Ben-Hur: The Early Vinyl Saga

In spite of a diverse catalog that encompassed popular artists and classical titles (including some of Miklós Rózsa’s concert works), the special focus of MGM Records was always “soundtracks.” Throughout the 1950s, most of the label’s film-related releases derived from musicals—Singin’ in the Rain, Kiss Me, Kate, Brigadoon, etc.—while its catalog of dramatic background scores remained limited but choice. These included Quo Vadis, Invitation to the Dance, The Swan, The Cobweb/Edge of the City and a Rózsa trio: Ivanhoe/Plymouth Adventure/Madame Bovary. The label assembled each of these albums from the original film recordings made at M-G-M in Culver City.

By 1959, the situation had changed. M-G-M had officially disbanded its studio orchestra (hiring musicians on a per-film—or even per-session—basis), while union regulations increasingly protected the rights and livelihoods of Hollywood musicians. Under such conditions, the studio deemed it more cost-efficient to re-record the music for a Ben-Hur album in Europe. On July 29, 1959, Daily Variety reported: “M-G-M, going all out, will wax three different albums with prices ranging up to $12.50. Miklós Rózsa will record ’em in Italy where the rate on musicians is lower than here in L.A.”

Unfortunately, fate (or, rather, the musicians’ union) intervened. Although the studio had already signed a contract to record the album in Italy, American Federation of Musicians president James Petrillo decreed that Rózsa, a member of the union, could not conduct if the label recorded outside the USA (thus denying American musicians a re-use fee). M-G-M executive Nicholas Schenck interceded on Rózsa’s behalf, explaining that because the studio had already signed a contract, the recording would proceed in Europe no matter what the union said or did. Petrillo held firm, forcing Rózsa to sit in a recording booth while his Italian colleague, Carlo Savina, conducted the sessions.

The album artwork and label identified the orchestra as “The Symphony Orchestra of Rome,” but no such ensemble existed at the time (a modern-day group with the same name was founded in 2002). On October 29, 1959, West Coast label chief Jesse Kaye wrote to Rózsa: “I talked with New York; and the only information I could get was that Gene Moretti [sales manager of the label’s foreign operations] told someone in New York that we could not use the regular name of the orchestra you used in Rome for the Ben-Hur recording.” Given that the brass section of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia had played for the earlier film recordings of marches and fanfares, it is likely the full orchestra (a professional ensemble that still concertizes and records regularly today) was the ensemble Savina conducted. The assisting choral group, not identified at all on the original release, was The Singers of the Roman Basilicas (aka The Vatican Choir).

Initial plans called for a 2LP set (consistent with the $12.50 price mentioned by Variety). An undated document from MGM Records laid out the following sequence of tracks:

Side 1: Prelude and Roman March/The Star of Bethlehem and Adoration of the Magi/Gratus’ March Into Jerusalem/Friendship (Ben-Hur and Messala)/Esther (Love Theme From Ben-Hur)

Side 2: The Desert/The Galley/Naval Battle/Farewell to Rome/Arrius’ Party/Victory Parade

Side 3: Homecoming/Memories/Return/Circus Parade/Aftermath/Entr’Acte

Side 4: Valley of the Lepers and Sermon on the Mount/Valley of the Dead/The Procession to Calvary/Finale

By September 15, 1959, the sequence had been revised and many of the track titles changed—“The Desert” became “The Burning Desert,” “The Galley” became “The Rowing of the Galley Slaves,” “Homecoming” became “Return to Judea,” “Return” became “Esther’s Oath,” “Arrius’ Party” became “Roman Festival,” etc. Another document, dated a day later, reveals a further step in the soundtrack’s evolution—two separate LPs with different content:

Disc 1, Side 1: Prelude and Roman March/Adoration of the Magi/Friendship (Ben-Hur and Messala)/Love Theme From Ben-Hur/The Burning Desert

Disc 1, Side 2: Rowing of the Galley Slaves/Circus Parade/Entr’Acte/Search for Christ/Procession to Calvary/The Miracle and Finale

Disc 2, Side 1: Victory March/Friendship (Ben-Hur and Messala)/Roman Festival/Love Theme From Ben-Hur/Naval Battle (Romans Versus Pirates)/The Lepers and The Sermon on the Mount/Gratus’ March Into Jerusalem

Disc 2, Side 2: Return to Judea/Bread and Circus March/Death of Messala/Esther’s Oath/Ben-Hur’s Farewell to Arrius/Finale

A final document, stamped September 23, contains the single disc, 14-track sequence as ultimately released.

Anxious to have the album available for lobby sales at the November premiere, the label sent Rózsa off to Rome soon after the final Culver City recording session (held on October 9). On October 13, Kaye dispatched to the composer the following good wishes: “Of course, we’re disappointed that you are not conducting or supervising, but I know your presence at the sessions will at least bring understanding to all concerned of the music you have composed so it will sound like you have written it.”

On October 16 and 17, in his beloved “Eternal City,” Rózsa watched and listened as EMI engineers recorded the 14 tracks of the first disc, plus an extra cue: “Arrius’ Party.” “We had a good first day today,” he wrote to Kaye on October 16, “only we lost 20 minutes because the electricity broke down. The orchestra is first class and the sound wonderful. We shall work Sunday and finish everything. Dimitri Tiomkin is here conducting [Rózsa’s emphasis] his own music for an American-made U.A. picture [The Unforgiven]. What do you say to that? I hope to edit everything Monday and send it Tuesday.” As soon as he had accomplished those tasks, Rózsa departed for Nuremberg, Germany (with a stop in Munich on the way), where he recorded a second LP—a virtual duplicate of the first but without chorus—with the Frankenland State Symphony Orchestra. MGM Records planned to issue the German performance on their “budget” label, Lion Records (retailing at $1.98, as opposed to the “regular” disc, which would sell for $4.98 in mono and $6.98 in stereo).

This second recording (Lion L/SL71023) became the source of endless speculation for Rózsaphiles. It did not remain in the catalog long and has never before been available on CD, so relatively few collectors have actually heard it. Those who have often complain about the performance and recording quality (the stereo channels were reversed on the commercial pressing). This venture also seems a rather odd business decision for MGM Records: Why issue two different recordings of the exact same material simultaneously? One possible (but unconfirmed) explanation is that Rózsa himself arranged for (and possibly even financed) the Lion disc to afford himself the opportunity, sub rosa, to conduct his own music. Although the album itself listed Erich Kloss (a highly respected German conductor who had already recorded some of Rózsa’s concert music for MGM Records) as the man wielding the baton, it is possible that the composer himself conducted, allowing Kloss to receive credit to avoid issues with the AFM. (Rózsa’s comment to Kaye about Tiomkin indicates just how greatly his inability to conduct his own music—officially, at least—bothered him.) Many years later, the composer confirmed that this scenario did transpire with the subsequent “More Music From Ben-Hur” album (see below), lending credence to the theory that the same surreptitious behavior took place at the first Nuremberg recording session. (The fact that MGM Records needed Rózsa to cable them the names of the orchestras and conductors involved on both discs further suggests that he had made at least some of the arrangements himself, independently of the label.)

For all its “unhappy stepchild” status among Rózsaphiles, the composer expressed satisfaction with the Nuremberg recording. On October 28, he wrote to Kaye, “I just heard the tape, together with the first music critic of the town, and I must say that some of it is even better than the Rome recordings.…I think that they played the Roman March (No. 3) better in Nuremberg than in Rome (the Germans know better how to march) so, if Arnold [Maxin, head of MGM Records] wants to exchange these two tracks, it would be OK with me.” He further reported that he had been very busy with publicity: “I gave 5 newspaper, 1 radio and 1 television interview in Rome, 4 in Munich and 3 in Nuremberg, plus one for the Bavarian Radio. They…will play some of the music too, next Monday.” He concluded, “Now, I am off to London to write a “Piano Fantasy of Ben-Hur” for Robbins [Music—the publishing arm of M-G-M].” (The composer gave still more interviews while in London.)

The MGM Records LP (1E-1/1SE-1) released in November 1959 initiated a series of deluxe albums for the label, featuring not only the disc but also a hardcover copy of the film’s souvenir book. In order to control possible competing versions, the label signed an agreement with Rózsa (on December 7, 1959) that credited him with rendering “certain advisory services” in connection with recording his music for the film. It provided the composer an advance as well as a royalty, but forbade him from recording the music for any other label for seven years. (When Columbia Records wanted to release a composer-conducted performance of the “Prelude” recorded at the Hollywood Bowl during a Composers and Lyricists Guild of America benefit concert in 1963, Rózsa had to request an exemption from this clause—which, fortunately, the studio granted.) M-G-M was pleased with and proud of the final result. On December 23, Daily Variety reported: “As a Christmas gift of the company, every employee of Metro yesterday received a copy of the album of Miklós Rózsa's score for Ben-Hur.”

The album sold well, eventually earning a nomination for a “Best Soundtrack” Grammy Award (losing to Ernest Gold’s Exodus on RCA Victor). The label decided to move ahead with a second LP, but first they sent the composer back to Rome (in March 1960) to record two more selections for a 45 rpm “single”: “The Parade of the Charioteers” (arranged for full orchestra) and “The Christ Theme From Ben-Hur (an arrangement of the theme—with chorus—intended for concert use). The eventual release of that disc (K12887), however, had “The Christ Theme” on Side A and “Love Theme of Ben-Hur” on Side B. “Parade” had to wait for the next LP—but the delay was not a long one.

In the summer of 1960, Rózsa visited Europe to work on his score for King of Kings. During late July, he traveled to Nuremberg to record the second Ben-Hur album. Because three cues were already “in the can” (“Arrius’ Party,” “Parade of the Charioteers” and “The Christ Theme From Ben-Hur”), he only needed to record about 30 minutes of additional music. Rózsa had written to Kaye from Switzerland at the end of June: “I have corrected during the crossing all of the scores for the second album and I am mailing them now to [the] manager of the Nuremberg Orchestra for extraction [meaning the preparation of individual orchestral parts]. The recording dates are set for August 1, 2 and 3.”

That November, the studio announced it would celebrate the film’s first anniversary by releasing this second album of musical highlights. The following January, Daily Variety reported: “Success of the Miklós Rózsa score has cued the Culver lot’s wax foundry to press a second edition of the Hur music. And like its predecessor, this version will be comprised of the original background music in the William Wyler production—but rhythms not heard in the initial Hur biscuit for this simple reason only: no room.” “More Music From Ben-Hur” (E/SE-3900) went on sale during January 1961.

In a 1981 interview published in the Canadian film journal 24 Images, Rózsa publicly admitted what he had already intimated in private: that although Erich Kloss was the official conductor of “More Music From Ben-Hur,” the composer had actually wielded the baton at the sessions. He was happy with the results, writing to Kaye on August 4: “I am glad to report that the mission is accomplished.…Today we made cuts and they have invited the local press to hear the finished product at 6 PM. I have to make a speech about the music and at 7:30 my train goes to Paris. Well, nearly as hectic as in Hollywood, isn’t it?…Everything went well and I think you and Arnold [Maxin] will be pleased.”

As he would do for the subsequent MGM albums of King of Kings, El Cid and The V.I.P.s, Rózsa took advantage of an opportunity in these re-recordings to rethink his music in terms of “home listening.” Although the composer lifted some cues largely intact from the film versions, he altered many others (sometimes significantly so). New introductions and codas were among the simpler changes, but several cues (especially longer ones like “The Desert,” “Naval Battle” and “The Procession to Calvary”) were considerably shortened. There were changes in orchestration (the addition of strings to the marches, for example) and, in a few cases, Rózsa added new contrapuntal ideas to the texture. The discussion that follows mentions some of the more important such alterations.

Discs III & IV

The musical material of the Savina LP is identical to that of the first Kloss LP (with the same track numbers), so the following track-by-track analysis applies to both albums. References to internal timings within tracks refer to the Savina album (Disc III).

1. Prelude
Rózsa added a forthright statement of “Anno Domini” to the beginning of this album version and considerably extended the love theme. He also lengthened the closing statement of “Anno Domini.”
2. The Adoration of the Magi
Apart from a slight modification of the introduction (there is no sustained chorus and the clarinet echoes the oboe’s entire phrase, not just the second sixteenth-note figure), this Nativity cue is unchanged from the film version. The singers on the Savina recording (disc III)—especially the first sopranos—are more forward in the mix than on the soundtrack.
3. Roman March
For the album, Rózsa dispensed with the framing statements of the Judea theme (which make more sense musically within the film). Consequently, he added eight measures to create a satisfactory “concert” ending for the march.
4. Friendship
The album version of this theme does not correspond directly to any soundtrack cue (although it closely resembles the theme’s treatment in the overture). Whereas in the film Rózsa constantly develops the theme, responding to shifts in dramatic tone, here he allows it to follow its own musical logic. This version matches the arrangement Rózsa made for the Robbins Music piano folio.
5. Love Theme of Ben-Hur
After an introduction featuring solo violin and harp against sustained strings, the love theme unfolds in the violins’ lowest register. Beginning with the B section (led by solo oboe), Rózsa based this album track on “Memories” (disc II, track 8) but with altered orchestration—the violins play an octave higher on the melody, while in the film the music had to stay under dialogue. The track builds to an impassioned fortissimo climax on the return of the A theme, with solo oboe returning for the coda.
6. The Burning Desert
Aside from some very minor differences (note, for example, the addition of a trumpet echo at 0:24 and 0:27), this album cue follows the broad outline of the film sequence but omits the incident involving Christ’s interaction with a Roman guard (disc I, track 22, 4:43–5:45). The end of the track also slightly extends the Christ theme, where the film segues to “Roman Galley.”
7. The Rowing of the Galley Slaves
This album track differs from the film version only in minor details: for example, Rózsa added one measure of solo timpani at the beginning, two extra beats to the final measure of “Galley No. 2” (at 0:58) and substituted an abrupt cut-off in lieu of the final sustained horn note. Curiously, Savina (but not “Kloss”) makes a pronounced increase in tempo in the middle of “Galley No. 3” (at 1:22).
8. Naval Battle
Rózsa condensed this long, complex sequence for the LP by making several very large cuts. He opens with the sinuous bass line from “The Pirate Fleet” (heard first by itself and then with the tritone-based fanfare motive) but at 0:50 jumps to “Battle—Part 2” (disc I, track 28 at 5:32). Further cuts lead quickly to measure 35 of “Battle—Part 3” (at 1:32 of this track), followed by two more large edits that ultimately (at 2:05) climax with the music accompanying Judah’s rescue of Arrius. A final rhythmic peroration of pounding timpani provides a “concert” finish. Astute listeners will note a change in the bass line at 0:57–1:02 (compare with disc I, track 28 at 5:37–5:42) that provides further evidence of Rózsa’s careful rethinking of his music.
9. Return to Judea
This album track derives from an interim version of “Homecoming” not used in the film (see disc III, track 30). It commences with just the bass ostinato, but once the theme enters the music is unchanged until 0:23, where Rózsa begins an extension of the theme not in the cue he composed for the film. The film version resumes with the B section (at 0:40). When the A section returns at (1:20), the composer—who lived and breathed counterpoint—added a bit of canonic imitation in the woodwinds (one measure behind the strings).
10. Victory Parade
Both album tracks feature the exact same recording used in the film, although with different edits. (If, indeed, the orchestra involved in the Savina disc was the Santa Cecilia group, there would have been no need to re-record this cue since they had recorded it for the picture the preceding March.)
11. The Mother’s Love
After a straightforward statement of Miriam’s theme (beginning with a shimmering violin tremolo), this album track segues (at 1:03) to material derived from “Promise” (disc II, track 10). Rózsa developed the love theme as a contrasting B section, but introduced some significant variations from the film version. Because the music does not need to stay underneath dialogue, he replaced solo clarinet in the initial counterpoint with violins in octaves, added a trumpet countermelody at 1:29, and employed octave doubling for the ascending passage that returns the cue to Miriam’s theme. He also altered the harmony in the passage at 1:58–2:06 and cut the subsequent four measures.
12. The Lepers’ Search for the Christ
Rózsa built momentum from beginning to end of this track by assembling portions of three film cues—“Valley of Lepers,” “The Uncleans” and “Tirzah Saved”— knitting them together with new developmental material and climaxing with a forceful statement of “Anno Domini.”
13. The Procession to Calvary
Once more, Rózsa condensed his film material for the album. He started at measure 18 of “The Procession to Calvary,” proceeding unchanged until 1:57, where a slight rewrite leads to measure 29 of “The Bearing of the Cross” (at 2:18). After a major cut within this cue (at 2:46), the album arrangement jumps to measure 9 of “Recognition” (at 2:57).
14. The Miracle and Finale
A majestic fortissimo statement of the Christ theme (with a choral “Alleluia”) segues to the same jubilant motive heard in the film, but in a different key. For the album, Rózsa added woodwind counterpoint to the beginning of the “Finale” (1:06) and substituted voices for the small group of strings heard in the film when Esther places her head on Judah’s shoulder (1:42). From that point on, the music proceeds exactly as in the film to its triumphant conclusion.

From the original MGM Records LP…

MGM Records S1E-1


1. Prelude The “Prelude” places the listener immediately in the atmosphere of the period of Ben-Hur. After the opening motif, which appears later in the picture in all the places connected with the Christ, the Christ theme appears majestically, underlining that this is “A Tale of the Christ.” Throughout the picture, every time the Christ appears, or His name is mentioned, the sound of an organ is heard, which then becomes associated with Him. The heroic “Ben-Hur” theme follows, and then the love theme of Ben-Hur and Esther. The victorious Ben-Hur theme returns and the Prelude ends strongly with the opening motif.

2. The Adoration of the Magi The star appears over Bethlehem and leads the Three Wise Men to the manger where the infant Jesus lies. A simple carol-like tune (this was the first Christmas!) is heard, by female voices to which the pastoral orchestration occasionally adds the mooing of a cow.

3. Roman March At the same time, the new governor Gratus and his legions are entering Jerusalem. Messala, a boyhood friend of Ben-Hur, [is] now a Tribune, leading the legions. In contrast to the gentle music of the “Adoration,” this is a forceful march representing Roman might.

4. Friendship After many years, Ben-Hur and Messala meet again, now both grown to manhood. The warm theme underlines their boyhood relationship.

5. Love Theme of Ben-Hur Esther is the daughter of Simonides, steward of the House of Hur, therefore a slave, property of Ben-Hur. She is promised in marriage to a wealthy merchant, and Ben-Hur reluctantly gives his consent. He soon realizes, however, that she has always been in love with him, and finds that he is not indifferent to her. The love theme has an oriental coloring and accompanies their relationship throughout the picture.

6. The Burning Desert As Messala is unable to use the patriotic Ben-Hur for his own ambitious purposes, he utilizes the accident of a falling tile on the Governor, and condemns Ben-Hur to the galleys. As the music starts we see the slaves marching through the desert and hear their cries for water. They all get some, only Ben-Hur is denied water. He collapses completely exhausted and calls for the help of God, whereupon a hand reaches to him with a gourd of water. It is the hand of the Christ. Ben-Hur rises to his feet, encouraged by the water and by the friendliness and mercy of the Stranger. He continues his march with his heart full of gratitude and faith.

7. The Rowing of the Galley Slaves The new Commander of the Roman fleet, Quintus Arrius, wishes to test the rowing ability of the galley slaves and puts them through a test. They start at normal speed and go on to battle, attack and ramming speeds, as the Hortator pounds out the rhythm. As the speed accelerates many collapse or become hysterical and the music grows from the monotonous beat of the Hortator to an orchestral frenzy.


1. Naval Battle Macedonian pirates attack the Roman fleet. First flame-throwers and arrows whistle through the air from ship to ship. Some of the galleys are rammed and hand to hand fighting develops between the pirates and the Romans. The galley slaves are chained to their benches, their panic and death struggle fills the air and the music tries to mirror the excitement, horror and brutality of these scenes.

2. Return to Judea Ben-Hur, who has caught the interest of Arrius, escapes from his burning ship and saves the drowning Arrius. He becomes his charioteer in the Great Circus of Rome, wins his affection and finally is adopted by Arrius as his son. But his heart is in Judea, and he yearns to know what has happened to his mother and sister, who were imprisoned with him. He arrives within the sacred walls of Jerusalem and the music intones the Hebrew theme which accompanies all scenes connected with this locality.

3. Victory Parade The “Victory Parade” is given by the emperor Tiberius for the returning naval hero Arrius. He rides proudly in a chariot, Ben-Hur at his side, while the Roman band, composed of ancient instruments (aulos, cornu, salpinx, lithuus, sistrums and other percussion instruments) play a stirring welcome to the returning hero.

4. The Mother’s Love Ben-Hur searches for his mother and sister, not knowing that they have become lepers, outcasts, and now live at the Valley of Lepers. The warm, Hebraic theme (of Yemenite origin) is played by the celli and violas and portrays the broken heart of the loving mother.

5. The Lepers’ Search for the Christ Muted horns and strings underline the eerie, hopeless and strange atmosphere of the lepers’ cave. Ben-Hur eventually finds out their whereabouts and, with the aid of Esther, takes his mother and his dying sister Tirzah to Jerusalem to see the Christ, who as it is said, can cure the sick if they believe in Him. We hear the opening motif of the Prelude as they enter the empty city.

6. The Procession to Calvary The city is empty, as the whole populace is at the trial of the Christ. Pontius Pilate washes his hands of the whole affair and the sad procession begins, with the Christ carrying His Cross, through the streets, while the Roman soldiers scourge Him. The music is like a march of death and a lament for the Christ, who is on His last journey.

7. The Miracle and Finale There is a storm after the death of the Christ, and as Miriam, Ben-Hur’s mother, and his sister seek shelter from the raging elements in a cave and ponder over the death of the Christ, they suddenly realize that they are cured of the curse of leprosy. As the Blood of the Christ mingles from the Cross with the water of a surging river, symbolically washing clean the sins of the world, the Christ theme now appears triumphantly with a chorus. Ben-Hur sadly returns home from Calvary, profoundly moved by the tragedy of the scene and the last gentle Words of the Christ. He sees his mother and sister, who are clean again. Their faith has cured them. They embrace in joy and as a shepherd passes with his flock under the empty crosses of Golgotha, a chorus sings “Alleluia!”

Notes by Miklós Rózsa

From the original Lion Records LP…

Lion SL 70123

The music from Ben-Hur was not my first musical excursion into Roman antiquity, as I already paid a visit there with Quo Vadis and Julius Caesar. In Quo Vadis I had tried to re-create the music of the first-century Romans, using fragments from contemporary Greek, Hebrew and other Oriental sources (as nothing Roman has survived), and in Julius Caesar I was primarily trying to underline musically the Shakespearean drama, in which Rome only serves as a background. Ben-Hur with its sweeping, human drama, personal conflict and flamboyant pageantry, needed music which grew out naturally from its atmosphere and became an integral part of it.

I was fortunate enough to be connected with it from its very conception. All the music which is used “on scene,” such as the Marches and Dances, I wrote in Rome. For inspiration I walked long afternoons in the Forum Romanum, on the Capitoline and Palatine hills, imagining the old splendor of the buildings which are ruins now, and the excitement of the thronging multitude in flowing togas, in the Circus Maximus, where I wrote the music for the Circus and Victory Parades. I don’t know what the children thought, who were playing football in the grounds where once the great Circus stood, about a strange looking man who was wildly beating time, goose-stepping to his own whistling, and making quick notes in a little book; but I detected from their looks that they must have thought that this is another of those loony foreigners who go berserk on seeing the places of the glorious Roman past and which impress the present-day inhabitants of Rome very little.

Note by Miklós Rózsa

Disc V

The following track-by-track analysis refers to the second Kloss LP.

1. Overture
The opening and closing fanfare material from the film’s unused “Entr’Acte” frames the themes for Judea and Miriam in their original “Overture” incarnations—although Rózsa took the Judea theme at a considerably faster tempo in this album version. Four additional repeats of the Scottish-snap figure at the end make for a more assertive conclusion.
2. Star of Bethlehem
After two measures of introduction—with trilling flute, harp and triangle—this album track proceeds exactly as in the film until the end, where horns add one more statement of the countermelody.
3. Gratus’ Entry Into Jerusalem
Rózsa re-orchestrated his marches for this album to include strings. Opening this track with “Salute for Gratus” (disc I, track 14), he took the march at a faster tempo than in the film. He also included the B section (1:51–2:50) that never made it into the picture and does not survive in its original Rome recording.
4. The House of Hur
The first part of this album track is essentially the same as the film version (disc I, track 9), with slight changes in the melodic line (note the oboe flourish at 0:24) and orchestration (a more prominent part for harp, for example). From 1:12 to the end, Rózsa provided a newly composed coda.
5. Messala’s Revenge
Rózsa was able to rescue three cues that never made it into the film: “Revenge,” “Condemned” and “Escape.” He condensed and rewrote them to make this single album track, composing a new coda (from 2:36) with forceful statements of both Messala’s and Judah’s themes.
6. Fertility Dance
This album track is much longer than the film version, including a contrasting B section in the relative minor never recorded in Culver City.
7. Farewell to Rome
Rózsa combined “Nostalgia” and “Farewell to Rome” for this track, making two significant changes: the viola countermelody at the beginning of “Nostalgia” is more developed and a solo violin plays throughout “Farewell.” This significant solo part gives the cue a remarkable kinship with the slow movement of the composer’s violin concerto, composed in 1953 and premiered in 1956.
8. Arrius’ Party
Rózsa slightly rewrote the transition back to the A section for this album version (note the ascending flute at 1:00 not heard in the film).
9. Parade of the Charioteers
For the album, Rózsa replaced the introductory “Fanfare for Circus Parade” with a new passage based on “They Are Ready” (disc II, track 14), reprising it at the midpoint of the march as the link between Messala’s and Judah’s themes. In addition to the re-orchestration to include strings, this album version repeats certain measures to give the piece a broader, more epic scope. (As explained above, Rózsa recorded this track in Rome, not Nuremberg.)
10. Bread and Circus March
Re-orchestration and the addition of a thematically related introduction and coda are the only essential differences between album and film versions.
11. Death of Messala
Rózsa combined “Bitter Triumph” (disc II, track 20) and the first version of “Aftermath” (disc IV, track 18) for this album track, adding a funereal timpani beat throughout the cue. He composed a new coda (at 2:28), maintaining the music’s somber mood, to replace the mocking fanfare passage at the end of “Aftermath.”
12. Memories
This track is not the film cue with the same title from the latter part of the first act (disc II, track 8), despite the fact that the composer describes it as such in his own album notes. It is, rather, based on “Ring for Freedom” (disc I, track 13), which accompanies the first private meeting of Judah and Esther. Rózsa considerably re-orchestrated the cue for the album, assigning many string lines to woodwinds (starting with the opening violin solo, here played by solo clarinet).
13. Sermon on the Mount
Rózsa combined two cues, “The Mount” and “The Sermon” (both disc II, track 25), for this album track, virtually unchanged from their film versions. He did, however, add another statement of the “Anno Domini” theme (similar—but not identical—to the end of the original version of “Tirzah Saved” [disc IV, track 22]) to create a rounded ABA form.
14. Valley of the Dead
The album orchestration of this cue is considerably fuller than the film version (disc II, track 28)—with much of the melodic line doubled an octave higher. Rózsa also extended the second half of the cue and added counterpoint to the passage beginning at 1:06.
15. Golgotha
From 0:44 to the end, this album version runs considerably longer than the film cue (disc II, track 30). Rózsa extended the Christ theme and more fully developed the reprise of the motive from “The Prince of Peace.” A final A major chord brings the piece back to its opening key.
16. The Christ Theme From Ben-Hur (Alleluia)
Collectors have often wondered about the presence of an (uncredited) chorus on this track, but we now know that MGM Records recorded this concert arrangement not in Nuremberg but in Rome (during March 1960) with the “Symphony Orchestra of Rome” and the Singers of the Roman Basilicas. Not directly derived from any film cue, it makes extensive use of Rózsa’s “alternate” Christ theme (heard during the film’s finale).

From the original MGM Records LP…

MGM SE3900

The first album of Ben-Hur (MGM-1E1 S1E1) contained only about forty minutes of the two and one-half hours of music from the motion-picture score. The second new album of Ben-Hur now presents music hitherto unavailable on records. The first album contained the music from many spectacular scenes, such as “The Rowing of the Galley Slaves,” “Naval Battle” and “The Procession to Calvary” as well as music from several of the dramatic scenes. This second album, in addition to the three spectacular Roman marches, also contains deep, emotional, dramatic and religious music. The two albums together give a faithful cross section of the Ben-Hur musical score.

As I explained in the first album of music from Ben-Hur, I was fortunate to be connected with this motion-picture production from its inception. All of the music was composed in Rome where the picture was made. My inspiration came from being at the actual places where the historical and dramatic events occurred.


1. Overture The “Overture,” which is played in the theatre before the picture starts, puts the listener right into the mood and atmosphere of the period of Ben-Hur. The opening fanfares herald Roman might and arrogance; and the exuberant music is in strange contrast to the more subdued, brooding and ancient Hebrew-type themes which follow. The cluster of fanfares returns, and the “Overture” ends vigorously in full expectancy of the exciting drama which unfolds.

2. Star of Bethlehem A great and brilliant star appears over the sky of Bethlehem. Shepherds are seen; people are standing on the walls of the town and the Three Wise Men in the desert are staring upward in awe as they follow with radiant joy the beckoning Star which stops above a manger on the hillside. The simple, carol-like melody expresses the faith and awe of these people and the joy just being born to the world.

3. Gratus’ Entry Into Jerusalem The newly arrived Roman governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus, enters Jerusalem with his troops. While the citizens of Jerusalem watch them without comment, without emotion, with impressive faces, but with hatred and contempt for their conquerors in their hearts, the band plays a stern and relentless Roman march.

4. The House of Hur Messala, boyhood friend of Ben-Hur, enters the house of his friends; and as they reminisce about their youth, the music radiates a gentle, orientally colored atmosphere.

5. Messala’s Revenge Messala wants to use Ben-Hur for his own advancement; but when he sees that Ben-Hur is incorruptible, he turns against him. During Gratus’ colorful entry into Jerusalem, a loose tile accidentally falls from the roof of Ben-Hur’s house and strikes his head. Messala finds this a good excuse to arrest Ben-Hur and his whole family. He condemns them without hesitation and without a hearing. The opening motif of the music presents Messala’s menacing theme. In the dungeons, Ben-Hur learns that he is condemned to the galleys. He escapes from his jailers, rushes into Messala’s quarters with a spear in his hand and threatens to kill Messala if he does not tell him where his mother and sister are. The music ends with a dramatic rendition of Messala’s theme and the boyhood theme of the two men.

6. Fertility Dance Ben-Hur is condemned to the galleys. In a “Naval Battle” (see first album), he saves the life of Quintus Arrius, commander of the Roman fleet who, as a sign of his gratitude, adopts Ben-Hur as his own son. He makes this announcement during a gay party in his Roman villa where the festivity takes place. African dancers perform a “Fertility Dance” to the wild rhythms of their native drums and flutes.

7. Farewell to Rome Arrius knows that he cannot hold Ben-Hur in Rome. His heart is in Judea where he hopes to find his mother and sister. He bids a sad farewell to his new father, and this music expresses the emotion of this moving scene.

8. Arrius’ Party The party continues and Arrius’ Roman orchestra, composed of auloi (double flutes), lyres and many Roman percussion instruments, is in gentle contrast to the orgiastic sounds of the wild African drums which started the party.


1. Parade of the Charioteers Ben-Hur returns to Judea; and although he does not find his mother and sister, his finds his mortal enemy Messala. A friendly sheik convinces him to race the sheik’s four superb white horses in the Circus of Jerusalem against Messala’s black ones. The great day of the race arrives; the arena is crowded with the chariots and thousands of spectators. The band strikes up and the charioteers from Alexandria, Messina, Lubia, Cyprus, Rome, Corinth, Athens, Phrygia and Judea parade proudly before Pontius Pilate, the newly appointed governor of Judea. The music of this march is based on the themes of the rivals, Ben-Hur and Messala.

2. Bread and Circus March Ben-Hur wins the vicious race; and as Pilate places the laurel wreath on his head and as the cheers of the multitude fill the Circus, the band strikes up this joyful march.

3. Death of Messala Messala, who used every means to wrest the victory from Ben-Hur, is mortally wounded as his chariot overturns and he is dragged along in the dust. He is taken to the physicians, his face contorted with agony, “the smashed body of a wretched animal.” Ben-Hur arrives and Messala, as his last revenge, tells him that his mother and sister are alive as lepers in the Valley of the Lepers. “It goes on, Judah. The race…isn’t over,” Messala says with his last breath. This mournful music underlines the dying man’s death struggle and Ben-Hur’s desperate reaction to what he learns from Messala.

4. Memories Ben-Hur meets Esther, whom he has not seen since his return to Judea, and they recall with nostalgia the happier days when they first met. The love theme which is heard at their first meeting returns in a more emotional transformation.

5. Sermon on the Mount Esther talks to Ben-Hur about Jesus of Nazareth and takes Ben-Hur to hear him speak. The multitude of believers is sitting on the hillside listening to the teachings of the Christ. We do not hear His voice, but a musical setting of the “Sermon on the Mount” tries to convey the meaning of these words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

6. Valley of the Dead Ben-Hur secretly follows Esther, who visits his mother and sister regularly to bring them food. He is shocked when he sees his mother, a leper. She is terrified, but he lifts her up gently and looks with love and tenderness into her disfigured face. The music underlines the deep human emotions of this touching scene and ends gently as Esther leads the mother from the dark cave of the lepers into the light of the outside world.

7. Golgotha The stark, silent vista of Golgotha reveals the crosses of the Christ and the two thieves. Below the condemned, the Roman executioners are impassively waiting for those on the crosses to die. We hear the transfigured theme of the Christ and the music ends contemplatively as Ben-Hur, deeply moved, becomes a believer in Christ.

8. The Christ Theme From Ben-Hur (Alleluia) Quiet chords introduce a chorus which sings “The Christ Theme” growing gradually to an ecstatic “Alleluia” and expressing with music the words of the Christ: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Notes by Miklós Rózsa