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First Knight - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

The Last Knight is one of the typical last minute replacements Jerry Goldsmith did in the last year of his career. Another one was Wolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One (1997) with additional music by Joel McNeely. Arthur’s Farewell, the music for the final battle, is an astonishing piece of music and one of the best tracks Goldsmith composed in the last days of his year.


The movie

First Knight is a 1995 medieval film based on Arthurian legend, directed by Jerry Zucker. It stars Sean Connery as King Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot, Julia Ormond as Guinevere and Ben Cross as Malagant.

The movie tried to tell the famous story through a new perspective. The film follows Lancelot's romance with Lady Guinevere of Leonesse, who is to marry King Arthur of Camelot, while the land is threatened by the renegade knight Malagant. Screenwriter William Nicholson deleted the magical elements of the story around Merlin and emphasized the human and political elements of the story. Furthermore, the main character Lancelot was changed from a highborn knight to a poor but brave fighter.

Here is the trailer:

James Bond Regisseur Terence Young should direct the movie but died in 1994. Therefore, David Zucker who was involved as producer took over the direction. Costume designer Nana Cecchi who had a background in opera production followed Zucker’s direction to create costumes that were clean and theatrical. The film earned a domestic gross of $37 million and $90 million in foreign markets, but critics were not happy with the cast, especially Julia Ormond, and a lack of romance in the movie.


The music

Maurice Jarre was first hired to compose the music but he had four weeks to do a 90 minutes score for the original three-hour cut and turned the offer down. David Zucker then approached Goldsmith, and he had only three and half day to record the music!

The director praised Goldsmith: “I loved Jerry personally and he was the perfect guy to do this movie.” Goldsmith said in an interview years ago that he always wanted to score a Robin Hood movie but The Wind and The Lion (1975) was the closest he could get. The astonishing quality of this score might be also a result of this long wish of the composer, and he perhaps considered The First Knight as his personally Robin Hood movie.

Zucker gave another heart-warming inside about his collaboration with Jerry: “For a brilliant composer, Jerry didn’t have much of an ego. He was very sweet, kind of humble guy. Sometimes you can deal with a composer and these guys are all child prodigies and extraordinary brilliant, and they can get a little uppity about having their music rejected or changed, but Jerry would just say “Well, how about something like this, or let’s try it this way.” We got along and even when I‘m working on a drama I try not to lose my sense of humor and I would try to poke fun and make jokes, and he had a great sense of humor and a great laugh. I remember we had a big laugh because I was asking him about why he did something that I said wasn’t authentic – I said “You can’t do that!” and he said “It’s poetic licence” and I said I was revoking his poetic licence. We were laughing about that a lot and he kept telling everybody the had his poetic licence revoke. He was really wonderful.”

Jerry Goldsmith summarized his feeling about this movie shortly after the release: “I don’t mind doing the action things, I just don’t like a steady diet of it. It’s more interesting for me to try and write music that gets inside people, and First Knight was perfect because I had all the romance and all that splendor and also enough action. Generally action scores are sort of fun to write, fun to record, but when you come right down to it people don’t really pay that much attention. Whereas First Knight, I can’t go out in the morning without people coming up and saying how much they liked it.”

The soundtrack is composed in a classical tradition. Goldsmith’s theme for Camelot is a majestic theme heard in the first track called The Legend of Camelot. Horns in combination with the strings are playing this wonderful theme for the first time in the music. Here is the Camelot theme:

Track 6 called Camelot is another epic version of this main theme and one of the highlights of the score. Track 2 Raid on Leonesse is the first action track in the score, a lot of the material can be heard in the music to the showdown in the end. Track 4 Does It Please You / Look At Me is one of the most beautiful arrangements of the Guinevere theme in the music. Track 11 Boat Trip is another action highlight of the score as Guinevere is kidnapped. This track is composed in the busy Goldsmith action music style! Track 16 A New Life (Lancelot accepts Arthur’s commission to become a knight of the Round Table) is another highlight of the score with its rich variation of the various themes and end with the wonderful music for Arthur’s wedding!

Track 18 Night Battle is a fabulous action track composed in a march style with a heavy emphasis on the brass section. Some material used in this scene again was used in the great finale, but what this track so good is the specific use of the trombones who growl two notes and then grind upward in their own glissando against the rhythm of the strings.

Arthur’s Farewell (Track 22) is the best track of the score. This over 5 minute action piece brings the action music to a powerful end with its mixture of Choir and Orchestra, a masterpiece that stands out not only in this soundtrack, it stands out in Goldsmith career as one of the best tracks the composer ever wrote. Unfortunately, in the movie the music is so low that you cannot really appreciate the power of the music! Goldsmith explained that this piece might never have been written: “They put Carmina Burana over it. They also used that in Excalibur. The schedule got a little bit hairy and so they were talking about keeping Carmina Burana and me going and rerecording it. I almost agreed because I was so pressed. I’m glad I didn’t.” I found a great live performance of the track conducted by the German conductor Ulf Schirmer. You can compare it with Jerry's music on the CD:

Never Surrender features again the Camelot theme after the battle. Guinevere sits at Arthur’s deathbed, and the King gives Camelot, Guinevere and Excalibur in Lancelot’s hands. The music erupts to the last farewell and Arthur’s funeral. The music expressed Arthur’s idea that Camelot will live on, and therefore, Camelot Lives brings the album to an end.

What Jerry Goldsmith achieved with First Knight is not only astonishing if you consider the production pressure of the music, Goldsmith created a timeless majestic theme and a score that can be used as an example what film music can really achieve. I found a nice performance conducted by the passionate Diego Navarto:


Jerry Goldsmith First Knight.png
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