Classical Music Review: New Releases

More Music From The Motion Picture Gladiator. Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard composers. Duduk of the North; Now We Are Free; The Protector Of Rome; Homecoming; The General Who Became A Slave; The Slave Who Became A Gladiator; Secrets; Rome Is The Light; All That Remains; Maximus; Marrakesh Marketplace; The Gladiator Waltz; Figurines; The Mob; Busy Little Bee; Death Smiles At Us All; Not Yet; Now We Are Free (Maximus Mix). Additional music by Klaus Badelt, Jeff Rona.Studio orchestra conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Decca 440.013.192-2. (55'35).

Ridley Scott's lavishly visual Gladiator (2000) swept this year's Oscars.  And the British former painter gave audiences a Rome they'd never scene before -- massive in a 19th century way with more than a few Fascist (read Nazi) overtones. The costumes were also richly detailed -- the Senate dressed in what looked like wool, cotton and linen togas, and Emperor Commodus (Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix) and his sister Lucilla (the superb yet Oscar-ignored Connie Nielsen) wore elegant clothes and lived in stunning royal apartments. Gladiator's visual style seems to have spilled over into Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's moody, operatic score. Gone are the bracing, expressive discords, complex textures, and bare, poignant melodies of ones like Alex North's for Sparticus (1960) and Cleopatra (1963). But this doesn't mean that this score isn't good -- it is -- but that it's less cerebral, and a product of our times -- louder, and more obvious.

The German-born Zimmer and the Australian Gerrard -- she scored Michael Mann's 1999 The Insider (my review of the soundtrack is on this site) -- are not conservatory trained like North or Herrmann or this year's and last year's Oscar winners Tan Dun and John Corigliano.  They're from a generation that grew up on synths, and they rely on these to give them a sense of orchestral color, and used six orchestrators in Gladiator to realize their ideas. Still Zimmer and Gerrard seem to have trusted their ears for what felt right -- their themes are direct and well-suited for rhythmic and harmonic elaboration. The first track, "Duduk Of the North", though unused in the final cut, is a modal melancholy tune a bit like some of the world music stuff Peter Gabriel incorporated into his music for Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988), which has dated badly. Zimmer's sinuous theme, played here by Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan grows larger, slower, and more spacious over grand harmonies. And the duduk , a 6-holed duct flute made of wood, has a wide expressive range which fits this music to a tee.

Zimmer says in his booklet notes that "this track ... lived in the movie quite a while before we chucked it out.  But that is part of the process -- you write something and all it ends up being is something that informs you about the direction you need to head in.  Or not head in."  "The General Who Became A Slave", was written to accompany scenes of Maximus (Best Actor winner Russell Crowe) on his way to the gladiator school in North Africa. Though Zimmer doesn't seem to like it, it has exciting polyrhythmic drumming and exotic percussion effects. A perfect example of his working methods is his original un-orchestrated synth demo version of "The Gladiator Waltz", which samples the instruments he wants it scored for. The piece grows from a winding motif in the guitar ( the wonderful Heitor Pereira) to a complex series of stacked rhythms and massed harmonies. And though Zimmer has used bits of Walton, Holst and Rozsa (his modal stuff from Ben-Hur (1959)), it works, and Scott and Pietro Scalia cut most of their action scenes to it.

Gerrard contributes several striking perfromances and inspirations, especially the deeply touching "Busy Little Bee", with her haunting wordless vocal over slow, chromatic harmonies. This CD is a good introduction to how film composers work. My only complaint is the somewhat tinny mixed-to-death sound. Still the music's moods come through. An added bonus are several of the actor's voices on several cues which show how well their performances work, just as sound.

Michael McDonagh
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