The Fall of the Roman Empire was the final epic film of producer Samuel Bronston in a series that had included King of Kings, El Cid, and 55 Days at Peking. With a budget of $20 million (the Roman Forum remains to this day the largest outdoor set ever built for a film), the film was a box office flop and cost Bronston his Spanish production facilities. Not surprising really. At nearly three hours, it remains one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen, with dire acting and bizarre sword waggles for battle scenes. The score might make it worth watching for film music fans, but for anybody else – watch something like Ben-Hur or El Cid instead.The film was intended to re-unite Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, the stars of El Cid. Heston turned down the role, instead expressing interest in 55 Days at Peking. Stephen Boyd was cast instead, who would later blame the film for ruining his career.
Most of the crew from El Cid returned to work on The Fall of the Roman Empire. A notable exception was composer Miklós Rózsa, who wrote the best score of his career for El Cid and earned himself two Oscar nominations. Rózsa, who did not discover until the premiere of the film that a significant portion of his score had been cut from the film, refused to work for Bronston again. Dimitri Tiomkin was brought on board to score 55 Days at Peking the previous year, and would also compose the score to The Fall of the Roman Empire, earning the film’s sole Oscar nomination and providing what was really the film’s only positive aspect.
Tiomkin wrote over 2½ of music for The Fall of the Roman Empire. Of that, under 40 minutes were included on the soundtrack album, which, combined with its scarce availability (resulting it being expensive to get hold of) and the just decent sound quality, has long been a source of frustration for film music fans. It was therefore a moment of great delight when it was announced in 2011 that Prometheus Records and Tadlow Music would be releasing Tiomkin’s complete score for the film. Coming from the same team who brought us the complete recording of Tiomkin’s other masterpiece, The Alamo, in 2010, as well as Tadlow’s release of Miklós Rózsa’s complete score to El Cid, and many other recordings of the highest quality, I can’t remember a time when I’d awaited a soundtrack release so eagerly. Completely unsurprisingly, this is yet another masterful recording to come from Tadlow and Prometheus, and is easily the best film music album that has debuted so far in 2011.
Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus prove once again that they are masters of Tiomkin’s music, though to be honest, they’ve proved themselves masters at just about everything they’ve released, from Lawrence of Arabia to El Cid to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to Exodus. This is the third complete score by Tiomkin that they’ve recorded now; the previous two being The Guns of Navarone (2005) and The Alamo (2010), the latter of which is generally considered the finest score of Tiomkin’s career. The release of the complete score for The Fall of the Roman Empire, coupled with La La Land’s recent expanded release of Tiomkin’s score for 55 Days at Peking, make this a great year for all who love his music.
Instead of an Overture, typical for scores of this type, Tiomkin starts of with a series of crisp brass fanfares. The score immediately launched into the Prelude, which introduces the score’s primary theme, “Fall of Love”, in Gothic fashion with a large organ, later joined by an orchestra which consisted of 130 musicians for this piece alone.
There’s heroic music, there’s mournful music, there’s intense action music, and more. The mood of the score regularly changes with no warning, but the orchestra does a great job of making the changes clear. All the music is superb, but the single best cue is perhaps “Pax Romana”, a similar glorious piece with its heroic fanfares and orchestral splendour. The fantastic performances of the rapid action cues like “The Roman Forum”, “Triumph”, “Balomar’s Barbarian Attack” are testament to the orchestra’s wonderful abilities, with the terrific percussion elements of the former cue being a particular highlight.
The choir’s only significant role is quite late in the score, but the beautiful performance of “Fall of Love” in the cue “Addio” is worth waiting for. “The Fall of Rome” concludes the score in stunning fashion with the main theme building up slowly until it’s played in its full glory by the organ and orchestra. A concert suite version of the opening “Prelude” brings the album to an epic close.
An extensive track by track review is pointless here because the amount that could be said about the glorious quality of this score and recording would bore you out of your mind. This is amongst the most complex and greatest of film scores, and make no mistake, Tadlow and Prometheus have done it yet again. This is easily the best film music album released during 2011, and with their recording of Basil Poledouris’ Conan the Destroyer coming later this month, this will no doubt be yet another fantastic year for new recordings from them. Though this certainly isn’t amongst the finest films that Tiomkin scored, it’s certainly amongst the finest scores that he wrote, and this brilliant release of it in its full glory is plenty reason for any film music fan to celebrate.
Original Soundtrack Album
1 – Overture (2:40)
2 – The Fall of Love (2:33)
3 – Lucilla’s Sorrow (1:45)
4 – Ballomar’s Barbarian Attack (1:37)
5 – Morning (1:03)
6 – Profundo (2:32)
7 – Notturno (1:58)
8 – Pax Romana (5:15)
9 – The Prophecy (1:05)
10 – Persian Battle (2:01)
11 – Dawn of Love (2:20)
12 – The Roman Forum (4:35)
13 – Addio (1:55)
14 – Tarantella (2:15)
15 – Resurrection (2:53)
16 – The Fall of Rome (2:08)
Total Time: 35:55
1. Fanfares (0:54)
2. Prelude (2:41)
3. Aurelius Awaits the Dawn (2:20)
4. The Arrival of Livius / Lucilla and Livius (5:54)
5. Pax Romana (5:01)
6. Cleander Listens / Caesar’s Decision (2:03)
7. Livius Leaves the Fort / Caesar and Lucilla (3:19)
8. The Dawn of Love / Drinking Companions (5:15)
9. Barbarian Women / Lovers Reunited (5:58)
10. Preparation for Battle / The Signal to March (2:37)
11. The Mysterious Forest (3:21)
12. Barbarian Ambush (3:49)
13. Lucilla’s Sacrifice (3:11)
14. The Execution / The Conspiracy (4:17)
15. Apple of Death / Lucilla’s Sorrow (5:48)
16. Profundo (2:31)
17. The Undoubted Caesar (3:16)
18. The Roman Forum / Coronation / Triumph and End of Act 1 (5:33)
Total Time: 67:54
1. Intermission: The Fall of Love (3:13)
2. Notturno (3:32)
3. Death March / Balomar’s Barbarian Attack (4:38)
4. Lucilla Visits Commodus / The Gates of Rome (4:24)
5. Addio (2:33)
6. Livius’ Success / The Last Goodbye (1:14)
7. Exile / Morning / The Prophecy (4:16)
8. The Court Musicians (2:28)
9. Meeting in the East / Disillusionment / Armenian Treachery (5:46)
10. Persian Battle / Return to Home (7:09)
11. Timonides’ Triumph / Barbarian Celebration / Massacre (2:56)
12. Resurrection (3:02)
13. The God’s Laugh (2:42)
14. Death of Polybius (2:33)
15. Roman Celebration / Tarantella (4:42)
16. Commodus Kills His Father (3:01)
17. Commodus Deified (3:46)
18. The Fall of Rome (5:08)
19. Epilogue (Prelude – Concert Suite Version) (3:15)
Total Time: 70:23
Total Album Time: 137:77
Music Composed by Dimitri Tiomkin
Orchestrations by Cecil Bolton, Frank Comstock, Robert Docker, George Parrish, David Tamkin, Herbert Taylor
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Original Soundtrack Album:
Conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin
Performed by “A Symphony Orchestra of 110 of England’s finest Musicians”
Album Produced by Irving Townsend
Conducted by Nic Raine
Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus
Produced by James Fitzpatrick
Academy Award for Best Original Score (nominated)
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Won)
The original soundtrack album insert contains a “Letter to Listeners” from composer Dimitri Tiomkin. The 2011 re-recording contains the usual excellent in-depth notes about the film and the score, as well as a detailed track by track analysis.
All images and artwork are Copyright © Varese Sarabande (Original Album), and Prometheus Records (2011 Re-Recording).