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"Grim and intense." Recommended



61 minutes total
  1. Progeny
  2. The Wheat
  3. The Battle
  4. Earth
  5. Sorrow
  6. To Zucchabar
  7. Patricide
  8. The Emperor is Dead
  9. The Might of Rome
  10. Strength and Honor
  11. Reunion
  12. Slaves to Rome
  13. Barbarian Horde
  14. Am I Not Merciful?
  15. Elysium
  16. Honor Him
  17. Now We Are Free
  • Released Mar 2000 by Decca Records (catalog no. 289 467 094-2, retail $18).


Grim and intense.


Editor's review by Adam Corn

Gladiator is another outstanding film score by Hans Zimmer. As a whole it doesn't move me as much as his unforgettable scores to Lion King and Prince of Egypt, nor are its themes quite as memorable as those for early efforts Crimson Tide and The Rock. However the score fits the film Gladiator like a glove (or gauntlet, if you will), with every instant heightening the drama of the corresponding scene. The fact that the film is such a grim-natured piece of narrative may be the reason the score doesn't reach out and grab the listener immediately.

As seems to be the trend lately, Zimmer shares scoring duties for the project with one of his cohorts, in this case mainly Lisa Gerrard. The majority of tracks are completely or at least partially scored by Zimmer, and I noticed no clear separations in the styles of the tracks due to composer. In fact, some of the tracks with different scoring assignments actually blend right into each other.

The quality of the score is apparent from the very beginning. The first three tracks, a progression of moody, somber music leading to "The Battle", are superbly scored in every way, but you don't gain full appreciation until they've grow on you after repeated listens. As "The Battle" plays I consistently find my body moving and tensing to the rising and falling instrumentation. What's great about this track is its persistence - it doesn't get as blatantly frantic as other battle music can, yet it never lets up and always has a feeling of very strong tension. A few different motifs at work weave amongst each other, memorable but not excessively melodic. What's really interesting is the almost carnival-like melodic structure just faintly present in this track, which starkly contrasts the brash, danger-filled instrumentals and main mood, and taken as a whole is a remarkably effective musical depiction of the melee-like, absurdly violent nature of the battle. Almost equally remarkable is the follow-up track "Earth", which with a slow medieval tempo and well-placed trumpet solo forms an absolutely perfect moody, somber resolution to the intense battle music.

Surprisingly action music as in "The Battle" is not pervasive to the CD. For instance, as well done as the action music in "The Might of Rome" may be, with its thick mood of subtle tension, the track is just as notable for what follows - a strong feeling of spiritual enlightenment brought forth in heavily medieval fashion, conjuring images of the religious temples and statuary of the film's historical setting. The styles of both segments are not at all what I'm accustomed to hearing from Zimmer and show his capacity for diversity.

Given the nature of the film, there are rarely if ever any moments of unabashed triumph, splendor, or romance. The music is almost always either desolate, gloomy, or at least somber. As could be guessed, "Patricide" takes these feelings to the max with its frightfully effective use of high-pitched and low-pitched strings. Tracks like "To Zucchabar" and "The Emperor is Dead" usher feelings of solitude and spiritual desolation with their use of choral effects, a Zimmer staple, and such medieval elements as lute instrumentation, which is a first in my own experience of his music. Middle Eastern instrumentation is interspersed throughout, most noticeably in the solo, non-lyrical vocals which add even more mood.

Only occasionally are respites given from the stark majority. "Strength and Honor", although simple and subdued in its composition and orchestral instrumentation, is in those very ways powerful, with an almost new-age-like spirituality. Also powerful is the finale of tracks, beginning with "Elysium", in which the female vocalist (Gerrard herself) bookends the score with a sad and reverent dignity.

The score to Gladiator is anything but cheery, but the combination of feverish battle music with somber respites makes for a powerful listening experience.

The Elysium of drama.

Reader review by Roko Zaper

Critics have been attacking the score for Gladiator from its very release. Some point to the score's "lack of grandeur", while others have attacked Zimmer's electronic input. It seems that movie score critics will not accept change lightly and it is a pity because the score for Gladiator could well be one of the most original and dramatic scores ever written for a movie.

At first when I found out Zimmer would be sharing credits for the music I was nervous that the score would lose consistency, but this combining of artists allows Gladiator to achieve a level of melodic blending that other movie scores simply never achieve. Zimmer's underscore has the same defining qualities that we had the pleasure of hearing in The Lion King and Prince of Egypt; it is a very moody underscore that is always listenable. However, this should not give the suggestion that the score does not contain recognizable new melodies. Those willing will easily hear just how much melody Zimmer really inserts into each part of the score.

The gentle score is enhanced by the traditional elements. These take the form of European traditional music, something very refreshing since many other composers look to African, Middle Eastern, and Asian music for traditional inspiration. A traditional guitar is used to symbolize Maximus in the score, hence the name "Spaniard" in the movie. The beautiful vocals, performed by Lisa Gerrard herself, resemble those found in "The Insider" (also scored by Lisa Gerrard). Maximus's theme, first heard at the end of "Earth" is a simple yet touching piece of music. The theme is heard extensively throughout the album and makes wonderful appearances at the end of "Barbarian Horde" and "Honour Him". The battle music (scored by Zimmer, of course) could best be described as "relentless" electronic pounding. Turning his back to how conventional action music is scored, Zimmer has created two exciting pieces of action music that will not allow you to breathe until they have stopped.

One question arising from a score like Gladiator is, "What is Roman music?" Many people seem to believe that Roman music is grand, majestic etc... This belief was created by movies such as Ben-Hur, but the truth is Roman music could much better be described as solo string music. Thus while Gladiator may not be the grand orchestral experience some movie scores were, it comes much closer to achieving realism in a historical sense than some people may think. To verify something, the vocals in "Now We Are Free" and other tracks are in Gaulish, a language closely related to Celtic. Instead of using the obvious choice (Latin), it seems that Zimmer and Gerrard looked more to the west; after all, Gaulish was used in the same time period as Latin.

By the very nature of the film itself, the score to Gladiator is perhaps hard to grasp for some, but in it Zimmer and Gerrard have created a score that transgresses its genre and brings the music into an unforgettable arena, an elysium of drama if you will.

Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer make this a score for the ages.

Reader review by Eric Bowling

The motion picture score to "Gladiator" is much like the movie itself - richly grandiose in some places and touchingly bitter and sorrowful in others. Hans Zimmer and his newest collaborator, Lisa Gerrard, have combined vocal and compositional talents to make one excellent score that ranks with such adventure scores as "Indiana Jones" and "Conan the Barbarian".

Many know Zimmer from his work on the soundtracks of animated features such as "The Prince of Egypt" and the Academy Award winning "Lion King". But the other side of the coin is his work for such soundtracks as "Crimson Tide", "Backdraft", and "The Peacemaker". Lisa Gerrard is more commonly known for her work on the film scores for Michael Mann's "The Insider" and "Heat", and for her work in the group "Dead Can Dance" with Klaus Bedelt (who also contributes to the album). The Gladiator score is as moving as it is powerful; it ranks with the best of Zimmer's scores and is the first great film score I've heard of the year thus far.

Say what you will about the movie, the music that Zimmer and Gerrard have composed is clearly striking, sad, and uniquely different from any other action film score you've ever heard. Instruments that you wouldn't think of being usually used in a blustering grandiose score are used in Gladiator. It has a distinctly Eurasian feel to it, with guitars and trumpets and a duduk combined in several ways. The most interesting instrument is the duduk, a woodwind that is the highlight of the soundtrack. Zimmer is well known for using a synthesizer in his compositions, but I really couldn't hear any synthesized music come through when listening to Gladiator and there isn't any indication in the liner notes. So, for the most part, what we get is full Zimmer symphonic goodness, and a breakthrough for long-time singer Lisa Gerrard.

But enough of the chit chat, let's get onto the music! More than frequently, three or more tracks in a row on the CD lead into each other in such a way that it seems like you're listening to just one track. The opening songs, "Progeny", "The Wheat", and "The Battle", which encompass the opening titles of the movie through the end of the monumental battle between the Felix legions and the Germanian Tribes, are easily some of the greatest in film history, and are just as good stand-alone on an album. Plucking guitar strings and languid but ominous Middle Eastern sounding woodwinds open in "Progeny" and transgress up and down in intensity several times, setting an aura of high adventure, but not fanciful adventure. You can tell from the beginning that this is going to be a starker score than most. Gerrard's whispy, absolutely haunting vocals kick in ("The Wheat"), then rumbling in the background, rising up slowly into "The Battle", is deep percussion, which takes hold along with a string and horn accompaniment. Gerrard's vocals are layered with bursts of horns and steadily increasing orchestral flurries. It coruscates up and down several times in the course of the 10-minute track, hitting your speakers full-bore with shots of trumpets, violin surges, and blasting drums, culminating in an adrenaline-pumped explosion of all parts of the orchestra. The music then significantly tones down, becoming more subdued, with Gerrard's haunting vocals returning to serenade the fallen soldiers of the Roman Empire. It has a pacing and sometimes a melody that is similar to Gustav Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War", but the imagery and power that it evokes more than makes up for the brief similarities that come through the music. It's hard really even to describe, there are so many things going on at once in the music.

The next most significant trio of songs on the album are the last three, "Elysium", "Honor Him", and "Now We Are Free". Whereas the first trio on the album gives you rousing orchestral pomp and high-powered battle themes, with Lisa taking a back seat to the main body of the music, Gerrard is featured heavily in the last three tracks. The Middle-Eastern/Asian tone of the soundtrack takes hold more here, in these sparsely orchestrated but highly emotional tracks. The absolute beauty of Lisa Gerrard's voice (which made me a fan of her in just minutes) is showcased fully, as she sings what could be equated to as a funeral dirge, punctuated with a truly sad cello and a very subdued trumpet, both of which were so bombastic in the opening sequence. In "Now We Are Free" the mood picks up a bit to end the movie on a hopeful note, with gently beating drums, a subdued guitar, a wailing duduk, and native flavored chanting, before fading away with Gerrard's serenade-like vocals.

And these are just six out of the 17 tracks on the CD! Other highlights include the choral masterpiece "The Might of Rome" that demands listening. "To Zucchabar" showcases the soundtrack's ethnic sound to its fullest, and "Barbarian Horde" is an excellent re-orchestration of "The Battle", with a more triumphal ending.

The only thing really bad to be said about this soundtrack is that it is dependent somewhat on the movie. I had bought the soundtrack when it was released two weeks before the movie was released, and without seeing the film itself to go along with the music, I really wasn't that turned on to it. The music definitely has more meaning after you see the glorious Ridley Scott visuals put to it. But still, I liked the music anyway, just not as much as after I saw the film. If you hated the movie with a vengeance, then that would be the only real reason to not buy this CD. Ultimately, what this score will bring into the future is the breakthrough performance of Lisa Gerrard. Take note, and buy this CD right away!

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