I Am Spartacus!

All good things come to those who wait. Fifty years after the release of Stanley Kubrik’s epic film, we finally have the ultimate release of Alex North‘s monumental score for SPARTACUS!

Varese Sarabande is releasing an astonishing box set–six CDs featuring all the remaining stereo tracks, the original soundtrack LP rearranged in film order, the entire score in mono, demos, alternate and unused cues, and two CDs of contemporary film composers interpreting the score’s beautiful love theme. I’m looking forward to hearing what composers like Dave Grusin, Alexandre Desplat and John Williams will do with the theme. In addition there’s a 109-minute DVD featuring conversations about North and the score.

SPARTACUS is arguably North’s finest score and has been a holy grail among film score fans for decades. The old MCA CD of the original soundtrack album was a lovely representation of the score (and has been played over and over in this household), but fans wanted more, and rightly so. The $109 price tag will be a bit steep for many fans (myself included), but I immediately ordered the set and can’t wait for its August ship date. Go to the Varese site to listen to audio clips.

Not only is this producer Robert Townson’s 1,000th album, but the release celebrates North’s centennial this year. I can’t think of a better celebration.


7 comments

  1. I am so ashamed to admit i have never heard this score before! I may have to pick this up; North is amazing. I have heard of this work being a “Holy Grail” score for years and i can’t wait to become acquainted with it! Great post Jim!

  2. I preordered mine today, too – it’s impossible to resist a completist version of this score at any price. The screechy, original Decca/MCA soundtrack re-recording was abominably equalized – as if it was only going to be listened to on car stereos.
    I’m also particularly intrigued by the 2 CDs with various cover versions of the Love Theme – all of the sound samples provided on the Varese site were sweet teasers. A superlative supplement for sure!
    I imagine the set will be CD-sized, but I’m hoping for a larger format box and book – that would be quite appropriate for all the Saul Bass graphic designs associated with SPARTACUS.
    Many of North’s alternate cues were contained on supplemental audio tracks included on the Criterion laserdisc and dvd sets, and are fascinating. The release prints contained compromised, replacement cues of North’s original Overture, Entr’acte and Exit music; the original versions will hopefully make their debut in this new set.
    Another amusing sideline is Peter Ustinov’s opinion that the music was generally too overbearing and intrusive; apparently he felt more subtlety was needed – not only with the score, but with the picture as a whole. Hah! – wishful thinking with Kirk Douglas sitting in the producers chair.
    North’s “Spartacus Love Theme” is one of the great ones, and the real highlight for me – personally I think his complete score for CLEOPATRA surpasses SPARTACUS in emotional intensity – still, there’s no denying that this ultimate version of Alex North’s score for SPARTACUS will be a musical treasure of the first magnitude!

    1. That album was a re-recording? I had no idea. Sticks pretty close to the sound of original score tracks if I remember correctly. I personally think CLEOPATRA is a more complex score (and that’s not saying that SPARTACUS isn’t), but I find SPARTACUS to be far more accessible. Either way, August can’t get here soon enough!

  3. I think I read somewhere that the LP tracks were done with a smaller orchestra, but I’m sure this new package will give us all the facts and them some.
    I wonder about why a 70mm Technirama release like SPARTACUS is stuck with so many mono-only music stems, and how much involvement Universal’s music-department head, Joseph Gershenson, had in the final scoring sessions? I would have thought that all the score’s stereo music masters would have been available in light of Robert Harris’ early 90’s, 65mm reconstruction and restoration. I have an SVC Records, pressed 2-CD set from Germany (SVC-5994) -a private bootleg, I imagine- of the complete score, with alternate and test recordings included (2 hours and 28 minutes of music). The tape masters used are mixed stereo and monaural cues of varying quality, so I’m sure Townson and company had quite a task remastering and arranging all the elements for this new edition. I’ll look forward to your assessment of this package when it arrives – in the meantime, I plan on screening the recent Universal blu-ray release over the 4th of July weekend in anticipation!

    1. I don’t have a Blu-ray player, but I did buy the Criterion Collection release of the film back in the winter but never got around to watching it yet. When I heard the rumblings that this was coming, I decided to hold off until I get the set. So I’ll probably watch mine at the beginning of August in anticipation. Let me know how it looks on Blu-ray.

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