Music Composed and Conducted by: Alfred Newman
Movie Genre: Drama, History
Movie Release: 1953
Soundtrack Release: 2012
Label: LaLa Land Records
___ SPOILERS ALERT ___
“Alfred Newman’s score is the greatest score I have ever heard for any motion picture!” Darryl F. Zanuck, 1953
“The Robe” is one of the greatest motion pictures of the cinema in terms of historicity, a motion picture event that formed the bridge for the cinema in order to cross from one bank to the opposite side of the river and never look back again. Plenty technological innovations characterize the film, both in terms of image and sound, the music included. Responsible for these groundbreaking developments was the CEO of Twentieth Century Fox studio Darryl F. Zanuck, and the musical director of the studio Alfred Newman, the father of composers Thomas and David Newman, who continue the family’s musical tradition in Hollywood. Alfred Newman was a legendary conductor, and composer of the studio’s timeless visual logo, which is still used today, over 80 years after its first introduction, the only studio musical signature with such longevity.
“The Robe” provided the opportunity for Fox to launch a new projection system, which became famously known as “CinemaScope”. Although it was discovered many years earlier, in fact on the same year when the sound came to cinema, in 1927, movies had to wait until 1953 in order to be perfected and put to use. The philosophy of “CinemaScope” has to do with the wider view of the picture on screen, since the projection screen was now 83% wider compared with the existing one back then. The Fox studio bought the rights and waited for a movie of epic proportions to implement the new film projection system. “The Robe” was the perfect occasion! Meanwhile, the four-channel stereo sound was introduced on the same movie. Nowadays, stereophonic sound is taken for granted, advanced to detailed digital form, but at the time when Alfred Newman heard his music on content, he must have been ecstatic with the sound quality of the new four-channel stereo. These two technological innovations combined, were enough to draw viewers from the advent of television sets and return to movie theaters, a desperate effort of the Hollywood studios during the 50s, when biblical epics flourished in cinema. Fox CEO Darryl F. Zanuck in a letter to one of the Warner Bros executives, actually equalized the optical technological innovations of the “The Robe”, with the sound development in cinema from the first talkie until then! That was more than enough to sell the rights of “CinemaScope” to the other studios, which had no other option. After all, competition was fierce.
However, there were more innovations to come, in the case of “The Robe”. Alfred Newman tested new techniques during the recording of the music and especially where the microphones would be placed in the recording studio, which ultimately made a big difference in the sonic product, and gave a more full and thick sound. Therefore, the tagline “A Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses”, used to advertise the film, was far from excessive. Based on a popular novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, “The Robe” told the story of a dissolute Roman tribune, Marcellus (Richard Burton), exiled by mad Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) to a turbulent provincial Jerusalem. There, after carrying out orders to crucify the condemned Christ, he is tortured by a seemingly inexplicable guilt; his salvation comes via his slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), who has become an early Christian convent after dicing at the foot of the cross for Jesus’ eponymous red garment. The film deals with the crucifixion of the Lord, but only incidentally. It is not in the film’s intentions to analyze Jesus’ crucifixion, but to include it in the story of the Roman Marcellus who crucified Jesus and display the impact of this event on his life. That is why the face of Jesus is not seen during the film.
Let’s try to imagine how a viewer of the movie must have felt, back in 1953, when the curtain of the screen opens and the music of the main titles starts. The first theme introduced in the score is played along the opening credits, it’s Christ’s theme, which is found in “Prelude (Main Title)” (#1 – CD1). The considerably larger screen and the best possible sound quality, more than ever before, gave an extra dimension to the music of Alfred Newman and undoubtedly overwhelmed the viewer, who marveled all the grandeur of the picture. It must have been an unforgettable cinematic experience and at the same time an unforgettable musical experience. The mastery with which the music was used in the film remains nothing less of remarkable and monumental and makes the movie an unforgettable musical experience even today.
The wordless singing of the choir, as it is presented throughout the score, is accompanied by successive appearances of wind and string sections of the orchestra, performing a theme for Jesus Christ. The viewer of the movie is unaware that this theme is indeed about Christ, until later he finds out that the same theme covers the first “appearance” of Jesus in the film and afterwards during the crucifixion. The connection between the placement of the music and the screenplay events is at some point quite evident about the role of the score: the viewer never sees Jesus’ face, nevertheless his presence is heard and felt by the music of Alfred Newman. If somebody would want to single out the art form which reaches more than any other one the divide, that would have been the music. Therefore, the music is the perfect tool in order to experience the spiritual presence of the Christ, throughout the movie.
The choir, arranged by Newman’s close associate, Ken Darby, as used in the score strays from the angelic atmosphere and the religious euphoria, as if angels came down from heavens, found in other cinematic attempts where the focus of attention is the crucifixion of Jesus. What the music really stands out for is the highly emotional quality of the choir’s performance, which foreshadows his end. He is not praised in a traditional way by the choir. Instead, he is mourned. The theme of Jesus initially appears after the opening credits, when Demetrius, the servant of the Roman Marcellus, sees Jesus at his triumphant entrance in Jerusalem. In “Passover/Palm Sunday” (#7), a joyful theme performed by the choir and some supposedly Palestine’s traditional musical instruments, outlines the cheerful atmosphere of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Until Demetrius gazes Jesus. This is a critical moment for the score of the film. The mood is changed radically while Jesus’ theme makes their meeting quite compelling in terms to what comes next, always to the eye of the viewer. Without music, this sequence would have been pretty much nothing. Alfred Newman’s score lifts the sequence to superior cinematic storytelling!
The most important moments of the film, as the music is concerned, come during the crucifixion of Jesus and start from the piece “The Carriage of the Cross” (#11), where Jesus is carrying the cross and he’s heading to be crucified. Wind and percussion instruments portray the excruciating ritual, endured by Jesus, while at the same time all strengths abandon him. Here the choir is absent and it’s left to the orchestra to perform the martyrdom of the Lord that it’s expected shortly to reach its peak. A capella singing is heard at the beginning of “The Crucifixion” (#12), as Demetrius witnesses the hill where the cross of Christ stands. The voices are performing Jesus’ theme as if the choir is mourning for the crucifix, who is soon about to deliver his soul to his maker. As time passes and the track progresses, wind instruments appear to burden noticeably the musical atmosphere with their heavy sound and mark the countdown to the end. The scenes gain a spellbinding quality that awes the viewer, as the music of Alfred Newman manages to state that something shocking is happening with holiness emerging in the music. The neck lump felt by the audience, gradually turns into a feeling of suffocation! That is what great film music can accomplish!
No other crucifixion, either on cinema or on television, would have a more breathtaking musical accompaniment to date, than the one of “The Robe”! When the composer recorded again his music for the LP, he incorporated the sounds of thunder and rain, in the track “The Crucifixion” (#12), which are heard during the film and complete the audio experience. This decision proves that the sounds of rain and thunder can be considered as part of the music, as an additional instrument to the orchestra and the choir. Alfred Newman couldn’t imagine his music without these sounds, something really extraordinary and a most telling fact. Natural sounds can sometimes be interpreted as music to great results. In “The Nightmare” (#13), Marcellus is traveling by boat to the island of Capri. He falls asleep and has a nightmare. The constant beat that sets the pace for the galley rowers will become the knock of the hammer nailing the hands of Jesus on the cross. Marcellus’ nightmare is visualized and the face of the crucified Jesus is displayed, above the lying man suffering from remorse. The visual effects in this scene testify the technological advances of the film on all levels. Jesus’ theme acquires a more airy religious version and completes twelve continuous minutes of music in the film, twelve of the most important and most historic minutes of music ever sounded in a movie theater!
Apart from the theme of Jesus, the score of “The Robe” has a lot of other musical delights to offer. The roman side of the music is identified by a motif performed by wind and percussion instruments in “Rome” (#2). The march of the Emperor Caligula in “Caligula’s Arrival” (#4) is another musical signature of the roman era. The pagan element of the music, which makes the viewer believe that he listens to traditional music of the roman era, appears often during the first half of the film, on various occasions, such as the marketplace of Rome in the second half of the track “Rome” (#2), the slave market in the track “The Slave Market (Diana)” (#3), and a roman feast with dancers in “The Feast” (#8). The resurrection of Jesus is not visible to the viewer of the movie, so an intelligent way had to be found in order to present it. The way was through a song performed by a female voice with a harp accompaniment, which is located in “Resurrection” (#17).
Demetrius learns that Jesus is about to be arrested by the Romans and seeks for him everywhere in the streets of Jerusalem to warn him. His anxiety before the inevitable event occurs is expressed in an extraordinary way by the music on “Searching for Jesus” (#9). Despair shaping on Demetrius’ face is miraculously transformed into musical notes, and an alternate version of Jesus’ theme occurs, colored by violins that tremble with fear and anguish. Vocals accompany Demetrius’ acquaintance with a man who tells him the unpleasant news, dark vocals that are heard only once in the film, only in this particular scene: Jesus has been arrested and the name of the man who brings the terrible news is Judas. Then, suddenly, the deafening sound of a thunder overshadows everything, and it turns out that even natural sounds can work admirably as music or even as a crescendo to preceded music.
As Marcellus prepares to board his ship to Palestine, a female figure appears in front of him out of the fog in the night. It is Diana, the object of his desire. The composer writes one of the most beautiful themes of his career for the love story of Marcellus and Diana. Violins that chronicle a timeless sense of affection, since they had given vows of love to each other from their childhood. Violins that express a powerful bond between a man and a woman, which ultimately proves to be unbroken. As they are embraced for the last time just before Marcellus boards the ship, we hear for the first time their love theme in the second half of “The Map of Jerusalem” (#6). When they meet again, their theme will be repeated in “Capri” (#14). For a hunt with galloping horses, Alfred Newman composes a piece of music full of adventure with unexpected, unusual for its time, very original in its atmosphere and orchestration (“The Chase” #12, CD2): drums and piano in frenzied pacing make the viewer’s blood boil with excitement.
For the finale of the film, the composer brings back Jesus’ theme for the last time. As Marcellus and Diana’s fate has been sealed, the choir performs for the first time a specific word on its vocals, which brings a positive religious content to the music, as it is the word “Hallelujah”. The usage of this word gives the impression that the choir consists of angels singing from heaven. The film closes with the track “Finale/Hallelujah” (#15, CD2) in Christian euphoria. Darryl F. Zanuck replied to a letter from the screenwriter of the film, who praised Newman’s music for “The Robe”, as follows: “Alfred Newman’s score is the greatest score I have ever heard for any motion picture!”. The film was the biggest commercial success of the year and received five Oscar nominations, of which eventually won only two: artistic direction and costumes. Alfred Newman’s music, as shocking as this sounds, was not even nominated! But the composer received an Oscar, one of his nine in total (!), for the musical adaptation of “Call Me Madam”. If you had to make a list with the greatest scores of all time, “The Robe” would undoubtedly be one of the selections from Alfred Newman’s filmography!
01. Prelude (Main Title) (1:27)
02. Rome (3:14)
03. The Slave Market (Diana) (2:35)
04. Caligula’s Arrival (1:04)
05. Caligula’s Departure (1:07)
06. The Map of Jerusalem (5:02)
07. Passover/Palm Sunday (3:36)
08. The Feast (3:15)
09. Searching for Jesus (3:31)
10. Execution Orders (1:57)
11. The Carriage of the Cross (1:55)
12. The Crucifixion (7:45)
13. The Nightmare (1:37)
14. Capri (3:55)
15. Tiberius’ Palace (2:31)
16. The Market Place (6:13)
17. The Resurrection (3:01) – Vocal by Carole Richards
18. The Story of Miriam (2:09)
01. Elegy (4:32)
02. Marcellus’ Redemption (2:24)
03. Justus’ Death (1:45)
04. Aftermath (2:00)
05. Hymn for the Dead (1:10)
06. In His Service (1:45)
07. Audience with Caligula (1:09)
08. The Catacombs/Hope (6:52)
09. Demetrius’ Rescue (3:15)
10. The Healing of Demetrius (5:17)
11. Marcellus’ Farewell (1:25)
12. The Chase (2:28)
13. Interior Dungeon (2:54)
14. Caligula (1:53)
15. Finale/Hallelujah (1:58)
16. Palm Sunday Part One – chorus only (1:26)
17. Palm Sunday Part Two – orchestra only (1:11)
18. The Crucifixion – orchestra only (7:33)
19. Prelude (Main Title) – with slates (1:52)
20. Marcellus’ Redemption – original version (2:32)
Total Time: 111:31
The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * * *