Great Movie Themes Composed by Miklós Rózsa

MGM Records released Great Movie Themes Composed by Miklós Rózsa (E/SE-4112) in 1963 to coincide with the U.S. distribution of Sodom and Gomorrah (scored by Rózsa but not an M-G-M film). The LP represents the first instance of Rózsa himself recording a “greatest hits” album—and the only such album for the record label of “his” studio (he would later record three such albums for the British Polydor label). The LP consisted of seven new recordings made with the Rome Symphony Orchestra and three cuts from existing MGM Records (re-recorded) soundtrack albums: the “Prelude” from King of Kings (labeled “King of Kings Theme”), “Overture” from Ben-Hur (labeled “Ben-Hur”) and the “Overture” from El Cid (labeled “El Cid”).

Credits on both the original LP and on its European EMI reissue (Classics for Pleasure MFP 5232) were rather disingenuous, crediting both Rózsa and Carlo Savina as conductors. In fact, Rózsa was the sole conductor, and the Graunke Symphony Orchestra of Munich was denied proper credit for playing the El Cid selection. Savina’s name was probably included because the original plan was to use the “Prelude” from his Ben-Hur re-recording—but somewhere in the process that got switched to the “Overture” from the More Music From Ben-Hur LP (the Ben-Hur “sequel” album from MGM Records released in 1960, credited to conductor Erich Kloss, but really conducted by Rózsa). A memo from album producer Jesse Kaye advised MGM Records chief Arnold Maxin of the error, and that the original intent was to use the “Prelude” from El Cid rather than the “Overture” (which does not include any of the principal themes from the score). Kaye described Rózsa as “pretty upset” about the accidental substitutions.

All tracks are, to a greater or lesser degree, “concert” versions deemed suitable by the composer for presentation apart from the films that inspired them. The album’s very existence is a belated tribute to Rózsa from the studio that was his home for 14 years; its value lies not only in the beautiful composer-led performances (especially Diane and Spellbound) but in demonstrating the breadth of his musical language, encompassing spectacle, suspense, history, drama and romance.

This CD premiere of Great Movie Themes is mastered from a ¼″ stereo tape in the Warner Bros. vaults. The King of Kings and El Cid tracks are not included on disc 14, due to space limitations, but can be found elsewhere in this box set: the King of Kings “Prelude” (which came before the Quo Vadis selection on side one) is disc 12, track 1, while the El Cid “Overture” (which concluded the LP) is disc 13, track 1.

13. Theme & Answer to a Dream From Sodom and Gomorrah
Rózsa was happy to leave M-G-M in 1962 to score Robert Aldrich’s Italian production of Sodom and Gomorrah, but appalled when he saw the poor quality of the film. Still, he hoped his music might help the production. The composer supplied close to two hours of music in his most spectacular biblical-historical mode—including the two beautiful themes heard on this track in A-B-A form. The principal theme, romantic in nature, is first announced by French horns; the contrasting middle section (“Answer to a Dream”) has more of an Eastern flavor that would have been at home in the near-contemporary King of Kings.
14. Spellbound Concerto
Spellbound (1945) represented Rózsa’s only “collaboration” with director Alfred Hitchcock (with whom he had virtually no contact during the making of the picture) and won him the first of his three Academy Awards. This “Concerto” track is misnamed since it is not the familiar one-movement work for piano and orchestra (which Rózsa arranged at the suggestion of Jerome Kern after the film’s release). Instead, it is a primarily orchestral arrangement of the film’s principal theme and love theme.
15. Lydia Waltz
Lydia (1941) was an Alexander Korda film starring Merle Oberon. It earned Rózsa one of two Academy Award nominations for that year (the other was for Sundown) and this waltz theme gained some popularity at the time. It was recorded by RCA Victor and published in a version for solo piano (bearing an unauthorized dedication to Oberon). A precursor to the even more familiar waltz from Madame Bovary (see track 19), it evokes feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness with a decidedly Parisian flavor.
16. Quo Vadis Triumphal March
Quo Vadis (1951) marked Rózsa’s first trip into Roman antiquity. For the film, Rózsa scored this march entirely for winds and percussion (see disc 3, track 6). This version for full orchestra comes from the concert suite Rózsa later fashioned from the score. It begins and ends with an assertive statement of Marcus’s theme for brass in octaves, punctuated by percussion. In between, the composer takes advantage of the additional colors afforded by a full symphony orchestra to subject the march’s two themes to additional counterpoint and development.
17. Ben-Hur
After the great success of the Ben-Hur “soundtrack” albums (40 minutes of highlights recorded in Rome under the baton of Carlo Savina and a carbon copy album recorded in Nuremberg without chorus for the budget Lion label), MGM Records decided to follow up with another volume, More Music From Ben-Hur, released in 1961. Track 17 was the opening selection of that LP, where it was labeled “Overture”; it led off side two of Great Movie Themes. It is, in fact, a concert version blending elements of both the “Overture” and the “Entr’acte” from the original soundtrack. The opening and closing fanfare passages from the latter are combined with the “Return to Judea” and “Mother’s Love” themes from the former. The “Return to Judea” passage, with its pizzicato strings and harp accompaniment, is played at a much faster tempo than on the soundtrack. This is especially interesting because—although the album credits the fine German conductor Erich Kloss (who recorded an LP of Rózsa’s concert music for MGM Records in 1958) as leading the orchestra—Rózsa admitted many years later that he himself was, indeed, the conductor.
18. Paranoia Theme From Spellbound
Written for the scene in which Gregory Peck slowly descends the stairs toward Ingrid Bergman with a razor in his hand (“Will he kiss me or will he kill me?” proclaimed the lurid poster), this famous theme constitutes one of the contrasting sections of the actual Spellbound Concerto. Beginning with tremolo strings and a harp ostinato, the music builds inexorably towards its climax, helped along in the original film soundtrack by the eerie timbre of the Theremin (not used in this orchestration). After a concluding violin solo, there is a striking reference—unique to this arrangement—to the theme of the Virgin Mary in King of Kings (see disc 12, track 4).
19. Madame Bovary Waltz
The 1949 film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel was one of the first scores Rózsa completed under his M-G-M contract. With it, he broke free from his film noir period and found a new romanticism (always latent in his music but now more in the foreground) that served him well during his M-G-M years. This elegant concert version of the well-known waltz is more relaxed than the soundtrack original (see disc 1, track 7), leaving out some of the more vertiginous passages that were so important to enhancing the visuals of Vincente Minnelli’s painstakingly directed scene.
20. Beauty & Grace (Love Theme From Diane)
Diane (1956) came in the middle of Rózsa’s biblical-historical period at M-G-M. The film elicited a grandiose score from the composer but it has suffered from neglect compared to his other works in this genre, perhaps because the film itself was neither a commercial nor an artistic success. Nevertheless, it contains two of Rózsa’s most strikingly lovely melodies (one for Diane herself and one for her husband, Count de Brézé), here seamlessly blended in an arrangement for string orchestra and harpsichord. The sober modal harmony, frequent suspensions and somewhat austere counterpoint invoke Renaissance models, as if the piece had been composed for a consort of viols. It begins quietly in a rather melancholy minor key, then rises to an impassioned climax (exploring a few surprising harmonic twists along the way) before ending with a peaceful major cadence. (The complete soundtrack to Diane, including numerous outtakes and source cues, is available on FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 3.) — 

From the original MGM Records LP…


The magnificent motion picture scores of Miklós Rózsa are living monuments of fabulous sound … Golden waves of deep-throated horns and spine-tingling commands of ceremonial trumpets bring to life our ancient past … Surging violins sing their songs of triumph above the thunder of rolling drums … Skirling flutes like silver clouds hover over the oboe’s lovely song … Angelic voices sing the birth of Christ; organ tones underscore His sacred mission; the magic power of music deepens the tragedy of the crucifixion … Hear once more the shattering drama of music that has made motion picture history … As Miklós Rózsa conducts a program of his own film masterworks you can hear the Roman legions march … You can thrill again and again as the chariots whirl in one of the most daring and breath-taking scenes ever filmed … Music of grandeur and pageantry — or music scaled down to the sweet tenderness of love … Rózsa is a sorcerer whose film music has added to the riches of a long list of superb movies …


Remember … the moment in SPELLBOUND when the patient stood by the doctor with a straight razor in his hands? Rózsa’s music brings the memorable moment of terror and inner struggle back into full-focus … And now, three-quarter time … the waltz at three o’clock in the morning … Emma Bovary’s first cotillion … the dancers whirling faster and faster …

MIKLÓS RÓZSA’S name has probably appeared on more great movie productions than any composer in history. Just read the list of movie titles assembled for this program of Rózsa’s music is like hearing the drumbeat of excitement coming closer, closer … But, one career is not enough for this master of dramatic music. He has also had distinguished success in the concert halls of the United States and Europe as one of the finest living composers of vocal, orchestral, chamber and solo music. His compositions have become part of the standard repertory of leading orchestras in America, England, France, Germany, Italy. But, to millions of moviegoers the world over the name MIKLÓS RÓZSA on the screen means only one thing: glorious music that makes a fine film even better. This MGM program of his music brings you a selection of superb moments from outstanding films conducted by the composer himself.

From the EMI reissue LP…

Miklós Rózsa, a Hungarian-born composer living in America, has, for the past thirty years or so, provided the cinema-going public with some fine soundtrack music. This album includes music from nine films, two of which won Rózsa an Oscar for the best musical score. The first of these was for the Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound, a psychological thriller starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. This was in 1945. Fourteen years later he won an Oscar for Ben-Hur, a tremendous film that won eleven Oscars in all. Rózsa’s dramatic score was an important adjunct to the overall powerful effect of the film, which starred Charlton Heston, who has made something of a feature of starring in epic films. In 1961 he played the title role in El Cid and for this Rózsa provided another first-class score. Some people tend to think of Rózsa as specializing in music for epic biblical films and certainly he did his fair share. Three other themes from such films are included on this LP: King of Kings, which found no favor with the critics in 1961; Sodom and Gomorrah, made in Italy in 1962 starring Stewart Granger; and the 1951 remake of Quo Vadis, which starred Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and a superb Peter Ustinov as Nero.

Miklós Rózsa also shows up his talent for writing for very different subjects with the Lydia Waltz, the Love Theme from Diane, a 1956 opus, and the waltz from Madame Bovary, a screen version of Gustave Flaubert’s immortal Norman tragedy.