Thematic Transformation in Rózsa’s Score for Ben-Hur — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this excellent analysis. I’m wondering about the final moments of the film and the choral segment, where the shepherd is crossing the screen. That’s so very very modal to me and harks back to the music for the titles – the rest of the score is reminiscent of a sort of ‘eastern exotica’ if you will.

    An absolutely favourite score of mine and we are fortunate to have you to analyse this quite wonderful music. Thanks

    • Thanks for your comments, Sue. In the final shot where we see the shepherd walk across the screen, the theme we hear is actually a counterpoint to the theme for Christ and is set, as you say, in a mode. The precise mode is Lydian, which sounds like major but with the fourth degree of the scale raised by a semitone. This particular mode creates a less familiar sound than major, but one which sounds brighter and more optimistic because of its characteristic raised fourth. So it tends to occur with more positive situations, as in the theme for the character of E.T. (not the “theme from E.T.”, but the theme for the character), or at the end of the Columbia Pictures fanfare, or here in the Christ theme after the miracle has taken place.

  2. excellent analysis . Such a rich score. Proper opera. The harmony under the various changes to the hatred and friendship themes seems so critical. It would be nice to see that too.


  3. Thank you for the analysis and for putting this music online. It gives us much in the realm of intense human experience, while retaining the sweetness of 1930’s film scores. Western rethinking of “Eastern exotica” (Arabic cliches) is more potent, polished and coherent than the folk originals. Leitmotifs also were beautifully realized in “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” This music can be heard on YouTube in a “Proms” performance.

  4. Thanks for the analysis of the sore for my favourite film. Like you, I have wondered about Messala’s musical presence during the crucifixion scene. I realised recently that Messala and Jesus have an odd commonality, though: they have both literally saved Judah’s life. As boys, while out hunting, Judah was injured and saved by Messala (this is described in the book, yet only mentioned a couple of times in the film). And, of course, we know how Judah was saved by Jesus. It’s nicely appropriate, then, that in Judah’s mind, both have elements of goodness – both sustained him to ensure he witness the crucifixion which, as he says, “takes the sword from [his] hand”. Rozsa obviously was extremely smart to musically ‘exorcise’ Messala’s theme – it lends further depth to the sense of apotheosis.

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