Since the late thirties, Dimitri Tiomkin had scored almost a picture per year, amassing an enormous C.V. for many classic westerns, historical epics, dramas, and suspense films, and The Fall of the Roman Empire represents one of his last major works before essentially retiring in 1970.
Fall was also the second of three scores for producer Samuel Bronston, the impresario known for bringing sprawling big budget productions to international audiences, with matching epics scores. Tiomkin’s other works – 55 Days at Peking [M] (1963), and Circus World (1964) – aren’t as potent as Fall perhaps because the ancient Roman backdrop allowed Tiomkin to indulge in musicological research, and filter his discoveries through his own oddball blend of bombast, idiosyncratic brass performances, penchant for gushing strings, and a level of melodic ebullience few contemporaries could maintain over the course of a lengthy film.
Fall also has all the elements of a great epic, including a sweeping love theme that’s also a dirge when performed with a cathedral organ, and a melancholy theme for unfulfilled romance. There’s also the heavy use of brass which blare out the heroic theme (“Fanfares and Flourishes”) for the action cues, plus the composer’s boisterous writing which gives flat scenes energy, and further pushes the impact of already kinetic action montages.
La-La Land’s CD packs together all available material from prior releases, as well as new bonus material into the longest record of the original score tracks. A major problem with the Bronston productions was the mounting disorganization and financial unaccountability which led to the producer’s downfall, and ensured archival elements weren’t properly preserved. Even Miklos Rozsa’s El Cid [M] (1961) didn’t survive beyond a few scant cues which producers were able to lift from the mixed soundtrack. Whereas Rozsa recorded a wholly separate soundtrack album for that score, Tiomkin recorded just an extra cue for the original LP release, making the Columbia album a faithful presentation of the original music, albeit more brief.
LLL’s CD includes the Columbia material and extra cues from the 1991 Cloud Nine CD, plus a bonus suite of 8 mono tracks likely lifted from the film's rear surround tracks. (The CD’s liner notes are sparse on any restoration details.) Although it would’ve been more pleasing to integrate all of the cues to create a chronological narrative, LLL’s CD is still a solid production, with detailed liner notes on Bronston, the film’s production, and Tiomkin’s writing of the score (which is perhaps one of his more accessible works).
Tiomkin’s sound is big and often furiously energetic even in scenes where there are no grand battles or chase scenes, yet his style was a perfect match for the film’s epic scope, and the conflicts between a Roman Emperor (played with beautiful bravado by Christopher Plummer) and rival Livius (Stephen Boyd). There’s an inherent dourness to Plummer’s character, if not scenes where political intrigue takes place in grim, chilly forest locations, but the film’s mood is frequently injected with the composer’s outrageous style, such as the flaring, shrill brass in “Dawn of Love,” or unsubtle nods to the composer’s idol, Tchaikovsky, in the swirling, dance-like “Persian Battle.”
The colour and set design – both blazing, and massive in scale – are supported by the score which may not be as historically evocative as Rozsa’s Spanish flavoured El Cid or his score for Bronston’s Jesus epic / hippy tribute King of Kings (1961), but it nails the idealism and delusions of the Roman empire which promised much to its citizens and believers of its emperor cult; and celebrated bloody entertainment like a primordial reality show, where contestants existed for the benefit of the egotistical upper class. Tiomkin’s love theme augers the ego with the script’s tragic relationships, and (thankfully) his love theme isn’t presented in some terribly dated pop rendition (as with Peking). The “Intermezzo” works in Italian, and instrumentally isn’t wholly designed to sell a pop single like Peking’s Exit Music.
Fans wanting more music will have to consult Prometheus’ 2011 set, where Nic Raine conducts the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and offers up more than 2.5 hours of music.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan