Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Nella fantasia: part 3

Title: Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Ursus in the land of fire)
Year: 1963
Composer: Carlo Savina

Ursus, sometimes renamed as the son of Hercules, was another character who appeared in several Italian films in the 60s. A third film in the series forces him to face several enemies in order to save a princess. As the name suggests, the film has associations with fire and Carlo Savina’s score reflects these connections as well. He composed a score which differs a lot from his American contemporaries as it’s clearly inspired by the techniques of the 20th century classical composers.

This is most apparent by the use of texture rather than melody. The only traditionally melodic aspect of the score is the rarely heard love theme but otherwise the score consists of challenging rambling orchestral sounds and moods which offer barely any time to breathe. However that doesn’t mean there are no recurring melodies, but they are motivic in nature and not easily recognizable if you don’t pay attention.

Titoli sequence establishes the bleak mood immediately with menacing brass fanfares and later with the use of cymbals and timpani resembling the sound of thunder. There’s also an introduction to the most abundant motif, a horn-call that begins with a tritone which also opens the following Seq. 2. That latter cue also ends with a victorious motif, one of the only moments when the score gets some playing in a major key. This motif is reprised in Seq. 3 with a more thunderous accompaniment before the horn-call signals a change into more mysterious moods created with brilliant harp arpeggios. Seq. 4 begins with another recurring motif, a devastating and dramatic melody which drains every possible grain of joy surrounding it. A more subtle string version of that very motif ends the following cue Seq. 5.

The score has also time for a few source-music like cues. The first one is Seq. 6 which has slightly Middle-Eastern harmonic base and an excellent, seductive bass clarinet solo creating a sort-of court dance. Seq. 12 on the other hand is a piece for a solo harp, an actual moment of sentimental beauty. The score’s nostalgic love theme is first heard at the end of Seq. 10 but abruptly interrupted by the brass fanfares. Another version of the melody starts Seq. 17 but that moment is short-lived too turning instead to a brutal slave-motif complete with clanging anvils. Another romantic melody is present in Seq. 24 based on the victory motif but later changing to the love theme performed by the full string section.

As the score progresses, the action tracks get even more furious. Seq. 7 and 9 are like a growling beast of the underworld. The massive layers of timpani-playing and thunderous cymbals dominate Seq. 11 before it cools back down to the mystery. The victory motif plays momentarily in Seq. 15 and 18 and tries to break through the banging of cymbals and dangerous horn motifs but fails. The slow-burning tension of Seq. 22 and 23 is once again created with massive percussion writing on top of which the horn-call motif gets a full rendition concluding to a chaotic crescendo. In Seq. 25 the brass writing is just ugly with its brutality before ominous moods for electric organ take over the track.

More subtle suspense is written for a ghostly saw playing on top of a base formed by buzzing electric organ chords, a trademark instrumental choice by Savina. These are present for instance in Seq. 9 and 27, latter of which features the aforementioned slave-motif on a low-key piano and ends with the devastating string motif and a short reprise of the love theme.  Seq. 14 and 16 turn a bass clarinet into a horror instrument which creates eerie, abstract moods along with high register organs and quiet timpani hits. Seq. 19 and 26 instead create these abstract unmelodic moments with just the percussion section, or combined to the organ in Seq. 21.

The score reaches its climax from Seq. 29 onward. The first sign of this is the full appearance of the victory motif which then turns to the suspenseful harps and later to menacing organs and slow-building dramatic chords for full orchestra. The following Seq. 30 reprises the ghostly saw playing along with timpani hits that shake the room, later returning to one of the biggest statements of the horn-call motif. A more hopeful, major key brass fanfare is heard in Seq. 31 whereas Seq. 32 is dominated by gloriously victorious orchestral chords. They continue to the sublime Finale cue which ends the score with a massive orchestral rise first to the love theme and then momentarily back to the menacing fanfares but at the last moment turning back to a bright major key closure.

Savina’s score surely is a challenging but highly rewarding experience once you get familiar with the different motifs and realize how cleverly they are utilized within the score. Some listeners accustomed to the American film scores from the same era might find the experimental musical techniques alien. For me they offer a new viewpoint on how to score a film like this and hence create a unique listening experience.

Rating: ****

1. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Titoli - Seq. 1) (02:10) ****
2. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 2) (01:47) *****
3. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 3) (01:37) *****
4. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 4) (01:15) ***
5. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 5) (01:15) ****
6. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 6) (01:30) *****
7. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 7) (01:36) *****
8. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 8) (01:30) ****
9. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 9) (01:32) ****
10. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 10) (02:05) *****
11. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 11) (02:00) ****
12. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 12) (01:00) *****
13. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 13) (01:29) ***
14. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 14) (02:49) *****
15. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 15) (01:30) *****
16. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 16) (01:11) ****
17. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 17) (01:16) *****
18. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 18) (01:32) *****
19. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 19) (02:24) **
20. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 20) (01:48) ***
21. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 21) (01:20) ***
22. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 22) (01:44) *****
23. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 23) (02:29) ****
24. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 24) (01:55) *****
25. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 25) (01:39) ****
26. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 26) (01:14) ***
27. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 27) (02:34) *****
28. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 28) (02:38) ****
29. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 29) (03:38) *****
30. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 30) (03:05) ****
31. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 31) (00:52) *****
32. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 32) (01:15) *****
33. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Finale - Seq. 33) (01:30) *****

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