Among the papers and recordings in the Miklós Rózsa collection at the George Arents Research Library of Syracuse University is music manuscript from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. This music is fascinating and provides a glimpse—albeit a murky one—of an unseen side of the classic Korda film.
The material seems to consist largely of unused songs and alternative or discarded cues. It is ironic that Rózsa’s original sketches for the final film score do not seem to survive, yet the incomplete and discarded Syracuse material does. Perhaps the Korda organization took the final materials back to England, where they were lost during World War II (possibly during the bombing of the studio). The discards evidently remained in the composer’s possession until he donated the material to Syracuse in 1964. At the time there was a tax advantage to encourage such donations, and many universities acquired film music materials. Rózsa and Franz Waxman were among those who made deposits at Syracuse. We don’t know why Rózsa had this particular grab bag of material from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD in his possession, but since the onion skin masters for the concert suite are among the collection, it is possible that he acquired the sketches when preparing the suite for recording in the mid-1950s.
Because of the large number of songs that Rózsa composed, one must assume that the original concept of the film was very different from the final picture that is now considered one of the finest classic fantasy films of all time. Elsewhere in this issue, Lothar Heinle details some of the background of how Rózsa came to compose Thief only after Oscar Straus bowed out. Here I will attempt to describe the differences between selections from the Syracuse collection and the completed film.
Most of the penciled manuscript is full score, in Rózsa’s own hand (click to view). The orchestrations are on 22-stave manuscript score. There are also some sketches. Some of the material is timed, and some cues include reel number identification, implying that the music was composed to accompany scenes that were actually filmed. Other material is devoid of such markings, perhaps because it was composed for prerecordings or other preliminary purposes.
[note: if any of the audio links don't stream, copy and paste the link into your media player's "open file" or "open url" window).
This cue is described in Rózsa’s autobiography (pp. 98–99 in the 1989 edition). It was composed for the chase scene in the marketplace of Bagdad, where Abu first makes his appearance at the start of the flashback. Rózsa relates that he was asked to prescore the scene in the manner of a musical, and it was the director’s intention to strictly synchronize the actions of the actors to the music during playback on the set. Rózsa wrote that this approach did not work: the actors looked like puppets, and after a futile week producer Alexander Korda saw the results and put a stop to the quasi-musical treatment. He then asked Rózsa to rescore the scene dramatically.
The cue, which is forty-seven pages long and contains no reel numbers or timings, offers an intriguing glimpse of what the film might have become had cooler heads than Berger not prevailed. It is scored for full orchestra with extensive percussion (including gong, cowbells, glockenspiel, xylophone, jingle bells, harp, celesta, piano) and both mixed and children’s chorus as well as solo singers. There is no real melodic focus, for the cue is essentially a rhythmic piece, with the vocal parts providing a stabilizing centrum, and with lyrics such as “sweet fruit,” and “melons” sung in syllabic fashion. Unsung words (possibly dialogue cueing) are noted: “Oh you nasty little wretches, Oh you dirty pack of thieves.” To this the children’s chorus responds with musical laughter. The mixed chorus then sings a recurring refrain, “Stop him. Catch him!” While Rózsa implies that “Sabu’s song” was woven into this piece, it’s not the familiar “I Want to Be a Sailor” that is quoted, but rather the unused “Abu’s Thief Song.”
The overall effect of the piece is not really that of an ensemble number in a musical, where there is usually a strong statement of the song melody with refrain by the chorus, but rather a group recitative in an opera. The closest film musical number that comes to mind is the market scene in the Samuel Goldwyn film Hans Christian Andersen (1952), where vendors hawk their produce by speak-singing their lines.
Abu’s Thief Song click this link to hear the audio sample
An engaging little tune in a quasi-march rhythm, with only the beginning lyrics indicated on the manuscript: “I’m told that …” (example 1). This tune is not nearly as catchy as “I Want to Be a Sailor,” and one must suppose that one theme song for Sabu was deemed sufficient. The manuscript bears no timings or reel numbers, so it must be assumed that the music was composed for prerecording. The song is quoted not only in the unused “Market” episode (see above), but also briefly in the scene where Abu and Ahmad escape from Bagdad in a skiff. When Abu abases himself before Ahmad, the music breaks out into a jaunty scherzo paraphrasing the “Thief Song.”
Sultan’s Toys; Introduction of the Flying Horse; Sultan’s Toys Part 2;
Flying Horse (second version) click this link to hear the audio sample
Jaffar arrives in Basra, and is shown the Sultan’s collection of mechanical toys. Jaffar presents his own toy: a wondrous wind-up flying horse. The Sultan rides the horse above the city. While the music preceding the ride is virtually identical to that in the film, the big surprise is that Rózsa also composed a completely different version of the “Flying Horse” cue. The version in the film (and in the concert suite), is a light confection, musically reflective of the childlike delight the Sultan takes in his new toy. The alternative version, by contrast, carries its melody in the brass, and ends with a powerful statement of its theme (example 2).
The Awakening click this link to hear the audio sample
This cue accompanies the scene when the blind Ahmad is led to the Princess and awakens her from her spell-cast sleep. Rózsa’s original arrangement called for a wordless mixed chorus, which is not heard in the final cue as recorded. Musically this scoring is exquisite, but perhaps the chorus, singing in ornamental counterpoint, was considered too “busy” for the intimate scene it accompanied. The music begins with the love theme (example 3), and then switches to the Ahmad theme (example 4), its basic structure prefiguring the love scene when Ahmad and the Princess first meet.
The Templeclick this link to hear the audio sample
This 1:28 cue is indicated with the reel number 9M1, which would place it chronologically somewhere before “Flying Djinn” – if the reel number markings could be relied on to actually follow the completed film. It begins with the tempo of moderato, and quickly switches to allegro e agitato. The scoring is primarily for woodwinds, percussion, and a string tremolo. The only text notation, about one minute into the piece, says “Ahmad’s Picture.” The cue ends with a fragment of the flying Djinn theme, so it's possible that this was originally scored by Rózsa to accompany the scene when Abu escapes the temple with the "All Seeing Eye," using it to locate Ahmad and then commanding the Djinn to take him to Ahmad. The Glockenspiel and Celesta ostinato also seems to prefigure the scene in which Abu destroys the All-Seeing Eye, which carries similar figures for the instruments.
Ballad and Deserted Garden click this link to hear the audio sample
These are apparently two alternative scorings—both unused—for the same scene, set in the garden where the Princess first met Ahmad. The pool is now choked with weeds, and the Princess tearfully tells her father, the Sultan, that she does not want to marry Jaffar. Both cues are orchestrated with great simplicity for harp, two first violins, two second violins, two violas, and two cellos. The strings are muted. In addition, “Ballad” includes a part for solo voice with lyrics by Sir Robert Vansittart (below), as well as added coloring for flute and clarinet, celesta, and contrabass (which doubles some of the cello line).The Deserted Garden
(Second Garden Song / Princess Song)
Lyrics by Sir Robert Vansittart
Two hearts were lost this spring,
Among the flowers;
And only one was found.
That heart was ours.
And now that you are lost,
That heart’s a Stone.
But which? For who can find
Two hearts alone!
Manuscript for “Ballad” includes sketches, full score (missing one page), and additional lyrics. The orchestrations do not identify a reel number and contain no timings, implying that the music was composed for prerecording. “Deserted Garden” (example 5) is a reworking of the previous cue sans voice, with the instrumental differences noted above. The collection includes the full score, with a reel number of 12M2.
Both pieces, essentially similar, are different from the songs that remained in the film. “Seaman’s Song,” “I Want to Be a Sailor,” and “Love Song” all have the rich, inventive melody that characterizes Rózsa’s film work. “Ballad’ is closer to German lied in concept; one feels that Rózsa was constrained in composing to Vansittart’s poetry.
How do the two original compositions differ from the one ultimately used in the film? While the instrumental palette is essentially the same, the melody has been subtly reworked and the voicing changed. The first violins and cellos have exchanged parts (transposed to their respective ranges), with the cellos now carrying the melodic line. In the process Rózsa created a richer work, and neatly eliminated Vansittart's musical collaboration in the cue.
Only a sketch exists of the Djinn’s song, but surprisingly it is a different version from the transcription recording that exists of Rex Ingram singing to piano accompaniment Although the lyrics in each version are the same, the Syracuse manuscript version (example 6) is more in keeping with the other songs in the film. With a tempo of allegro vigoroso one must wonder if the song exceeded Rex Ingram’s vocal talents, and perhaps Rózsa had to revise it accordingly. By contrast, the recorded version (example 7) of the song is dark and threatening. The rhythmic pattern is changed, and again, the song resembles German lied. There is a nearly one-minute piano preamble that is highly reminiscent of the music Rózsa would eventually compose for the unleashing of the Djinn from the bottle.
Just what were they thinking? This music brings to mind nothing so much as one of those extravagant 1930s MGM musicals, with a gent dressed in top hat and tux crooning an insipid tune in 3/4 time, surrounded by a bevy of smiling chorines. There is nothing remotely suggestive of the Near East in this piece. There are no lyrics for the song, and no reel markings or other cues in the music, suggesting that the music was prepared for a prerecording. The music is identified as Thief of Bagdad in Rózsa’s hand, and “not used” is written. Thank goodness! (See example 8).
There is only a sketch of this song, with lyrics by Vansittart. This may have been the original music when Ahmad first spies the Princess in a cortege riding atop a pink elephant. The lyrics are nearly impossible to read. (example 9). The song, in F minor, has a decidedly exotic feel, with a long descending melody and a rhythmic accompaniment suggestive of the East .
The Princess first meets Ahmad in the garden, believing his reflection in the pool to be a Djinn. Like “The Awakening,” this cue is graced with a female chorus that underlies the love theme (example 3). The cue is not complete, breaking off after a quote of “I Want to Be a Sailor” at the dissolve to Ahmad rejoining Abu on the fishing smack.
This cue is not in the film. The indicated reel number of 5M3 would place this sequence after the “Flying Horse” but before “The Awakening.” The music, however, is nothing like that which accompanies the Princess preparing herself for flight after she learns of her betrothal to Jaffar. The thematic content here is not new, but is cobbled from other sections of the film.
This is the sequence when the Princess boards Jaffar’s ship, and Abu, as a dog, is thrown overboard At 1:56 the alternative music runs slightly longer than the sequence in the film, and it is rather different in effect. The cue opens with the Jaffar theme (example 10) played on bassoon, to an insistent rhythm in strings. The music then shifts to the Seaman’s theme, which is associated with ships and sailing and which opens the film as a lead-in to the seaman’s song. There is a refrain with added brass and the violas playing a rhythmic pattern of thirty-second-note accompaniment, giving the impression of an impassioned agitato. In the film, the music then shifts to a variation of the Jaffar theme generally associated with his magic power, although the manuscript treatment is in higher gear). The cue concludes, as in the film, with a quote from “I Want to Be a Sailor” as the dog is tossed overboard.
The Djinn takes Abu on a magical flight to the Temple of Dawn, “where earth meets sky.” This is one of the most grandiose and uplifting cues in the film (example 11). Interestingly, the Syracuse alternative scoring is even more celestial, for a wordless mixed chorus dominates the cue. In the version used in the film, the brass carries the flying djinn theme, and the chorus is largely supportive, not entering until the cue is well underway.
We will never know how most of these cues came to be, why Rózsa had them in his possession, and what decisions ultimately led to many of them not being used in the finished film. They do offer a tantalizing glimpse of the early period of a master composer and the types of expressive choices he made on one project.e-mail the author at email@example.com