Considering the monumental achievement it turned out to be, the score for director David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was something of a gamble. After all, in 1962, Lean’s choice for the composer, Maurice Jarre, had never done any previous film work. In short order, however, Lawrence of Arabia became the first of Jarre’s Academy Award wins. The others to follow, appropriately, were also for Lean epics, Doctor Zhivago (1965) and A Passage to India (1984). For Lean, Jarre also scored Ryan’s Daughter (1970), which yielded the hit, “It Was a Good Time.”
But few subsequent scores could match the impact of Jarre’s first soundtrack. The impressiveness of the music for Lawrence of Arabia went beyond the majestic and sweeping theme filling theatre speakers in the opening “Overture.” As film historian and author Frank K. DeWald observes, The 77 minutes of music, combined with the breath-taking cinematography, carried the emotional weight of many of the scenes where dialogue was minimal. In fact, there’s considerable emotional weight in the music alone.
DeWald’s comments are in the booklet for a new 50th anniversary release of the Lawrence of Arabia score performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nic Raine. While an official soundtrack album came out when the film was released and versions of the theme and other passages have been issued by Jarre himself, for the first time the complete 77 minute score was recorded from the original 1962 orchestrations by Gerard Schurmann. Blessed with the capabilities of new recording technology, the drama and power of Jarre’s fusing of Eastern and Western musical influences could not be better realized.
Simply stated, the symphonic depth of the Lawrence of Arabia score more than holds up on its own without any need for visual cues or references. True, its purpose was ostensibly to serve as one layer of the cumulative experience of Lean’s movie. In 1962, it was but one component of the story of T. E. Lawrence that Lean set in exotic Middle Eastern deserts during the time of a global conflict. But without words, without camera angles, without costumes and stunts, the mythologizing of an enigmatic British officer is all there in a concert of percussion and strings that first introduces the bold themes before reworking them in passages that are equivalent to a symphony’s movements.
Considerable credit goes to the production crew who captured the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s flawless performance of Jarre’s music. Their collaborative efforts resulted in a recording that is bright, clear, full, and powerful. If any score deserves such a treatment, it’s Lawrence of Arabia on its 50th anniversary. It’s essential listening for anyone who loves superior film work. But you don’t have to be a soundtrack buff to be knocked out while bathing in this ground-breaking soundscape. You don’t even have to have seen the film, although odds are you’ll be inspired to do so.