Archive for March, 2011

Soundtrack Collection: The Egyptian to Enchanted

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

The Egyptian

The Egyptian (Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, 1954): The Egyptian is one of the most important scores of its era.  The score was a collaboration between two of the true giants of Golden Age film scoring, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, working together on a large-scale historical epic.  The score was a true collaboration with each composer composing key segments of the score, but with shared themes and effective blending of both composers’ styles.

While a few re-recordings were available, the original recordings were long thought to be destroyed, until Film Score Monthly obtained access to preserved stereo tapes in 2001, allowing them to release a 72 minute limited edition CD (still available) containing all the surviving portion of the score.  It isn’t complete, but it is does cover the most important portions of the score.

As you would expect, this is a true epic score with dynamic action music, intimate romantic themes, and pretty much everything in-between.  The score features a full orchestra and chorus, giving it a fittingly large scale.  For the most part, the composers tend to handle the parts of the score that are most appropriate to their styles.  Herrmann was often most comfortable with darker, more brooding music and that is on display here in cues such as “The House of the Dead/The Burial”.  His talent for thrilling, fast paced action scoring is present as well, particularly in the exciting “The Chariot Ride/Pursuit” and the frantically stark cue “The Homecoming”.

Newman’s contribution tends to focus more on the romantic side as well as the score’s sense of nobility.  While Herrmann’s segments often tended to emphasize brass and percussion, Newman’s is dominated by lush strings and gentle woodwinds.  This aspect of the score is particularly well represented in the lengthy (7 minutes plus) cue “Valley of the Kings”.  Newman’s portion of the scoring also tends to be the strongest contributor to giving the score a distinctively middle-eastern flavor.  Newman also provides a religious hymn (with Biblical lyrics) that is presented first in “Hymn to Aton” and later reprised in “Death of Merit”.

While the above comments almost sound like two separate scores, the two portions actually blend very well.  There is a fair amount of thematic overlap and there are quite a few places where music by one composer is designed to flow right into music by the other.  On the soundtrack CD, quite a few cues contain portions by both composers.  Even in most single-composer scores, there can be a fair amount of variation in style based on what is needed for individual scenes.  This is simply a prime example of two top composers splitting up the film in such a way that each is able to contribute to the parts that are the best fit to his style.

Eight Below

Eight Below (Mark Isham, 2006): Mark Isham’s score to Eight Below was one of the early cases of Disney’s recent trend toward download-only releases on soundtracks that are primarily score.  This title was released exclusively to iTunes and it continues to be only available from that service.  Unfortunately, this does mean that the music is only available in iTunes’ compressed AAC format and not as a lossless recording.  Unfortunately, this pretty good adventure score is marred somewhat by the less than stellar sound quality.

The album opens with an overture that provides a pretty good overview of the key themes.  The most prominent theme is a fairly simple, brassy fanfare.  It is effective, although its relatively spare use in the score is something of a surprise.  Isham tends to pull out the theme as sort of a periodic crescendo, while often tending towards more subtle scoring during much of the rest of the running time.

The score is largely orchestral with a definite emphasis on brass and percussion.  Guitar is also featured during many parts of the score, giving it a bit more of a contemporary sound without moving it substantially towards a modern rock/pop sound.  The main guitar riff becomes a key secondary theme for the score, particularly playing up the more playful aspects of the score.  The score’s more sensitive side is played up with solo piano melodies in a few cues, most notably “Southern Lights”.

Eloise at the Plaza

Eloise at the Plaza/Eloise at Christmastime (Bruce Broughton, 2003): In 2003, ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” series aired two made-for-TV movies, starring Julie Andrews,  based on the popular “Eloise” series of children’s books by Kay Thompson.  Both films were scored by Bruce Broughton and Intrada released a 1,200 copy limited edition (now out of print) 2-CD set, with one disc dedicated to each of the two scores.

Broughton establishes a charming and memorable main theme, which primarily features a solo saxophone.  It has a bit of an old-fashioned, Gershwin-inspired Americana style to it, which is a good fit for Broughton’s own sensibilities as well.  The theme debuts during the “Main Title/The Plaza” cue that opens the Eloise at the Plaza score and appears regularly throughout both of the scores, serving as a strong connecting tissue for a fairly wide variety of thematic material.  The rest of the musical material ranges from the charmingly manic to touchingly sensitive.  The latter is especially well represented by a gentle piano theme that serves as a core of the score’s more emotional components.

The score to Eloise at the Plaza tends to build on the style established in the main theme, maintaining a generally jazzy tone through much of the music.  Solo saxophone is used in quite a few variations that riff on the main theme.  Piano also tends to stand-out quite a bit, including some very dynamic playing in cues such as “Breaking the Boredom” and “Eloise’s Stuff”.  On the latter, there is some impressive violin counterpoint, an example of some interesting strings that also pop up periodically.  The result is a kind of upscale sophistication that reflects the film’s setting.

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