As well as propelling a then little known Arnold Schwarzenegger into the mainstream, Conan the Barbarian did the same for director John Milius and his friend from college, composer Basil Poledouris. The film tells the story of a boy’s journey from being a slave to being a king in the (fictional) Hyborean age. It was successful enough to warrant a far inferior, but successful sequel two years later, Conan the Destroyer.
Producer Dino de Laurentiis had initially wanted Ennio Morricone to provide the score to the film (and indeed, Morricone would write the music for Red Sonja three years later). Milius however, managed to get Poledouris the job, who would provide what is easily the best score of his career, and one of the finest examples of motion picture scoring in history, undoubtedly one of the most impressive film scores I’ve ever heard.
The score is full of the spirit of the masters of the Golden Age, most noticeably Miklós Rózsa, the master of the ancient epic. Many of the cues are simply mind-blowing. Milius told Poledouris that he wanted the music to be “operatic”, and indeed, the composer’s work contributes to a great extent the operatic depth that the film has, particularly through the prominent choral elements. The single best cue is easily “Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom”, and this album is one of the few ways to hear it in its full glory, as it is a piece that is regularly performed poorly in concerts that lack the necessary instrumentation. An absolutely stunning piece featuring the full orchestra and chorus, the latter element providing the sense of horror particularly well. The solo timpani performance is also a particularly noteworthy moment.
Following the harsh, percussion heaving prologue is “Anvil of Crom”, featuring a powerful performance by 24 french horns and percussion. The strings then introduce the theme for Conan, which accompanies the character throughout the film, and is also further developed in the aforementioned “Riddle of Steel”. “Mountain of Power” pays an obvious tribute to Rózsa’s music; in several places reminiscent of the composer’s Roman epic scores. “Wolf Witch” is an entirely percussive piece, featuring some wonderful timpani performances. “Battle of the Mounds” is a thrilling piece, epic in every sense of the word, which is just as well, because there’s nothing thrilling or epic about the scene it accompanies.
Given that few other scores contain as much wonderful action music as this one, it may be easy to overlook that the album contains so much more. Cues that immediately spring to mind are “Atlantean Sword” with its majestic and heroic music, the sweeping love theme heard in “The Wifeing”, and “The Orgy”, which opens with the choral theme from “Riders of Doom”. At 2:51, Poledouris introduces a simple bassoon melody, which was actually improvised by his then nine year old daughter on her recorder. The cue slowly builds and builds to the climax, where theme is blasted forth by the entire French horn section.
Despite two album releases of the score, Poledouris was reportedly unhappy with the original performances of his score. Therefore, in 2010, Tadlow Music and Prometheus Records released a re-recording of the complete score, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nic Raine. Recorded from the original manuscripts and careful assembly of the instrumentation, the album is absolutely everything that a film music fan could wish for. Tragically, Poledouris passed away from cancer in 2006, but the music on this album remains a wonderful tribute to the genius who wrote it.
Aside from the complete score, this album also contains several “bonus” tracks, including alternate takes of a few cues, “Riders of Doom” minus the choir, and a selection of Poledouris’ music from the sequel, Conan the Destroyer (which Tadlow recently announced they will also be releasing a re-recording of).
This is easily one of the best albums released during 2010. Of all the scores for sword and sorcery epics, Conan the Barbarian is possibly the single best of them all, and it’s wonderful that it can finally be heard as the composer originally intended.
1. Prologue – Film Version / Anvil of Crom (3:38)
2. Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom (5:23)
3. The Gift of Fury (3:25)
4. Column of Sadness/Wheel of Pain (4:09)
5. Pit Fights* (2:45)
6. Prologue – Original Version (1:03)
7. Atlantean Sword (4:00)
8. Wolf Witch* (3:21)
9. Theology / Civilization (3:04)
10. The Street of Deviants */ Hopefuls at the Tower of Set* (1:28)
11. The Tower of Set* / Snake Attack* (Las Cantigas de Santa Maria) (5:21)
12. Infidels* (1:03)
13. The Tavern* (1:51)
14. The Wifeing (2:20)
15. In the Court of King Osric* (1:13)
16. Conan Leaves Valeria / The Search (6:03)
17. The Mountain of Power / Capture* (4:00
18. The Tree of Woe / Recovery (6:04)
1. The Kitchen / The Orgy (6:23)
2. Orgy Fight *(2:53)
3. Funeral Pyre (5:15)
4. Battle Preparations / Battle of the Mounds part 1 (5:59)
5. Battle of the Mounds part 2* (2:11)
6. Battle of the Mounds part 3 / Night of Doom (5:56)
7. Head Chop* (0:53)
8. Orphans of Doom / The Awakening (6:30)
9. Epilogue / End Titles* (5:13)
10. Theology / Civilization – Alternate Version (3:27)
11. The Tower of Set – Alternate Cues* (3:37)
12. Battle of the Mounds part 2 – Original Version* (2:11)
13. Chamber of Mirrors from CONAN THE DESTROYER (7:16)
14. Riders of Doom – Orchestral Version (4:05)
Music Composed by Basil Poledouris
Orchestrations by Greg McRitchie & Renato Serio
Conducted by Nic Raine
Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus
Album Produced by James Fitzpatrick
Contains extensive information about the film and score. It also contains several pictures of both the original recording of the score and this re-recording, and also of Poledouris conducting the score in concert.
All artwork and images are Copyright © Prometheus Records.