Viva Zapata! (1952) provided musical genius Alex North with a singular opportunity, allowing the master to blend scathing, exciting modernistic dissonance with traditional Mexican folk harmonies, and in the process revolutionize both his output as a composer and the future of Hollywood film scoring. Although North scored Zapata over five years before Stanley Kubrick approached him to pen Spartacus, Zapata demonstrates a similar compositional mastery, and all of the action cues, as well as the more tender moments foreshadow his later gladiatorial triumph, although the love music never reaches the cluster-driven lushness that characterized the later score. Zapata, though running just over thirty minutes, makes an unforgettable impression with its vicious action music and seemingly incongruous, yet ultimately gratifying simultaneous meld of dissonance and vibrant melodies, forming one of the most satisfying and moving, yet criminally overlooked listening experiences in all of Hollywood film lore. Though North frequently defined his film scoring philosophy as emotional and melodic rather than cerebral or, even worse, dissonant for its own sake, Viva Zapata combines arching, rapturous melodies the likes of which had not been heard since Gustav Mahler's final symphonies with compositionally advanced, yet engaging and exhilarating atonality, reaffirming once again his stature as one of the supreme geniuses of the scoring stage.
In 1998, Robert Townson and Jerry Goldsmith resurrected the splendor of Viva Zapata from the clutches of time and obscurity by recording the entire score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, continuing a stream of miraculous Alex North rerecordings, beginning with his unused 2001 score and supposedly culminating with an 80-minute Spartacus recording that, as of this writing, has yet to come to fruition. Under the baton of master composer Jerry Goldsmith, North's score takes on a life of its own, and the spacious digital sound quality provides a fitting ambience to the music. Varese's sumptuous packaging contains an eight-page booklet comprised of a lengthy essay on the recording, a history of Alex North's career, and a magnificent track-by-track analysis that examines the score as heard in the film. Most proponents of Alex North have most likely purchased the disc already, but those terrified by Dragonslayer's grinding, yet brilliant modernism or some of North's lesser efforts (of which there are very few) should not hesitate to purchase Viva Zapata, as it will provide an exceptional gateway into the mind of Alex North.
Track by Track Analysis
1. Foreword (:37)
Unused in the film, this achingly beautiful foreword provides an exciting prelude to the score proper, seizing the listener's attention with a rhapsodic, overwhelming string melody that North eventually buries in a bed of gruesome brass accompaniment, valiantly hinting at the drama, nobility, violence, and sheer epic scope that will continue throughout the score. Thematically, this sweeping call to arms serves as an introduction to one of the score's main motifs, introduced in "Gathering Forces."
2. Main Title (1:53)
North crafts ZAPATA's brief main title as an engaging concert piece, blatantly repudiating the typical academic standpoint of musical development in films being stunted by the need for short cues. As Kevin Mulhall's exhaustive liner notes state, North introduces several of the film's main motifs, crafting the titles into an exposition and two development sections. Beginning with short exclamations from xylophone that establish the constant, relentless rhythm, the piece continues with abrupt paroxysms of brassy dissonance that seize the orchestra, subtly hinting at the main Zapata theme, most evident in a four-note triplet fragment that occurs within the first fifteen seconds. North develops this theme with an orchestrationally busy Mexican brass section, miraculously combined with seething dissonance, bound together by an inexorable punching rhythm accented by sudden outbursts from percussion. One of this section's most notable aspects comes from a devious six-note counterpoint played by the second trumpets that contains an ingenious variation on Zapata's motif. Goldsmith's conducting should be lauded here - he manages to preserve the astoundingly complex musical structure and rhythms, yet he maintains the inherent musical emotions that could easily be mangled into a maelstrom of senseless orchestral dissonance. The second development section quiets into an ethnic mariachi trumpet variation of the theme that abandons the strong syncopated percussion outbursts of the previous section for a more flowing, folk-like sound. North now moves the previous six-note motif to French horns, serving as a reminder of the tumult of the first development section. The piece's coda calms into a tranquil, yet tonally unstable pastorale that contains reminiscences of Zapata's theme and the volatile introduction.
3. Zapata (1:10)
Continuing the irregular, explosive syncopated rhythms of the main title's first development section, this becomes the score's first action cue, combining hostile brass dissonances and percussion eruptions with quirky, impressionistic chattering from high flutes and clarinets. As the intensity mounts near the track's conclusion, North briefly interpolates Zapata's four-note motif in a meandering, incongruous impressionistic trumpet fanfare that seems at odds with the rest of the orchestral chaos.
4. Zapata's Love/Children's Episode (2:26)
This introduces North's warm love theme for Zapata that begins with an enticing chorale for oboe, eventually joined by plaintive woodwinds and bells. The theme utilizes the lush, vibrant chromaticism of the Late Romantics, remaining a tender, bucolic foil to the passionate splendor of SPARTACUS's love theme. In "Children's Episode," North continues the Mexican folk aspects of his score with a boisterous, capricious theme for playful, mocking woodwinds that seems to emulate musically the sounds of children playing. The cue's conclusion contains a brilliant Mahlerian juxtaposition of the humorous and the grotesque in which the composer violently interpolates a dissonant cello counterpoint melody against the continually crescendoing children's theme, mutating the conclusion into a harsh, surreal symbol of the macabre.
5. Innocente's Death (2:07)
Beginning with a majestic, impressionistic, intense brass fanfare, this soon calms into an elegiac lament for a rapturous solo flute that conveys a lush, darkly colored, and lengthy melody line, finally displaced by uneasy variations on Zapata's theme. North's impeccable orchestration relies upon simplicity in this cue, accompanying the flute solo with transparent acoustic guitar, bells, and harp, with the coda performed by a reduced string complement and subtle shadings of brass.
6. Gathering Forces (3:48)
In the concert world, "Gathering Forces" has become the signature piece of VIVA ZAPATA's score, presenting a complex orchestral fantasia on a new theme subtly introduced in the "Foreword." Even more so than Zapata's theme, this revolutionary folk song becomes the main theme of the score, a hymn to the potent ideas presented in the film. Ingeniously, North composes the concert suite of this theme as a swelling orchestral bolero based on a rather simple triplet ostinato for bongo drums. Soon, a tranquil guitar and woodwind presentation of Zapata's theme joins the rhythm, gradually boiling down into dissonance with an unstable clarinet flourish. Next, however, North introduces the attractive harmonies of the folk hymn in strings, continuing to build the theme into a fortissimo passionate rhapsody of nobility and tenderness, although he regularly inserts disquieting, grinding brass fanfares of the Zapata motif and clarinet flourish introduced earlier.
7. Huerta (4:05)
One of the score's more intense sequences, "Huerta" combines Zapata's traditional motif with a new dark, menacing folk melody. It begins with a subdued woodwind chorale that vaguely intimates at the four-note motif and continues to develop, eventually hitting a warm folk song that dissipates into a vigorous action cue based partially on intermittent brass fanfares of the four-note motif. Following this comes the new theme of the cue, which hints at a militaristic call to arms, complete with ominous snare drums. North crafts the rest of the cue as a tragic, usually dissonant action cue that contains a kinetic percussion rhythm and several exciting outbursts of the four-note motif, reminiscent of John Williams' later brand of orchestral assaults.
8. Pablo (2:20)
A brutal orchestral lament that constantly hovers near the brink of tonal disintegration, this cue finds its basis in the new theme introduced in the previous cue. North begins with a series of seemingly noble muted trombone fanfares based on Zapata's theme, but soon surges into the theme, now transformed into a nearly unrecognizable chromatic dirge that seems to mirror the despair found in the solo cello interlude of the second movement of Mahler's Fifth symphony. Rhythmically, the cue finds its foundation in a rather loose percussion beat with a constantly pitch-bending timpani and snares. Possibly the work's most compositionally advanced melody, this cello passage delves into the deepest registers of emotional desolation and depravity, and North ends the cue with a nearly unbearable surge of dissonance from constantly-crescendoing French horns and woodwind tritones.
9. Conscience (1:12)
Returning to a lighter atmosphere, North begins this cue with a rustic folk melody in strings and tremolo guitar, accompanied by a tranquil brass melody and primeval woodwinds that would later characterize the love music in SPARTACUS. Eventually, after the key signature shifts with an unstable, modernistic passage, the composer introduces an ominous variant of ZAPATA's earlier love theme for brass, subtly intertwined with Zapata's theme in violins, with the cue's coda crossing into dissonance with groaning trombone figures.
10. Morelos (1:31)
Another of North's modernistic gems, this begins with chattering figures in low strings, mirrored in brass, and accompanied by a violent chopping motif for percussion and trombones. After an uneasy, dissonant recapitulation of Zapata's fanfare, North ingeniously returns to the idyllic call to arms from "Gathering Forces," but he now contrasts it with sudden ugly whoops from the French horns, again accompanied by the earlier hacking motif. As the theme reaches its climax, North foreshadows the finale of the score with a triumphant outbursts of Zapata's fanfare from trombones.
11. Eufemio (4:28)
One of the score's only rather routine underscore passages, this continues the primordial, elemental landscape of the woodwind and string movements from the previous cue, now incorporating subtle nuances of the "Gathering Forces" theme and several evocative string motifs. In the orchestration, North beds these harmonies in a constant stream of dense woodwind chords and soothing arpeggios from acoustic guitar. Eventually, however, a surge of unsettling brass dissonance violently seizes the orchestra, with these crashing tones finally giving way to a mournful violin theme accompanied by mandolin and a dynamic ostinato for pizzicato contrabass.
12. Josefa's Love (1:38)
A brilliant foil to "Zapata's Love," this cue mutates North's tender love theme into a dark, foreboding violin concerto. As the plaintive solo violin presents the theme, North constantly interjects erratic, dissonant chromatic harmonies in the strings, as well as an inexorably ascending chromatic scale in winds. As the composer finally restores stability to the theme, he ends the cue with a subtle interpolation of the "Gathering Forces" theme.
13. Josefa (1:23)
After the tumult of the previous cue, North now bids adieu to his rustic love theme with a traditional, moving presentation passed between oboe (the instrument that introduced it in "Zapata's Love"), strings, and lush woodwinds, accompanied by the relaxing strains of two mandolins. Finally, an impressionistic figure for strings and brass cluster chords usurps the theme with a rousing coda.
14. End Title and Cast (2:40)
The perfect finale to North's earlier splendor, this begins with a final recapitulation of the tragic, grinding Zapata fanfare in brass combined with a masterful counterpoint of one of the score's earlier themes. However, as this volatile hotbed of atonality finally subsides, North introduces the true theme of the finale, an ingenious homage to the traditional folk melody "Adelita." Presented in an arrangement that brilliantly mirrors "Gathering Forces," the haunting, flowing strains of the melody arch between a bass clarinet choir, strings, woodwinds, a trombone and brass choir, mandolin, guitar, and percussion. This magnificent paean continues to crescendo, constantly growing in orchestral complexity, at last climaxing in the final apotheosis of Zapata's motif in trombones, one of the score's most impressive moments. Finally, North seals his masterpiece with a stirring coda, presenting "Adelita" in an exhilarating march form that ends with a resounding major chord.
Easily one of Alex North's most affecting and exciting scores, VIVA ZAPATA! stands on its own as a concert work, valiantly setting intense modernism against vivid folk harmonies. Varese Sarabande's and Jerry Goldsmith's rerecording of this forgotten masterwork permanently preserves North's epochal vision in a lavish album release that deserves purchase from even the most vehement despisers of dissonance.
Sound Clips/Purchasing Info.
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