, June 2004
SoundtrackNet Review Rating:
Viewer Rating (101 votes) :
Before I begin this review, I want you to do something for me. Stop reading this. Yes, just stop reading this and go online, go to the store, call your friend who supplies your soundtrack needs; do whatever it takes to buy this score. Trust me, this score is so magnificent that you want it in your collection. Go get it, give it a listen, and then return. I'll wait right here and then we can discuss a few of the glories contained within this masterpiece. (We can only discuss a few because there are so many delights to sample.)
Are you back? Do you have your score now? Good. What you are holding is one of the landmarks of film scoring beautifully recorded in its complete form for the first time ever by those great friends of film music, conductor William Stromberg, film musicologist John Morgan, and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. I can hear the questions running through your mind – So what makes this score so worthy of my highest accolades? Won't modern fans of film scores be turned off by an antiquated symphonic score? Let me assuage your fears by saying that action/adventure scores by Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, and even Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings would be vastly different had Korngold never composed Robin Hood. But before I get to the mechanics of this score, a bit about its composer.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born in Austria in 1897, and was a musical child prodigy. At age nine, he played his cantata for Gustav Mahler who at once proclaimed him a genius. He wrote his first full symphonic work at age fourteen and completed his most successful and popular opera when he was only twenty three. Having conquered the classical world, in 1934 Max Reinhardt invited him to conquer Hollywood by collaborating on a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Korngold accepted the offer and over the following ten years created the symphonic film score we know today. He did this by treating each film as an "opera without singing." He assigned each character his or her own leitmotif and then played the various themes against each other in a contrapuntal, yet romantic texture. Sound familiar? It should if you have listened to almost any symphonic score written in the past sixty years.
Legend has it that Korngold wrote Robin Hood by improvising. He sat at the piano, watched the completed film over and over, and created themes and textures that perfectly match the film. Whether true or not (and we do know that he recycled themes from his tone poem Sursum Corda (1919) for this production), the how of its creation hardly matters. After seeing the film no one can argue that the score does not support the film in every way. Consider the cue "Love Scene." Quite possibly the most beautiful cue on the album, "Love Scene" replaces the bombast of earlier scenes with quietly shimmering strings, a lush melody, brass used for color instead of emphasis, and a languid pace that mirrors Robin and Marian's emotional state. Or listen to "The Procession," where Korngold takes the jaunty main theme, "March of the Merry Men," and transforms it into something dark and foreboding by dropping the theme's register, adding in dissonant counterpoint, and decreasing the tempo. Finally, listen to the penultimate cue, "The Battle/The Duel/The Victory," and the way he weaves Sir Guy's and Robin Hood's themes together, expertly capturing their duel in music. By the time we reach the "Epilogue" and the return of the love music, our emotions are spent. In a manner rarely found today, Korngold manages to take his audience on a journey independent of any visual signals. It is a remarkable accomplishment in any age, but one even more astounding for a score that at first glance appears completely dependent on its film.
Korngold won his second Oscar for this score, but it is really of small consequence in the grand scheme of things. Much more to the point is the fact that he created a score that set the pattern for symphonic scoring for years to come and managed to do this with music so perfectly wed to the onscreen action that his achievement has rarely been matched. This is a score that yields repeated treasures upon repeated hearings; I've only managed to scratch the surface with this brief discussion. So take an afternoon with your new score, plumb the depths available in great symphonic film music, and never again wonder if music from Hollywood's Golden Age can still hold a modern audience's attention.
Coda – If you really want to experience the magic Korngold created onscreen, rent or buy the recently-released DVD of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It contains an isolated score track that allows you to observe this wonderful marriage of sight and sound firsthand. (Editor's note: also, this re-recording has been released on DVD as well, in full-bitrate 5.1! It also includes photos from the scoring session as well as a bonus cue: a new recording of the original music that Korngold wrote for the theatrical trailer!)