King of Kings
Rediscovering the Film and the Score

The following article by George Komar was written for Pro Musica Sana, the journal of the Miklós Rózsa Society, and first appeared in PMS 60 (Winter 2002) as a follow-up to Rhino’s magnificent 2CD set of the original music tracks (R2 78348), which had been issued earlier that year. The beautiful 44-page booklet accompanying that set was lavishly illustrated with film stills but contained only a brief introduction by producer George Feltenstein and notes reprinted from the LP’s deluxe souvenir book. This article, which covers the music in great detail, functions as newly written “liner notes” to that important release, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Komar and the Miklós Rózsa Society.

The Film

With the death of Cecil B. DeMille in 1959, Samuel Bronston determined to establish a reputation as DeMille’s creative successor and set out to produce a series of daringly financed epic film projects, most notably King of Kings, El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, until he was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1964. Like DeMille’s successful 1927 silent film The King of Kings, Bronston’s 1961 version ambitiously attempted to frame the biblical story of Jesus within the context of contemporary and ancient history. Less than two decades separate its screenplay from the Nazi Holocaust and from the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 with its ensuing and ongoing Jewish-Arab conflict. So it is not surprising that the opening narration in the film (spoken by Orson Welles and written by Ray Bradbury) makes mention of a brutal Roman subjugation in which “like sheep from their own green fields the Jews went to the slaughter,” or of a description of Herod the Great as an “Arab of the Bedouin tribe” appointed by Caesar Augustus as “King of the Jews.” The tensions that existed in the contemporary political world were mirrored in Philip Yordan’s screenplay of a first century “barbaric world” bent on violence and betrayal, and its rejection of a “Messiah of peace.”1 M-G-M’s publicity campaign proclaimed “as it is today, so it was in the turbulent times before Christ” and “through these times lived the man called Jesus, who feared none, nor even death, to bring forth enlightenment and triumph.”

In his twin histories, The Jewish Wars and Jewish Antiquities, the Galilean-rebel-turned-Roman-historian Flavius Josephus does indeed record turbulent events before and after Jesus’ life, climaxing in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Second Temple in A.D. 70. Yet Jesus himself lived during relatively peaceful times free from major political strife. Tacitus has confirmed that in Judea under the reign of Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14–37), things were quiet (“sub Tiberio quies”). This relative peace was secured in part by two successive prefects, Valerius Gratus and Pontius Pilate, who competently governed Judea for over 20 years. A major uprising, such as that portrayed in King of Kings—the fictional assault on the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem and the wholesale slaughter of thousands of Jews just before the Jewish celebration of Passover—certainly would have been mentioned in Josephus’ Jewish-Roman histories and would have resulted in Pilate’s immediate dismissal (Rome was interested in taxes, and the maintaining of peace served that interest). Pilate was recalled to Rome in A.D. 36 (six years after Jesus’ execution) concerning his involvement in suppressing a Samaritan religious movement, but by the time he arrived in Rome Tiberius had died, and the new Emperor Caligula had assumed power. The only serious rebellion during Jesus’ lifetime occurred in the year A.D. 6, a tax revolt led by Judas the Galilean over a census decreed by the Syrian governor Quirinius, and it was quickly suppressed. The evangelist Luke mentions both the revolt (Acts 5:37) and the census (Luke 2:1–12) but mistakenly places it before the birth of Jesus, some 12 years earlier. The Zealot movement itself did not organize politically until some three decades after Jesus, at which time it looked back upon Judas’ revolt as its founding moment.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of a Zionist-style rebellion against Rome during the lifetime of Jesus suited the dramatic purposes of scenarist Yordan, who promoted the common criminal Barabbas to super-revolutionary status, as a mass leader ready to smite the Romans with weapons manufactured in his own underground foundry. Yordan even enlisted John the Baptist in his war against the Romans. Despite the historical fact that John was not an itinerant preacher (like the Essenes at Qumran, he stayed in the wilderness and completely distanced himself from Jerusalem and its Temple worship), Yordan depicted the Baptist before the pillars of the Temple (where Pilate has ordered plaques bearing the image of Tiberius to be displayed, per Josephus), proclaiming his judgment on Rome, thundering, “As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, so shall He send hosts to destroy the idol worshippers; the day is coming when the sword shall descend upon her legions and her cities shall crumble into dust.” Yordan went so far as to include a scene that defies belief and that was prudently excised by M-G-M: The Roman centurion Lucius, ordered by Herod the Great to seek out and destroy the newborn Messiah, rides into a stable, where he finds the Virgin Mary standing with her infant in her arms. Sword in hand, he stares down at them and is perplexed by the woman’s serenity. As he hesitates, he is struck from behind by a club wielded by the woman’s husband, Joseph, who is then appalled by his act of violence.

In King of Kings the responsibility for the execution of Jesus is placed entirely on the shoulders of Pilate, who proclaims before Jesus, “I, and I alone, have the authority to sentence you to crucifixion.” Pilate does not wash his hands and declare, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (as in Matthew 27:24). On the contrary, he personally oversees the scourging of Jesus and smiles in approval as his guards mockingly crown Jesus with a wreath of thorns. Even Pilate’s wife, Claudia (here elevated to the rank of Caesar’s daughter), is rebuked by her husband for sympathizing with the miracle worker. Her dream (Matthew 27:19), which compels her to warn Pilate of Jesus’ innocence, receives no mention in the film.

At the same time, in a sincere but misguided effort to correct the sins of the past, the script exculpates the Jewish authorities from any involvement in the death of Jesus. There is no trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, there is no mob screaming for his crucifixion, and no exchange of 30 pieces of silver between Judas and Caiaphas. Instead, Judas, who is portrayed in the gospels as acting purely out of monetary greed, betrays Jesus for patriotic reasons. The Jewish Daily Forward wrote at the time of the New York world premiere:

“Judas gives over Jesus to the Roman Governor of Judea, hoping that when He would be tortured He would prove his powers and would overthrow the Roman Governor, and Judea would be free—were it that the Christian world would accept this interpretation…for this everyone who is associated with this picture deserves thanks and compliments.”

Strangely, Jesus’ teachings meet with no resistance from the Sadducees and the Pharisees (who never appear in the film). Perhaps this is because they have no cause to quarrel with Jesus. There are no apocalyptic prophecies uttered by Jesus against the Temple and no expulsion of its moneychangers. There are no challenges made by Jesus to the Jerusalem religious establishment. There are no direct assertions of Jesus’ divine status. Lucius, who has been ordered by Pilate to keep an eye on Jesus’ activities, reports that, far from speaking out against the Romans, Jesus preaches nothing but “peace, love and the brotherhood of man.” When John the Baptist speaks out against Rome beneath Herod Antipas’ palace window, Pilate is merely annoyed and allows Antipas to deal with the matter. Pilate also has no problem with releasing from prison Barabbas, who has twice led an armed rebellion against his Roman legionnaires. Yet when pressed by Claudia as to what crime Jesus has committed, Pilate replies simply that he is “different” and not like other men. When Jesus is sentenced to death, the audience is left to wonder why.

Even though this is the first film in which Jesus’ face is seen and his voice is heard, it almost seems that Jesus has very little to do or say (other than perform three miracles and deliver a 12-minute sermon). Yordan and director Nicholas Ray seem to have forgotten that this is primarily a film about Christ. Instead, much of the film is structured around two other characters, the Jewish rebel Judas Iscariot and the Roman centurion Lucius Catanus. The former links Jesus to Barabbas and Judea and the latter links him to Herod and Pilate and thus Rome.

Judas, who fights with Barabbas in the wilderness attack on Pilate’s caravan, is initially taken with Jesus as the “messiah of peace,” and tries unsuccessfully to convert Barabbas to nonviolent tactics. But Judas quickly becomes disillusioned with Jesus’ refusal to deal directly with the Roman occupation. So he betrays Jesus in order to force Jesus’ hand to use his miraculous powers to defeat the Romans. Faced with the realization that he has given the Romans one more innocent victim, Judas hangs himself. Lucius, on the other hand, has no beliefs and serves first Herod the Great, then Herod Antipas, and finally Pontius Pilate out of a soldier’s sense of duty toward Rome. Through a series of encounters with Jesus, Lucius moves from a skeptical agnosticism to a reluctant admission that the crucified Jesus is the Christ.

An inordinate proportion of the movie’s narrative deals with a subplot involving the Herodian family and Salome’s famous dance. To be fair, part of the problem rests with Mark’s gospel account of the Baptist’s death. The evangelist’s primary intention was to show that, in death as well in life, John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, but the only contemporary source available to him was a piece of historically confused anti-Herodian folklore reformulated by Baptist sectarians (Antipas’ stepdaughter, Salome, whom Mark never mentions by name, was in fact married to Antipas’ half-brother, the tetrarch Philip; Antipas’ second wife, Herodias, had divorced not Philip but Antipas’ half-brother Herod Boethus, who resided in Rome). Josephus reports simply that Antipas ordered John arrested and executed in his fortress Machaerus to the east of the Dead Sea because he feared a revolt by the masses that John’s preaching attracted. Antipas’ first wife, Mariamne, whom Antipas had banished to Machaerus, fled to her father, the Arabian king Aretas, who raised up an army and defeated Antipas’ forces not far from Machaerus. According to Josephus, many Jews saw the destruction of Antipas’ army as divine punishment for the killing of John the Baptist. Yet the melodrama of Salome’s dance ultimately won out over Josephus’ historical account, and the popular folklore attached to the Baptist’s demise has sparked the imagination of countless artists, composers and filmmakers ever since.

The other myth that King of Kings perpetuates is the identification of Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in adultery. Mary Magdalene holds a position of honor in all four canonical gospels as one who not only had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment, but was also the first to discover the empty tomb and the first to see the risen Christ. Luke 8:2–3 describes her as the most prominent of a group of Galilean women who had been exorcised or healed by Jesus and who followed and provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their own resources. She was neither the sinful woman who anoints the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36–50) nor the adulteress whose stoning Jesus prevents (John 8:1–11). But composite characters serve a dramatic purpose, and Yordan’s screenplay needed a “woman of sin” as a contrast to the Virgin Mary’s “woman of grace.”

In spite of these religious and historical criticisms, King of Kings remains a dramatically interesting film2. The cinematography and production values are of high quality. Pompey’s opening scenes are historically accurate and dramatically impressive. The panoramic Sermon on the Mount scene is tastefully done. Many scenes, such as Peter’s denial of Jesus to his master’s face (mirroring Luke 22:61) and the three fictional “visitation” episodes detailed in the track descriptions below, are genuinely poignant. Most of the supporting cast members give competent performances. There is a sincere devoutness attached to the role of Jesus as portrayed by the 6-foot-1, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter. He took his role seriously and carried himself with dignity. His performance in the difficult Sermon on the Mount scene moved many of the pious local extras to tears. Siobhan McKenna, who portrayed the Virgin Mary with a dignified grace and serenity, has stated that Hunter’s words and gestures were so moving that she could not keep from crying herself. His reverent portrayal had to extend off screen: when the director signaled the end of a take, Hunter needed to stay in character because of the profound effect he had on the multitudes.

The Score

And then, of course, there is the dramatic musical score by Miklós Rózsa, who considered his music for King of Kings as among the 15 personal favorite film scores of his career, even if he felt very little attachment to the film itself, “which, to be fair,” he admitted, “had its moments.” Despite the fact that many of the same religious episodes that he had scored for Ben-Hur had to be recreated for King of Kings, he readily agreed to score the picture. The result was his longest film score at M-G-M. “The score contains as much music as a complete opera,” he said at the time, “a long opera.” Part of his reason for scoring the film was undoubtedly that he felt a devout inner attachment to its principal character, a devoutness that he expressed clearly in the choral reworking of the score and the personally annotated track descriptions for the deluxe M-G-M record album released at the time. The religious elements of the score have an almost liturgical atmosphere to them, with responsorial-like answering phrases built into many of the principal themes, notably the King of Kings theme itself and the theme for the Beatitudes. The lyrical, hymnlike quality of these themes was recognized by the public, who prompted the publishers to ask the composer to adapt several of them for church choral performance. Rózsa had an innate ecclesiastical musical sense for building sturdy Bach-like chorales: the use of the organ in King of Kings parallels that in Ben-Hur, and the choral harmony for the extended Christ theme in his “Sermon on the Mount” music is every bit as powerful and moving as that for the “Star of Bethlehem” scene in Ben-Hur. Part of this liturgical inspiration came from his studies at Leipzig in the late 1920s, where every weekend he heard Bach cantatas performed in Bach’s very own Thomaskirche. There he crossed paths with its cantor, Karl Straube, who “was a brilliant organist and one of the greatest living authorities on the music of the Lutheran church.”

The Leipzig Conservatory was also where another musicologist by the name of Abraham Zevi Idelsohn had left his mark, some 25 years earlier. “I discovered the work of a Jewish scholar called Idelsohn,” recalled Rózsa at the time of the King of Kings release. He “made a collection of Hebrew music as it was played by the Jews of Yemen, who lived in almost complete segregation for nearly 2,000 years.3 Their music and their instruments were very similar to those of ancient Judea.” Rózsa drew upon Idelsohn’s collection for inspiration in Quo Vadis for “Jesu, Lord,” in Ben-Hur for the “Judea” theme and “The Mother’s Love,” and in King of Kings for “The Elders,” the “John The Baptist” theme, the opening music of “Jesus Enters Jerusalem,” the brief theme for the Seder meal in “The Last Supper” (its opening descending five-note figure is first heard on piano and tubular bells at the beginning of the “Overture”; the theme itself reappears in Rózsa’s 1962 score for Sodom and Gomorrah as “Messengers Of Jehovah”), and “The Feast Of Passover.” The “John the Baptist” theme may in turn be related to several other themes in the score, as will be discussed below.

In his autobiography, Double Life, Rózsa recalls being chastised by an MGM Records executive for writing too many themes for King of Kings. Such surface considerations disguise the more complex interplay among his themes. “Before I start a film I make innumerable sketches,” Rózsa has admitted, “themes, ideas…sometimes just a melodic line, sometimes harmonized…and I am a great changer of themes.” In his score for Ben-Hur, for example, a repeated descending four-note figure in the brass appears at the end of the menacing Messala motive (its first use early on in the film, just before Messala’s reunion with Ben-Hur, was unfortunately edited out, but is preserved in the Rhino 2CD set); the same phrase plays repeatedly in the march for Gratus’ entry into Jerusalem, answered by two powerful timpani strokes. It becomes an important element in the burning desert scene, echoing each agonizing line of the music. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the same descending four-note figure found its way into the score for King of Kings, attaching itself to Judas’ theme in “The Scourging Of Christ” (disc 2, track 11) to depict the brutal whipping of Jesus, and to a somber variation of the Virgin Mary’s theme in “Premonition” (disc 2, track 5) to describe her inner anguish.

The discussion below of thematic relationships in Rózsa’s score will revolve around the opening phrases of nine principal themes:

Figure 1: The via crucis motive, the opening phrase of “Via Dolorosa” (disc 2, track 12, 0:00–0:02)

Fig. 1

Figure 2: The opening phrase of the Beatitudes theme (disc 2, track 4, 0:00–0:06)

Fig. 2

Figure 3: The Christ motive, the opening phrase of the King of Kings theme (disc 1, track 12, 0:51–0:55)

Fig. 3

Figure 4: The opening phrase of the Disciples theme (disc 2, track 2, 0:00–0:04)

Fig. 4

Figure 5: The opening phrase of the Virgin Mary theme (disc 1, track 8, 0:20–0:23)

Fig. 5

Figure 6: The opening phrase of the John the Baptist theme (disc 1, track 12, 0:00–0:04)

Fig. 6

Figure 7: The Barabbas motive, the opening phrase of the Barabbas theme (disc 1, track 11, 0:00–0:02)

Fig. 7

Figure 8: The Judas motive, the opening phrase of the Judas theme (disc 1, track 19, 0:44–0:46)

Fig. 8

Figure 9: The opening phrase of the Devil’s theme (disc 1, track 13, 1:16–1:27)

Fig. 9

Our musical examination of the score begins with one of the earliest pieces that Rózsa scored for the film, the marcia funebre for Christ dragging his cross to Golgotha (“Via Dolorosa,” disc 2, track 12), a piece that begins in the bass line with a recurring five-note figure, which for discussion purposes will be called, appropriately enough, the via crucis motive.

This phrase is arguably the structural and thematic kernel of many of the religious themes in Rózsa’s score. For instance, Fig. 2, the eight-note opening phrase of the Beatitudes theme (“Sermon On The Mount,” disc 1, track 28, 3:06–4:50), is essentially the via crucis figure with a twice-repeated opening note and an added characteristic falling note (the third through seventh notes = the via crucis figure).

Moreover, each line of the Beatitudes theme is answered in the bass strings with the last five notes of Fig. 2. Then in the coda at 4:41, the bass line of Fig. 2 yields to the Christ motive (with its opening note missing, a common occurrence throughout the score). The transition is so smooth and natural that it is barely noticeable, but it reveals the close relationship between the Christ motive and the Beatitudes theme.

The six-note Christ motive is the opening phrase of what Rózsa calls the King of Kings theme (the major-keyed Christ theme), and the motive itself often occurs within the first two lines of the theme as an answering phrase (again with its opening note removed). Its similarity to the via crucis figure is more readily apparent when it appears in a minor key, as it does so often in Act II, especially in its ghostly appearance in “False Promises” (disc 2, track 6, 7:53–7:59)

Along with the Beatitudes theme and the Christ motive, the opening phrases of three other themes in the score that deal with following the “way of the cross” have the same general shape of the via crucis motive: the theme for the Disciples (Fig. 4), the John the Baptist theme (Fig. 5), and the Virgin Mary theme (Fig. 6). Note how each opening theme fragment turns about its tonal center in the same counter-sinusoidal pattern as that of the via crucis motive: from a tonal center, the theme (with theological appropriateness) descends before rising, and finally returns to its center.

The opening phrase of the nine-note Disciples theme (Fig. 4) appears to be an extension of that of the Beatitudes theme (Fig. 2); it adds two notes (the seventh and eight notes) and compensates by dropping the final falling note of Fig. 2.

“The Disciples” (disc 2, track 2) reveals the close-knit relationship among Figs. 1, 2, 3 and 4. The music suggests that the chosen disciples of Jesus are indeed among the poor in spirit and the pure of heart. The Disciples theme plays out in A-B-A form, then at 0:55 a transformation of the B-section begins (the via crucis motive can be heard repeatedly in the bass line). At 1:07 the metamorphosis is complete, revealing the third and final lines of the Beatitudes theme. At 1:48, the growing bond between Jesus and his disciples is musically communicated as the Christ theme appears, but, for the first and only time in the score, the usual Christ motive answering phrases are augmented by Fig. 4 (with the opening two notes missing). Interestingly, Fig. 4 with its missing opening notes formed an answering phrase for the lullaby in Rózsa’s The Jungle Book (1942), and was later developed as a new theme, “Answer to a Dream,” in Sodom and Gomorrah (1962).

As for Figs. 5 and 6, the Virgin Mary theme rises a perfect fourth above its center, as opposed to a minor third for the Disciples theme, indicating perhaps her preeminent calling as the first disciple of the kingdom; and the John the Baptist theme, with its final falling note, is similar to the Beatitudes theme—it adds an opening note and its rising notes are one tone above those in the Beatitudes theme.

The motives for Barabbas and Judas deserve special consideration. In the film, Barabbas is portrayed as a fanatic insurrectionist, a “messiah” of violence, who intends to use Jesus as a means to an open revolt against the Romans. His road to freedom is the very antithesis of Jesus’ “way.” Therefore the opening motive of his restless theme (Fig. 7) is a near-inversion of the via crucis motive.

In several instances, such as in the opening bars of “Parable of the Seed” (disc 1, track 18), Barabbas’ motive (Fig. 7) also can heard as its own ostinato, almost as if his whole miserable existence is a twisted kind of via dolorosa. Moreover, some 0:15 into “Via Dolorosa” (disc 2, track 12), Rózsa deliberately dovetails Barabbas’ motive with its mirror image, the via crucis ostinato, as Barabbas sees Jesus, who will die in his place, dragging his cross. Equally significant is the fact that Barabbas’ inverted motive forms the final five chords that close Act I. As Barabbas reveals his ultimate plan (“Barabbas’ Plan,” disc 2, track 3) to use Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as an occasion to incite the Judeans to storm the Fortress of Antonia, the Intermission title appears on the screen accompanied by trumpets frenetically screaming Barabbas’ motive. While the end of Act I musically seems to give (premature) victory to Barabbas, Barabbas will fail; and at the end of Act II it is Jesus who ultimately will be victorious. Accordingly, Act II will close triumphantly with the glorified transfiguration of the via crucis motive, the six-note Christ motive. (A similar situation occurs in Ben-Hur, with Act I concluding with Messala’s theme and Act II concluding with the triumphant Christ theme.)

Judas is portrayed as someone whose understanding of Jesus’ messianic role is tragically twisted. In wanting Jesus to declare his kingship openly and use his power of miracles to cast down the Romans, Judas rejects Jesus’ more difficult “way” of establishing the kingdom of God (“take up the cross”) and chooses a shorter, more direct route, more aligned with Barabbas’ vision. To this end, he would put Jesus to the test and force his hand. Contrast this with Jesus’ rebuttal to the Devil in the final temptation—“Be gone…You cannot force me to put the Lord my God to the proof!”—and the implication is that Judas has assumed the role of the Tempter. As a result, the shape of his twisted motive (Fig. 8) is a disfigurement of the via crucis motive, missing its middle note.

The last two notes of Fig. 8 are a falling semitone, and in the first appearance of the theme in the film (“Answer To A Stone,” disc 1, track 19, 1:44–1:51), they are played by the strings with a conspicuous and menacing snarl, reminiscent of the repeated falling semitones so prominent in the Devil theme heard early in the film during the Temptation sequence.

The 13-note Devil theme (Fig. 9) is especially interesting in that it is a dodecaphonic row, that is, it sounds all 12 notes of the chromatic scale before returning to its opening note: D, E, E-flat, F, F-sharp, G-sharp, G, A, B-flat, C, B, C-sharp, D. This was Rózsa’s in-joke attempt at composing atonal music, which he detested. That he used it to characterize the Devil was a musical jab at Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique. The two sets of falling semitones in the theme are “E, E-flat” (the second and third notes) and “G-sharp, G” (the sixth and seventh notes).

When, in “The Scourging of Christ” (disc 2, track 11), Judas realizes that his plan to force Jesus’ hand has resulted in the shedding of innocent blood, his corrupted motive is heard (0:49–1:19), unbearably tormenting him from within, when suddenly it is confronted with the full force of the via crucis motive, embodied in a powerful statement for brass and organ of the six-note Christ motive, as the monstrous image of the cross that Jesus soon will bear fills the screen. The dramatic clash between the two motives musically seals the tragic fate of both Judas and Jesus.

Disc One

1. Overture
As theater lights begin to dim, piano and chimes ring out a repeating descending line of parallel open fifths above a steady three-note bass line, summoning the audience to their seats and immediately establishing a solemn liturgical setting. The four-part ecclesiastical processional, whose minor-keyed themes are strikingly similar in texture, seems to call to assembly the faithful of the Jewish and Christian covenants by means of a hymn for mixed choir, horns, wind and strings, an ascending theme associated later in the film with the gathering of crowds on the Mount of Galilee for the great Sermon. Tenors and basses take the theme in the first stanza, while in the second [0:20], sopranos and altos answer them antiphonally, taking the theme to new heights. Strings and male voices share the theme in the final stanza [0:49], with the male voices one bar behind the strings in perfect canon. The chorus departs and the processional strides on [1:12], still in 3/4 time, with the three-note bass line yielding to a gentler major/minor figure for harp and piano, revealing first a mellow, graceful theme for the Virgin Mary, and then another [2:12] for John the Baptist, rugged and archaic, with changing time signatures; the two themes express the converging faith of the New and Old Testaments. The opening choral hymn returns [3:07] for a final statement, the processional gradually slows in tempo, and the music dissipates to a solemn hush in anticipation of the soon-to-be-heard central theme of the Redeemer.
2. Prelude
A regal, fanfare-like introduction—based on the Christ motive—builds layer upon layer of orchestral excitement until its tension peaks and is finally released in a majestic coronation anthem for trumpets, mixed choir, full orchestra and organ. Ecstatic choral Hosannas, echoed by orchestral answering phrases, resound stereophonically throughout the theater, as the main titles appear on the screen in gold relief lettering over Maciek Piotrowski’s painted backdrops of an ever-changing, pastel-hued sky. The theme then moves to a second phase [0:40], a less festive, more compassionate, gentler melodic extension of the first. An agitated third phase [1:05] in which the Hosannas meet with resistance suggests that the same fate awaits the coming Messiah, yet a final phase [1:30] vanquishes all resistance in an triumphant restatement of the King of Kings theme, which rises to even more glorious heights before settling into a final fanfare that dissolves into the brutal dotted march rhythms of approaching Roman legions.
3. Roman Legions
The opening phrase of the narration (“And it is written…”) refers not to the Scriptures but to the historical writings of Josephus who reports that in the year 63 B.C. the Roman proconsul and general Pompey, after extending the eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire in a stunning victory over Persia, turned his ambitions towards Syria and Palestine. Pompey, taking advantage of a civil war between rival high priest-kings, knew that the land was ripe for conquest. After a three-month siege that resulted in the slaughter of thousands, his troops took possession of Jerusalem. As with his magisterial score for Ben-Hur Rózsa follows his “Prelude” with a marcia romana, but here Pompey’s brutal march is more akin to Gratus’ march from that picture, both in its temperament and in its structure—note the relentless rhythms and the hope-crushing phrasal repetitions in each march, denoting Roman arrogance and conquest as well as Jewish defeat and humiliation.
4. The Elders
Once within the walls of the holy city, Pompey (Conrado San Martin) rides his black stallion up the steps of the Temple to the Court of the Priests. The white-clad elders of the Temple slowly turn and stare at him with resignation, while a tense string tremolo hovers above a somber Hebraic theme, a lament for a conquered people. Accompanied by his guard, Pompey dismounts and walks before the assembly towards the closed doors of the inner sanctum, while a line of proud priests moves to block his path.
The Sanctuary [0:58]
At Pompey’s signal, an array of javelins is hurled. Their impact is heightened by a brass sting, which leads to a muted statement of Pompey’s march, as the Roman general, unimpeded, enters the Holy of Holies in search of treasure. Inside its sacred interior he passes through a curtain to a partitioning veil, which he slits with his sword, only to find within nothing but an ancient Hebrew scroll—the Torah—upon a plain altar. The theme of the Elders returns [1:39] as he slowly takes the parchment, examines it with disappointment, and turns to leave.
5. The Scrolls
Outside the Sanctuary, Pompey permits an old trembling priest to approach and kneel beseechingly before him and, despite a tense momentary hesitation, yields the scroll to him, thus permitting Jewish Temple worship to resume under Roman occupation. The Elders theme returns, again with resignation, but in a richer vein, as if with renewed hope, similar in fervor to the “Judea” theme that accompanied the Anno Domini prologue to Ben-Hur.
The Subjugation [0:45]
Yet the Elders theme is not given an opportunity to develop (as it does on the original MGM Records album). The short-lived hope that it expresses is trampled upon by a cruel and agitated statement of Pompey’s march [0:45] accompanying images of burning Judean cities in a narrated montage summarizing the inter-Testament history of the Jews. Equestrian rhythms [1:12] accompany the Elders theme as Judeans are rounded up like sheep by the Romans to work in their marble quarries. To restore Roman law and order, Caesar appoints Herod the Great (Grégoire Aslan), an Idumean Arab, as king of the Jews. His dark and twisted Arabic motive appears [1:38] with its deliciously wicked serpentine trills. As Jewish resistance to Herod and Rome rises up only to be crushed in waves of crucifixions, a brief return of the Elders theme [2:03] yields again to Herod’s motive [2:16].
6. Road to Bethlehem
Subjugation only serves to strengthen the Jews’ hope in the promised Deliverer, and so the scene now changes to Joseph (Gérard Tichy) with Mary (Siobhan McKenna) on a donkey journeying to Bethlehem in obedience to Augustus Caesar’s decree that all be counted for tax purposes in their native towns. The Virgin Mary’s peaceful theme makes a momentary entrance [0:26], musically dispelling all the darkness that has preceded it. As Joseph and Mary arrive at their destination, the turbulent music for the Bethlehem scene [0:46] makes it clear that they are welcomed neither by the townsfolk nor by the innkeeper. As Joseph calmly converses with the angry innkeeper—the first dialogue in the film—the graceful dignity of the Virgin’s theme reflects her quiet trust in Providence. She remains serenely in the background [1:27] as Joseph informs the innkeeper that his wife will deliver her child that night. The innkeeper relents and offers accommodation in a nearby stable.
Nativity [1:51]
The Virgin’s theme gently segues to a stately processional as the biblical Magi (Edric Connor, José Nieto and Adriano Rimoldi) and star make their nocturnal appearance. The music for the regal Magi, making their way past the shepherds and animals into the center of the stable, introduces a lovely, rhythmically swaying carol. Triangle and bells add a childlike innocence to a soothing lullaby refrain [2:15] while wordless angelic voices sing a heavenly berceuse for the newborn and his mother. The soaring midsection of the carol [2:38] joyously captures the wonder of this sacred evening as the Magi bow and offer their precious gifts. The magical piece solemnly ends with chimes as they turn and depart into the night.
We should perhaps pause and reflect here on the contribution of the musical score to the film thus far. Only a few lines of dialogue have been spoken. Rózsa has written virtually wall-to-wall music from the “Overture” to the “Nativity” scene, with only the photography, the narration and his music to carry the film. We can take inventory of the cornucopia of themes that have been introduced—the Mount of Galilee theme, the Virgin Mary theme, the John the Baptist theme, the Christ theme, Pompey’s march, the theme for the Elders of the Temple, the motive for Herod the Great, the music for the Magi, and a Nativity carol—a remarkable feat. Amazingly, all but the Herod motive appeared in some form on the original M-G-M vinyl album.
7. Slaughter of the Innocents
An ominous brass chord strikes, and the theme of the Virgin Mary returns, urgently propelled by unsettling tremolo strings, in a nocturnal scene where Joseph, warned in a dream of impending danger, awakens Mary. The family flees Bethlehem, just ahead of a Roman raid, led by the centurion Lucius Catanus (Ron Randall), who reluctantly carries out Herod’s insane order to eliminate any messianic threat to his throne by killing all of the town’s infants. The barbaric, demonic quality of the music [0:49], with brutal timpani strokes and frenzied brass figures, seems to anticipate some of the music of the Temptation scene (Rhino disc 1, track 13). It ends—in a sudden scene change [1:22]—with the twisted motive for the dying Herod, who screams in anguish, as if plagued by his many sins, and collapses on his cold, marble palace floor.
8. Joseph and Mary
Herod the Great’s sinuous motive is now transferred to his son Herod Antipas (Frank Thring), who has hastened his father’s death. Caesar Augustus divides Herod the Great’s realm among three of his sons, Archaleus, Antipas and Philip. But Archaleus is soon removed for incompetence, and Augustus reestablishes his designated territory in Samaria, Judea and Idumea as the imperial province of Judea to be governed directly on his behalf by Roman prefects. Antipas becomes tetrarch of Galilee (where Jesus will begin his ministry) and Perea, across the Jordan River (where John the Baptist will preach and baptize). The story now jumps in time [0:15] from the year 4 B.C. to A.D. 6, to the town of Nazareth and the home of Joseph and Mary, with the infant grown to boyhood and learning his father’s carpentry trade. It is a time of relative peace, the Pax Augustae, far removed from the turbulent events depicted heretofore. The simple leitmotiv for the Virgin Mary is heard in its most gentle form, with its serene oboe melody guided by a steady three-note major/minor harp figure. An offer by a merchant (George Colouris) to show her son Jesus the outside world is graciously declined by his mother, who believes “someone else” will call him at the appointed time. The scene ends with a nervous string trill [1:32] reminiscent of the escape from Bethlehem, as Lucius appears on his horse, checking the census against the tax rolls.
9. Relief
On learning that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Lucius suspects that Mary’s son may have been the messianic object of Herod the Great’s destructive wrath, but with the madman long dead, he considers the matter not worth pursuing and rides on. Mary’s gentle theme briefly returns, confirming her steadfast trust in Divine Providence.
Pontius Pilate’s Arrival [0:08]
The story again jumps in time to A.D. 26 and the arrival of the newly appointed Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Hurd Hatfield), succeeding Valerius Gratus. The last of the epic Roman marches from Rózsa’s vast arsenal makes its entry with a simple, steady, pounding rhythm. Unlike the marches for Gratus and Pompey, this one is more of a reflection of Pilate’s rigid, proud and ambitious personality, not cruel, but insensitive to this harsh land and to its people. As Pilate’s troops march through the wilderness on the way to Jerusalem, repeated trumpet calls (melodic intervals of perfect fifths) increase in frequency, while Barabbas’ concealed army of rebels observes the Romans from the hilltops. A Roman scout sights a water sign, rides ahead to investigate and returns to Pilate with news of a waterhole, and the march winds down when the troops are granted a rest period. The music ends with a swirling and exhilarating reprise of Pilate’s theme [2:23] that accompanies a column of soldiers jubilantly rushing to the water.
10. John the Baptist
Lucius and his legionnaires accompany Herod Antipas, his wife Herodias (Rita Gam), and his stepdaughter Salome (Brigid Bazlen) on their way to greet Pilate and escort him to Jerusalem. They stop near the Jordan, and from a high vantage point observe John (Robert Ryan) baptizing and preaching to a large gathering by the riverside. The liturgical chant-like theme for the Baptist [0:13], who makes “straight a way for the coming of the Lord,” alternates with Antipas’ contrasting serpent-like motive [0:59], the latter twisting its way to a higher register on clarinet [1:19] as Herodias and Salome appropriate it and voice their disapproval of the Baptizer’s condemnation of Antipas’ marriage to his brother’s wife. Antipas, more concerned with the crowds the Baptizer is attracting and with the possibility of rebellion, tells Lucius to keep a watchful eye on the Baptizer’s activities, as one day he may be ordered to arrest him.
11. Revolt
As Pilate’s troops rest below, Barabbas’s theme is heard for the first time, propelled by its own ostinato motive, as the rebel leader prepares a surprise attack. He gives the signal with his sword and horn calls [0:39] sound from the hilltops, as Barabbas (Harry Guardino) and his men spring their trap. The complacent legionnaires below are suddenly stirred to action with a Roman trumpet call to arms [0:54]. Barabbas attacks Pilate’s caravan in front while a shower of lances pummels the Roman forces at their center. The rebels then resort to scores of whirling slings [1:28] delivering their payloads, and finally they engage the Romans in face-to-face combat. The battle music gains momentum with a repeating jagged figure [1:45] as the disciplined legionnaires regain the upper hand, and climaxes in a triumphant trumpet and horn statement of Pilate’s theme [2:19] as Lucius and Antipas suddenly arrive on the scene.
Barabbas’ Escape [2:33]
Barabbas’ theme returns as he signals the retreat, and Lucius gives chase up the rocky cliffs. Barabbas leaps down on Lucius from behind a boulder and knocks him off his horse. A syncopated figure remarkably similar to the “Rowing of the Galley Slaves” motive from Ben-Hur [3:09] accompanies their hand-to-hand combat. A “tumbling” figure is heard [3:36] as the two combatants roll down the slope. Lucius suddenly recoils from the blade of Barabbas’ dagger, and continues his fall to the bottom, while Barabbas recovers his balance and flees a shower of Roman arrows along the cliffs. He jumps onto a waiting horse, and makes a hasty escape into the hills.
12. The Baptizer
[The title of this cue is missing from the Rhino track listing.] The scene returns to the Jordan where John is administering his ritual of baptism. The Baptist’s theme receives a warm and sensitive string rendering characterizing John’s self-effacement as he deflects questions from those who identify him as the prophet Elijah returned from the heavens or as the long-awaited Messiah. As John replies, “The Messiah is one who will come after me,” Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter), now grown to manhood, appears in line before him, knee deep in the water.
Baptism of Christ [0:51]
The radiant King of Kings theme is heard (for the first time since the “Prelude”) played, as marked in the score, “with great dignity,” beneath gentle tremolo strings, on oboe, flute and celesta. As Jesus kneels awaiting baptism, a female choir enters in solemn harmony. No dialogue is spoken and there is a hush in the crowd. The Baptist lifts his head to the heavens, as if suspended in time and receiving a revelation, then Jesus reverently rises from the water, looks deep into John’s eyes, turns and walks slowly back to shore.
Sadness and Joy [1:56]
The final part of this musical triptych of tenderly scored characterizations is also the first of three moving, albeit non-biblical, “encounter” scenes in the film. The Baptist, transfixed by his encounter with Jesus, enters the home of Mary in Nazareth, accompanied by his young disciple John (José Antonio Mayans), son of Zebedee, to ask her why her son came to the river. A solo cello tenderly plays the mother’s theme, depicting the sorrow of her empty house and the joy of her grace-filled faith in Providence. Note the variation of the major-minor figure in the accompaniment. Mary’s theme is interrupted by a solo oboe, which introduces Jesus’ theme [2:32] as John solemnly affirms, “He is without sin.” John’s own theme [2:42] underlines his admission that “the word must be brought to Jerusalem, yet I know I am not the one to deliver it.” The mother’s theme returns [2:58] with Mary’s confident reply, “When his time comes, he will be there.” The Baptist departs and the mother’s theme resolves with a warm and glowing string coda [3:24] as Mary’s smile lovingly bids farewell to the young disciple.
13. The Temptation of Christ
[This cue is erroneously called “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the Rhino track listing.] A somber statement of the King of Kings theme accompanies Jesus as he enters the desert wilderness to be alone with God and to relive the desert Sinai experience of his people. Like his ancestors who wandered for 40 years and were tested, Jesus prepares for his mission by fasting and prayer. A new theme [0:31], lonely and more troubled, reflects his uneasiness and anticipates the presence of the Tempter, who arrives in a disturbing 12-tone clarinet figure with a recurring falling semitone, subtended by eerie strings and a specter-like, descending-and-ascending walking bass line [1:09]. Rózsa originally scored this music for a longer scene in which the Devil’s presence was not only felt but also seen, in the form of a dark, hooded silent figure who repeatedly approaches and stares at Jesus, and then disappears. (When the ineffective visuals were dropped, to be replaced by the Devil’s voice, the scene and the music were both drastically abbreviated.) The temptation to use his miracles for power and earthly gain is one that Jesus will experience throughout his public mission and final days (see Rhino disc 1, track 28c, “Love Thy Neighbor” and Rhino disc 2, track 10, “Christ Before Herod” below.) Jesus steadfastly refuses to put God to the test and orders the Tempter to depart, as the King of Kings theme returns in the high strings [6:29] to signal his victory.4 Both the final temptation and the Tempter will return later in the film—dramatically in the person of Judas Iscariot, and musically (by way of the falling semitone in the Devil’s theme) in Judas’ motive.
14. The Chosen
Jesus returns to the River Jordan where the Baptist points out his presence to two of his disciples, Andrew (Tino Barrero) and John, and bids them to follow their new Rabbi. A long and flowing new theme, breezy and open-aired, in contrast to the forbidding music of the Temptation, accompanies their call to discipleship by Jesus. At the fishing village of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Andrew calls out to his brother Simon (Royal Dano) in a boat that he too has been chosen. A simple and peaceful version of the Christ theme [1:03] accompanies Jesus’ invitation to Simon, whom he renames Peter the Rock, to become a “fisher of men.”
[This cue is followed immediately in the film by a brief trumpet flourish, “Signal for Pilate”—not heard on the Rhino CD but similar to “Herod’s Castle Trumpet, Rhino disc 2, track 9, which is not heard in the film—for Pilate’s arrival within the Antonia Fortress garrison. He enters Lucius’ quarters to inquire why medallion plaques bearing the image of Tiberius Caesar, which he had brought in chests to Jerusalem, are not visible throughout the city. Lucius’ observation that the images would offend the Jews’ religious sensitivities is dismissed and he is ordered to hang them on the pillars of Temple. This leads to another scene, underscored by a brief Hebrew lament for male a cappella chorus, in which the plaques are met with a thunderous prophetic denunciation by John the Baptist. This music is also missing from the CD.]
15. Herod’s Feast
Inside Herod’s Jerusalem palace, formal festivities for the newly arrived governor are under way. The party music is heard here in two parts [the second begins at 1:05], for flutes, oboes, harps and gentle percussion, and recalls similar oriental dance episodes that Rózsa had composed for Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur, and that would also find their way into Sodom and Gomorrah. John’s insistent anti-Roman and anti-Herodian diatribe outside the walls of the palace forms a divisive topic of conversation within the Herodian family during the party, and inevitably leads to the arrest, interrogation and imprisonment of the Baptizer.
16. Miracles
With the imprisonment of John and the end of his public ministry, the scene is set for the beginning of Jesus’ mission to the spiritually imprisoned, and the powerful and miraculous acts of liberation that both herald and hasten the coming of the kingdom of God that he proclaims. The two miracle scenes presented here are totally without dialogue (save for the brief introductory narration), and provided Rózsa with a unique opportunity for complete religious and musical self-expression. The opening bars of the cue suggest a wondrous awakening within a paralytic boy, whose gnarled limbs begin to straighten and stir with new sensation. The music momentarily reaches a serene plateau [0:25], a brief oasis of joyful expectation. The upper strings then chromatically ascend and descend in a series of contractions and spasms [0:32] that release in a heart-felt rendering of the Christ theme [0:47] as we see Jesus’ hand extended over the boy’s convulsing body. The flowing strings resume their ascension [0:59], counterbalanced majestically by horns [1:10], and tighten the dramatic tension to a breaking point as the crippled boy takes his first steps and then stumbles. The Christ theme breaks forth with a radiant female choir [1:35] as the reassured boy smiles, straightens and confidently begins to walk into the beaming sunlight of the outside world. The scene dissolves [1:48] to a blind beggar (Francisco Morán) faltering along a narrow lane, guided solely by his cane. He abruptly stops and drops his cane (a symbolic action of spiritual significance) when he encounters the shadow of an outstretched hand. Jesus’ eyes probe tenderly into his, and for a moment the blind man shelters his face from the blissful light that penetrates and surges bountifully within him. The Christ theme radiantly re-enters [2:00] on the unclouded sound of a gentle trumpet over soft choral harmony, vanquishing the darkness of the beggar’s former existence. Then, as the cured man realizes that he has beheld the Redeemer, the King of Kings theme plays out [2:32] on high strings and glorious bells, and Jesus departs.
17. The Hovel
In sharp contrast to the light-filled miracle scenes is this sequence, which immediately follows and takes place in a dark, bare and dingy back-street room in which Judas (Rip Torn) meets a nervous Barabbas hiding from the ever-present Roman patrols. Judas brings food and news of a new prophet greater than the Baptist, a man with the same first name—Jesus—as that of Barabbas. The rebel schemes to find a way to divert the crowds that Jesus attracts and to use them for an open revolt against the Romans. The brief mocking interplay between clarinet and bassoon, derived from Barabbas’ motive, serves as a rodent-like depiction of the conspirator.
18. Parable of the Seed
Barabbas is determined to seek out the new prophet and risks going into the back streets of the city. His insidious theme gives way to the ever-serene Christ theme [0:22] as Judas and Barabbas come upon Jesus and his disciples. At Simon Peter’s request, Jesus begins to explain the parable of the sower of the seed when, suddenly, a young woman (Carmen Sevilla) comes toward them fleeing for her life from an angry mob. An agitated musical chase [0:52, not heard in the film], with its repeated falling semitone reminiscent of the Devil’s theme from the Temptation scene, accelerates and rises to a feverish brass-screaming fortissimo as Jesus quickly positions himself between the cornered adulteress and her accusers.
19. Mary Magdalene
Confronted with a demonic mob prepared to administer justice by stoning, Jesus calmly stoops to pick up a loose stone, weighs it in his hand, and, in a thrusting motion, presents it to the crowd: “Let him amongst you who has never sinned cast the first stone!” Echoed by a dark staccato statement of the Christ motive, Jesus’ words resound amidst the mob, as if exorcising its fever. Dispelled and disarmed by his command, the crowd disperses and slips away into the night. Jesus drops the stone, turns and approaches the frightened woman. She stares at Jesus in utter wonderment and admiration as he extends his hand and gently lifts her to her feet. The King of Kings theme swells in emotion [0:38] to a luminous and compassionate intensity as he warmly reassures her, “Neither will I condemn you.” Meanwhile, a shop owner tells Jesus’ inquiring disciples that John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas in his palace (hence the brief inclusion of the Baptist’s theme).
Answer From a Stone [1:25]
Barabbas, who has witnessed the mob scene, begins to approach Jesus, but retreats as a Roman patrol suddenly makes its way through the dispersing crowd. Barabbas’ theme then introduces Judas’ nervous and indecisive theme [1:44], heard here for the first time, as he picks up the stone with which Jesus had challenged the mob and ponders its implication for his life—whether to “run with Barabbas, the messiah of war, or to walk with Jesus, the new messiah of peace.” His theme suggests an uneasy ambivalence. The scene changes [1:59] to Lucius’ Roman garrison quarters (Pilate’s stern theme makes a brief appearance, as Lucius has no leitmotiv of his own) where Jesus arrives before the centurion with a request to see John in prison.
20. The Blessing
Jesus has “come to free John, within his cell.” Lucius, who is developing an inexplicable attachment to both the Baptizer and the Nazarene, permits Jesus to visit John in his cell. This is the second of the non-biblical “encounter” scenes in the film and the most dramatic, partly because Jesus’ farewell to John is so strongly emotive, and partly because the scene symbolically evokes Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, a meeting-of-hands between the final prophet and the One-who-is-to-come. As John sees Jesus’ silhouette move across the shadow of the prison bars on his cell floor, he turns his head upward with expectation. From above, Jesus quietly calls his name [0:13] and John responds, struggling to ascend the steep slope of his cell, chains rattling, toward the barred opening through which Jesus has stretched out his waiting hand. Both the Baptist’s theme and the Christ theme are heard initially; then, guided by a wistful flute [0:22], the strings break free of the Baptist’s motive and spiral upwards until they reach a plateau and divide, the upper and lower strings emotionally falling and rising against each other in symmetric countermelody, until they finally come to rest on the choral harmony of a wordless female choir [0:57] that frames the Christ theme with a glowing musical halo. The outstretched hand of Christ grips the grasping hand of the anguished prophet, as he stares into Jesus’ eyes and asks for a blessing. Jesus looks back tearfully, and a momentary calm falls on John’s face. The blessing received, John sorrowfully closes his eyes, his hand slowly slips from Jesus’ grip and he rolls down the stone incline to the cold floor below. The music for the ascent returns briefly in the lower strings [1:15], then falls to rest as John lies exhausted and motionless. From below, the camera pans upward to the small prison opening where Jesus, both hands extended in farewell, looks down compassionately on the Baptist, and the music ends poignantly [1:36] with the haloed choral reprise of the Christ motive.
21. Casting Out the Demon
The name of Jesus spreads throughout Galilee and Judea, and two more disciples, Philip and Bartholomew, join his small band of followers. The gently flowing Disciples theme returns, as Judas Iscariot meets up with them outside the town of Capernaum; he is welcomed by Jesus and John and becomes the sixth disciple. As Jesus enters the village, the brass roar the Devil’s theme fortissimo [0:39] when a possessed man (Fernando Sancho), who has been terrifying the townsfolk, looks up and recognizes Jesus. Jesus catches the attacking demoniac in his arms and looks deep into his eyes, whereupon the madness within is stilled by the tranquility of a solitary flute [0:59] wistfully playing the King of Kings theme beneath a heavenly female choir. An oboe answers the flute, and then the strings [1:13] take up the theme, which calmly closes on a major triad.
22. Woman of Sin
The third “encounter” scene: Mary Magdalene journeys from Jerusalem to visit the home of Jesus. She knocks and is welcomed to table by Jesus’ mother, who freely admits that she is “alone now.” Her maternal loneliness is reflected in a stately adagio of her theme, played lovingly by solo English horn and supported gently by the steadfast major/minor harp figure that depicts the Virgin’s faithful trust in Providence. The theme is passed briefly to the strings, which play a moving development of the theme [0:49], and then to a mournful cello [1:08]. When Mary Magdalene hesitates to enter the home, identifying herself as a “woman of sin,” Jesus’ mother recounts his parable of the lost sheep and the need to celebrate the return of a repentant sinner. Comforted by the mother’s providential confidence that “you would not have sought this home if God had not wanted you to,” Mary Magdalene accepts her invitation to share her table. The cue ends with a stately statement of Pilate’s theme [2:26] as the scene dissolves to the palace, where Lucius reports an account of Jesus’ miraculous activities, which is met with utter disbelief by the prefect and with disturbed curiosity by his wife, Claudia (Viveca Lindfors).
23. John’s Message
Lucius, reflecting on what he has seen and heard about Jesus, decides to visit the Baptist, who acknowledges Lucius’ kind treatment and makes one final request. He asks the centurion to send a message to Jesus to clearly confirm that he is the Promised One whose coming has been so long awaited. John desires this not because he doubts Jesus, but so that he can revel in Jesus’ personal proclamation of it. Lucius is moved to match Jesus’ spiritual liberation of John by granting him one more kindness: he frees the Baptist from his shackles. The serene, brooding statement of his theme, heard in its most complete form and for the final time, is less densely orchestrated than the corresponding track on the original MGM Records album. The descending bass line in the closing bars [1:17] reflects the prophet’s humble acknowledgement that his mission is finished and that his importance before God and men must diminish.
24. Jugglers and Tumblers
Acrobats entertain Antipas and his guests, Pilate among them, at yet another of Herod’s dinner banquets. Antipas, however, has his sights on other sport.
Herod’s Desire [1:02]
As the evening progresses, the dancers grow more lascivious and the wine flows more freely. Shamelessly affected by both and oblivious to his guests, Antipas drunkenly paws at his stepdaughter Salome, to her mother’s disgust. The young girl petulantly resists, until Herodias accuses her husband-king of being a weakling afraid of the imprisoned Baptist who has publicly reviled her. When Antipas implores Salome to dance for him and promises her anything in return, even Herodias’ throne, she devises a plan to avenge her mother and baits him by first refusing, then by making him swear an oath. Although more Arabic in flavor, the dance heard here recalls the “Fertility Dance” and “Arrius’ Party” from Ben-Hur, and paves the way for the more heated orgiastic dance that follows.
25. Salome’s Dance (Parts 1–5)
This is the first piece of music that Rózsa wrote for the film, recording it with a small group of musicians from the Spanish National Symphony Orchestra in Madrid in the summer of 1960 (the rest of the score was written and recorded in Hollywood). Rózsa has said that he “wrote it as a sensuous and savage piece of oriental folk music,” arranged for a variety of reeds, flutes and percussion instruments, including the ancient sistrum. Both the choreography and the execution of the dance in the film do it no justice—but the piece itself is undoubtedly the most sophisticated of Rózsa’s oriental dances, and it is difficult to imagine any film visuals that could do it justice. The dance is in six phases (0:00–0:39, 0:39–1:15, 1:15–1:37, 1:37–2:06, 2:06–2:44, and track 27) beginning with a seductively slow and winding English horn solo that slithers and stirs its way in anticipation of the more rhythmic movements to follow, each more savagely propelled and feverishly uninhibited than the previous. Only the first five (severely edited along with the embarrassing visuals) appear in the film; the sixth part appears as track 27. The introduction has a languid and primitive, pagan quality, reminiscent of the bassoon opening of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. Like Stravinsky’s work, which ends violently with a chosen sacrificial virgin dancing to her death, Rózsa’s piece closes with a frenzied and barbaric dance of death (track 27), with the prophet as its intended victim.
26. Christ’s Answer
Salome’s scheme for avenging her mother results in her demand for the head of the Baptist. Embarrassed and defeated by Salome’s cunning treachery, Antipas orders the captain of his guard (in a dramatic perspective shot of Antipas on his throne with the Idumean guard in the background) to “give her what she asks.” The violent nature of the opening music portrays not so much the treachery of Salome and Herodias as it does the monstrous self-indulgent beast within Antipas, leaving no doubt that he is truly Herod the Great’s son in both temperament and blood. The scene dissolves to John lying on his cell floor, stirred suddenly by the mystically distant voice of Jesus, as if in a revelation. He hears Jesus point out the miraculous messianic credentials with which he has heralded the advent of the kingdom of God and the unique role that John has played in its coming. The Baptist’s theme does not make an appearance here—John self-effacingly has yielded his mission to Jesus—and so it is rather fitting that the King of Kings theme plays in a simple rendition for celesta, oboe and gentle tremolo strings that recalls the first meeting of John and Jesus in the Jordan River (but heard here, in anticipation of the Baptist’s execution, without the four-part female choir).
The Beheading [1:41]
As the violent opening music of the cue returns and the executioner wields his instrument, John reverently kneels, his eyes transfixed on the prison bar window where Jesus had bestowed his farewell blessing.
27. Salome’s Dance (Part 6)
Not heard in the film, this orgiastic finale to Rózsa’s dance masterpiece musically belongs at the end of track 25, as the composer intended it and as he had recorded it in Rome for the MGM Records album. Nevertheless, director Nicholas Ray has indicated that he shot a scene in which Salome reacts to the beheading of the Baptist by releasing birds from a large, ornate aviary located before Antipas’ throne in the middle of his banquet room. Apparently the scene was deleted after a preview of the film. (The aviary is clearly visible when the court musicians regroup and begin to play the serpent-like opening of Salome’s dance, and allusions to Salome’s cage-like entrapment within Antipas’ palace are made in an earlier scene, immediately preceding the “Miracles,” in which the Baptist warns Salome to flee from her spiritual prison, “this house of darkness,” as Lucius escorts him to the dungeon). As finally edited, Brigid Bazlen’s dance movements end clumsily and anticlimactically. By contrast, the bass line of this deleted cue pounds with short percussive stabs and barbaric ritual intensity, forcing the listener to be swept into the physical rush of the music, and the piece ends explosively in a sharp and conclusive climax.
28. Mount Galilee
The solemn liturgical processional that was first heard in the “Overture” returns festively in the brass and strings (without its original striding bass line and mixed chorus) as a great multitude gathers at the base of a hillside in Galilee to hear the words of Jesus and to be healed by him. Ordered by Pilate to apprehend Jesus should he utter a single word of treason against Rome, Lucius has disguised himself and stands by Claudia, who, disillusioned with her life as Pilate’s wife, has come to see the great miracle worker. The high priest Caiaphas (Guy Rolfe) and the Pharisee Nicodemus (Maurice Marsac) are in attendance to judge Jesus’ teachings for themselves, as are Barabbas and many of his men.
Sermon on the Mount [1:25]
Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother and the disciples wait with solemn expectation on the mount, as Peter approaches Jesus, who sits focused in prayer under a tree: “They have all gathered and are awaiting your word.” A powerful wordless choral rendering of the extended Christ theme is heard as Jesus gets up and appears on the slope. Moved by the sheer size of the crowd, he raises his hands as if in benediction as the crowds press closer. There is a sudden hush among the assembled, and the Beatitudes theme arrives pianissimo in the strings [3:06] as Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
Love Your Neighbor [4:51]
Jesus then descends the slope to answer questions from the crowd. Strings and muted brass intone a doxology, based on the Beatitudes theme, as a camel driver asks, “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Caiaphas and Nicodemus look on and listen with interest to Jesus’ reply, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart…and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Suddenly the veil of solemnity and structure is lifted [5:35], and the music magically transforms into a sunlit, impressionistic and idyllic fantasia on the Christ motive, in which Rózsa reveals a gentleness and human warmth in Jesus hitherto not expressed in the score. (Unfortunately, the first portion of this luminous music is faded out on the film’s soundtrack.) Jesus delivers a series of gospel sayings that appear to be directed at key figures in the film. As Jesus declares, “No man can serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to the one and despise the other,” the camera focuses on Judas, whose allegiance seems torn between Jesus and Barabbas. Claudia takes notice, as Jesus seems to comment on the emptiness of her palace lifestyle, “Is not life greater than food and your bodies more than their clothing?” The warm bucolic music of the fantasia finally reenters on the film soundtrack [6:57] as Jesus looks up to the sky and proclaims, “Behold the birds of the sky; they neither sow nor reap nor take their harvest to the barns, and yet God feeds them.” The closing music of this cue underlines Jesus’ comforting words, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will refresh you.” In a key moment that recalls the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, a delegation of Barabbas’ men pushes forward and confronts Jesus. “If you can do miracles, call on God to send down hosts to destroy the Romans and free our people from bondage.” The camera records Lucius’ reaction as Jesus replies, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. The Romans are conquerors. To conquer them would make you no different than [sic] they.”
29. The Law of the Prophets
As Jesus comments on the power of prayer (“Ask and you shall receive”), an abbreviated version of the Beatitudes theme is heard [0:28]. Then a solemn dramatic variant of the Christ theme [0:57] brings this brief cue (and Rhino disc 1) to a close with Jesus’ declaration, “Do for others what you would have them do for you. For this is the law of the prophets!”

Disc Two

1. The Lord’s Prayer
Asked by a disciple to “teach us to pray,” Jesus pauses for a moment and then, raising his eyes toward heaven, addresses his Father. Rózsa now unveils a new theme, introduced with overlapping layered entries. Sublime and romantic (this is the closest thing to a love theme in the score) and accompanied by a gentle wordless choir (not heard in the film until the completion of the prayer at 1:16), it reflects both the surrender of Jesus’ will to that of his Father and the unbreakable bond of loving trust that exists between them. The setting heard here does not conform precisely to the words of the familiar prayer, nor is it heard in its entirety; rather, the theme progresses only to “forgive us our trespasses.” It then returns to its opening line [1:16] as the Sermon ends (“Amen”) and Jesus ascends the slope with his disciples. As the crowds depart, a jubilant Judas seeks out Barabbas, only to be spurned by the rebel leader and taken aback by his evaluation of Jesus as a spinner of mere words. The young disciple John attempts to comfort Judas, and the music ends on a hopeful note [2:23] as Judas, reassured, answers the Master’s call.
2. The Disciples
After two intervening scenes that contrast reaction to the Sermon by the Roman centurion Lucius (cautious acceptance) and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (cautious rejection), Jesus leads his disciples into the wilderness, away from the doubting crowds, in order to instruct them and strengthen their faith. The spacious and gently flowing Disciples theme (first heard in the score after Jesus himself had come out from the wilderness, following his Temptation) accompanies their procession across a hilltop as a roll call of the fellowship is heard in the narration. Almost imperceptibly, the theme transfigures into the Beatitudes theme [0:55–1:17], musically suggesting that the chosen Twelve are counted among the poor and the meek who hunger for God’s kingdom. Jesus and his disciples encounter a blustery wilderness sandstorm [1:18]; then in contrast they share a tranquil moment at a hillside oasis [1:37]. The Disciples theme resumes briefly, giving way to an ardent reassertion of the Christ theme [1:48], its answering phrases enhanced by the opening line of the Disciples theme (shorn of its first two notes). The close-knit interweaving of the two themes communicates the growing bond of friendship between Jesus and his disciples, as Jesus gives his final instructions to the Twelve and sends them out in pairs to the towns and villages throughout Judea to heal the sick, to announce the coming of the kingdom of God, and to exercise authority over evil. When the disciples have accomplished their initial mission, he plans to rejoin them for the final journey to Jerusalem.
3. Barabbas’ Plan
In Barabbas’ underground weapons forge, Judas urges him to sheathe his weapons and proposes a plan that would prevent further bloodshed. The day after the next Sabbath Jesus is to join his disciples and enter Jerusalem to preach in the Temple. With his weary theme lingering in the background, Judas makes Barabbas swear that his men will stand by Jesus and allow him to speak. When the crowds proclaim Jesus King of Judea, they will shield him from the Romans. “That will be a day to be remembered!” Judas proclaims, but upon his departure [0:55] Barabbas labels Judas a dreamer and a fool: on the appointed day Barabbas will “borrow” the crowds from Jesus and run them through the streets to the Fortress of Antonia. Then, having secured the fortress, he will return the crowds to Jesus. In contrast to the anguish of Judas’ theme, the music that underscores Barabbas’ speech is high-spirited and soars in excitement until, as the Intermission title appears on the screen, the brass scream Barabbas’ motive and bring Act I to a dramatic close. (Bronislau Kaper may have been inspired by this musical sequence in his similar scoring of the Intermission title for M-G-M’s remake of Mutiny on the Bounty the following year. Both finales follow the pattern that Rózsa had set in Ben-Hur: a lugubrious dark scene followed by a sudden rush of foreboding and nervous excitement.)
4. Entr’acte
This Overture to Act II brings together three themes from Act I that recall the Sermon on the Mount scene. Strangely, unlike the Act I Overture, Rózsa elected to score this entire intermezzo for orchestra only, although the Beatitudes theme and the music for the Lord’s Prayer would have benefited from the choral settings offered on the subsequent Rome recording. The Beatitudes theme boldly enters as a brass fanfare recalling the audience to their seats. Note the dramatic use of piano in the opening bass responsorial phrases and, in particular, the appearance of the Christ motive in the final answering phrase as the theme segues into the Lord’s Prayer [1:04], heard here in its complete form. This is the only time in the score that the majestic music for the final petition (“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”) appears, played solemnly by a close-harmonized brass choir, before the full orchestra reenters for the prayer’s closing doxology (“for Thine is the kingdom”) and bursts into the magnificent King of Kings theme [2:33], which arrives regally proclaimed by the horns and answered by powerful timpani strokes. Musically, it suggests the divine Christ of the Transfiguration, appearing in full glory on the clouds. The theme’s broad and majestic extension generally follows the contours of Rózsa’s later concert suite recording on the late 1960s Capitol release (issued on CD as DRG 19060), but here (as with the biblical account of the Transfiguration in Mark 9:8), the vision musically recedes and the theme of the Redeemer gently fades in the hushed brass as the curtains part and the film resumes.
5. Premonition
Jesus returns to his mother’s home in Nazareth before his final journey to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. A nostalgic rendering of the Virgin Mary’s theme yields briefly to a warm statement of the Christ theme as Jesus embraces his mother. A restless scene follows depicting the two resuming domestic duties. It is underscored by a troubled variation of the mother’s theme in which a falling four-note lament weighs down each phrase. Peter and John enter the home and announce that it is time for Jesus’ great journey to Jerusalem. In a dramatic set of three successive shots in which Jesus and Mary alternate foreground and background positions, Jesus proposes that the chair that he is mending will have to wait until he returns, to which his mother prophetically replies, “The chair will never be mended!” Jesus looks up at his mother, seemingly astonished by her intuitive premonition that the journey to Jerusalem will be his very last. The scene ends with Mary declaring her resolute intention to accompany her son.
6. Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Take note of the moment in this sequence at which Jesus is first seen entering the Temple square riding on a donkey. In the next shot, Barabbas rouses his men to take their positions: “He’s coming!” To the left of Barabbas, you will notice a tall, darkly clad figure who immediately reacts and leads the way into the crowds. This is David (played by Richard Johnson), a character who appeared in Yordan’s original storyline but was eventually dropped. David is a wealthy Judean merchant and boyhood acquaintance of Barabbas, and an opportunist who many years before had left his oppressed homeland in order to seek his freedom and fortune in Rome, where he had become a Roman citizen and befriended Pontius Pilate. He has returned to Jerusalem to reclaim his heritage and “find his soul.” In an intended earlier scene with obvious parallels to Ben-Hur, Pilate seeks David’s advice as to how to get along with the Jews, to which David candidly replies, “Just collect your taxes and leave them alone.” Rather than furthering Pilate’s career and rising with him in power, David chooses to renounce his Roman citizenship and end his friendship with the new prefect. He allies himself instead with Barabbas and offers to plan and finance a revolt against the Roman occupation, hence his “footprint” presence in this scene, some of which seems to have been replaced by clumsily inserted studio shots of Judas peering into the crowds. David can also be seen in the final shot of Jesus ascending the steps of the Temple; look for a beardless aristocratic figure in the center of the screen. As he passes, Jesus slowly turns and stares intently at David. In Yordan’s storyline, Jesus’ compassionate smile penetrates deep into David’s troubled soul and transforms it, causing the transfixed David to drop his sword and abandon his revolutionary plans, a move that enrages Barabbas to seize the moment and signal the attack.
Rózsa’s cue does not begin until well after Jesus has entered the Temple square and preparations for Barabbas’ revolt are underway. Bells and a descending-and-ascending string figure immediately establish a festive atmosphere of urgent expectancy, and introduce a Psalm-like theme that, according to Rózsa’s notes, is “based on an ancient Hebrew melody usually sung during the Passover.” The antiphonal cantor-and-response form of the theme (a-b-c-b-d-b-e-b), with its similar cantor parts (a, c, d, e) and fixed congregational refrain (b), strongly suggests that the Psalm forming the basis for the “ancient Hebrew melody” is Psalm 136, which is called by Jews “the great Hallel”:
a     O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
b     for his steadfast love endures forever.
c     O give thanks to the God of gods,
b     for his steadfast love endures forever.
d     O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
b     for his steadfast love endures forever.
e     Who alone does great wonders,
b     for his steadfast love endures forever.
The opening line of the hymn is the keynote invocation at Passover, a call to praise and thank God for his mighty deeds. It is little wonder then that Alfred Newman and Ken Darby used this very psalm as an introduction to the corresponding Palm Sunday scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Rózsa himself had visited this psalm once before in his main theme to Plymouth Adventure, taken from the Henry Ainsworth Psalter that the Mayflower pilgrims had brought with them to Plymouth Rock. The second line of each of the 26 verses of Psalm 136 is the liturgical response “for his steadfast love endures forever,” and Psalm 136 is the only psalm with such a fixed refrain, whose very repetition undoubtedly is meant to mirror God’s “steadfastness.” (The translation quoted here is that of the New Revised Standard Version; Newman and Darby used the King James Version, which renders “steadfast love” as “mercy.” For Plymouth Adventure, Rózsa of course employed the Henry Ainsworth Psalter, which rendered “Lord” as “Jehovah.”) Rózsa’s theme undergoes a series of dramatic orchestral variations, ending with the narration, “And Jesus went into the Temple and the great doors shut in one multitude and within was peace, while outside was the sea that would not be stilled, the tongue which spoke not peace, but the sword.” Barabbas’ theme is heard [1:14] as he climbs a waterwheel and signals his men: “Long live Judea!” (The pause at 1:43 accommodates a reel change).
Tempest in Judea [1:43]
Judas (note the brief musical reference), realizing that his peaceful plan has been aborted by Barabbas, winces in despair and looks on, as a sea of rebel swords, javelins and clubs rushes toward Barabbas; the surrounding Judean pilgrims, swept up with bewildered enthusiasm, follow him through the streets to converge on the fortress. A battering ram rumbles forward to break down the fortress gate, but within, Lucius, who has anticipated Barabbas’ move, lays waiting, with his Roman legionnaires positioned around the periphery of the ramparts. The smashed gates burst open (2:49), and the music graphically portrays the screaming mob pouring into the courtyard.
Defeat [3:33]
Roman archers wait patiently for the surging Judean horde to fill the square, and then release waves of whistling arrows from all directions, while below, Lucius’ soldiers unveil strategically placed giant crossbows, whose massive shafts plow through the mob. The hysterical Judeans turn and dash back to the gates, where Roman javelineers await their prey. With the Judean retreat cut off, Pilate nods to Lucius, who gives the signal to sound the trumpet (4:27). The main fortress gate is shut, and from its sides pour hundreds of Roman lancers, who now form a four-rowed, shoulder-to-shoulder human wall of shields and protruding spears.
Phalanx [4:54]
Drums, echoed by crashing cymbals, thud an inexorable beat of doom, as the Roman lancers advance on the trapped Jews. An oppressive dotted-march rhythm (reminiscent of the one that Rózsa used for the segue from the Prelude to the “Marcia Romana” in Ben-Hur) enters, paving the way for the return of Pompey’s brutal theme of conquest, which rises from the depths of the brass section (in the film the effect is diminished by a delayed, gradual fading-in of the march). Meanwhile, Barabbas, who has scaled the fortress wall and is anticipating victory, looks down from the parapet and is stunned to see a field of slaughtered Judeans, obliterated by the unstoppable Roman phalanx. A streaking arrow strikes him in the thigh, and reeling in disbelief, he screams in anguish like a trapped animal. Looking down he sees his old adversary Lucius staring back at him. Utterly defeated and consumed with despair, Barabbas makes no effort to resist his captor, and drops his sword to the ground in surrender. A repeated descending brass figure [at 6:28, 6:38, 6:44, 6:47 and 6:50], similar to the one in Gratus’ march from Ben-Hur, adds to the sense of Roman conquest and complete annihilation.
False Promises [6:54]
Back in the underground forge, Judas finds himself the target of bitter reproach by the broken-spirited remnant of Barabbas’ outlaws: “It is you who has led us astray with false promises.” His dismal theme surfaces [7:29] as Judas counters that Jesus has the power of miracles. The Christ theme suddenly appears [7:53] in a minor key, twisted almost beyond recognition, ominous and ghostly—floating before Judas like a “dagger of the mind”—as he conjures in the darkness of his soul a terrifying vision of the Messiah: “He can with a look rock the foundation of Herod Antipas’ palace and bring the walls down on the tyrant’s head.” Judas then clutches at his vision and beats his breast solemnly, “I will force his hand! When he feels the Roman sword at his throat he will smite them down with the wave of one arm.” Thus does Judas take up the role of the Tempter in Jesus’ final hour, a role that Rózsa has anticipated musically by the use of the Devil’s falling semitone within Judas’ motive.
The Last Supper [8:36]
A liturgical theme for the Seder, first heard in part at the very outset of the Overture, sets the scene in which Jesus and his disciples prepare the table for the Passover meal. (Note the congregational response in the theme at 8:44. With respect to the Passion of Jesus, the chronology in the Gospel according to John, favored by many scholars, precludes the designation of the Last Supper as a Passover meal; in the fourth gospel, Jesus dies just before the evening Passover celebration.) Judas’ theme appears briefly [8:49] as he arrives, late and ritually unwashed, and assumes his position at table diagonally opposite Jesus. The Seder theme returns [9:20] as Jesus, taking herbs from a bowl, opens the meal with the traditional Jewish prayer, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bids us eat bitter herbs,” and follows with the announcement, “Tonight one among you will betray me.” Judas’ theme returns [9:49] as Jesus leans over to Judas and commands, “What you must do, do quickly!” Judas leaves, and the meal (and the Seder theme) resumes [10:16], with Jesus disclosing that he will be with his disciples “for only a short time.” As if in response to Judas’ absence, Jesus prophesies that “you will all lose courage and desert me,” and a litany of disciples’ objections is echoed in the music [10:38–10:52], culminating with Jesus’ prophetic reply to Peter, “This night before the cock crows twice, you will deny knowing me three times.” An incandescent oboe momentarily dispels the disciples’ fears as it sings out a simple yet eloquent (and extended) statement of the King of Kings theme, expressing Jesus’ touching valedictory to his disciples, a last will and testament to those whom he now calls “friends”: “My last wish is that you love one another as I have loved you. The greatest gift a man can give is to lay down his life for his friends. And when I am gone you will be grieved, but your grief will turn into joy.…And one day I will see you again. And when I do, your joy will be such that no one can take it from you.” For one brief and moving cinematic moment, Jeffrey Hunter’s heartfelt delivery and Rózsa’s fervent music sing as one voice.
The Feast of Passover [11:58]
To underscore the solemn Eucharistic words of Jesus in which he identifies the breaking of bread with his impending crucifixion and the drinking of wine with the shedding of his blood, Rózsa employs a male Hebrew a cappella chorus5, no doubt inspired by Matthew 26:30: “When they had sung the hymn,6 they went out to the Mount of Olives.” What is significant here is that Rózsa succeeds in creating a truly solemn Jewish atmosphere, particularly since, apart from the Hebrew elements in Rózsa’s score, there is actually very little in the film that brings out Jesus’ religious background.
7. Judas Sees Caiaphas
Judas’ theme returns as he knocks at the gate of the high priest’s palace. Realizing that he is barefoot (and ceremonially unclean), he puts on his sandals. Presumably for what he is about to do, no amount of ritual cleansing will absolve him, for he has come to betray Jesus to Caiaphas, “to say how Jesus and Barabbas are the left and the right hands of the same body.” When the high priest’s servant opens the gate, Judas barges in, despite the servant’s objections that the hour is late.
Gethsemane [0:45]
An eerie, repeating nine-note climbing-and-falling motive sets the strangely atmospheric scene for Jesus’ vigil on the Mount of Olives, a site with both a ghostly past and an apocalyptic future. It was said that King David came here to weep and pray after his betrayal by his trusted counselor Ahithophel, who soon afterwards hanged himself (II Samuel 15:30–31; 17:23) and it was prophesied that the Lord himself would set foot upon its peak and stand in judgment over Jerusalem and all the nations (Zechariah 14:4). The motive is interrupted [1:08] by Judas’ theme, punctuated with martial rhythms, as Judas watches the Temple guard assemble in Caiaphas’ courtyard, flanked by Roman soldiers with orders to find and arrest Jesus. The Mount of Olives motive resumes [1:18], as Jesus takes Peter, John and James a small distance to “watch and pray.” We hear the Christ motive [2:26] as Jesus retreats to pray alone, and falls to the ground in grief [2:39]. Since no disciple witnessed Jesus’ prayer vigil, Rózsa takes his cue from the gospel evangelists who themselves inserted elements from the Lord’s Prayer into the Gethsemane account (“Father,” “Thy will be done”). Therefore it is fitting that the music of the Lord’s Prayer [2:55] accompany Jesus’ entreaty that his Father “take away this cup.” Jesus shivers in fear, and falls prostrate to the ground [3:21] (followed by a very brief cutaway to Judas’ arrest party leaving Caiaphas’ courtyard).
8. Agony in the Garden
As Jesus lifts his eyes heavenward, the Christ motive returns, laden with sorrow, yielding to the Lord’s Prayer theme [0:21] as Jesus concludes his prayer in obedient submission, “And yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Judas’ Kiss [0:45]
A brass snarl underscores the disciples’ fearful retreat as the torch-lit procession of Temple police and Roman military escort approaches in the night, led by Judas, whose theme here is painted in the darkest colors. The minor third interval between the opening notes of Fig. 8 allows Rózsa to tap into his film noir gangster period; one could almost imagine the bass line being augmented by the famous Dragnet rhythms of the “Prelude” from The Killers (with its same minor third interval), as if to suggest “they’re coming!” Note, in particular, the prominence of the bass keys of the piano in this scene and in the next: this is the hour of darkness. (Bronislau Kaper, no doubt, paid tribute to Rózsa’s scoring in this scene when he based the mutiny motive in Mutiny in the Bounty on Rózsa’s very own Killers motive played, as here, on the bass keys of the piano.) As Judas approaches, his eyes fixed upon those of Jesus, we hear the disfigured, ghostly rendering of the Christ theme [1:09] first heard in “False Promises.” The transition to Judas’ theme [1:24] is made so effortlessly that we are hardly aware that the two themes have become virtually indistinguishable, for this is Judas’ “hour,” and he is determined to mold the Messiah in his own terrifying image, and to tempt Jesus to do his will. As Judas kisses Jesus and pulls away [1:39], his theme dissipates tragically into emptiness, a hollow victory. Jesus is arrested and, while the scene shifts to the courtyard of the high priest [1:48], yet Judas’ presence (as the Tempter) continues to be felt musically, phrased as a malignant tremolo. Caiaphas’ maidservant offers Peter a drink and then recognizes that Peter was “with the man Jesus.” Peter denies this vehemently, and in response, a cock crows in the distance, echoed in the score [2:16] by an ominous chord and a ghostly muted trumpet. The sudden chill within him forces Peter to risk advancing toward the fire, where two Roman soldiers ask him directly, “Are you one of his disciples?” At this point [3:13] Jesus appears in the courtyard, his luminous theme glowing amidst the darkness, flanked by two Temple guards, and he looks directly at Peter (recalling the corresponding gospel moment recorded only in Luke 22:61). When one of the soldiers insists that Peter is indeed one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter timidly looks away from Jesus and bitterly renounces his discipleship. He suddenly gazes back at Jesus, whose eyes are filled with a great sadness, and a second cockcrow is heard [3:48], yet Jesus steadfastly maintains his stare, as if dispensing forgiveness. Cravenly, Peter pulls his eyes away and runs out of the courtyard, as the Christ motive is heard [3:52] from the dark depths of a piano and Jesus is led away to Pilate.
9. Herod’s Castle Trumpet
Not heard in the film, this musical transition between the end of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and his appearance before Herod Antipas (at the beginning of track 10) seems effectively to have preempted its use.
10. Christ Before Herod
On hearing from Lucius that Jesus is a Galilean, Pilate orders Jesus to stand before Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. A tragically stark statement of the Christ motive segues into a brief variation of Barabbas’ theme [at 0:10, as the camera pans across the Antonia fortress, where the massacre had occurred]. In a scene recorded only in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus now stands, arms bound behind him, before Herod’s great golden throne, with the leopard-eyed Herodias standing at Antipas’ side, and Salome sitting nearby, preoccupied with a caged bird. Surrounded by scribes and courtiers, and a crimson-robed court astrologer, the aging, ringlet-bearded Antipas motions Jesus forward, and then gets up and—with a staggering air of madness underscored by his twisted motive [0:28]—curiously circles him, wondering if Jesus, of whom he has heard many miraculous things but has never seen, is perhaps John the Baptist come back to life. Jesus remains motionless and silent, and having failed to elicit from him a demonstration of his miraculous powers, Antipas, convinced that Jesus does not live up to his reputation, mockingly drapes his astrologer’s scarlet cloak about Jesus and sends him back to Pilate. (In Luke 22:11–12 the cloak is not scarlet but rather “resplendent,” signifying Herod’s agreement with Pilate that Jesus is innocent of the charges brought before him. Furthermore, the evangelist records that the two former political adversaries were reconciled by Antipas’ diplomatically shrewd conciliatory gesture. The irony is that the healing of the rift between Antipas and Pilate confirms the miraculous powers of Jesus that Antipas so contemptuously had mocked.)
11. The Scourging of Christ
Pilate gives the order to flog Jesus, and, upset by the influence that Jesus seems to have on his wife, Claudia, personally supervises its execution. The opening music here is based on the via crucis motive (there is a pause for a reel change at 0:13). From the garrison gate outside Pilate’s Praetorium, Judas hears the Roman lictor’s crackling whip repeatedly ripping into the flesh of Jesus, belying Judas’ prediction about Jesus that “when he feels the Roman sword at his throat he will smite them down with the wave of one arm.” The terrifying words come back to haunt him, and his tormented motive [0:39] now reflects more the unbearable torture within Judas’ troubled soul than with Jesus’ physical scourging. The falling four-note lament heard in “Premonition” now savagely affixes itself to Judas’ motive, and his torment reaches a frightening climax when he is suddenly confronted with the cross that Jesus will bear and the full implication of his treachery. A frightening statement of the Christ theme, underscored by the demonic chords of a monstrous organ [1:12], reflects Judas’ horror at the consequences of his betrayal and, panic-stricken, he faints.
Crown of Thorns [1:20]
A variant of the music for the scourging is heard as one of the praetorian soldiers fashions a wreath of thorns and mockingly places it on Jesus’ forehead, with Pilate’s tacit approval. Jesus is led away and the camera descends into the cell where Barabbas and two other criminals are awaiting their crucifixions. The music ends with a sinister four-note figure [1:52–1:55] whose outer notes span an augmented fourth, or tritone. This interval in music is traditionally associated with the presence of the Devil (recall Rózsa’s Jaffar motive from The Thief of Bagdad), a presence reaffirmed here by way of Judas’ motive [2:05].
12. Via Dolorosa
Pilate allows the Passover crowds to decide which prisoner is to be granted amnesty, and they choose Barabbas. Lucius, ordered to release Barabbas from prison, notices through the cell window that Jesus is already bearing his cross and has fallen under its weight [0:16]. “Go,” he bitterly motions to his old foe, “You’re free! The man Jesus is dying in your place.” As Barabbas is expelled into the street, his motive is heard for the final time in the score [0:18] intertwined with the recurring via crucis bass figure that prods the faltering Jesus onward, and he looks below with bewilderment at the doomed Nazarene, with whom he so unexpectedly has traded destinies, dragging the heavy timber of the full cross (oddly, the other two criminals carry only the crossbeam) up the cobblestone steps of the narrow lane. The lachrymose theme for the somber procession gently rises and falls, with each successive crest progressively higher and more emotive. As the theme nears its second crest [1:27], Jesus looks at his grieving mother, the young disciple John at her side, and her face expresses quiet resignation. Mary and John fall in behind the procession, followed by Mary Magdalene. Just before the theme’s third and climactic crest [1:51], its heart-wrenching four notes reveal themselves to be the very same that propelled the procession to Calvary in Ben-Hur. At this moment, we see the boy whose paralysis Jesus had cured, with his two siblings, looking down soulfully from a nearby window. (In Philip Yordan’s original storyline, the converted ex-revolutionary David also watches from the shadows of his window.) Judas is seen running across the sun-bleached rooftops, trailing the funeral-like cortège like a disheartened vulture, hoping against hope that Jesus will strike out at his Roman tormentors, when suddenly he observes Jesus wavering and falling under the crushing weight of the cross [2:13]. The Lady Claudia, clad in black to disguise her position as the wife of the governor who had passed sentenced on this innocent man, rushes forward as if to catch Jesus, but is pressed back by the Roman spear of a soldier who orders a Cyrenean bystander (Rafael Luis Calvo) to take up the cross (Mark 15:21), but not before a devout woman (Veronica, not mentioned in the gospels) runs up to Jesus and compassionately wipes his bloodstained face. The procession (and the weary via crucis figure) resumes [2:45], while from a high vantage point a bearded man [2:53] silently looks upon the stranger who not so long ago had lifted the veil of darkness from his eyes.
Christ Bearing His Cross [2:56]
Jesus passes a group of black-robed lamenting women [3:22] whom Jesus entreats, “Do not weep for me” (Luke 23:28, a passage whose prophetic extension is omitted in the film). A matte shot of the walled city of Jerusalem [3:40] reveals Judas climbing the rock of Golgotha to witness the grim procession nearing its destination. A perplexed Barabbas soon joins him [4:13] and silently attempts reconciliation, but Judas, who is now beyond consolation, spurns him.
Crucifixion [4:40]
Lucius and Claudia approach the mount of execution and watch as Jesus is prepared for crucifixion in the presence of his mother. Barabbas asks Judas why Jesus is allowing himself to die in his place [5:11], a question for which Judas has no answer. While the actual nailing of Jesus to the cross is not shown, the camera does record from above a dramatic shot of the cross being elevated. As it falls into its base, we hear a variation of the via crucis motive [5:23] that could easily be mistaken for the “friendship” theme from Ben-Hur. The Christ motive appears [5:44] and underscores Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,” as he looks down at his silent mother, leaning on the arm of the disciple John (the identity of the Beloved Disciple beneath the cross is never disclosed in the fourth gospel). An exchange between the two crucified criminals (Barry Keegan and Luis Prendes) leads to a choral appearance of the King of Kings theme [6:28], accompanying his reply to the criminal on his left (Prendes) who requests Christ’s remembrance of him in the coming kingdom, “I promise you will be with me this day in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is followed immediately by a command to his mother, “Woman, behold your son” (strangely, the corresponding command in John 19:26 to the Beloved Disciple to behold his mother is ignored in the film). As a soldier affixes Pilate’s inscription above Jesus’ head (INRI, rather than the full Latin inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum found in John 19:19), the despondent Judas looks for the last time on the face of Barabbas, and then turns and slowly walks away. Judas’ theme surfaces [7:27] as he picks up a stone, much like that fateful stone that he once had weighed in his hand after his first encounter with Jesus. He looks at it, and then with a final glance back at the face of the crucified “King of the Jews,” he departs with the realization that the stone has no more answers to offer. (The title of this cue is missing from the Rhino track listing, although it was present on Rhino’s earlier Miklós Rózsa at M-G-M 2CD set.)
Last Words of Christ [7:42]
The via dolorosa theme makes a final appearance as Jesus lifts his eyes to the heavens and, seeing the sun obscured by a cloud, prays the opening line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). As if in divine reply, a ray of light breaks through the clouds and traverses the sky (listen for the three orchestral “beams of light,” created by string harmonics, at 8:01, 8:13 and 8:22). Rózsa scores Jesus’ final words—“It is finished!” (John 19:30) and “Father, into your hands I commend my soul” (Luke 23:46)—as a liturgical cantus responsorius, almost in the manner of “Jesu Lord” from Quo Vadis. Jesus’ priestly voice is echoed in the woodwinds [at 8:30 and 8:41]; listen for the congregational response Kyrie, eleison in the double basses [at 8:36 and 8:47]. The Christ motive is restated [8:53] as Jesus bows his head [9:01] and surrenders his spirit (note the final divine “beam of light” at 9:05), as the wind suddenly picks up (mirroring the yielding of Christ’s spirit/breath) and an unnatural darkness descends on Golgotha.
13. Golgotha
Lucius, seeing all that has taken place, is gripped with a sudden terror. Sinking to his knees and exchanging a fearful glance with the tearful Claudia, he vocalizes his sudden conviction concerning Jesus that “He is truly the Christ!” Inspired by Matthew 27:51 (“the earth quaked; the rocks were split”) Rózsa supplements the claps of thunder with deep, full-throated brass chords that seem to rise up from the bowels of the earth (answered by the Christ motive in the bassoons)—music that could well have been written for Mysterious Island, scored by Bernard Herrmann the same year. A similar treatment is given Judas’ theme [at 0:35, heard for the final time] for the subsequent scene in which Barabbas, passing through Gethsemane, is shocked to find Judas hanging from a tree. The limb from which Judas is suspended snaps, and Judas falls to the ground, his head twisted by the rope that he had tied around his own neck.
The Pietà [0:46]
Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathaea (Félix de Pomés) in climbing the cross and removing the body of Jesus, as John below receives the body wrapped in linen cloths. The music for this scene is based on the second phrase of the King of Kings theme (in a minor key), and it segues into the Virgin Mary’s theme [1:33], expressing her silent grief and unshakable faith, as the limp body of her son is laid at her feet.
The Sepulcher [2:06]
Joseph and Nicodemus, accompanied by Mary, John and Mary Magdalene, carry Jesus in a somber final procession to the sepulcher. The music for the descent from the cross returns as Joseph, Nicodemus and John lay the body in a fresh tomb. The Christ motive is heard briefly [2:47] when John leaves the sepulcher and rejoins Mary, leading to the final appearance of the mother’s theme [2:55] as the two depart together. Nicodemus and Joseph exit the sepulcher, followed by Mary Magdalene, whom we see from inside the dark tomb as a large stone is rolled across its entrance.
Resurrection [3:28]
It is the morning after the Passover Sabbath, and Mary Magdalene awakens from her vigil outside the tomb, when suddenly [3:48] she notices that the great stone has been rolled away and that the tomb is open. Accompanied by a resplendent theme based on the second phrase of the Disciples theme (thereby musically confirming her historical pre-eminence among Jesus’ disciples as the first to witness the empty tomb and the risen Christ), she enters the sepulcher and sees only the white linen cloths. The reprise of this theme, accompanied by a joyful peal of bells and chimes, is edited from the film. In its place, at 4:04, the music jumps back to the 1:17 mark of “The Lord’s Prayer” (track 1, but without the choral overlay), to accompany a scene from John 20:11–18: Mary Magdalene runs from the tomb toward a man she does not recognize and pleads with him to tell her where “they have taken my Lord.” As the man turns and calls her by name, she suddenly recognizes him and calls out, “Master!” Jesus warns her not to cling to him, for he is ascending to his Father. Mark 16:7 is inserted into the dialogue, as Jesus commands her to go and tell his disciples that he is going before them to Galilee, where they will see him. As Jesus turns to leave, the music from track 1 first jumps from 2:22 back to the first 0:09 of the same track, and then returns to 2:23, this time with the choral track reinstated for Mary Magdalene’s declaration of faith: “He has risen!” As track 1 ends, the music in the film rejoins track 13 at 4:19, and we hear the Disciples theme one last time as the disciples quietly gather at dawn by the Sea of Galilee as instructed, spreading out their fishing nets on the shore. They look up [4:42] and see the risen Christ (the audience sees only his shadow) and the King of Kings theme appears with a soft choral harmony as Jesus asks, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep” (directed specifically at Peter in John 21:15–17), which leads to a final commission (from Matthew 28:18–20) to preach the gospel to all nations, “for I am with you always, even until the end of the world.” At this point, the choir resumes the theme’s ecstatic Hosannas [5:06], and the disciples leave their nets and depart into the world—all but Peter, who pauses for a moment to look up at Jesus and collect his courage, and then he too departs. As the King of Kings theme returns in all its glory [5:36], the shadow of Christ advances toward the shoreline and forms a symbolic cross with the disciples’ abandoned nets. In order to accommodate an extended appearance of the end title card, Rózsa’s ecstatic coda [6:02–6:14] is delayed by the re-insertion of a second reprise of the first two phrases of the King of Kings theme [5:36–5:47].
This is the way the music is heard in the film and on the previous Sony CD, but this new Rhino CD set presents Rózsa’s Resurrection music exactly as he had recorded it. Why did a music editor make these particular insertions at 4:04 and 6:02? Because Rózsa scored his music to an earlier version of the film, before the final Galilee scene was added, long after the original shooting had been completed and the principal actors had left the production. Of the original actors only Royal Dano’s Peter appears in the final appended scene, shot on the shore of California’s Salton Sea. In the original ending to the film, the excised reprise of the opening theme with its chimes and bells [4:09–4:18] is heard as Mary Magdalene runs out of the tomb, and music settles into the Disciples theme [4:19] when she spots and runs toward a stranger. He turns and addresses her by name, and she recognizes him and cries out “Master!” at which point a gentle chorus enters [4:42] and the King of Kings theme reveals that the stranger is Jesus. Jesus instructs her to tell the disciples that “I go before them into Galilee; there shall they see me,” and as he turns to leave, the chorus surges to full peroration with a jubilant peal of Hosannas [5:06]. The final shot of Mary Magdalene’s proclamation “He has risen!” dissolves into the end title card, the arrival of which is punctuated by a final recapitulation of the King of Kings theme in full glory [5:36] and leads to the jubilant, ringing coda [6:02] as the end title card fades from the screen. It is well worth playing this CD cue against a muted DVD of the Mary Magdalene scene to hear how well Rózsa’s original scoring of the sequence works.
14. Epilogue
Theatrical roadshow presentations of King of Kings concluded with this musical postlude, played at the completion of the film proper as audience members exited the theater (Rózsa, no doubt, would find its film trade appellation “exit music” pedestrian if not crass). Musically it serves as a liturgical recessional (much like the Christian hymn in the finale to Quo Vadis), a full-dress wordless choral recapitulation of the Lord’s Prayer theme that repeats the form described above in track 1, but ends in a triumphant choral and orchestral blaze. This was the first of three epilogues that Rózsa wrote for successive films in 1961 and 1962 (the others were written for El Cid and Sodom and Gomorrah), but King of Kings was the last score that he wrote under contract to M-G-M. Therefore, this final track in effect functions both as a personal affirmation of Rózsa’s faith and as a musical paean and farewell to a 14-year studio association that produced many of Rózsa’s most powerful and treasured film scores.7 — 

1See W. Barnum Tates. Jesus At The Movies, Santa Rosa, Calif.: Polebridge Press, 1997. Tates argues that the release of the film at the height of the Cold War, with the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, may have made its portrayal of Jesus seem politically out of place.

2The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano noted that even though “we would have preferred greater respect and stricter compliance with the Gospel on Mr. Ray’s part…[and] the divine nature of the Redeemer be emphasized…if these are the limits of King of Kings, we must consider the greater integrity and intent on the part of Nicholas Ray.…To be praised first of all, is the choice for the part of Jesus, Jeffrey Hunter, as physical a Christ as has ever been portrayed…the stupendous pageantry of the Sermon on the Mount, which assumes choral emphasis and dramatic power…we cannot resist the consideration that among so many para-pornographic worthless productions, great resources have been employed in the realization of a “positive” work.…Ray should therefore be acquitted, even if his picture is, we repeat, more valid on the level of form than on that of content.”

3These Yemenite Jews had been in isolation in hostile Muslim lands for much of that time. Idelsohn, who today is generally regarded as the father of Jewish musicology, noted the similarity of their monodic liturgical hymns to that of Gregorian chant, and concluded that the latter may have preserved elements of ancient Jewish Temple music. Idelsohn is considered by many to be responsible for the earliest version of Havah Nagilah; the Hora rhythm, which originated from a Rumanian folkdance, was a later addition.

4Irwin Bazelon, in his book Knowing The Score: Notes On Film Music (London: Arco, 1982) claims to hear heavenly voices here. “In King of Kings, during the desert-walk scene,” he says, “the audience is drenched in the sound of angel voices plus one-half the population of Cincinnatus—a choral rendition of elephantine proportions. Some may call it artistic license, but to me it is just another example of Hollywood exaggeration. The associations with the Holy Land of 2000 years ago are not just recalled but are made to seem part of the musical miracles of the Bible itself.” Perhaps Mr. Bazelon was referring to the recording on the MGM Records vinyl soundtrack album where the composer does add a mixed chorus, but that is totally an aural experience, and Rózsa was drawing on a liturgical use of a choir-with-orchestra that historically dates back to Bach and Handel. It would be interesting to know what Mr. Bazelon thought of Alfred Newman’s choral work on The Greatest Story Ever Told.

5Mormon Tabernacle Choir secretary Julie Rohde has graciously provided me with the following information concerning the re-recording of this cue for Telarc [CD-80631], “The music used by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the Miklós Rózsa recording was sent to us from either producer Robert Woods of Telarc or directly from the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, but in either case, it is an arrangement or reconstruction in manuscript form and not a copy of Mr. Rózsa's original work. Unfortunately, the choral music does not indicate the origin of the Feast of the Passover nor does it give a translation of the text.” The transliterated text, which Ms. Rohde did provide, is as follows:

Sh’zufat shemesh l’chuzat datrusim
m’rodey ho t’noveyv b’taleley re sisim
hoeyl hooneh b’eyt rozon amusim
mogeyn hu l’chol hahosim.

(With thanks to David Charles at The Rózsa Forum.)

6According to much later Jewish tradition, the “hymn” may have been one of the hymns of thanksgiving, the second part of the so-called “Lesser Hallel,” Psalms 115–118, traditionally sung by Jews after the Passover meal, and followed immediately by the recital of “the Great Hallel,” Psalm 136. The final verse of Psalm 118 is precisely the first verse of Psalm 136, noted in Jesus Enters Jerusalem.

7Thanks to Frank DeWald and John Fitzpatrick for their many useful comments during the preparation of these notes.