Maurice Jarre was a little-known composer for French films whose biggest Hollywood credit had been the score to The Longest Day. But it was his tender music for director Serge Bourguignon’s tragic Sundays and Cybele (1962) that caught producer Sam Spiegel’s ear. He had approached William Walton and Malcolm Arnold to compose the film score to his upcoming Lawrence of Arabia but had been turned down by each. In addition, Spiegel had hoped to snag both Aram Khachaturian and Benjamin Britten to compose Middle Eastern and British themes for the movie and even went so far as to extract an Arab motif and a love theme from Richard Rodgers. In the end, though, the entire project fell to the unknown Frenchman – and he was given just six weeks to write two hours of music before its December 1962 release.
Dutch-British composer Gerard Schurmann orchestrated the film score, and his extracted suite liberally reprises Jarre’s famous Lawrence motif, whose exotic beauty bears a strong likeness to the big theme in Anton Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. The suite opens on the lively Main Title music that plays as T.E. Lawrence putters on the motorbike outside his Merseyside cottage before his fateful last ride. Also highlighted is the boisterous Howeitat camp of Auda Abu Tayi (Tony Quinn’s character) and the explosive drums depicting Lawrence’s Bedouin guards. To evoke the fustiness of Gen. Allenby’s entourage, Jarre quoted from The Voice of the Guns March by British Army and Royal Marines bandmaster Kenneth J. Alford (1881-1945), whose Colonel Bogey March had been featured so prominently in director David Lean’s previous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Lean fell so in love with the sweeping, epic music Jarre created for his film that they teamed up again on Doctor Zhivago¸ Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India. Jarre won Best Original Score Oscars for Lawrence, Zhivago, and Passage.
In February 1874, the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg mounted an exhibit of works by Russian painter Viktor Hartmann following his sudden death at age 39. Among his grief-stricken artist friends was Modest Mussorgsky, who was at the high watermark of his career with the first complete performances of his opera Boris Godunov at the Mariinsky Theatre.
What survives of Hartmann’s artworks appear uninspiring to us, but Mussorgsky was so moved by his friend’s untimely death that he memorialized his experience in a monumental piano suite. Within six weeks, he had completed Pictures at an Exhibition, a musical tour through the art collection. In a set of ten brief episodic pieces, he depicted sketches and paintings from the show strung together by five interlinking “promenades” suggesting a random stroll by a visitor to the gallery. Its variety of dramatic colors and moods has made Pictures a tour de force of the keyboard literature, and conductors and arrangers immediately saw its possibilities as an orchestra showpiece.
The first attempt at an orchestration was by Rimsky-Korsakov’s student, Mikhail Tushmalov, in 1886 followed by versions from conductors Sir Henry Wood, Leopold Stokowski, and Vladimir Ashkenazy; Eugene Ormandy commissioned one from The Philadelphia Orchestra’s staff arranger, Lucien Cailliet. But one has to pity the sad Slovak Leo Funtek, who completed the first full orchestration of all movements in 1922, the same year Maurice Ravel wrote his magisterial arrangement on commission from Serge Koussevitzky. Ravel omitted the fifth Promenade as it was nearly identical to the third and broke the momentum leading into the finish, but it’s his version that rules both the concert hall and the recording studio.
Ravel had wanted to use Mussorgsky’s manuscript but was forced to rely on the available Rimsky-Korsakov edition because nothing could come in or out of Russia while the Red and White Armies were embroiled in civil war.
A master orchestrator, Ravel relies less on strikingly novel effects than on well-crafted voicings that lend their color to these character pieces. The opening “promenade” motif, a walking tune in measures of alternating 5/4 and 6/4, would lie comfortably in the range of the oboe, clarinet, trumpet, violins, or violas. But Ravel’s choice of a solo trumpet gives it a bright, crisp clarion brilliance that becomes one of the iconic moments in the suite. His choice to use alto sax in “The Old Castle” is probably what led Stokowski to badmouth Ravel’s version as “too French.” And again, his use of trumpet to humanize the whimpering beggar “Schmuyle” is simply one more in a series of inspired strokes.
A visitor to the gallery strolls briskly but contemplatively through the gallery until he is stopped by…
A sketch of a grotesque nutcracker in the shape of a gnome teetering on crooked legs.
The visitor floats through the gallery to other displays.
The Old Castle
A troubadour sings a wistful ballad beside a medieval fortress
The viewer moves along quickly to see…
Tuilleries (Children Quarreling at Play)
A lively pack of children makes mayhem in the Tuileries Gardens of Paris
A huge, muscled ox passes by, insistently lugging its onerous pull-cart, and recedes into the distance
The gallery visitor falls into a reflective mood that is broken by…
Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens
The Bolshoi’s corps de ballet costumed as canary chicks does a frantic dance choreographed by Marius Petipa
Samuel Goldenberg & Schmuyle
Dueling portraits of two Polish Jews, one rich and imperious, the other destitute and dressed in a tattered overcoat
The Market Place at Limoges
A bustling French market where the women haggle for the day’s best goods on offer
Catacombs/Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
A viewer explores the gloomy Paris catacombs by lantern and contemplates the grisly mound of skulls
The Hut of the Baba-Yaga
A drawing of a hideous clock depicting the hut of the legendary Russian witch
The Great Gate of Kiev
A grandiose design drawing for the city gates of Kiev, conceived in medieval Russian opulence
The pavane, a stately Renaissance dance associated with the royal Spanish court, was popular in every corner of Europe by the late 16th and 17th centuries. Its name comes from either “padovana” (i.e., of Padua, Italy) or “pavon” (the Spanish word for peacock). And it’s the cocky, strutting gestures of the old-style pavane – gentleman stepping forward to salute his lady, he retreating and bowing to her, she curtsying to her companion – that was like a genteel reflection on an earlier Age of Chivalry.
It was probably Fauré who resurrected this courtly dance for modern times – here as a wistfully nostalgic glance back three centuries. Like Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess that it inspired, Fauré’s Pavane is one of those small, winning pieces by a consequential composer that attracts outsized attention for sheer loveliness – in spite of its modest scale. The composer himself thought it “not especially important,” having written it for a light summer concert series in 1887. He scored it for small orchestra and in a choral version with words by Symbolist poet Robert de Montesquiou.
Though one or two of his dozen operettas gets the occasional revival, Emmanuel Chabrier’s stage works have never entered the common repertoire. He’s chiefly remembered today for his bouncy orchestral rhapsody España, but his music was equally loved and respected by the likes of Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Poulenc. Ravel, in fact, claimed to prefer Le Roi Malgré Lui to Wagner’s Ring and said of Chabrier’s operetta that it changed the course of French harmony.
Chabrier only began composing professionally in midlife. He’d studied law and went to work in the French Interior Ministry while dabbling in music on the side. Not until age 40 did he turn to music full time, becoming chorusmaster of the famed Lamoureux Concerts. His musical comedies were preposterously farcical and his melodies infectiously cheery, but the self-taught Chabrier’s harmonies were pioneering – like Offenbach but with unresolved seventh and ninth chords. César Franck said of his work, “We have just heard something extraordinary; this music links our time with that of Couperin and Rameau.” However, his stage productions suffered from terrible luck. His opera Gwendoline closed after just two performances at La Monnaie in Brussels when the producer went bankrupt, and Le Roi Malgré Lui was shut down after three performances when a fire at the Paris Opéra burned it to the ground.
The plot of Le Roi Malgré Lui (King in Spite of Himself) was taken from the vaudeville comedy by Marguerite-Louise Ancelot (1792-1875) and loosely based on real-life 16th-century nobleman Henri de Valois, a son of Catherine di Medici and France’s King Henri II. The newly elected king of Poland, Henri arrives in Krakow, only to discover a plot by the court nobles to depose him and install the Archduke of Austria in his place. Homesick for his native France, Henri decides to disguise himself and join the conspirators, leading to a series of romantic escapades and mistaken identities in the most convoluted tradition of comic farce. The buoyant Fête Polonaise from Act 2 sets the jolly mood at the conspirators’ ball. The real Henri ruled Poland and Lithuania for two years prior to ascending the French throne as Henri III, following the unexpected death of his older brother. He was assassinated in 1589 by a Catholic fanatic during the religious war with the Huguenots.