Oh, the shame! This is what films once were. This is an epic film. Today, CGI trash like Avatar is somehow also able to be classed as epic. What happened to films like this? The statement “they don’t make films like this anymore” could not ring truer when it comes to Lawrence of Arabia.
David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece has been my all-time favourite film this the first time I saw it. The film is based upon the life of T.E. Lawrence, specifically his experiences in Arabia during World War I. Lean and producer Sam Spiegel had enjoyed immense success with Bridge on the River Kwai a few years earlier, and would do so again with this film, winning the Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Director. Peter O’ Toole made his breakthrough in the role of Lawrence, earning his first Oscar nomination for the role. Lawrence of Arabia is a film that routinely appears very near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time, and always will.
Another person who made his breakthrough with this film was composer Maurice Jarre, who would go on to become one of the most successful and respected film composers of all time. Jarre was certainly not a novice at film scoring at the time, with over two dozen French films to his name, but Lawrence of Arabia was his introduction to Hollywood, where he had just six weeks to compose the music for the film. Rightly considered one of the greatest film scores ever written, the score earned Jarre his first Oscar (though he wasn’t there to accept it, as he had been told by producer Sam Spiegel that he had no chance as “Americans always win”), and in 2005, the American Film Institute named it the third greatest score of all time.
Jarre’s epic, sweeping main theme for the film was among the most successful he ever wrote, surpassed only by “Lara’s Theme “ from Doctor Zhivago a couple of years later. Jarre’s weaving of both western and eastern thematic material is particularly admirable, and it can be said without any doubt that this is the best score of Jarre’s illustrious career.
Percussion has always been a strong element in Jarre’s music (indeed, he started out as a timpani player), and he does not hesitate to let his own sound be heard from the very beginning, with the timpani fanfares heard in the first few bars of the “Overture”. In this cue, the two themes for the Arabs are also introduced. The first is harmonized in tritons, which is heard briefly before the strings come in to perform the famous desert theme. The percussion then comes back in and then the second theme is heard, played on woodwinds and strings. Next heard is a brief statement of Kenneth J. Alford’s “Voice of the Guns”. After this, both the sweeping desert theme and the two Arabic ones are combined, and the orchestrations become more and more complex as the cue draws to a close.
Of course, it is the sweeping desert theme that is the best known from the score, and is one of few themes from a film score (others being Star Wars, E.T., The Magnificent Seven) that has entered popular culture. For many, it is the defining music for the desert.
As much as I do love that theme, my favourite is the theme that is first introduced in the “Main Titles” and crops up at several other places throughout the score. The album’s liner notes refer to it as the “British” theme. A brisk and animated piece, it emerges suddenly from the anomalous music at the start of the cue. Jarre then weaves it between the main desert theme throughout.
The very first shot of the desert is of the sun rising, which is in my opinion one of the best scenes ever filmed. Today, a scene like that would involve a few minutes of CGI. Back then, you had to be up with the cameras waiting for the sun to rise.
“First Entrance to the Desert” begins with a somewhat eerie flute solo, and unsettled percussion slowly builds up with the strings, during the scene of the sun rising. The full orchestra then comes in with the main theme as the camera cuts to a sweeping shot of the desert with Lawrence and Tafas making their journey across it.
In “Night and Stars”, Jarre introduces zither and Ondes Martenots into the score, both of which are fairly well known today but back in 1962 would probably have seemed incredibly unusual. Regardless though, they complement the scene perfectly, and in this recording you can actually hear the Ondes being played.
The first comedic themed music is introduced in “Lawrence and Tafas”, played mainly on light percussion. At 1:05, a gentle woodwind introduces the secondary desert theme, a glorious piece on strings accompanied by percussion, and later brass, as the two characters make their way across the sweeping desert. It’s a spectacular scene, with equally spectacular music. At 2:50, the main theme returns again, and then the comedic music returns again as Lawrence’s Bedouin guide teaches him how to ride a camel at speed, with amusing results.
In the desert, Lawrence’s guide is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif in an Oscar nominated performance), and he is forced to continue alone. The fifty second long track “Lawrence Rides Alone” accompanies this scene, a slow paced string theme with gentle percussion.
“Exodus” brings the Arab themes back into the score, starting out in a somewhat menacing fashion with low key strings, but then morphing into a light hearted piece on strings with woodwind and percussion. ”We Need a Miracle” appropriately brings a sense of desperation into the score, particularly towards the end.
“In Whose Name Do You Ride” accompanies the scene where Lawrence is asked by Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) whose name he rides in. He doesn’t answer – the scene then just cuts to Lawrence and Ali leading Faisal’s men towards the Nefu desert. The piece starts out with gentle percussion and woodwinds, and as the piece progresses the orchestral palette expands. At 1:50 another theme is introduced – a heroic trumpet fanfare, which reoccurs several times later in the score.
There is only one shot in Lawrence of Arabia that isn’t real, and that’s the shot of the sun during the crossing of the Nefud Desert, which no camera could film without burning up. Lawrence and the Bedouins travel across the desert day and night to reach water on the other side. One of the Bedouins, Gasim, succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel during the night, unnoticed by the others. “Gasim Lost in the Desert” conveys the power of the sun as it beats down mercilessly upon him, it begins as a piece with a gently menacing tone, which gradually increases as the piece progresses, eventually cumilating in a moment of orchestral mayhem as he collapses again. Lawrence, after realising Gasim’s disappearance, risks his own life turning back to rescue him, finally earning the respect of Ali. The cue “Lawrence Rescues Gasim” is a gentle, slow paced piece as he looks for Gasim, and the track then explodes into a grand performance of the main theme in “Lawrence Returns with Gasim”.
“Arrival at Auda’s Camp” opens with a series of brass fanfares, and then, after a brief performance of the main desert theme, launches into the trumpet fanfare that was introduced previously in “In Whose Name Do You Ride”, which also closes out the cue, following a performance of the theme for the Arabs. The simple theme “Bedouin Feast” is played by a solo woodwind accompanied by ethnic percussion and tambourine.
“On to Akaba” is perhaps the first major action cue, and is the only cue to feature a choral element, which gives the piece a great ethreal quality. The score’s main theme closes out the first half of the film in grand fashion, after which the rest of the action cues can be found, all of which are spectacular and in particular showcase Jarre’s abilities as a percussionist.
There are many reasons why Lawrence of Arabia is a film that benefits from repeat viewings, but one of the most significant ones is the fact that you don’t know what the ending is. The final scene shows Lawrence being driven away in a jeep. He looks out and sees the camels going past – presumably wishing he was with them – and the film ends. The final cue on the album, “The End” begins with the main theme played gently by plucked strings, and then launches into a rousing performance of the famous march from the score, after which both the primary desert and Arab themes are heard, bringing the album to a triumphant close.
The score for Lawrence of Arabia has been released on CD several times, but until 2010, never in a complete form. The 1962 recording, conducted by Jarre himself, featured just half an hour of music from the film, and didn’t really do the score justice. A 1992 recording featuring around 50 minutes of music was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Tony Bremmer, but again left many (including Jarre, who described the recording as “shitty”) wanting more.
The 2010 Tadlow recording, peerformed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Nic Raine, is the first complete release of the score. Tadlow has released many fine re-recordings since it was formed in 2006, including El Cid, True Grit, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as well as several other works by Maurice Jarre. This is arguably its best release yet – with its authenticity revealing things in the score that couldn’t be heard in the previous recordings. The informative liner notes (as always with Tadlow) also make a highly interesting read.
The score itself only fills up one disc of the 2-CD album. The second disc is called “The Music of Maurice Jarre – A Personal Choice”, and contains music that Fitzpatrick felt best summarized his friend Jarre’s wonderful work. Music contained on the second disc includes excerpts of such scores as Ryan’s Daughter, Dead Poet’s Society, Jesus of Nazareth, and a particular gem, Moon Over Parador.
Sadly, Jarre himself passed away in 2009 before the release of his finest score in all its glory. This album however, remains a wonderful tribute to one of the finest composers ever to work in film, and isn’t to be missed by any film music fan. Magnificent in every possible way.
Purchase from Amazon (UK)
Purchase from Amazon (USA)
1 – Overture
2 – Main Titles
3 – First Entrance to the Desert
4 – Night and Stars
5 – Lawrence and Tafas
6 – Lawrence Rides Alone
7 – Exodus
8 – We Need a Miracle
9 – In Whose Name Do You Ride?
10 – That is the Desert (The Camels Will Die)
11 – Mirage / The Sun’s Arrival
12 – Gasim Lost in the Desert
13 – Lawrence Rescues Gasim / Lawrence Returns with Gasim / The Riding
14 – Arrival at Auda’s Camp
15 – Bedouin Feast
16 – On to Akaba
17 – Attack on Akaba / Lawrence at the Sea Shore
18 – Sinai Desert / After Quicksands / Hutments / Suez Canal
19 – A Brilliant Bit of Soldiering – The Voice of the Guns (Kenneth J. Alford)
20 – Bugle Call / Lawrence on the Terrace / Intermission
21 – Adulation
22 – The Horse Stampede / Farraj Killed
23 – Ali Rescues Lawrence / Allenby’s Flattery
24 – Assembled Army / Lawrence and His Bodyguard / Arab Theme
25 – Military March
26 – The End / Playoff Music
1 – Moon Over Parador
2 – The Magician
3 – Warsaw
4 – The Feast
5 – Bicycles
6 – The Park
7 – The Magician Flies
8 – THE FIXER (Suite)
9 – Cimarron Strip – Main Theme
10 – Prancer
11 – The Palanquin of Tears – End Credits
12 – Ryan’s Daughter
13 – Lawrence of Arabia (Nocturne – Alternate Version)
14 – Sunshine – The Sonnensheins
15 – Solar Crisis – End Credits
16 – Resurrection – End Credits
17 – Firefox – End Credits
18 – Dead Poet’s Society
19 – Jesus of Nazareth
20 – The Voice of the Guns – Original Version (Kenneth J. Alford)
Music Originally Composed & Conducted by Maurice Jarre
Original Orchestrations by Gerard Schurmann
Originally Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Tadlow Recording Conducted by Nic Raine and Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Album Produced by James Fitzpatrick
The score won an Academy Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award.
The liner notes contain all the detailed information about the film that you would expect from a Tadlow release, as well as a note by producer James Fitzpatrick about his friendship with Maurice Jarre.
All images and artwork are Copyright © Tadlow Music.