Rózsa, Miklós (1907–95)
King of Kings (1961)
Rózsa’s score to King of Kings followed Ben-Hur (1959) by two years. Having written music for scenes of the Nativity and the Procession to Calvary in Ben-Hur, he now had to recompose the same scenes for King of Kings. According to the composer:
Just before I left for my summer holiday in 1959 the studio asked me to go to Madrid. It seemed that an independent producer, Samuel Bronston, was producing a picture there, and MGM thought I should do the music. Having just done a picture in which Jesus played a supporting role, I was dumbfounded to learn that the new film was King of Kings, in which he was the star! But as by this time I had apparently become the musical expounder of the Ancient World par excellence, I agreed.1
Unlike the chorale-like melody of the earlier film, Rózsa now has a carol-like alla pastorale in 6/8 time, again with wordless chorus. Dramatic vocalization is also used in the movie’s Overture, Exit Music, and for the main theme, first presented in the opening credits. The King of Kings theme reappears throughout the movie, and at the end the originally wordless chorus sings “Hosanna,” similar to the “Alleluia” at the end of Ben-Hur.
(Nauman 2009, 247–48)
Rózsa also used dramatic vocalization in the scores to The Thief of Bagdad (1940), The Red House (1947), Quo Vadis (1951), Julius Caesar (1953), Knights of the Round Table (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), and El Cid (1961).
According to Christopher Palmer: “King of Kings (1961) followed hard on Ben-Hur. Rózsa cannot have relished the lack of contrast between the new assignment and its predecessor. Having written music for scenes of the Nativity and Procession to Calvary in Ben-Hur, he now had to re-compose the same scenes for King of Kings.” 2
Full chorus joins the orchestra at the beginning, singing a modal wordless vocalise in parallel fifths that later is used imitatively, both between male and female choruses, and also the chorus and orchestra. A second section with orchestra sans chorus follows, developing the opening motive of the initial theme. Following a sparse section of parallel melodic lines leading to a climax, the chorus once again joins with the orchestra in the final presentation of the opening material.
D major. Not the same music as the Overture. “The main King of Kings theme bears the full panoply of orchestra and chorus in the main titles.” 3
Many other films use wordless vocalization in their opening credits to foreshadow the “surprise” yet to come. See The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), The Abyss (1989), Mars Attacks! (1996), and Twister (1996).
|The Birth of Jesus|
“The familiar carol-like alla pastorale in 6/8 time having been avoided for the Nativity scene in Ben-Hur, Rózsa gainfully employs it here in the guise of a lullaby for small orchestra and wordless chorus—again unselfconsciously simple.” 4 The hidden wordless chorus sings as the three wise men enter and pay homage. No dialogue occurs.
|After the Resurrection|
Following the Resurrection, the other main theme, a lyrical melody, reappears, originally sounding most notably during the Sermon on the Mount and the Agony in the Garden. At the end of the clip, the wordless vocalization becomes the word “Hosanna.”
1 Miklós Rózsa, Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1982), 178.
2 Christopher Palmer, The Composer in Hollywood (New York: Marion Boyars, 1990), 222–23.
3 Ibid., 223.