The Robe (Alfred Newman)
The Robe was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time, and also one of the most successful financially. It became the first film to showcase Fox’s new CinemaScope process (although How To Marry a Millionaire was the first CinemaScope film to actually be released), and the scoring assignment was given to the legendary Alfred Newman, the studio’s head of music. Newman was the musical force behind many of the films that the studio had made previously; even if he hadn’t actually composed the score, there’s a good chance he would have arranged and/or conducted it, and so he would appear to be the obvious choice to score a film of such importance to the studio.
There is some irony in the fact that Newman, despite being the most successful composer ever to work in film in terms of awards, wasn’t particularly keen on the job of composing, once describing it as a lonely job of “sitting in a room, wearing out pencils”. He preferred the duty of conducting scores, and this was what many of his colleagues held him in such high esteem for – so much of the quality in Newman’s music is not necessary the compositions, but the wonderful orchestral performances. Having said that, he was undoubtedly one of the finest composers to ever work in film, and this score, along with various others like How The West Was Won, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Captain from Castile, prove that to the highest degree.
Whilst this score lacks the….”richness” that later, more successful biblical scores by Miklós Rózsa, such as Ben-Hur and El Cid, had, it is clear and they take inspiration from this one. In addition, whilst most of Rozsa’s work for this genre was all about heavy orchestral performances, this score takes us in several different directions. There are indeed glorious, majestic orchestral and choral pieces to be heard, but there are also pieces that reflect quiet moments of reflection and calmness, moments of excitement, and so on, and that is what makes the score so effective.
That said, this score could only have ever been the musical accompaniment to a biblical epic. The first theme – ‘Prelude’ features majestic string and brass performances, with a choral accompaniment, is simply wonderful – some scores have a way of telling you in the first few notes that you’re going to hear a good score, and this is no exception.
The next cue “The Slave Market – Entrance Of Caligula” features a very simple, but beautiful theme on strings and woodwinds with light percussion in the background. Later on is the march theme, which will remind listeners not only of Newman’s earlier Captain from Castile, but also of Rózsa’s later “Parade of the Charioteers” from Ben-Hur – whilst The Robe is not one of the best remembered of the biblical epic soundtracks, it’s clear it was rather influential on those that are.
“Farewell to Diana” begins with and features throughout a heroic brass and horn movement, which for some reason reminded me of John Williams’ Superman theme, which then morphs into a lovely woodwind performance, later joined by strings. Following this, “Palm Sunday” is sparsely populated in terms of instrumentation – just some light percussion and a mixed chorus, but nevertheless sounds wonderful. “The Carriage of the Cross – The Crucifixion”, particularly the latter half, is superbly effective, with not only powerful string and brass performances, but sound effects of thunder in the background. Normally I’d find that downright annoying, but it complements the piece extremely well. I didn’t particularly like “The Song Of Resurrection” at first, but it’s grown on me after a few listens – wonderful solo vocals by Carole Richards and a solo harp in the background.
After that, all that is really left to be heard are various recaps of the themes heard earlier, albeit with some different, and excellent variations. The score concludes with “The Better Kingdom”, which is probably among the best cues that Newman ever wrote. A variation of the “Hallelujah” segment from his earlier score to The Hunchback of Notre Dame (and also used in The Song of Bernadette), it is a simply beautiful piece with glorious choral chants combined with Newman’s wonderful orchestral arrangements.
The score was not even nominated for an Oscar (something that incensed composer Franz Waxman to the point that he quit the Academy in protest), but that is just yet another example of how far back the Academy’s pathetic choices go. This is one of the early recordings of the score, 1953 to be exact, performed by the Hollywood Symphony under the baton of Newman himself, and is one of the all-time great scores of the biblical genre. Don’t miss out.
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1 – Prelude, The Robe
2 – The Slave Market – Entrance Of Caligula
3 – Farewell To Diana
4 – Palm Sunday
5 – The Carriage of the Cross – The Crucifixion
6 – Marcellus Return To Capri
7 – Village Of Cana
8 – The Song Of Resurrection
9 – Miriam
10 – The Redemption Of Marcellus
11 – Lament For Justus
12 – The Big Fisherman
13 – The Catacombs
14 – The Rescue of Demetrius
15 – The Miracle
16 – The Better Kingdom
Music Composed & Conducted by Alfred Newman
Performed by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra
Choral Direction by Ken Darby
The liner notes contain information about the score and the composer by Kevin Mulhall
All artwork and images are Copyright © Varèse Sarabande.