El Cid (1961) remains one of Miklós Rózsa’s most revered scores, written in the glorious orchestral style he employed on other historical epics like Knights of the Round Table and Ben-Hur. Rózsa’s music for the legend of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar is endlessly thematic: the score’s closely knit ideas are reverent toward the titular hero, fiercely romantic for the love story between The Cid and Lady Chimene, and climactically aggressive for the film’s grand-scale battle sequences. The film downplays religious elements of the story, but Rózsa’s score possesses a sacred quality throughout that appropriately reminds viewers of Rodrigo’s piety and faith in God.
In preparing to write the score, Rózsa visited Madrid to research Spain’s music of the Middle Ages. In his autobiography he wrote, “I spent a month in intense study of the music of the period. I also studied the Spanish folk songs which Perdrell had gone about collecting in the early years of this century. With these two widely differing sources to draw upon, I was ready to compose the music. As always, I attempted to absorb these raw materials and translate them into my own musical language.”
Rózsa’s music was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and one for Original Song for “Love Theme From El Cid (The Falcon and the Dove).” Although Variety’s review labeled the score as “occasionally too self-assertive,” today it is regarded as a film music landmark, at once a singular musical portrait of ancient Spain and a thrilling programmatic accompaniment to one of Hollywood’s greatest epics.
El Cid was a Samuel Bronston production, distributed by Allied Artists. Rózsa was still under contract to M-G-M, so the studio loaned his services to Bronston in exchange for the soundtrack album rights. Rózsa was, after all, their “star” composer, and the albums for Ben-Hur and King of Kings had become signature titles for MGM Records. It was, in fact, due to his work on El Cid that Rózsa was unable to score Mutiny on the Bounty as originally planned, with Bronislau Kaper taking over that assignment for the studio.
The saga of recording the El Cid score (both for film and album) was fraught with unexpected problems. Rózsa traveled to Rome in the late summer of 1961 and spent six days recording the music he had written for the first half of the film, but when he listened to the tapes back in London, he was, in his own words, “thunderstruck. Everything sounded flat, like an old-fashioned pre-electric recording.” A technical flaw in the equipment had rendered the results unusable, and the entire score had to be re-recorded during September and October (with the Sinfonia of London, which had recently recorded Ernest Gold’s score for Exodus). Shortly after the last recording session on October 6, Rózsa wrote to studio music chief Robert Armbruster that the MGM Records album would consist of the original tracks, edited with additional connections and revised endings to be recorded in London over the next 10 days. Plans changed rapidly, however, for a little more than two weeks later Rózsa wrote from Munich to say that he had recorded 30 minutes for the album there and would record another 12 minutes the next day. The ensemble was the Munich Symphony Orchestra, a distinguished concert group founded in 1945 by Kurt Graunke. The composer no doubt appreciated the opportunity this gave him to refashion some of his score for “home listening.” The alterations he made were subtle, mostly consisting of cuts to tighten the structure and occasional changes in the orchestration. Some of the more interesting ones will be noted in the commentary that follows.
The El Cid album was originally released on MGM Records E/SE 3977 with a gatefold cover, with subsequent LP issues by Polydor in the U.K. (2353 046) and MCA Records in the U.S. (25005). EMI Europe released it first on CD (CDP 79 3301-2), followed by Sony in the U.S. (AK 47704) and then Chapter III (CH 37502-2).
The masters for the film recordings disappeared when the physical assets of Bronston’s company passed through several hands and have been deemed irretrievably lost. In recent years, new recordings have been conducted by James Sedares for Koch International (3-7340-2HI) in 1996 and Nic Raine for Tadlow Music (005) in 2008—the latter a 3CD set with the complete score.
This definitive presentation of the MGM Records re-recording has been newly remastered from a 1630 digital tape of the ¼″ two-track stereo album master, adding the LP “outtake” that appeared only on selected editions of the vinyl (see track 4).
- 1. Overture
- A triumphant brass fanfare begins the overture and is subsequently developed into a strategic stepwise theme over driving snare drum accompaniment. This material, suggestive of The Cid’s military prowess, is reprised only once in the body of the score, when Rodrigo and his men journey to collect a tribute from Moorish vassals (the cue for which does not appear on this album). An optimistic B section evokes Spain in its harmony and rhythm. The “Overture” ends with a reprise of the opening fanfare.
- 2. Prelude
- El Cid’s main title sequence showcases stylized charcoal sketches of iconic images from the film, set to the introduction of Rózsa’s primary themes. A darting string line paves the way for Rodrigo’s noble melody, which unfolds over undulating accompaniment. At once tragic and mythic, the main melody reflects Rodrigo’s legendary stature and his selfless desire for peace in his country. The composer sequences the tune upwards, building to the introduction of his aching love theme for Rodrigo (Charlton Heston) and Lady Chimene (Sophia Loren). The modal theme pushes forward with determination but also carries a doomed, romantic sweep appropriate for the outcome of the relationship. Rodrigo’s theme returns to conclude the title sequence, giving way to narration about a divided Spain in 1080 A.D. A delicate, forlorn passage spotlighting English horn and guitar underscores the voiceover telling of Rodrigo’s role in uniting Christians and Moors against the threat of the African Warlord Ben Yussef (Herbert Lom).
- 3. Palace Music
- Count Ordóñez (Raf Vallone) arrives at the palace of King Ferdinand (Ralph Truman) with scandalous news that Rodrigo has spared the lives of a group of Emirs captured in battle. A soothing, compound-meter piece for flute (recorders were used on the film soundtrack) and guitar sets a medieval tone as Chimene eagerly awaits the return of her fiancé, Rodrigo.
- 4. Honor and Sorrow/The Court of Ferdinand
- Chimene’s father, Count Gormaz (Andrew Cruickshank), Champion of Castile, publicly condemns Rodrigo’s father for defending The Cid against charges of treason. Rodrigo requests an apology that will restore his father’s honor; when Gormaz refuses, a duel ensues. Rodrigo kills the Count and Chimene vows to avenge her father’s death, a brooding theme in strings and brass underscoring her sorrow. A fatalistic development of fanfares follows as the scene changes to the court, where the King of Aragon seizes this opportunity and challenges Ferdinand for control of the city of Calahorra. Rodrigo volunteers to fight Don Martin (Christopher Rhodes), the giant of Aragon, in an attempt to clear his own name.
- This track appeared only on some early pressings of the MGM Records LP and later on a British Polydor reissue. Its existence was not mentioned in the liner notes or label of either release and the reason for its exclusion from the MGM disc remains a mystery. It is possible that Rózsa was dissatisfied with the performance of the viola soloist, or there may have been a financial or technical reason for limiting the number of tracks. The track is clearly not the recording used in the film, but its exact source is unknown. No master was available, so the 1993 Cloud Nine Records release, Great Epic Film Scores (CNS 5006)—which included it as “Pride and Sorrow” amid selections from Bronston films El Cid, 55 Days at Peking, The Fall of the Roman Empire and The Magnificent Showman (aka Circus World)—has been used as a source, with pitch-correction to counter deterioration.
- 5. Fight for Calahorra
- Rózsa scores the opening ceremony for the jousting match between Rodrigo and Don Martin with exuberant brass fanfares (the trumpet calls are synched to onscreen performances in the arena) over a propulsive string motor. The music takes an austere turn to address the brewing conflict between Rodrigo and Chimene as she requests that Don Martin wear her colors and avenge her father. El Cid’s prayer for God’s judgment is scored with a brass chorale of liturgical cadences that gives way to a tortured, pedal-dominated string passage for Chimene confessing her wish for Don Martin’s victory to Princess Urraca (Genevieve Page). The cue builds dissonance with a chattering brass fanfare that resolves to signal the start of the match. (The deadly competition is unscored in the film, while the glorious music for Rodrigo’s victory does not appear on this album, with one exception [see track 10].)
- 6. Thirteen Knights
- Ferdinand permits Rodrigo to marry a reluctant and scheming Chimene, but the King’s subsequent death results in a power struggle between his two sons, Sancho (Gary Raymond) and Alfonso (John Fraser). Sancho banishes his younger brother to the dungeon of Zamora, and as a group of knights escorts Alfonso to the prison, the score mounts tension with ornamented string writing over a relentless low-end ostinato. Rózsa boldy layers Rodrigo’s theme on top of the texture as The Cid trails after the knights on horseback (This part of the track actually comes from the cue called “Road to Asturias”). The ensuing fight between Rodrigo and Sancho’s men is marked by an assault of menacing brass and slicing string figures, culminating in an exultant statement of Rodrigo’s theme when he and Alfonso overwhelm the knights. As was his common practice, Rózsa made several cuts to tighten the structure of this fight sequence for “concert” presentation.
- 7. Farewell
- Alfonso consents to the assassination of Sancho, and Rodrigo—aware of the younger brother’s treachery—forces him to swear publicly before God that he was not complicit in the crime. While Rodrigo’s strength of character impresses Chimene, Alfonso is furious and exiles The Cid. “Farewell” is comprised of three separate cues from different junctures in the film: A lonely setting of the main theme (“Banishment”) follows Rodrigo across a barren landscape, underlining his innate nobility when he stops to give water to a leper. The second cue (“The Barn,” beginning at 2:18) appears after Chimene joins Rodrigo in his banishment. The couple takes refuge overnight in a barn, and as their love is rekindled, the score unfolds with a series of impassioned statements of their theme voiced on solo violin; the melody is eventually transformed into a new line and set against a lush string iteration of the theme itself. Rózsa extended this passage for the album to provide a link to the third cue (“Farewell,” 5:07), which offers a full-blooded rendition of the love theme for Rodrigo leaving Chimene at a convent. A Spanish rallying melody, the basis for “The El Cid March,” builds excitement as The Cid rides off with an army of loyal Christians and Muslims. Rózsa develops the march out of the love theme, as Rodrigo’s love for Chimene is what had originally led him to believe in the possibility of befriending the Spanish Moors.
- 8. Intermezzo: The El Cid March
- The fanfare from the “Overture” returns during the intermission to introduce “The El Cid March,” now dressed with brass fanfares and imitative counterpoint. A strident rendition of Rodrigo’s theme follows over a trudging accompaniment, gaining momentum until the march theme returns and climaxes with exclamatory call-and-response brass chords and stabbing punctuation.
- 9. The Twins
- After several years of traveling throughout Southern Spain and defending his country from Moorish invaders, Rodrigo returns to the convent to visit Chimene and meet their twin daughters. A bittersweet oboe and guitar passage creates gentle awe for the children when Rodrigo first sees them. The love theme underscores his impassioned, speechless reunion with Chimene, before the twins’ theme returns as their mother introduces them to their father.
- 10. Battle of Valencia
- Despite the protests of the stubborn King Alfonso, Rodrigo takes it upon himself to liberate the city of Valencia from its Moorish ruler, Al Kadir (Frank Thring). “Battle of Valencia” combines three separate cues. The first piece (“Battle Preparations”) centers on a lumbering brass theme as Rodrigo’s army moves siege towers toward the captive city. After The Cid convinces the people of Valencia to overthrow Al Kadir, Rodrigo sends the fallen ruler’s crown to Alfonso, finally regaining the loyalty of Ferdinand’s son.
- The second cue (“For God and Spain” 1:18) features a furious, accelerated rendition of the love theme for Rodrigo and his army charging on horseback down the beach to engage Ben Yussef’s invading forces. This material is answered by a snarling Arabian theme for Yussef, and Rodrigo’s own melody is thrown into the fray at the beginning of the third cue (“Battle, Parts 1–3” 2:29), with the separate ideas competing as the armies collide. When The Cid is pierced by an arrow, his theme cries out defiantly; he and his men retreat back to the city, where a solemn rendition of Rodrigo’s victory theme (its only appearance on this album), implies the severity of his injury. Rodrigo resolves to meet the Moors in battle the next morning, and the cue dissipates with a quietly troubled setting of the love theme, which Rózsa composed specifically for the album in order to make a smooth musical transition into The Cid’s death scene.
- 11. The Cid’s Death
- Alfonso arrives at Valencia to aid in the fight against the Moors. A rising string line musters strength as the mortally wounded Rodrigo addresses his king from his bed; The Cid is moved to see that Alfonso has redeemed himself, finally living up to his title as king. Fateful string writing suggests both Rodrigo’s theme and the love theme during The Cid’s final words. He asks that Chimene honor her promise to see him lead the charge against the Moors dead or alive, as his army will not have the resolve to fight without him. When she agrees, he slips away—and the love theme along with him.
- 12. The Legend and Epilogue
- As promised, Rodrigo is propped up onto his horse and—unbeknownst to most of his followers—El Cid’s corpse leads the final battle against Ben Yussef. A searing arrangement of Rodrigo’s theme is performed on pipe organ (the same instrument used to represent Christ in Rózsa’s Ben-Hur), both mourning and celebrating the warrior as he rides out of the city. The invaders cower and dive from his path and the score explodes into a ferocious reading of Ben Yussef’s theme as Rodrigo’s men plow through the enemy’s ranks. Once Yussef is trampled to death by horses, the main theme asserts itself and follows with a series of rising skeletal developments of the melody; Rodrigo’s army drives the Moors into the sea, to the triumphant accompaniment of “The El Cid March.” From the walls of the city, Chimene and the twins watch as Rodrigo continues down the shoreline and into legend. A majestic version of the main theme closes the picture (the film version of this material features a mixed choir as well as the pipe organ). The exit music reprises the love theme in all its glory (again, the film version features a chorus singing English text by Paul Francis Webster). —
From the original MGM Records LP
“El Cid” by Harold Lamb
No One, Ever, Was Quite Like Him.
He came out of the provinces beneath the Pyrenees nine hundred years ago to become the invincible champion of his people—it is said that “no foe prevailed against him.” Spain, the nation he helped to create, made him its hero. Europe wove his story into a deathless legend. Only in the last few years has history made clear the life of this man, Rodrigo de Bivar.
The Times of El Cid Campeador
His enemies named him El Cid, which means The Lord—from the Arabic el seid—and they added Campeador, which means victor of the battlefield. So, in the opinion of his foes, he was at the same time a merciful lord and a ruthless fighter. One of them, a Moor, stated: “This man, the scourge of our time, was by his clear-eyed force, the strength of spirit and heroism, a miracle of the miracles of the Almighty.”
It was a merciless age. In the land that would be Spain, successive waves of Moslems had thrown the small Christian kingdoms, Leon, Castile, Navarre, Aragon, and others, back against the barrier of the Pyrenees. The land itself was drained by petty conflicts wherein Moslems and Christians alike formed kaleidoscopic patterns of alliances and enmities.
Here, the Cid fought his battle, alone. In his youth, he had an odd vision. It seemed to him as if the bloody welter of peoples around him could be brought together in tolerance. And, if so, a great nation could be shaped around them. Perhaps ruled by a single Christian king. Unlike Jeanne d’Arc of a later day, Rodrigo knew no name for his nation, nor identity for his King.
Life Story of a World Hero
Like a prophet without honor in his own country, El Cid found himself alone in his convictions. Sparing the lives of some captive Moors, he was branded a traitor. Desperate to remove the stigma from his name, he defeated the champion of a rival kingdom in mortal combat and was hailed Campeador. Still, as champion in arms, persisting in his fight for mutual tolerance, he faced the enmity of his own peers and the hatred of his beloved Lady Chimene.
The malignant envy of his king, Alfonso of Castile, exiled Rodrigo to wander between castles and battlefields of hostile lands. There, Lady Chimene, joining him at last, had to be sent from his outcast army. So misfortune came with each attempt of the Cid to follow out his vision. And, exiled from each other, the love of the Cid and Chimene sustained them with the hope of finding somewhere a place of their own, and each other.
Their love story has become a legend.
Testimony of a Song
History tells us that the Cid’s dream was realized not long after his death, when the great Christian state of Spain began to form around Toledo with Moorish provinces to the south. While the crusades ebbed and flowed in battle upon the coast of Palestine, Spain, protected now from invasion, became a junction between the arts of the cultured Arabs and the seeking of a Europe emerging from monasticism to embark upon discovery.
Almost at once, strange voices gave their testimony to the man, now called a hero, who had held his shield before the people of Spain. The cantares sang of him that when the ban of the king was laid upon those aiding him, a girl of nine years appeared to guide him on his way; when he hungered, a feast was laid in a cottage home. The songs found a name for his horse, surely a white stallion—Babieca—and for his swords—Tizona and Colada. One was surely a Moslem blade and the other Christian! The songs echoed words of his: “Look ye, all, at the bloodied sword, the sweating steed—in this manner are the Moors overcome in the field of battle!”
Out of the songs rose the Poema del Mio Cid, the Poem of My Cid. To lords of manors and cottages alike, he had become My Cid. Like the Song of Roland, it passed national boundaries. Christian Europe knew him as the warrior who would not accept defeat. As happened upon the morning when the knights at his side were stricken by the sight of the invading Almoravides, their foes, and the Cid said to them, “Do not fear! This is a glorious day.” And at the coming of death, he said to them with hope, “Let us go among the people who endure forever.”
The Poema is legend, but it reveals to us the truth, so long obscured by misreading of history, of the vision of the Cid that came to fulfillment only after, and by, his death. The Poema, echoing a thousand voices, had made certain that the story of the Cid will endure forever.
Samuel Bronston was the first producer to believe that the stirring human story of the Cid could be filmed. There was no precedent for it, and likewise no understanding on the part of audiences throughout the world of what was being attempted. Bronston, however, had faith that those audiences could be drawn into the world of the Cid, made real. Anthony Mann, director of the great enterprise, was already an eager convert. The story had a way of making converts, perhaps because nothing quite like it had been attempted before. Robert Krasker’s restless cameras that had revealed the pageantry in Henry V and the lovers in Romeo and Juliet brought out the lovers and the human conflict in El Cid against the backdrop of the armed conflict.
To me, after seeing the scenes available in Madrid, the people, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren and all the others, come alive in their old world setting. Watching them, you are drawn to them and you feel for them.
Perhaps because there is nothing familiar in it, this picture gripped me as no other had done.
The Country Was the Stage
Castles in Spain, knights with banners—all become real in the scenes of El Cid, leading to the unthinkable climax.
Spain itself contributed to this last appearance of its hero. The bright sun of Spain still sheds a medieval after-glow. Castle backgrounds of El Cid are actual survivors of his time, although one cathedral had to be rebuilt. Villagers, still in medieval homes, it seems, found it quite simple to look and behave like their far-off ancestors. So a cavalry charge in El Cid looks lifelike, because some seventeen hundred members of the Spanish army did the riding. The black invasion fleet from Africa sails in to the Valencia shore with purpose because it is made up from a fishing fleet of that shore. The skill of the art directors, John Moore and Veniero Colasanti, brought out every vista.
Ranging as they did from coast to coast in the shooting, the makers of El Cid have searched out all vestiges of his wanderings. Sight of a roadside shrine, sound of a vespers bell. Swords of the knights were forged in a Toledo foundry; banners and penchants were embroidered in the old patterns by skilled hands of country-women. This reality of object adds to the sense that the whole is real, and that you have been drawn into another age where anything may happen.
The Other Age
In the eleventh century, a belted knight was no mere fighting machine; he acted also as judge, and protector, or despoiler, of others, as his inclination might be. A country had no vast bureaucracy to govern it; one man, the king, did what he could, with any vassals he could get to help. The Spanish Campeador accepted responsibility for all who joined him—“to be given their bread”—and the burden of defending wounded Spain against the invasion from Africa, while he tried to guide the king who persecuted him.
The Cid took no thought for personal revenge. His victories with the two-handed sword meant nothing unless they brought his vision nearer.
“But If I Act With Pride—”
So many others looked to the Cid for help that he was forced to act as their ruler, without title. In the deepening crises, his decisions became, as it were, command decisions. People cried out their need of a champion, a just judge, and leader. At Valencia, the Cid was offered the crown of the kingdom. He refused it.
He was a man who followed his conviction without compromise. He endured defeat, but would not accept defeat. He endured the scorn of the nobility of Castile, exile, persecution, and in the end death. He endured in this manner because he had a blind faith that God would strengthen his hand if he did the right thing.
The Cid was thought to be outcast because he spoke the Arab speech and held to Islamic law as well as Christian. But no man was more devout in his Christian faith. When he rode into the hazard of life in the great tournament, he believed that God and not his sword would decide the matter for him.
So when he had won the key city of Valencia by guile more than force, he explained: “If I act lawfully, God will leave me Valencia; but if I act with pride and injustice, I know He will take the city away from me.”
We live today in an age that avoids personal responsibility. What happens to us we blame on others. In the popular skepticism, our theatre and literature seek reality in the cult of the defeated. Unconsciously, in our malaise of mind, we may be drifting back to the archaic Greek concept that man is powerless before Fate—or superior force.
Nine hundred years ago the Cid dedicated himself to responsibility for all others around him, for his country, and king.
This is no drama of a bygone age. It challenges our own time in its dedication of a man to a selfless task. Through the magic of the screen, in light and sound, the vision of the Cid touches us today. —Harold Lamb
Harold Lamb is a familiar figure the world over as a historian, writer and reconstructor of the ancient and medieval past. His fifteen books include Hannibal, Cyrus the Great, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne and The Crusades.
Choosing a composer to prepare a score for El Cid was the simplest of tasks. My first and only thought was of Miklós Rózsa. His superb music for such films as King of Kings and Ben-Hur assured him superiority in Roman Empire music. Did I dare offer him something some eleven centuries later? I made the offer and Dr. Rózsa accepted eagerly after viewing the first rushes. He seemed to be swept up in the pageantry and the drama of the times. He wrote much of the music on location with us in Spain, probably the first time a composer has done this, and he did all of the research on music and instruments of the period himself. I honestly believe no other composer could have brought to the sound track of El Cid music of such scope and grandeur, such drama and beauty. Academy Award-winning Dr. Rózsa has written a score that is as much a part of El Cid as the castles and battles and bloody earth of Spain. —Samuel Bronston