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Bernard Herrmann Pens Epic Action Score!
Well, that's definitely not something you hear every day.  Somehow, I doubt that Herrmann really WANTED to do this, given his usual track record of psychological dramas and romances, but I believe the world is a lot better for it, because this magnanimous score is probably one of the best and most complex action scores ever composed, although with Herrmann that's hardly surprising.  The orchestral color here is staggering, with different instrument sections used to represent different stop-motion monsters.  Famous for introducing minimalism to film scoring with Vertigo, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and others, he continues this trend in 7th Voyage, and somehow makes it seem right at home with the ferocious action movie.  "Ferocious" is also a great word to describe the score, because by the time the lengthy composition is over, you feel as if you've been clubbed over the head by an 80 piece orchestra.  Needless to say, there's not a whole lot of dynamic range in the score; it's mostly fortissimo attacks by brass, woodwinds, and a hugely expanded percussion section.  The only remotely subdued sections occur at the beginning, when the helpless princess is on the screen.  In fact, as she gets miniaturized, the entire string section drops out of the orchestra for most of the rest, leaving the harsh timbre of brass and woodwinds (in the later Jason and the Argonauts, he disposed of the strings entirely.)  Since finally getting this album last year, it's quickly become one of my absolute favorite Herrmann scores, and I think it's even more exciting than the aforementioned Argonauts.  Varese Sarabande deserves to be praised for the resurrection of this long-forgotten score, whose OST was never available.  The only representation of the score before this rerecording was a concert suite conducted by the composer.  As part of his continuing Film Classics series, Robert Townsend hired John Debney (in the wake of Joel McNeely's departure) to conduct the full score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  The score, one of Herrmann's longer ones at a full hour, sounds crisp and full, with the performers only occasionally buckling under the pressure of the virtuoso music.  Herrmann was never really known to compose long "themes," per se, but instead opted for shorter but more abundant motifs to be used as aural calling cards for various objects and characters.  This score features almost of these motifs, mainly used for the stop motion monsters.  In short, every collector should eventually get a copy of this album, since it's one of the best in Varese's series so far.  The packaging contains two evocative paintings by Matthew Joseph Peak, as well as a five page essay on the score.

Track by Track Analysis

1. Overture (2:04)
Herrmann gives us a perfect prelude to the score, introducing one of the only full themes.  Brassy, heroic, and noble, it perfectly evokes the adventurous quest of the film.  In between the vigorous brass and percussion outbursts are quieter string interludes, expanding the thematic material.  Special mention goes to the RSNO's performance, as well as the flawless sound quality.

2. The Fog (2:21)
Taking an abrupt left turn from the bombastic title sequence, we now hear the composer's first hints at minimalism in this score, with a desolate, subdued repeating string figure that perfectly conjures up images of fog.

3. The Princess (1:00)
Continuing with the string orchestration, we're now introduced to the princess' exotic Arabian theme.  Somehow, the composer injects parts of his mature romantic string material reminiscent of Vertigo, adding a touch of intelligence to this popcorn flick.

4. The Stone Gate (1:43)
Minimalism takes over again here, first in harps, later in low clarinets, and finally introducing another thematic aspect of the score: his innovative use of the Japanese Pelog scale, whose exotic calls are unmistakable.

5. The Cyclops (3:17)
Our first hint at an action cue forms the beginning of the track, introducing the composer's chromatic low brass motif for the title character.  After a short harp interlude, a crashing brass and chime fanfare enters, which will also be used later in the score to personify the fight with the Cyclops.  Even in the action cues, Herrmann's minimalism shines through, with the Cyclops motif and fanfare repeated ad infinitum.  In the last 15 seconds, another new motif enters, used as a chromatic, ominous fanfare.

6. The Trumpets (0:19)
This short cue is one of the best, presenting a huge brass fanfare based on the chromatic one at the end of the previous cue.

7  Baghdad (2:45)
One of the more recognizable tracks present, this takes the Princess' theme and incorporates it into an exotic (I've used that word a lot lately) dance, which perfectly conjures up images of Arabia.  Rumor has it, however, that Herrmann pulled a Hornerism and based this on one of his unfinished classical works.

8. Sultan's Feast (1:35)
The strings get spotlighted for one of the last times in this cue, which presents another ceremonial dance, this time just a string and woodwind orchestration of the main theme.

9. The Vase (0:35)
Another new motif gets introduced in this short cue, a piercing four note chromatic triplet motif, used several times throughout the score to personify various menaces.

10. Cobra Dance (1:36)
One of the most startling orchestral effects I've ever heard heads off this cue - some kind of harsh brass glissando that actually does sound like a spitting serpent, which is probably what Herrmann was trying to do.  In between these bursts of startling atonality, the composer inserts short, quick woodwind runs.

11. The Prophesy (1:36)
More string minimalism comprises the bulk of this cue, which is vaguely based on the descending Cyclops fanfare, a fact that becomes more evident when the brass are introduced in the last half of the track.

12. The Pool (1:18)
A short statement of the chromatic menace motif begins the track, which soon segues into a tender recitative of the Princess' theme on first flute and later oboe.

13. Night Magic (1:34)
The most appealing thing about this cue is its exquisite, transparent string and woodwind coloring.  Later in the cue, the menace motif gets a couple subdued playings.  Like I said, Herrmann's minimalistic repeated passages are one huge aspect of the score, and they are present once again in this track.

14. Tiny Princess (1:20)
The high violins and violas take their last bow (no pun intended) in this cue, which I assume underscores the shrinking of the princess.  Surprisingly, her theme doesn't get played at all, and instead a new theme is introduced, reminiscent of the monochromatic stylings from Psycho.  This theme will get played at least one other time in the score.

15. The Ship (1:10)
As a prelude to the huge action track that follows, this contains the first real development of one of the other fanfares on which "The Trumpets" was based.

16. The Fight (1:58) (Wow - such descriptive titles!)
I think that this is probably the most innovative track in the score: a huge action cue scored exclusively for timpani, cymbals, and ethnic percussion.  Yes, it's quite loud, but produces an awesome adrenaline rush.  The only hint of real melody comes from the timpanis, and it actually sounds like one of the motives at a few points.

17. The Return (1:10)
Surprisingly, the strings come back for this short interlude, which begins with minimalism, later blended with the evocative Pelog scale.

18. The Skull (1:05)
For this cue, Herrmann uses a sickeningly dissonant variation of his "Trumpets" fanfare, although in this state it's barely recognizable.  Like the other quieter cues, the woodwind timbre becomes one of the most intriguing things about it.

19. The Cave (1:14)
This cue introduces another new motif, based on the chromatic "menace" one, but without the triplets.  His repeated passages take precedence again, with the new motif played between low woodwind chords.

20. The Capture (0:51)
One of the most evil cues in the score, this presents a crashing, fortissimo version of the descending Cyclops fanfare, now with pounding chimes.

21. The Fight with the Cyclops (1:16)
Another devilishly complex action cue comes next.  The center piece is a repeating of the Cyclops' low, dragging theme, played below ever-rising brass glissandos of the Pelog scale.  It sounds unbelievably difficult, and the brass falter only at a few parts.  The last section presents more of the crashing fanfare.

22. Cyclops' Death (1:26)
More of the Cyclops' tyrannical fanfare comprises the bulk of this cue, repeated ad infinitum, always with the clanging chimes, screaming brass, and pounding percussion.  When I said the score leaves you feeling as if you've been mauled by the orchestra, it's cues like this that I was talking about.

23. The Cliffs (1:11)
Not really noteworthy, especially considering the trio of action cues that preceded it, this presents a few snippets of the Princess' theme on strings, as well as chordal woodwind rumblings.

24. The Egg (1:19)
The Pelog scale gets a full workout in this epic cue, first in an ad infinitum descending passage, with each octave adding more and more orchestration, until it's a full, crashing fanfare almost on the level of the Cyclops'.  Finally, when this has exhausted itself, the woodwinds carry the whole scale both up and down four full octaves.  Fans of the original Star Trek series should perk up at this section, because the ascending Pelog scale was used several times on the show.

25. The Request (1:19)
After a short recap of the triplet chromatic menace motif, the "Tiny Princess" theme gets played again.

26. The Genie's Home (3:18)
Although it's not the most exciting cue to listen to, this relaxing track is especially noteworthy for its ingenious chime orchestration.  Listen to it in the background - it sometimes completely changes the mood of the music.  He begins with it doing a whole step interval under the descending harp and celeste arpeggios (meant to relax us) but soon throws it off kilter by having it play a half step chromatic interval, which turns the music into an ominous and foreboding entity.  It may be hard to hear at first, but it's one of Herrmann's most ingenious orchestration experiments.

27. The Fight with the Roc (1:51)
This is another one of my all-time favorite action cues, which personifies the malevolent flying Roc with huge woodwind and brass arpeggios that sound absolutely excruciating to play.  He creates another awesome paradox by beginning the cue with a major key arpeggio, which makes us think that the Roc may not be that bad after all, but soon shoots it into overdrive, with full minor key brass chords under it.  In the last section, it turns into another descending, crashing fanfare based on one of the battle themes.

28. The Nest (2:09)
Not very noteworthy, this consists of a series of minimalistic low brass and woodwind chords.

29. The Dragon (2:24)
There's no mistaking this evil music for the Dragon, full of groaning low brass, timpani, and bass clarinets.  I think Herrmann took a cue from Wagner here, because this orchestration is almost identical to that used to personify the Dragon in Siegfried, part III of the Ring cycle.  Another harrowing action cue erupts in the last minute, based on this ghastly reptilian theme.

30. Transformation (2:05)
The first part of this track is based on the chromatic menace motif, which is soon put into its most creative use yet - a full-fledged action cue.  In the final 30 seconds, the tumult subsides for a short return of the Princess' theme.

31. The Skeleton (0:57)
To underscore the appearance of the biggest menace in the film, Herrmann uses a fortissimo, dissonant brass fanfare, reminiscent of the other fanfares heard earlier.

32. The Duel with the Skeleton (1:39)
Probably the most famous cue here, this was the origin of the cliche of xylophones used to personify skeletons.  However, the track is anything but cliche, using atonality, as well as wood blocks and slap sticks to evoke deadly peril.  Make no mistake, there's no comedy whatsoever here - strictly cataclysmic and cacophonic orchestral abuse.  You'll love it!

33. The Sword (0:32)
This short cue continues the skeleton fanfare introduced in #31.

34. Dragon and Cyclops {He's back!} (1:54)
If you looked up minimalism in the dictionary, odds are that this cue would be mentioned.  Although quite loud, this plodding series of chromatic low brass and bass clarinet chords can get wearing after the first minute.  As far as thematic material, Herrmann takes the Cyclops' first theme and inverts it, forming a new motif for the deadly duo.

35. The Crossbow (1:08)
More bass minimalism surfaces here, now with sfortzando piano joining the mix.

36. The Death of the Dragon (0:54)
To underscore the death of the huge lizard, Herrmann uses his usual bass clarinets and low brass, under yet another full brass fanfare.

37. Finale (1:51)
Well, now that the clay carcasses of the obliterated little stop-motion monster figurines litter the set, Herrmann gives final closure to his score with the predicted return of the love theme, as well as a full orchestra tutti of the main theme.

If you haven't bought this album yet, be sure and do so next time you see it.  It's one of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores, and this release gives it the full treatment it needs.



 
7th Voyage of Sinbad: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 8/10
Length 10/10
Orchestral Performance 9/10
Sound Quality 10/10


7th Voyage of SInbad is Copyright 1998 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.