The Film Score (Part Two)

Disc II

1. Fertility Dance
Arrius hosts an elaborate party at which he announces his adoption of Judah—who has in the interim distinguished himself as a chariot driver in the Roman circus—as his son and heir. While the guests watch, an African dance troupe stages a wild performance with frenetic, syncopated rhythms. Rózsa mimics a primitive “orchestra” with an ensemble of four flutes, two marimbas, three harps, piano, jingles, shakers and drums. The written score runs considerably longer than the cue as heard in the film, with a B section not recorded for the film (but which did appear on the “More Music from Ben-Hur” album—disc V, track 8).
2. Arrius’ Party
A small onscreen ensemble of Roman instruments (various winds, lyres and percussion) plays background music during the party. As in the previous cue, three harps form the harmonic background (reinforced by clarinet, celli, bass and bassoons) but here the wind color is more varied and complex. Flutes and oboes carry the melody in the A section, and a contrapuntal duet of oboe (doubled by flute) and English horn constitutes the B section (the opening phrase of which echoes a similar composition from Quo Vadis—“The Women’s Quarters of Nero”).
3. Nostalgia (0:00–0:32)
Away from the party, a pensive Judah gazes at the night sky. A warm development of his theme in muted strings leads to a fragment of the love theme, suggesting that his thoughts are of Esther. (That the first half of this cue is not in this film is almost certainly due to deleted footage. The score bears the notation “looks at left hand,” at the point where the love theme begins, most likely referring to Esther’s slave ring, which Judah wears as a pledge of his love.)
Farewell to Rome (0:32–2:10)
Arrius joins Judah and encourages him (unsuccessfully) to delay his return to Judea to find his mother and sister. The timbre of muted strings (punctuated by harp) continues to create a subdued and somber mood while Rózsa introduces a poignant new theme for celli. It opens with an expressive ascending major seventh, harmonized with warm, extended tertian harmonies. The music—masculine but tender—evokes Arrius’ love for his adopted son and his sympathy for Judah’s pain. The cue ends with a solo cello line and a subtle reference to the “Anno Domini” theme.
4. A Barren Coast (outtake)
Rózsa composed this exquisite development of “Anno Domini”—sustained tremolo violins, melody in horn and English horn (violas added to the second statement)—for a deleted scene in which Judah speaks to a stranger aboard the vessel carrying him to Judea.
5. Judea (0:00–0:24)
An impassioned statement of the Judea theme accompanies a shot of Judah, dressed in Arab robes, aboard the ship looking at his homeland. When, on the third phrase, the scene changes to him riding a camel into an oasis, the melody shifts to English horn. A tom-tom rhythm provides a subtle suggestion of exotic color.
Balthazar (0:24–2:25)
In a cue composed after the previews (in response to altered footage), Rózsa touches on four of the score’s principal themes. He segues easily from one to the other with both musical and dramatic logic. The “Star of Bethlehem” theme (disc I, track 3) accompanies shots of Balthazar, returned to Judea to find the infant whose birth he witnessed so many years before. Judah’s theme follows (in the warm, hopeful setting heard after his encounter with Christ in the desert—see disc I, track 22) as Judah lies on the ground and pours water over his face. The love theme appears briefly when Judah looks at the slave ring on his finger, but the cue segues to Balthazar’s theme as the old Alexandrian approaches. When he asks Judah if he is from Nazareth, the Christ theme underlines his hope that the young stranger might be the man he seeks.
6. Balthazar’s World
Balthazar introduces Judah to the colorful Sheik Ilderim (Hugh Griffith), a trainer of horses who encourages Judah to challenge the Roman tribune Messala in the circus at Jerusalem. Thoughts of vengeance give rise to the ominous reappearance of Messala’s theme, followed by Balthazar’s theme when the old man suggests to Judah that there is a better way to deal with his hate. Two phrases of the latter bookend the Christ theme as Balthazar describes the power of the man for whom he searches.
7. Homecoming
A low, fanfare-like variant of Judah’s theme sounds as he leaves the sheik’s tent. It leads to a full-throated statement of the Judea theme, which accompanies Judah’s walk through the crowded city of Jerusalem. A beautiful, near-impressionistic passage with solo woodwinds (oboe, flutes and, finally, clarinets) revisits the theme from “The House of Hur” (disc I, track 9), marking his arrival in the desolate courtyard of his home. The Judea theme returns when he touches (and ultimately leans his cheek against) the mezuzah on the door frame.
8. Memories (0:00–2:44)
Judah greets Esther, who has been staying at the house and caring for her father after his torture by the Romans. While Judah and Esther converse against the same background of latticed windows (now symbolically askew) that stood behind their meeting earlier in the film, the love theme returns in essentially the same arrangement—alto flute and harp, followed by subdued strings. The music builds to a climax as their feelings of mutual attraction blossom into a passionate kiss. The cue subsides beneath a tranquil violin solo that speaks eloquently of their quietly expressed but assuredly felt love.
Hatred (2:45–4:22)
Esther, fearing that Judah’s hatred and lust for revenge will destroy him, tells him about a young rabbi who preaches forgiveness. A smoldering passage for low strings develops the love theme’s prominent sixteenth-note figure until a hushed statement of the Christ theme intervenes. The shimmering respite is brief, however, and dour strings punctuated by low brass conclude the cue.
9. Lepers
Judah confronts Messala and demands to know the whereabouts of his mother and sister. Messala sends Drusus (Terence Longden) to the citadel to learn their fate. When the jailer, to his horror, opens their cell and discovers they are lepers, a dissonant sting (reinforced by the stroke of a gong), punctuates the appearance of a new motive. Thundering out from low strings and brass, the tritone-based theme will serve as a leitmotiv for lepers throughout the rest of the film. (Rózsa also composed a cue, “The Dungeon,” meant to precede and overlap with this one, but never recorded it.)
10. Return (0:00–2:51)
Miriam and Tirzah, released by the Romans, make their way home, where Esther discovers them hiding in the courtyard. A menacing statement of the leper theme leads to a mournful development—primarily for strings—of its opening triplet figure (0:18–0:46), which does not appear in the finished film. There follows a heartbreaking passage that develops Miriam’s theme in a duet for English horn (later cellos) and oboe as she asks about Judah. When she learns he is alive and searching for her and Tirzah, she begs Esther not to inform him of their fate. When Judah appears (oblivious to the presence of his mother and sister), low violins play his theme against a nervous, tremolando ostinato in low strings. With a sudden but subtle touch, Rózsa refocuses the music’s character by ending the tremolando and moving the theme to solo clarinet as Esther assures Miriam that her son has not changed.
Promise (2:51–5:21)
Solo cello begins the love theme (with clarinet counterpoint) when Miriam observes, “You love him, Esther.” She extracts a promise from Esther that she will never reveal to Judah that she and Tirzah are still alive. Rózsa develops a subdued and unsettled melodic idea over several measures until Miriam’s theme returns in a rich but sorrowful setting as the lepers walk away and the camera focuses on Esther’s heartbreak. A coda with warm triadic harmony in lower strings and horns brings the cue to a resigned but tranquil close.
11. Sorrow and Intermission
Esther keeps her promise and tells Judah that his mother and sister are dead. A string line that rises only to fall back on itself leads to a passionate statement of the Judea theme as he absorbs the news. Sobbing, he buries his head in his arms, but when he looks up, a forceful statement of Messala’s theme reveals his unspoken thoughts of revenge. This builds as he strides purposefully across the leaf-strewn, windswept courtyard, climaxing when the “Intermission” card appears.
12. Entr’Acte
The film version of the entr’acte is an abridgment of the overture, cutting from the end of the love theme to a reprise of “Anno Domini.” Rózsa’s original conception was quite different (see disc IV, track 27). The reason for its replacement is unclear—perhaps the filmmakers wished to bring a sense of symmetry to the two halves of the picture.
13. Panem et Circenses (version I)
Sheik Ilderim arranges for Judah to run against Messala in the chariot race at Jerusalem. To set the scene for the great event, Rózsa repurposes a piece (“Galba’s March”) he had composed for Quo Vadis. This cue was among the marches recorded in Rome, but for some unknown reason Rózsa recorded it again in Culver City, cutting 15 measures (out of 64). Although it appears three times in the film, each occurrence features a different edit of the material. The first two occasions derive from the Culver City session (this track presents the complete M-G-M studio recording).
14. Circus Fanfares Nos. 1–4
Rózsa also composed and recorded in Rome a series of 10 fanfares for the chariot race sequence, only two of which appeared in the film. Subsequently, the composer created a new set, recorded in Culver City:

1. They Are Ready (0:00–0:05) As Sheik Ilderim encourages Judah to race for the honor and glory of both Jews and Arabs, a brief fanfare (trumpets, horns and trombones in octaves) sounds in the arena.

2. Signal for Chariots (0:06–0:17) A longer fanfare, richly harmonized, sounds as the charioteers, with their teams of eager horses, prepare for the race.

3. Entrance of the M.O.C. (0:18–0:28) Another full-throated fanfare, harmonized in parallel major triads, accompanies the master of the chariots as he takes his place in front of the charioteers.

4. Exit of the M.O.C. (0:29–0:48) Exclusively major harmonies again hold sway as the master leads the chariots into the arena. A bit of canonic imitation adds musical sophistication to this otherwise straightforward fanfare.

15. Panem et Circenses (version II)
A slightly shortened version of the opening march (derived from the Culver City recording) plays as magnificent long shots reveal the scope and size of the arena for the first time.
16. New Fanfare for Circus Parade
A panoply of onscreen trumpets (actually four horns, three trombones and three trumpets) sounds from both sides of the arena as Pontius Pilate (Frank Thring), the Roman governor, enters the stands. (This Culver City fanfare replaced a similar but differently orchestrated cue recorded in Rome.)
Circus Parade (Parade of the Charioteers)
One of Rózsa’s most popular compositions (frequently programmed on film music concerts around the globe) accompanies the M.O.C. as he leads chariots around the track. For the opening section of this traditional (ABA) march form, Rózsa transforms Messala’s motive from an ominous minor-mode threat to an assertive theme of triumph in A major. An abrupt change of key to C major signals the introduction of Judah’s theme for the contrasting middle section. Although Messala’s theme returns to round out the form, Judah’s motive has the last musical word in a victorious coda. The “They Are Ready” fanfare and the “New Fanfare for Circus Parade” contribute additional important musical material throughout the cue. (The film version—see disc IV, track 17—heavily edited Rózsa’s complete Rome recording.)
17. Circus Fanfare No. 6 (Fanfare for Start of Race)
A fanfare based on Judah’s theme sounds as the M.O.C. exits the course and Pilate prepares to address the crowd. Although this is one of the original 10 fanfares recorded in Rome, its original title, “After Ben-Hur’s Victory,” suggests Rózsa intended it for a different place (which explains its thematic origin).
18. Panem et Circenses (version III)
Near the end of the lengthy (and—significantly—unscored) chariot race, Messala’s chariot crashes, throwing him into the path of oncoming drivers and their teams of horses. Judah rides on to victory, and a second reprise of this march plays as the joyous crowd acclaims his triumph. This final appearance of the march (the longest) was edited from the recording made in Rome.
19. Circus Fanfare No. 7 (Ben-Hur Crowned)
This Rome-recorded fanfare sounds as Pilate places a laurel wreath on Judah’s head. It is an extended version of the same treatment of Judah’s theme heard in “Circus Fanfare No. 6” (disc II, track 17).
20. Bitter Triumph
Messala lies dying but refuses help from his physicians (who want to amputate his legs). As Judah approaches the shattered body of his childhood friend, a somber, dark-hued development of the friendship theme sounds from horns and low muted strings. Rózsa’s subtle use of major seventh chords and minor triads in the harmony adds even more gravity to the passage.
21. Aftermath
Just before he dies, Messala taunts Judah by telling him the truth about his mother and sister. As Judah, overcome with emotion, turns and walks slowly away, Rózsa’s tragic, powerful development of the friendship theme resumes. It follows Judah into the empty arena, where a muted trumpet fanfare mocks his hollow victory. (This cue underwent several revisions during the production, as well as being repurposed for a later scene—see disc II, track 29 and the alternates on discs IV and V.)
22. Valley of Lepers (0:00–1:12)
As Judah—hoping to find his mother and sister—approaches the leper colony, the tritone-based leper theme returns against a background of edgy low strings (playing tremolo and sul ponticello), a fateful horn ostinato and dissonant clusters from trumpets and vibraphone. A rising five-note idea sounds from three trombones while he makes his way down toward the caves.
The Search (1:13–2:53)
The eerie and ominous material continues while Judah asks about Miriam and Tirzah. “We have no names here,” a leper responds. An urgent string line begins to climb from the viola section when Judah sees Esther arriving with food. She sees him as well and the music builds to a fortissimo climax, the tension in the rising line reflecting the strain between the two characters now that Esther knows Judah has learned the truth.
23. The Uncleans
Judah and Esther argue, but when Miriam and Tirzah emerge from a cave, Judah hides behind a large boulder. Rózsa continues to develop the leper material until a gentle statement of Miriam’s theme emerges as she asks Esther about Judah’s welfare. A poignant solo violin counterpoint interjects a bittersweet flavor as Miriam and Tirzah return to their cave, never knowing that Judah is nearby.
24. Road of Sorrow
Esther urges Judah to forget what he has seen and let his mother and sister believe he remains ignorant of their fate. Resigned, he turns and leaves the valley as a development of the tortured, syncopated line from the end of “The Search” underscores his frustration and grief. As he and Esther pass a stream, a hint of the Christ theme leads to shots of a crowd gathering for the Sermon on the Mount. Among those arriving to hear Jesus is Balthazar, whose theme appears in a woodwind chorale. He tells Judah that he has found the Son of God, but the embittered prince will not listen. Judah reaches down into the stream for a drink, and as he recalls the stranger who gave him water in the desert, the Christ theme returns. “I am thirsty still,” he says, and a dark statement of his theme, emanating from the same deep part of the orchestra as Messala’s theme and capped by the “Anno Domini” motive, ends the cue.
25. The Mount (0:00–0:38)
A hushed development of “Anno Domini”—in which strings play tremolando throughout—unfolds as the large but silent crowd gathers to hear Jesus speak.
The Sermon (0:39–1:19)
Jesus’ words are not heard in the film—there is only music on the soundtrack. Shimmering, tremolando violins (including four playing harmonics)—doubled by organ—provide a soft haze that recalls the “halo” effect Bach employed for Jesus’ recitatives in his St. Matthew Passion. Against this, divided violas and celli intone a solemn, hymn-like setting of the gospel text. (From the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”) Although no chorus sings, the words appear beneath the notes in the score (Robbins Music later published an arrangement of the piece for church choirs).
26. Frustration
Judah, blaming the empire for turning his friend into his enemy and begetting the tragedy in his life, refuses an offer of Roman citizenship. Esther tries to persuade him to forget his hate, but he cannot let go. When she tells him, “It’s as though you had become Messala,” the Roman’s theme reinforces the sting of her words, and her exit line (“I’ve lost you, Judah”) precipitates a mournful development of the love theme on English horn as the camera closes in on Judah’s face. The leper theme resumes as the scene dissolves to the Valley of the Lepers, where Judah, following Esther, is determined to rescue his mother and sister.
27. Valley of the Dead (0:00–2:34)
Judah sees Miriam at the entrance to her cave and asks her about Tirzah. When Esther tells him that his sister is dying, further anguished development of the tortuous string line introduced in “The Search” (and continued in “Road of Sorrow”) reflects Judah’s pain. The Christ theme interrupts this briefly as Esther suggests he bring Miriam and Tirzah to see Jesus, but the tormented string material returns. A tender development of Miriam’s theme accompanies the reunion of mother and son—Judah gazing lovingly on his mother’s face. An extension of the theme’s first phrase rises out of the bass as Judah enters the cave to search for his sister, and woodwinds repeat a gentle, rocking variant of the second phrase as Esther leads Miriam away.
Tirzah Saved (2:34–4:00)
Judah’s theme—augmented by a brief rising-and-falling motive—moves from bass to treble and becomes increasingly urgent as Judah searches among the lepers for Tirzah. He carries her out into the light, the music reaching a passionate fortissimo climax as the film dissolves to an archway in Jerusalem. Judah (still carrying his sister), Esther and Miriam enter the strangely quiet city, and the music subsides to a hushed string tremolo against a suggestion of the “Anno Domini” theme in woodwinds, vibraphone and harp.
28. The Procession to Calvary (0:00–2:52)
As Jesus stands before Pilate, Rózsa introduces his Calvary theme. Marked by its expressive upward opening leap of an octave, the melody tries to rise but keeps falling back on itself—a musical reflection of a Sisyphean task (and a distinctive Rózsa thumbprint). The slow tempo (quasi marcia funebre) and the heavy tread of the bass line—insisting on D minor with a repetitive D–A axis while the melody continually attempts to break free of the key—keep the music weighted down. Rózsa continues to tighten the screws, never letting the musical tension resolve as impressive long shots take in the crowd, the soldiers and the approach of Judah and his family.
The Bearing of the Cross (2:53–5:40)
When Jesus falls for the first time, the bass line finally breaks free of its D–A pattern. Rózsa’s texture grows more complex—changing meters, harsh dissonance, strong accents and thicker orchestration create an almost unbearable tension. Judah and his family draw nearer, and Judah recognizes the condemned man as the one who provided him water in the desert. He struggles through the crowd to get closer to Jesus. The Calvary theme climaxes on a long shot of the square and the musical tension eases slightly as Esther leads Miriam and Tirzah away from the crowd.
Recognition (5:40–7:05)
Jesus falls a second time, and as Judah rushes forward to provide water to him, Rózsa reprises a motive from “The Prince of Peace” (disc I, track 22), musically linking the two scenes. (Indeed, the music during this entire processional sequence has subtly but significantly echoed Judah’s desert trek.) At the moment Judah places the cup in Jesus’ hand, the Christ theme appears, breaking off (exactly as in the desert sequence) when a Roman soldier brutally kicks Judah and the cup away. The mournful Calvary theme resumes as Judah watches Jesus continue on his path.
29. Aftermath (Crucifixion)
At the moment Jesus’ cross drops into the ground, Messala’s motive (begun, in the film, on the third measure) leads to a mournful lament based on the friendship theme (although a descending four-note fragment of Messala’s theme persists in the bass line). Its appearance here was not the composer’s idea: the music editors opted to use one of the many versions of “Aftermath” (in this case, “Aftermath—New”) to underscore Judah’s dialogue with Balthazar. (Rózsa did compose two cues for this scene—“Calvary” and “Afterthoughts”—but never recorded them.)
30. Golgotha
Balthazar explains to Judah that this crucifixion is not a death, but a beginning. Judah looks up at Jesus as the Christ theme hovers quietly, supplanted by the motive from “Prince of Peace” as soldiers install a thief’s cross beside Jesus. A transfigured expression comes over Judah’s face—his sudden understanding of what he is witnessing changes him forever—and the Christ theme has the final word before the sound of thunder overwhelms the soundtrack.
31. Shadow of a Storm (outtake)
The film transitions to the entrance of a cave, where Esther, Miriam and Tirzah contemplate the powerful scene they have just witnessed and the affect it has had on them. “So fearful, and yet why is it I’m not afraid anymore?” asks Tirzah. In this unused cue, Rózsa invokes the Christ theme as if in answer to her question. When Esther notices the darkness of an approaching storm, the composer provides an atmospheric passage with flutter-tongued flutes, tremolo sul ponticello strings and two slithering, chromatic lines: clarinets repeat a rising-and-falling sixteenth-note figure while violins hover in quarter notes above.
32. The Miracle (0:00–1:43)
Flashes of lightning illuminate the dark cave, revealing that Miriam and Tirzah have been cured of their leprosy. The Christ theme marks the moment (entering somewhat discreetly in the finished film soundtrack). Rózsa’s original cue for this scene included sforzando accents, tremolo strings and a thirty-second–note figure in upper woodwinds. He only recorded the last eight bars for the film, but fortuitously rectified that oversight on his 1977 Decca re-recording of selections from Ben-Hur with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. The music actually used in the film does not appear in the score, at least under the title “The Miracle.” The studio’s recording log for August 13, 1959, explains what transpired: for this replacement cue the players were instructed to perform measures 44–54 of “Prince of Peace” (in the film version they repeated 48–53 as well), segue to measures 1–9 of the “Prelude” and go from there to “The Miracle—Alternate Ending.” From this “borrowed” beginning, the full orchestra breaks out in a joyous development of the Christ theme (primarily its countermelody), marked esctatico e luminoso in the score.
Finale (1:43–4:51)
The scene shifts to Judah crossing his courtyard, his theme sounding on violas and clarinet. The finished film makes a somewhat musically awkward crossfade—replicated here—from the opening of the original “Finale” to “Finale—New Beginning,” which develops the “Anno Domini” theme as Judah touches the mezuzah and enters his home. Esther greets him silently, and as he tells her how the voice of Jesus forgiving his enemies “took the sword out of my hand,” a string octet (four violins, two violas and two celli) plays a solemn but gentle arrangement of the Christ theme. The love theme follows and, as Judah sees Miriam and Tirzah at the top of the stairs, the mother’s theme begins to build to a rapturous conclusion featuring Rózsa’s alternate Christ theme (see disc I, track 6). Choral voices add to the growing sense of elation (although the film delays their entrance until the moment when Judah reaches his mother and sister). The love theme resurfaces one last time as Esther climbs the stairs to join in the family’s mutual embrace and a choral affirmation of the Christ theme concludes the film on an ecstatic “Alleluia.” —