CD Review: Cyrano de Bergerac

Edmund Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC has smelled like a winner since its premiere in 1897. The story of the unattractive poet and soldier with a rather large nasal protuberance who speaks his love for the beautiful Roxane through the handsome yet empty-headed Christian offers a swashbuckling tour de force role for any actor. In the mid-20th century, the role belonged to Jose Ferrer. Producer Stanley Kramer wanted to preserve Ferrer’s memorable Tony Award-winning performance and purchased the film rights specifically for the actor.

Kramer and screenwriter Carl Foreman trimmed the talky three-hour play to just under two hours. Never one to allow his music to sit quietly on the sidelines, the choice of Dimitri Tiomkin was risky. But the score is a welcome change from the bombast of Tiomkin’s western and epic scores and the premiere of the original soundtrack on SAE is a delight.

Tiomkin spent time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art sketching ancient woodwinds and stringed instruments to give the score the proper 17th century feel. The “Main Title” serves as a rousing overture to the drama. Beginning with a martial fanfare, the music passes back and forth between chamber groups of instruments and full orchestra in concerto grosso style as the music provides a charming curtain raiser.

Cyrano de Bergerac soundtrack
“Main Title”

Tiomkin uses solo woodwinds and strings to give much of the score a chamber-like feel. The use of harpsichord lends the score the air of opera recitative, particularly when underscoring the dialogue passages.

In addition to the concerto grosso of the main title, Tiomkin employs other Baroque musical and dance forms to give the score structure, as well as accentuate the drama. The gavotte of Cyrano’s “Invitation” to meet with Roxane leads to pompous brass as he entreats the world to “Bring me giants!” A furious fugue accompanies Cyrano fight against the soldiers in the “Dark Parisian Streets.” As the drama dictates, Tiomkin’s music spans the centuries as he moves into more Romantic harmonies and even some contrapuntal 20th century dissonance for the battle scenes.

Like Ferrer himself, Tiomkin occasionally chews musical scenery. But the abrupt orchestral flourishes contribute to the humor of the film, helping it to bridge its stage-bound trappings.

The release of CYRANO caps a successful year for the Screen Archives label, which also saw Tiomkin’s scores for THE LONG NIGHT and CHAMPION released. For a score that is 60 years old, master engineer Ray Faiola has worked his typical magic with Tiomkin’s personal acetates. Audio purists probably won’t be able to get past the hissing and groove noise, but that is doing a real disservice to the music.

Bravo to Faiola and co-producer Craig Spaulding for continuing to bring Tiomkin’s rich legacy to light. CYRANO is a winner by more than a nose.

  1. I’ve never been a Tiomkin fan Jim, much preferring Waxman and Newman’s work from the Golden Age to his.

    Save for his sometimes memorable themes and songs like Greensleeves of Summer, High Noon, A Town Without Pity all of which are stunners I find his underscores way too busy, noisily lurching from one mood to another.

    Listening to these samples from Cyrano at least for me sounds like more of the same.

    1. I totally understand where you’re coming from, Charles. It’s a common complaint about Tiomkin’s music. And for the most part I agree. But there’s still a lot to appreciate in his music, at least for me. So I try and focus on that, while still being mindful of the other issues.

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