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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Pope Joan
Music by Maurice Jarre
Harkit Records HRKCD 8260 (UK)
20 Tracks 71:23 mins

Serving as somewhat of a tribute to the great French composer Maurice Jarre, who sadly died recently, comes Harkit Records' premiere release of his music for the little seen 1971 Liv Ullman starrer Pope Joan. Jarre was aware of the project, and it was hoped he would sign copies of the disc but, sadly, this wasn't to be. Initially, only 40 minutes of the score, in mono, were found, but the producer's son, Daniel Unger, did sterling work in locating the original stereo tapes, plus choral work from the Sistine Chapel Choir, resulting in this 71 minute+ plus presentation.
As for the film, it was directed by Michael Anderson (The Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 Days) and Ms Ullman enjoyed able support from the likes of Franco Nero, Maximilian Schell, Trevor Howard, Olivia De Havilland, Keir Dullea and Lesley-Anne Down. The tragic story of Pope Joan is stuff of legend and, though I have not seen the film for many a year, it sticks in the back of my mind as a well-told tale, with a fine performance from Ulllman and a devastatingly tragic ending; plus Jarre's great music, which I have long wished to be made available.
For his score to Pope Joan, Jarre incorporated medieval instruments in his orchestral lineup, as well as ethnic instruments like zither, cimbalom and bouzouki, as well as choir. The composer wrote many a strong theme in his time (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago etc.) and his score for Pope Joan features a characteristically flowing main theme, first heard over the "Main Titles." The tender innocence of "Young Joan" is introduced, initially by flute; the theme being further developed in the subsequent "Young Joan Given a Crucifix," before the music takes a dramatic turn, leading to an uplifting variation on the main theme. "Prelude to Rape" starts with more of the "Young Joan" theme, given little hint of what is to follow, until the discordant ending.
"Joan's Rape/Joan as a Nun" surprisingly starts in quite a serene manner, before developing variations on the main theme, with choir briefly adding a religious element to the orchestration, all culminating in quite an inspirational ending. The medieval source cue "Cecilia's Song" follows, then the brief "Joan and Brother Adrian" introduces a hint of romance, along with yet more of the main theme. "The Nunnery" commences quite despairingly, before developing into lovely waltz-like music and finally into yet more variations on the main theme, which rush headlong to a dramatic conclusion; the theme continuing in the increasingly dramatic "Joan's Masturbation."
A new rhythmic theme competes with the main theme in "Saxon Menace," with both again featuring on the dark dramatics of "Saxon Raid on the Nunnery," the latter lightly reflecting on the events that have gone before. "Joan as a Monk" presents a suitably liturgical take on the main theme, with a brass fanfare preceding expansive variations on the main theme in "Army Camp/Athens Monastery," the music taking on a suitably Greek feel as the track continues to a somewhat tragic conclusion. The score continues in much more inspirational vein with "Journey to Rome," even if it takes a surprising turn with the addition of guitars and drum kit late on.
"Pope Leo III" is again suitably liturgical in nature, with a Capella choir taking over towards the half-way mark. The main theme takes on a regal air at the opening of "Pope Joan," before the choir returns. After a disturbing interlude, the theme returns to see out the cue and lead us into the spiralling insanity of "Finale - Joan's Death," which concludes with a brief lament for Joans young and old, before choir leads us to a perhaps surprisingly uplifting finale which, for the last time, reprises the main theme in all its glory, even if it ends on a final tragic note.
Three bonus tracks feature at the end of the album, the original take of the "Main Title" music, which includes the rhythm group mentioned before in "Journey to Rome," who also feature in "Rock Music (Slow)" and "Rock Music (Fast)," both poppy/jazzy versions of the main theme, the latter with some pretty wild sax; all of which are catchy enough, but totally inappropriate for the film that I saw. However, they make perfect sense for the new extended version of the film that is being released, which restores previously unseen footage, in which Ms Ullmann plays the dual roles of both the title character and a modern-day woman who claims to be Joan reincarnated.
Accompanying the disc is the label's always high-quality booklet, featuring Randall D. Larson's extensive notes on the film and its score, plus "an appreciation" by album producer James Fitzpatrick and mini-bios of the principal cast, all lavishly illustrated with stills from the production, both in front and behind the camera. Order your copy of what I am sure will be a much sought-after item from, where you can first preview samples of the score.


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