Film scores

Soundtrack review: Doctor Zhivago (Maurice Jarre – 1965)

zhivago

“Doctor Zhivago” is a timeless epic drama – romance film from 1965 which, as time went by, only became more appreciated. The power of the characters, the intensity of the romantic drama and the depth of the human study has made this film a classic. As of this year it is still in the top 10 highest grossing movies ever (adjusted by inflation). I have very early memories of it because it was a family favorite in our house. I’ve never forgotten Omar Shariff’s name and presence since then. This is the reason I am doing the review today. It’s my dad’s birthday and this is one of the scores very close to his heart. It is a very good time to revisit this composition by one of the most sensitive and melodic composers, Maurice Jarre.

Now just knowing this story made me think that there were only a few composers capable or adding the weight and emotion the music needed: Miklos Rosza, John Barry or Maurice Jarre. And I would have leaned towards the last one because Barry’s music is sometimes too beautiful and clean and the story of “Doctor Zhivago” is more complex and intricate than that. The overture is as Russian as can be with a powerful instrumentation and a male choir that chills my bones. The main titles show the other side of Mother Russia, the sensitivity that only a violin or a balalaika (an instrument pivotal to the story) could evoke. These two cues show the range in which this magnificent score will develop.

The charming stamp of the times in which the story takes place is obvious from the waltz “Lara is charming”. I can almost see the eyes of the two main characters meeting across a crowded room. The special anniversary edition of the score which has 42 tracks instead of the 12 of the regular edition is a very good upgrade. It enriches the story and it gives time for all the themes to develop. Nothing is rushed and we can enjoy all the layers and facades of this complicated mural. The listener can enjoy the charming and waltzing beginning of the story where no shadow appears.

The military canvas on which “Doctor Zhivago” enfolds is made of the best Russian choirs music can offer. I’ve always been fascinated with the Red Army choir and the powerful message it always delivers and every time I hear a similar performance in a score I feel motivated and inspired. There’s something about the strength and unity of those voices that gets to me. “Military Parade”, “They began to go home” or “After deserters killed the colonel” are all nuggets of choral goodness.

Maurice Jarre’s composition is a continuous dance between the war cues and the sensitive melodies written for Lara and the love story. The music is shape shifting and morphs from sweet to serious and back to delicate like a slippery eel making its way in the water. We get charming melodies and heart breaking violin solos like the beginning of “The stove’s out” and the choirs sometimes stay in the background like a permanent echo which never lets us forget that war is ever present in the story. It amazes me how Jarre manages to keep this military side almost weightless. The music is beautiful and easy on the years and shows a certain love of the uniform from the composer. “Flags flying over the train” for example shows belief, not contempt. Since war is the one tormenting the characters I expected it to be depicted with more disdain.

Another thing I notice is this version of the “Doctor Zhivago” score is that it’s constructed like a play, not a movie. I get that feeling from the way the cues are structured, from their titles and from the sequencing. The music flows rapidly and the scenes move very fast as if the characters move from one scenery to another without changing. The composer also cleverly gave the love story a celebratory sound. The music has an air of freshness and hope you might not expect to find. Just like for the military parts, Jarre took the positive and put it into notes. We have waltzes and marches and joyful rhythms. The score for “Doctor Zhivago” is a fantasy of hope that tries to forget the harsh reality of the story. It is also one of the classical scores that stand the test of time brilliantly.

With its beautiful melodies and unforgettable main theme, “Doctor Zhivago” sounds as real today as it did 50 years ago and is a composition that refuses to get depressing or hopeless. In case you forgot this score, give it another listen. It might surprise you. You might find yourself thinking “Then it’s a gift” …

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 41/ 69

Album excellence: 59%

Highlights:

Overture

Main Title

Lara Is Charming

Interior Student Cafe (Outtake)

Military Parade

They Began To Go Home

After Deserters Killed The Colonel

Lara Says Goodbye To Yuri

Tonya Greets Yuri (Outtake)

The Stove’s Out (Outtake)

Yevgraf Snaps His Fingers (Outtake)

Evening Bells – Moscow Station

Flags Flying Over The Train (Outtake)

Yuri Gazing Through A Tiny Open Hatch (Outtake)

The Door Is Banged Opened (Outtake)

Intermission

Yuri Follows The Sound Of The Waterfall

Varykino Cottage, Winter Snow

Yuri And The Daffodils

On A Yuriatin Street

In Lara’s Bedroom

Yuri Rides To Yuriatin

Yuri Is Escaping

Yuri Approaches Lara’s Apartment

Lara And Yuri Arriving At Varykino

Yuri Is Trying To Write

Yuri Frightens The Wolves Away, Part I

Lara Reads Her Poem

Yuri Frightens The Wolves Away, Part II

Then It’s A Gift (End Title)

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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