Quo Vadis


Quo Vadis Domine? Romae populus meus indigétis te.
(Referring to John 13:36 from the Bible)

The film, Quo Vadis was a massive and ambitious undertaking. It was based on the book by Polish author, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and tells the story of a Roman centurion (Marcus Vinicus) who, upon returning from war, falls in love with a Hebrew woman, Lygia. However Lygia doesn't love him because she is a Christian and he doesn't share her strong convictions of Christianity. Meanwhile Nero, the emperor, burns Rome, blames all of the Christians and the Christians are sentenced to death, including Lygia and Marcus. See what I mean by, "ambitious undertaking"?
The composer for the film was Miklos Rozsa. He hadn't scored any really big films like this yet. Ben Hur, El Cid, and King of Kings were scoring assignments to follow shortly thereafter. Until then Rozsa had only composed for dramatic narratives. This was his first big break.
Rozsa did a lot of research for this film. He delved into Roman music of the time and even crafted some of his own Christian hymns which were loosely based on early transcripts of music in the church back then.
The main theme is a bombastic orchestral theme with strong brass and choral statements. The choir announces "Quo Vadis Domine?" (Where are you going Lord?), while the brass completes somewhat of a mini fanfare/trumpet trills in the background. The theme is used in the opening and closing cues of the album (Main Title and Finale).
The Roman's music is that of a militaristic march which he would later bring up again in his work for Ben Hur (And I heard hints of it in King of Kings as well). He also utilized some ancient Roman and Egyptian hymns.
A more subtle underscoring is used for the characters Petronius and Eunice. The music is tragic and mellow mostly relying on the strings to carry their theme. Eunice, herself sings in a somewhat awkward love song. Don't get me wrong, the actresses voice is beautiful, but it sticks out and maybe even hinders the believabilty of the score to a point.
Nero, one of the antagonists in the film is given a grand brass theme but also is given a quieter theme with harps, zithers, and other period stringed instruments. He entertains himself a great deal by creating epics ("Lengthy narrative poems"), whilst he plays the lyre and sings. (And the actor, Peter Ustinov, really does sing in  the film!) It's rather humorous to hear, given most of the songs are about Nero, himself! It's heard in several cues namely, The Burning of Troy and The Burning of Rome or Nero's Fire Song. Are you noticing a similar topic of Nero's epics, or is it just me?
Another antagonist, Poppaea, is given a seductive and exotic theme with lot's of acoustic and woodwind influences. Given her slinky character, the music fits her character to a tee.
Lygia and Nazarius
Lygia is given a warm, simple theme that builds. It's heard mostly on the flute until the woodwind joins, then the strings take over.
The action material is few and far between, but the one cue that stands out is the cue, Chariot Chase. It is a fun, frenetic piece of action music and is truly one of the highlights of the score!
The most notable highlights, however, of the score is the Christian themes, namely the beautifully crafted hymns. Some of the earliest music of the Christians that Rozsa could find were Gregorian hymns/chants. Thus, lots of the cues for the Christians are Gregorian based hymns. Now, Rozsa made several hymns including Jesu Lord, The Lord's Supper, Where O Death, but most notably, Resurrection Hymn. The hymn Where O Death? is a powerfully haunting cue as the Christians sing it before they are killed by Lions, and burned to death.  
Marcus and Lygia in the foreground
Ursus, Lygia's protecter, in the background
They have a profound effect on Nero, because after their deaths, he goes out into the arena to see what was different about "these Christians". Erie strings and percussion play subtly as he wonders how, these people could die so nobly. It's heard in the cue Aftermath.
The best part of the album comes when most of the themes come together for a final climax in the cue Finale. The main theme reprises then the choir quotes John 14:6,"I am the way, the truth, and the life". The orchestra then crescendos and the Resurrection Hymn is heard once again then transitions to an overpowering orchestra in the cue, Epilogue, to masterfully close my all-time favorite biblical epic score!
That concludes the biblical epic score reviews.
Which one is your favorite?

Rating: *****


  1. Alicia Willis said...
    Lygia is Deborah Kerr, correct? The actress from The King and I?
    Joshua Hoppman said...
    That's correct! This was actually her first big break in acting and probably got her the job on the King and I

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