Musings About Music In Film

From The Archives: QB VII


By Karol Krok qbvii

Jerry Goldsmith, for all his enormous talents, was always associated with films that didn't necessarily represent his resume in a very good light. From a regular audience member’s point of view,  all he ever did was scoring cheap imitations that never soared at the box office - Supergirl, King Solomon's Mines, Star Trek V - to name a few. Which is a pity, because all the above got elevated to an almost A-list status solely through the music. From listening to many albums, it is really difficult to tell just what utter failures some of these motion pictures were overall. Indeed, he’s become such a master at fixing the irreparable blockbusters, it’s difficult to imagine the composer doing anything else. And yet, a significant part of the composer’s filmography was dedicated to much more ambitious, if relatively more obscure, projects: The Russia House. Islands in the Stream or even Tora! Tora! Tora! The ones that demonstrated his musical intelligence to an even greater degree.

QB VII is one of such gigs. The score was composed for (what seemed to be) the first mini-series ever, a 6-hour television adaptation of Leon Uris’ novel of the same name. The title refers to the courtroom in which a libel trial has been held. In a fictionalised account of the true story, Adam Kelno (played by Anthony Hopkins) accused the writer Abe Cady of portraying him as an inhuman physician in a book - he was supposed to experiment on people in Nazi death camps during the second World War. As the two main characters’ clash, a lot of disturbing things are being brought to light. Somewhere in the middle of all moral greys was Jerry Goldsmith, who provided one of his most emotional works ever. You might say that if anyone during Golden Age era of Hollywood cinema ever tried to tackle Schindler's List, it would have sounded probably something like this - partially reminiscent of John Williams’ Eastern European Jewish-flavoured music from Steven Spielberg’s film but painted on much larger canvas. This music contains almost everything - from the boisterous and bold extravaganza of composers’ larger films to very intimate solo instrument passages, from ethnic flavours to large chorus chanting. In fact the only word you could describe this music with is “epic”.

The score has been lost - the manuscripts were gone. The only thing that survived was a suite Goldsmith himself prepared for concert performances. And so, James Fitzpatrick’s Tadlow label - in collaboration with Prometheus Records - made a gargantuan effort to restore the complete work by ear for City of Prague Philharmonic to perform. Very much like their recent reconstruction of The Salamander (of the same composer). And one has to say the results are impressive, to say the least. But then, Tadlow recordings are now famous for their excellence so it isn't really a surprise. The orchestra has come a long way since their film music compilations and, these days, their re-recordings are true film music events. This new album might be one of their finest yet.

The music is rich in thematic material and colours, mirroring the story’s complicated and ambiguous premise. The two opposing main characters are represented by their own ideas. Adam is being given a very authentic Eastern European waltz, which darkens significantly in the story’s second half. Abe’s character is treated with just as much richness, with his theme often shifting between major and minor keys, thus suggesting a more prickly and impulsive character. The court case receives its own heraldic fanfare, recurring several time throughout the story. All those are skilfully and gracefully introduced over the main title sequence.

But as good as all the above are, the centrepiece of this score lies elsewhere - it is the lamentation piece called 'A Kaddish for Six Million' that becomes the most prevalent and memorable element. It represents the tragedy - not only for the two broken characters but also all the purposeless genocide that unfolded years before. The theme is presented in its entirety twice on the album (end credits piece for both parts of QB VII). Its emotional chanting for full chorus singing in ancient Aramaic provides us with a powerful emotional highlight. Arguably, the most dramatic piece Goldsmith has ever written.

A portion of the story takes place in Kuwait where Adam and his family spend some time. That segment ('Journey into the Desert' and 'Visit to the Sheik') gets its own unique thematic material, very reminiscent of Maurice Jarre’s score to Lawrence of Arabia. It might sound slightly out of place in the context of the rest but demonstrates just how detailed and rich Goldsmith’s score is.  There are plenty of folk-like touches as well - often led by accordion, clarinet or recorder. All of which add an incredible amount of flavour and texture to an already complex score.

The 95-minute release is broken into two discs, each representing one of series' two chapters. Informative and interesting liner notes by Frank K. DeWald’s and James Fitzpatrick’s guide us through the intricacies of music and recording. The album comes highly recommended to any film music fan, as it presents a slightly less known side of Jerry Goldsmith’s career - just as memorable and perhaps even more rewarding.

QB VII is out now from Tadlow/Prometheus Records