Knights of the Round Table

Knights of the Round Table (1953) was M-G-M’s first CinemaScope production, starring Robert Taylor, Mel Ferrer and Ava Gardner in an epic telling of the legend of King Arthur and the love between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. The film was rushed to theaters in order to take advantage of the novelty of the widescreen format, which resulted in the score being recorded twice: once in Culver City with Hollywood musicians (as used in the film and released on FSM Vol. 6, No. 7) and again in London (as released on LP and CD by Varèse Sarabande in the early 1980s).

The reason behind having two recordings was explained by Miklós Rózsa in a 1982 interview with David and Richard Kraft, published in Soundtrack! magazine (as transcribed and edited by Daniel Mangodt). Rózsa had scored the earlier M-G-M success Ivanhoe and was recruited to perform the same duty on Knights of the Round Table:

That score just happened. It had to be re-recorded in England. It was an English film and an English orchestra had to record it. The studio wanted to release the picture as soon as possible, because it was the second CinemaScope film, and there’s a lot of music. Knights had to be in the cinema by Christmas, and it was October when an executive at M-G-M called me. I said I just couldn’t write that much music in such a short period of time. The executive said, “You can do it. You are a genius.” I replied that even two geniuses couldn’t do it. “For me you’d do it,” he said. So I replied, “For you I do it.” At the same time, I couldn’t record the music, because I still had to compose. So they brought in John Green, the head of the music department at M-G-M. He conducted the first half of the score and I listened to it through the telephone, and went on writing. Anyway, the film was in the cinema by Christmas.

However, the orchestra was an American orchestra, the musicians had to be repaid, which is an enormous cost. Because it was an English picture, the actors had to be English, with few exceptions—the stars could be American—the composer had to be English, and if he wasn’t then the musicians had to be. They re-recorded the whole thing with Muir Mathieson conducting.

No dates are available for the British recording sessions but they likely took place shortly after the U.S. recording was made. When Varèse Sarabande licensed the score for release on LP in 1980 (STV 81128)—issued on CD in 1983 with a bonus piano suite from Lydia (VCD 47269)—they would have had to pay high “re-use” fees to use the U.S. recording, but the British recording had no such costs.

FSM’s earlier release of Knights of the Round Table (a 2CD set also including Rózsa’s score for The King’s Thief) represented the premiere release of the U.S. recording, but the U.K. recording was also found on the master tapes. The occasion of this box set presents a perfect opportunity to release an expanded edition of this performance under the baton of Muir Mathieson, significantly expanded from the 40:27 program released by Varèse (which was sequenced as two tracks on their CD, representing sides one and two of the vinyl).

Disc Eight

Please refer to the booklet accompanying FSM’s original Knights of the Round Table release for comprehensive liner notes on the production as well as track-by-track commentary by Jeff Eldridge. The tracks represented on the British recording generally correspond to the tracks of the U.S. performance, although the grouping of some of the cues is different (per the recording plan) and, notably, early versions of cues (which can be heard on the FSM CD of the U.S. score) were not re-recorded. The British recording is largely in stereo but a few cues surviving only in monaural sound have been given a stereo reverb here for a more consistent listening experience. Also, per the recording plan, a few pieces of source music are integrated into the British program, whereas the earlier FSM release relegates them to a bonus section.

Disc Thirteen

21. Defiance/Guinevere/Good Knight/Farewell/Sanctus/Cortege/Alleluia/Queen’s Champion
An additional selection from Knights of the Round Table—this one from the U.S. recording used in the film itself—is found near the end of disc 13. This music was previously released on FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 7, but that presentation separated the source cues (“Sanctus” and “Alleluia”) from the score selections for editorial reasons. Some listeners responded that the cues are best heard together, in sequence, so disc 13, track 21 presents an assembly per that suggestion. (If programming this selection within the presentation of the complete Knights of the Round Table U.S. recording on FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 7, use this new track to replace disc 1, tracks 8 and 9.) —