettiness, egotism and incompetence. The Minister of War is unrepentant and orders the Chief Censor to punish Zola.

The Chief Censor meets with Émile and forcefully condemns, one by one, everyone of his books for the criticism of the army, the government, as well as his depraved portrayal of French society. Émile is unrepentant, defiant, refuses to be censored or silenced, and vows to continue his campaign of exposing the collusive corruption of the government and military high command. 24:09 “Émile’s Crusade” offers a montage of book titles that reveal his relentless criticism of the collusive corruption of the government and military high command, as well as the deplorable inequity of French society, including; “Piping Hot”, “Ladies’ Paradise”, “Joy of Life”, “His Masterpiece”, “The Soil”, “The Dream”, “Human Beast”, “Money”, “Doctor Pascal”, “Discussions With Students”, and “Lourdes”. Steiner supports with a musical narrative empowered by strings nobile, which slowly weakens and descends into sadness. 24:45 “Old Times” reveals Émile, Alexandrine and Paul enjoying dinner in his very opulent home. Émile expresses his fondness for Paul’s company, like in the old times. Steiner supports with pleasantries and gentility.

26:10 “Goodbye” offers a score highlight. It reveals Émile showing off to Paul all his expensive collectables acquired on their overseas trips. Paul turns away, uninterested, and tells Émile, this is goodbye. When pressed he says he longs for those days when they we poor and often starving, times that are good for artists. He tells Émile that success has changed him, and that he was leaving Paris to live in the southern French countryside. Steiner masterfully adds heart and poignancy to Paul’s words with his theme expressed with wistful sentimentality, which underscores these best of friends diverging on different life paths. Émile asks him to remain to remind him of the old, struggling, carefree days fighting for a foothold. But Paul counters, that you can never go back to those days, and that he has never left them. Paul departs and we close with sadness as Émile asks him if he will write, and Paul replies no, but he will remember. At 28:47 Alexandrine carried by her tender theme joins Paul and senses something is wrong. He discloses that Paul has left for Provence and taken some of him with it – the last of his youth. As he relates that he has fought his battles and earned this life, Alexandrine coaxes him to play a game of Piquet, which Steiner supports with tender gentility

31:09 “Count Esterhazy” reveals the Major Walsin-Esterhazy writing a letter addressed to Colonel von Schwartzkoppen supported by muted trumpets militare. We shift to the Imperial German Embassy where we see the major dressed in civilian garb at the embassy gates. Steiner supports with a lurking, ominous musical narrative as he is admitted and asks to see the military attaché, Colonel von Schwartzkoppen. He is informed the Colonel is returning from Berlin, and so the major leaves his letter with the attendant, asking him to give it to the Colonel, as he departs. Steiner offers solemn horns maestro as the attendant places the letter in a mail slot in the main hall, and then departs. At 32:11 tremolo strings usher in a soft quote of “Les Marseilles” as a hand reaches into the mail slot and removes the letter. 32:24 “We Have a Spy” reveals a view of French military headquarters again supported by a quote of “Les Marseilles” as a civilian enters the building. The letter is presented to Colonel Picquart who recognizes von Schwartzkoppen as the German military attaché. The letter is taken to the Commandant, then the Chief of Intelligence, and finally to the Minister of War and Army General command staff. They review a list of officers and then decide at 35:24 that Captain Arthur Dreyfus, a Jew is the traitor without any evidence. Steiner supports their decision with a dark chord that ushers in an ominous musical narrative.

35:35 “Arthur Dreyfus” reveals him playing with his children accompanied by his wife playing “Humpty Dumpty” on piano. He receives an urgent communique to report to the War Ministry at 9:00 in the morning in civilian dress. In an unscored scene Dreyfus is arrested without evidence, charged with treason, and offered a pistol to commit suicide, which he refuses, vowing to prove his innocence. Major Dort then arrives at his house, informs his wife of the charges, and orders a search of the house over her objections. Later, newspaper headlines declare Dreyfus is guilty. 45:26 “Dreyfus’ Humiliation” field drums militare initiate the reading of the charges in front of his regimen, the order he undergo public humiliation for treason, and that he be deported for life. He declares his innocence, but the Commandant orders he be stripped of his insignias of rank as the field drums resume supported by a jeering public as Émile looks on. As his sword is broken, he shouts “Long Live France! I am innocent!”. As his march of humiliation commences, Dreyfus cries out to the press repeatedly “I am innocent!” In an unscored scene Lucie visiting her husband, who declares he will live to prove his innocence. After a few minutes she is ordered out, and her request to hug her husband denied, as Arthur pledges to overcome this injustice for her and the children.

50:44 “Devil’s Island” dire strings usher in an oppressive and grim musical narrative as Dreyfus is escorted out, given a bag, and deported, with a map displaying the Devil’s Island penal colony off the coast of French Guiana. On the island he is taken to his cell and a montage reveals the passage of time as “1895”, “1896” and “1897” display supported by a musical narrative of woe as Dreyfus can be seen repeatedly screaming with desperation; “I’m innocent!” In an unscored scene Colonel Picquart professes to the Chief of Staff that he remains unconvinced that Dreyfus is guilty. He declares that his investigation has found the real traitor – Count Esterhazy. He presents irrefutable proof that Dreyfus is innocent, but is rebuffed saying a second treason trial will reflect badly on both the army, and the commanding officer corp. Picquart protests this immorality but is ordered to remain silent. In an unscored scene the Chief of Staff orders that Picquart be sent to a remote outpost in Africa to silence him, and a mock court martial of Esterhazy finds him not guilty. Afterwards the Chief of Staff gloats that this will teach Mrs. Dreyfus and her clique a lesson and hopefully discourage her efforts to prove her husband’s innocence.

54:25 “Lucie Visits Émile” warm strings gentile support Lucie’s carriage ride. As she exits and enters a residence, ominous tremolo string sow tension as a man lights a match that reveals an entry plaque; “Émile Zola”. Inside Émile reads a letter to Alexandrine from Francois Coppee advising him of his planned admission for membership in the esteemed French Academy. He is happy, stating; “They can deny me no longer.” His butler enters and advises that Mrs. Dreyfus is here to see him, and he angrily accepts her visit. She pleads with him as a man committed to truth and justice, that he take up his case with evidence she has collected that proves his innocence – letters from the General Staff to Colonel Picquart that affirms they know Dreyfus is innocent and that Esterhazy is guilty. Émile knows that a monstrous injustice has been committed, but does not wish to subject his tranquility and good life to the maelstrom that would be unleashed against him if he takes up the case. Unnoticed by Émile, Lucie departs seeing that her efforts are futile. When he discovers she has left her evidence, he runs after her, but it is too late as a harp glissando supports her exiting the front door.

1:00:39 “Émile Has A Change of Heart” reveals Émile rereading the letter from Coppee supported by his theme expressed as a pleasant musical narrative that voices gentility and satisfaction. Yet a dark chord of conscience resounds as he looks at a self-portrait of his friend Paul Cezanne. His theme shifts to strings nobile and warm horns as he tears up the letter, which informs us that his admission to the French Academy is forfeit the moment he takes up the Dreyfus cause as all segments of the government, military and patriotic public will turn against him. 1:02:03 “Émile Takes Up the Cause” reveals him, Lucie meeting the next day with George Clemenceau, editor of the L’Aurore newspaper horns dramatico and strings set the stage as he declares to all in attendance that it is his intention to explode a bomb. He then reads a letter he intends to send to the President of France exposing the complicity of the army Chief of Staff, Minister of War and senior military officers of complicity in the gross injustice done in falsely and knowingly convicting Dreyfus for the crimes committed by Esterhazy.

1:06:43 “I Accuse…!” reveals newspaper headlines publishing Émile’s explosive accusations, which Steiner supports with a dramatic musical narrative. Majors Henry and Dort conspire to launch a counterattack on Zola. At 1:07:26 instigators are sent out and succeed in using patriotism to arouse public anger. A montage reveals people throwing rocks through the L’Aurore window, burning Zola’s books in the street, and performing mock hangings of Zola and Dreyfus in the streets. Steiner unleashes an orchestral maelstrom to empower the angry violence, which shifts to desperate flight music as Émile is recognized and forced to flee for his life in a carriage. He arrives home and receives a court summons, charged with defamation. The panel of judges forbid Zola’s defense from bringing up the Dreyfus case and reads letters from the Minister of Justice forbidding the Minister of War or Chief of Staff, or any of the army’s high command to testify. Zola’s lawyer Labori requests a recess so he may challenge the legality of the court’s and Minister of Justice’s rulings. Major Dort orders a signal be sent to the crowd so agitators can rouse them into fury against Zola, which he does, igniting a tinder box of fury.

The Court resumes, grants permission to call military officers to testify, but forbids the reopening of the Dreyfus case. Émile’s attorney Labori calls Colonel Picquart to the stand and his testimony is damning, but he is cut off by a general. The judges lose control of the court, allowing the general to give a speech to the jury, while army agitators in the gallery rouse the crowd with calls of patriotic fervor. 1:17:16 “Dreyfus’ Misery” reveals him suffering from the tropical heat in his cells supported by strings tristi emoting a narrative of woe. Yet the music brightens as a package is tossed into his cell, which he opens to reveal Zola’s book “Paris” and a book titled Shakespeare. A romance for strings voice Lucie’s Theme as the book contains a love note marked censored with several words blacked out from his beloved wife Lucie.

In “Court Resumes” we return with Labori summoning Madame Dreyfus to testify, yet the Judge forbids her to answer any of Labori’s questions declaring the Dreyfus case is closed. Labori next summons Esterhazy and the judge orders the court cleared. Inside the witness room Esterhazy refuses to testify, but all the Army command staff order him to do so, reminding him that all their heads will roll if he tells the truth. Esterhazy refuses to answer any question put to him, with the judge supporting, saying it is a matter of national security. Major Henry and the Chief of Staff both testify of a secret document confirming Dreyfus’ guilt, but refuse to divulge it citing national security. Colonel Picquart testifies that the document is a forgery and Labori rails against the court, whose partiality to the prosecution is now naked for all to see, which leads the court to recess.

In “The Zolas Depart” Émile disregards the chief of police’s advice to leave by the side door as he cannot guarantee his safety. They take a carriage straight through the angry mob and we shift to newspaper headlines declaring “Zola Case in Final Stage”. “Final Arguments” reveals the Advocate General calling for Zola’s conviction for defaming France’s military eliciting shouting condemnation of Zola by army officers in the gallery. Labori then asks that Zola himself give the defense’s closing argument to the jury, which the court grants. Émile rails against a corrupt system that cloaks itself with a patriotic cape that exempts it from criticism, truth, justice and accountability. The gallery is polarized with army officers condemning Zola and many citizens applauding him. 1:34:11 “Dreyfus Shackled” reveals Dreyfus two legs being hard shackled to the bed “for his safety”. Steiner supports with strings tristi as we see him grab his book, which has been partially ingested by termites.

1:34:54 “Court Decision” reveals Émile convicted of defamation, sentence to one year in jail, and a fine of 3,000 Francs. Steiner supports with a dire chord, which ushers in a narrative of sadness as Labori consoles him. Surging strings and horns dramatico support a newspaper headline that reads; “Zola’s Last Appeal Fails! Must Serve Prison Term. That night Labori and Clemenseau counsel Émile to flee to England, an action he finds, cowardly. Yet they say in prison he will be silenced as a martyr, but in London he may rail with his pen against this injustice to Dreyfus and arose the conscience of good men around the world. Émile is persuaded and asks Alexandrine to pack warmly as it will be cold in London. 1:36:43 “Zola in England” reveals newspaper headlines saying “Zola in England. Police on Lookout”, which Steiner supports with traditional English fanfare and a woodwind misterioso as a disguised Émile grabs a newspaper and walks into a hotel. Back in Paris a poster goes up at L’Aurore saying “Truth Is Still On The March. Read Zola’s Startling Articles”, which is supported by confident strings and horns brillante. Major Henry pays a call on Major Esterhazy and informs him that he has been summoned by the new War Minister, but will admit nothing. But he adds, Zola’s relentless campaign against them is unstoppable and will soon overcome them, exposing the truth. He ends with a threat that Esterhazy better stick with him to the end. After Henry departs, Esterhazy begins to pack desperately so he may flee.

The following scenes are unscored. “Henry Confesses” At the War Ministry the Minister demands Henry tell him the truth. He denies everything but when confronted with written evidence and testimony, he admits his guilt, saying he did it to preserve the honor of the French Army. He is arrested and ordered to write a signed confession, but that night commits suicide in his cell. Later the Minister of War forces the resignation of the entire army command leadership. 1:42:26 “Zola Vindicated” offers a magnificent score highlight. It reveals Labori bringing several newspapers with headlines declaring that Zola has been vindicated, that the army general command has been purged, that Esterhazy has fled, and the revision of the Dreyfus case is inevitable. Steiner supports his happiness with a trumpet declared marcia della vittoria as Émile says that truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it. The march swells as we see Dreyfus is advised that his conviction has been revised, and being released from his imprisonment. The music shifts from being triumphant, to one of relief borne by strings of thankfulness. We close upon a paean of joy as Dreyfus tries to absorb what has happened as he walks out of his cell into the sunlight as a free man.

1:44:11 “Émile Returns to Paris” reveals Émile returning to Paris by train supported by strings felice. Inside he, Alexandrine, Clemenceau, Labori and Anatole marvel at new events – Esterhazy’s confession. Émile say he values not his triumph, but rather the reward of saving an innocent man from a living death. As he says that our fight is only half-won, and that the fight for truth marches on, Steiner supports with churning strings that mimic the train’s wheels relentless drive forward, cresting triumphantly as we see his latest book title – “Justice”. We flow seamlessly at 1:45:27 into “Émile Called to Bed” carried upwards by strings tenero as Émile searches for his military dictionary. Alexandrine finds the book on his desk, and calls him to bed as it is after midnight. He works on and she places a large piece of coal in the furnace. He ponders that in the middle of his most important work, if he will have a tomorrow, asking, “What matters the individual if the idea survives?” She again calls him to bed, reminding him that the Dreyfus reinstatement ceremony is tomorrow.

1:49:13 “Émile Death” reveals Alexandrine going to bed as Émile works on tirelessly. Stings tenero usher in a reprise of the smoke misterioso as the camera shifts to reveal smoke slowly wafting into the room through a crack in the stove heater vent pipe. He begins to become fatigued with a cyclic string figure slowly winding down to expiration as we see him write his last word. In 1:50:39 “Dreyfus Reinstated” bugles militare resound as we behold a grand ceremony attended by dignitaries. The Army Chief of Staff reverses his conviction, restores his honor, reinstates him in the army with a promotion to commandant, and by order of the President, knights him as a member of the Legion of Honor. As he declares a close to the ceremony, Dreyfus salutes and the bugles militare reprise, supported by army field drums and soldiers in a precision march. At 1:52:11 General Picquart congratulates Dreyfus and strings felice bring Lucie to her beloved Arthur, joined by many dignitaries who congratulate him. When Dreyfus asks “Didn’t Zola attend?” the music sours, and descends into sadness as a boy arrives selling newspapers and shouts “Zola found dead!”

1:52:50 “Zola’s Remembrance Ceremony” reveals a remembrance ceremony held at the national memorial monument titled; “France Commemorates Her Great Men”. We open with organ solenne, later embellished with heavenly harp arpeggios, as Anatole gives the eulogy, praising his accomplishments, commitment to truth, and the passing of his torch to a new generation. As he extols the greatness of France at 1:54:28, thanks to the contributions of men like Émile Zola, a solemn “Les Marseilles” reprises. Ethereal strings of heaven join as Anatole declares that Zola was “A moment in the conscience of Man”. We close the film with a grand celebratory crescendo, which ends in a flourish. 1:55:35 “Cast Credits” is supported by a Cezanne’s Theme rendered as a marcia di trionfante, which closes in a flourish.

Well, we have yet another vintage, Golden Age score, which lacks a commercial release. I again advocate that a major label undertakes a re-recording so the wonderful early career Steiner score may be heard. Upon seeing this biopic film, Steiner realized that this was a character driven morality play in which the score needed restraint so as to not intrude into the riveting dialogue or oration, such as in the court scenes. As such, he was judicious in spotting his score, but also brilliant when he chose to use music. While there are six themes, for Émile, Paul, Alexandrine, Lucie, Mama Zola and Nana, which beautiful capture their essence, many of the scenes are scored to express the overt and underlying emotional dynamics unfolding on the screen. Score highlights such as “Street People”, “Devil’s Island”, “Goodbye”, “I Accuse…!”, Dreyfus’ Misery”, “Zola Vindicated” and “Zola’s Remembrance Ceremony” all offer well-conceived and executed musical narratives, which enhanced the film’s storytelling. Masterful is how well Steiner understood the film right down to its sinews, and how he brought Dieterle’s vision to life. Folks, this is not your typical Steiner score, an early career gem where we can already discern his intuitive mastery of his craft. Until such time as a rerecording is made, I counsel you to take in the score in film context, understanding it has archival monaural sound.

Editor’s note: only two recordings of Steiner’s main theme appear to exist – one on a 1964 vinyl compilation album called ‘Max Steiner Revisited’, and one on a CD compilation album called ‘Max Steiner Conducts Gone With The Wind & Other Themes Vol. 1,’ released by RCA Records in 1989.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to Émile’s Theme rendered as a concert piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjJ4yubooyc

Track Listing:


Music composed and conducted by Max Steiner. Orchestrations by Hugo Friedhofer. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Max Steiner and Leo F. Forbstein.

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