Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dragonslayer (North, 1981)

     In 1981, Alex North (of "Spartacus" fame, and many other classic scores) was tasked with providing music for Disney-Paramount's "Dragonslayer".  The score was orchestrated by composer Henry Brant and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios.  The film itself has a somewhat muddles tonal palette, with light, kid-friendly scenes mixed with gory death sequences.  For this reason, North seems to have produced a somewhat awkwardly-balanced (although Oscar-nominated) score, with dark and dissonant "Paramount" colors intercut with some very light and lilting "Disney" textures.  In the final film cut, much of the light material was unused and/or retracked from other more dissonant sections (such as the re-scored Main Title), but the Lala-Land complete score from 2010 uses North's original material.

     I think the score works better as a "classical" tone poem than a film score.  While it may have been distracting in the film for being "too interesting", as a CD listening experience (with the below "libretto" in hand) it works pretty good.  As many reviewers have noted, the craftsmanship of the complex orchestral layers is of an exceptionally highest level, and North frequently uses some exotic instrumental colors.  However, due to the "classical" nature of the writing, the themes employed in the score are admittedly not easily identifiable on a first listen, since they are often somewhat blended in layers of thematic polyphony.

     The 2010 Lala-Land CD includes detailed liner notes by Jeff Bond, and Chris McEneany also has an excellent track-by-track analysis at AV Forums (link at bottom) which discusses the major themes:
  • Vermithrax: lumbering low brass figure, somewhat "Godzilla-ish"
  • Maiden: zig-zag plaintive-but-noble figure
  • Amulet: rhythmically comical, staccato figure
  • Urlanders: somber, lurching theme, resigned and dirge-like
  • Love: sweet, romantic theme
  • Ulrich: rising mystical layers
  • Pastoral: lilting rhythm, derived from Love theme, somewhat impressionistic/Debussy-ish

Trk Dur Title Film Sequence
1  02:46 Main Title 0:00: Titles over black (Vermithrax theme in low brass layers/high winds/log drums). 
0:44: Dissolves to night time travelers with torches (Urlanders' theme in low strings, Maiden theme in strings, horns).  In his house, the wizard Ulrich prepares a brew (trilling flutes/percussion).
2:01: Ulrich uses a bit of magic (chimes).  The Urland travelers approach Ulrich's house (blend of Urlander and Maiden themes in winds/strings).
2  01:47 No Sorcerers - No Dragons! 0:00: Ulrich describes how dragons once populated the land, and talks about the last spiteful dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative.
0:44: Ulrich prepares to help the Urlanders fight the dragon, despite Galen's worries. 
1:32: The arrogant king's henchman, Tyrian, suddenly appears (string accent/winds).
3  03:29 Ulrich's Death And Mourning 0:00: Tyrian stabs Ulrich and Ulrich falls dead.  Tyrian leaves and Ulrich's house magically opens its gates, releasing Galen (Ulrich trumpet fanfare/swirling chimes).
0:50: Galen tends to the dead Ulrich.  His body is set on fire in a pyre (Ulrich's theme as developed rising figures).
The Amulet 2:12: Galen tries to stow a glowing magical amulet in a metal box (Amulet theme in comical winds, developed). Other magical phenomena occur and Galen stares at the reappeared magic amulet (building brass/string figures).
4  01:32 Forest Romp 0:00: Hodge and Galen pursue the now-departed Urlanders through the forest, loaded with supplies (gallop derived from Amulet theme).  They playfully snipe at each other, and Galen taunts Hodge with his magic skills.
5  04:25 Maiden's Sacrifice 0:00: Galen appears to the travelers from Urland and offers his services.
0:09: Meanwhile at Urland, an unwilling virgin is led in a procession to a sacrificial pillar and chained (sinister Urlanders' theme in trumpet intercut with Maiden theme in winds/horns).
1:33: The ground shakes and the village priest makes a hasty retreat.  The girl tries to escape as roaring approaches (brassy Urlander fanfares/wistful Maiden themes developed).
2:53: A giant claw appears out of the ground, followed by the dragon's head.  The girl escapes her chain and runs (Urlander brass developed).  Her escape is halted by the dragon's tail.
6  04:46 Visions And Reflections 0:00:  In a pool of water, Galen is disturbed by a vision where Tyrian aims and fires an arrow.  He runs towards Hodge.
Hodge's Death 1:03: Galen catches up with Hodge, but finds Hodge has been hit with a fatal arrow.  He tells Galen that he has to throw the Master's ashes into a lake of burning water.  Hodge dies, despite Galen's efforts (variation of Love/Maiden themes).
2:40: The troupe sails on a boat with a glum Galen. 
3:04: The boat lands and the group makes its way inland towards Urland (as Tyrian's group secretly watches from afar).
7  04:14 The Lair 0:00: The Urland travelers approach the lair of the dragon.  Galen looks at the sacrifice pillar. 
1:15: Galen enters the lair cave and finds skeletons (organ layer, drum accent).  Moving deeper into the cave, he encounters smoke, and calls the dragon's name.  He then exits the cave.
Landslide 2:45: Galen speaks an incantation towards the mountain but nothing happens.  Eventually (with the help of his amulet) a landslide begins and covers the lair entrance.  
8  02:20 Galen Jailed 0:00: The king is skeptical that the dragon is dead, takes the amulet, and puts Galen in chains.  Meanwhile the dragon's lair stirs ominously (Urlanders' theme).
0:42: In prison, Galen chants to no effect (sardonic Amulet theme in bass clarinet).  
Galen's Escape 1:00: (Alternate) When the ground shakes from a sudden earthquake (caused by the king's abuse of the amulet), the king's daughter Princess Elspeth releases Galen, and he escapes on a horse (after fighting off the king's men in the castle) (Amulet theme developed with snare and playful winds).
9  02:25 Jacopus Blasted 0:00: The villagers are led by a Christian priest (Jacopus) to the dragon's lair.  The priest prays for God's help (6th Century Gregorian chant figures begin).
1:05: The ground begins to swallow up his audience.  Looking over a fiery abyss, the priest comes face to face with the dragon.  He invokes God to help him (liturgical texture).
10  01:10 Burning Village 0:00: Jacopus is incinerated by dragon breath (Amulet theme in brass).  Galen rides his horse towards the village (Pastoral theme).
0:19: (Alternate) Galen arrives to see the dragon flying around and terrorizing the villagers (Urlanders' theme intercut with Pastoral theme variation).  The dragon flies off.
11  04:40 The Lance 0:00: Valerian's father, a blacksmith, draws a lance ("Dragonslayer") out of a waterfall and gives it to Galen.  Galen tells them that he needs his magic amulet back as well (pensive textures).
The Lottery 0:57: (Alternate) Valerian is entered into the virgin sacrifice lottery in a night-time ritual (pizz strings/bells/low winds/muted brass/howling textures).
2:21: Galen hides in the crowd as the ritual proceeds (low Urlander brass/Maiden strings). The crowd chants (gong, winds, etc).
12  01:09 Galen's Search For The Amulet 0:00: Galen searches in the castle for his amulet (martial strings and percussion dialogue, winds).
0:51: The king asks for Tyrian's help (drum rolls).  The king catches Galen looking for the amulet.
13  01:29 Valerian's Dragon Scales 0:00: Valerian gathers dragon scales from burnt village ruins.  She eventually enters the dragon lair cave entrance (organ/synth) and encounters a baby dragon.
14  01:56 Still A Virgin 0:00: Valerian gives Galen a dragon scale shield and flirts with Galen.  They kiss (clarinet solo evolves into Love theme in cor anglais/bassoon/strings, developed on strings, oboe).
15  03:13 Elspeth's Destiny 0:00: The sacrifice pillar is prepared for Elspeth and she is chained to it (tense harpsichord rhythm, Maiden theme in plaintive strings). 
0:36: The ceremony is interrupted when Galen appears.
Tyrian – Galen Fight 0:50: Tyrian and Galen duel (developed Urlanders' theme on bassoon leads to martial percussion/brass/strings).
1:36: During the battle, Galen frees Elspeth, who heads towards the lair entrance (Maiden theme in plaintive strings intercut with percussion solos).
2:25: Galen stabs a distracted Tyrian, who slowly falls to the ground (ending with Amulet motif in brass fanfare).
16  02:38 3 Darling Dragonettes 0:00: Galen finds baby dragons feasting on Princess Elspeth's bloody corpse (Urlander theme in low strings/Maiden theme in brass/violins).  Galen kills the "dragonettes" with his lance and a torch (cymbal accents/rhythmic string accents, Amulet theme in brass/high winds).
Triumphant Dragon 1:12: Galen sees the dragon swimming in a lake of fire and takes out his amulet (vibraphone).  He puts it away and then jumps from rock to rock (Urlander theme in low winds, brass). 
1:48: (partially used) The dragon surfaces behind Galen (piano accents, developed rhythmic accents) and spits fire, but the dragon scale shield protects Galen from harm.
17  03:14 A Slight Skirmish 0:00: Galen runs for cover as the dragon attacks again (Vermithrax theme in low brass, joined by high winds).
1:02: The dragon sees it's dead children and sniffs in sorrow, then howls (melancholy strings, angry accents and rising figures).  Galen hides in a rock behind the dragon (Urlander variation developed).  He jumps onto the dragon's back and stabs it with his lance.  The lance breaks off in the dragon's neck and Galen barely escapes.
18  05:27 Dejection 0:00: The blacksmith is saddened that the lance broke (Maiden theme in solo winds/brass).  Galen and Valerian decide to leave the village (Love theme in strings).
Eclipse 1:18: (unused) While Galen boats away, the sun's reflection causes the lake to burn in a vision.
1:53: Galen and Valerian run back towards the dragon lair with an idea (Amulet theme in electric harpsichord).
2:13: At Urland, the village priest speaks to an audience (Gregorian chant texture).  Galen and Valerian enter the dragon's lair.
Resurrection Of Ulrich 2:55: Valerian sees Elspeth's remains and gets nervous (ambient textures).  Galen scatters Ulrich's ashes into the dragon lair lake of fire.  The fires go out (Ulrich's rising theme in brass begins to surface).
4:06: The amulet begins glowing and a green glow in the lake becomes green fire (organ/synth textures).  A resurrected Ulrich appears (noble Ulrich's theme variation).
19  01:12 Dragon Sore-Ing 0:00: (Alternate) The dragon flies in the sky and lands on a rock promontory (Pastoral theme).
0:19: Valerian sees the dragon and hides in the rocks (Love theme variation).
0:53: Ulrich chants and the dragon flies off (derived from Urlanders' theme).
20  02:46 Destroy That Amulet! 0:00: Ulrich tells Galen that the amulet must be destroyed in order to kill the dragon.  A solar eclipse begins.
0:38: Ulrich appears at the top of the promontory rock and causes shooting stars (Ulrich's theme developed into soaring figures).  He conjures a wind.  Clouds appear, and then lightning as the amulet glows on Galen's chest (keening trills/string clusters/timpani). 
21  04:15 'Tis The Final Conflict 0:00: (Alternate, partially replaced with Main Title) The dragon flies around Ulrich, who stands on the promontory rock (Pastoral theme with brass accents, held strings).
0:43: (Alternate, partially replaced with Galen Jailed)  Ulrich and the dragon battle with lightning, claws and fire (Pastoral theme developed).  Galen and Valerian debate when to destroy the amulet (tense brass/strings/drums).  
1:45: (Alternate) The dragon gracefully soars among the clouds (graceful Pastoral theme). 
2:31: The dragon dives down and then picks up Ulrich (alarmed Urlanders' theme, joined by Ulrich's theme in rising brass/strings). 
3:17: Galen smashes the amulet causing Ulrich and the dragon to explode (accent, held texture).  The dragon crashes into the lake, the water boils, and the eclipse fades (Ulrich theme developed).
22  04:36 Intro To End Credits 0:00: The king poses with a sword to the dead dragon's neck.  Galen and Valerian depart, wishing for a horse (Love theme variation, Amulet theme in vibraphone/harp).
0:34: (Alternate) A white horse suddenly, mysteriously appears (trills, Love theme in strings).
End Credits 1:00: They laugh, mount the horse and ride off together, under end credits (Pastoral theme developed, Amulet theme hinted in strings).
23  02:54 Dance Montage Source music: The villagers celebrate the burial of the dragon's lair.  Galen dances with Valerian.
24  03:24 A Slight Skirmish (Alternate) (Alternate, less percussive take) Galen runs for cover as the dragon attacks again. The dragon sees it's dead children and sniffs in sorrow, then howls.  Galen hides in a rock behind the dragon.  He jumps onto the dragon's back and stabs it with his lance.  The lance breaks off in the dragon's neck and Galen barely escapes.
25  01:21 Main Title (Original) 0:00: Main Title (Original), based on Forest Romp.
0:54: Drums, percussive "dragon sounds".

Alex North
Chris McEneany Analysis-Review at AV Forums
Filmtracks Review
Movie Music UK Review

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