It is always a pleasure to visit the strikingly attractive city of Prague with its magical medieval architecture, charming people, musical heritage and the many enticing restaurants and bars. It was even more delightful to visit the city on March 13 and 14 to attend Tadlow Music’s recording of Miklós Rózsa’s music for the film EL CID (1961).

A complete recording of EL CID has been eagerly desired for many years. The original LP, issued concurrent with the film, contained about 40 minutes of music with Rózsa conducting the Graunke Symphony Orchestra. In 1996 Koch Records recorded about 66 minutes from the score with James Sedares conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra which, to be diplomatic, was not a terribly successful interpretation and added very little extra music to that which had already been recorded. The late David Wishart attempted to licence the original music tracks for his Cloud Nine Record label but discovered that the tapes, which had been stored at Shepperton Studios, had accidentally been destroyed.

So, until recently there seemed to be no prospect of ever having a recording of the complete music which Rózsa had composed for the film. However in September 2007 James Fitzpatrick announced that he would record EL CID in full for his own Tadlow Music label with the music to be released on a two CD set. This was a major project to undertake, with about 140 minutes of music to be recorded, utilizing a large orchestra, choir and organ. James therefore recorded the music in stages. In September 2007, James had recorded about 70 minutes of music in Prague consisting of those selections which did not require extensive reconstruction and orchestration. Those selections included “Overture”, “Prelude/Main Title”, “Entry of the Nobles”, “Coronation”, “Fight for Calahorra”, “The Road to Asturias/13 Knights”, “The Expedition”, “Wedding Night”, “Friendship”, “The Barn”, “El Cid March”, “Battle of Valencia” “The Death of El Cid” and “The Legend and Finale”.

This still left at least 70 minutes of the score to record consisting mainly of music which had not previously been recorded, including music written for the film which was either not used or was cut from the final print. Nic Raine, who was also conducting the music, had spent much time reconstructing and orchestrating this music from Rózsa original score sketches. The sessions to record this music were booked for March 13 and 14, 2008 in Prague and James Fitzpatrick kindly invited me to attend.

To digress a little – I was booked to fly to Prague on March 12 but very nearly missed my flight because dangerously high winds in London had closed the high suspension road bridge over the River Thames which I had to cross to get to the airport. I feared that my attempts to attend a Rózsa recording session were going to be thwarted just as they had been in 2007 when I was unable to get to Prague for Tadlow Music’s “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” sessions due to heavy snow in Prague. Stuck in stationary heavy traffic I realized that I was never going to get to the airport in time but I managed a detour, parked the car, and caught a train which got me to the airport with just minutes to spare.

So, on the morning of March 13, I headed along Ve Smeckach, which lies off Prague’s major thoroughfare, Wenceslas Square (something of a misnomer because far from being a square, it is actually a long boulevard) to Barrandov Studios’ Smecky Recording Studio. From the outside you would not think that behind the unprepossessing door and graffiti-splattered walls of number 22 Ve Smeckach was a state of the art equipped recording studio. Once inside, framed photographs were displayed on the walls in the rooms leading to the sound stage, showing previous visitors; Elmer Bernstein, Roman Polanski, Tom Cruise, David Lynch and many others.

With around 90 musicians of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra crammed into the soundstage, there was barely room to swing the proverbial cat! However James Fitzpatrick welcomed me, introduced me to conductor Nic Raine, and steered me to a chair close to the cello players. So close in fact, that there were times when I felt I was in danger of getting pierced by one of the bows during some of the more vigorous cues!

Rózsa Society member Gergely Hubai had also been invited to the sessions and was already there when I arrived. Gergely is from Budapest and I had previously met him in that city in 2007 when I, along with John Fitzpatrick, Alan Hamer and others attended the memorable Rózsa centenary concert in the Festival Theatre.

With so many people and so much activity, the atmosphere was fairly electric. I immediately noted the large number of microphones. There were seven ambient mikes and 30 spot mikes placed around the studio. The intention of so much close miking is to ensure that the music will sound like film music, rather than producing a concert hall sound. Controlling the sound is essential for this approach which is why the percussion players, on a raised level at the back of the orchestra, were placed behind glass screens to ensure separation and balance.

For the first few cues I stayed on the soundstage but later on I moved into the control room to observe events from there. The control room was in a side room to the soundstage, where Producer James Fitzpatrick and Sound Engineer Jan Holzner controlled operations. There was no direct view of the soundstage from the control room but it was equipped with monitors on which the soundstage could be observed. James sat behind a large desk studying the score as each cue was played. In front of him Jan worked his wizardry with the console. In front of them were two large speakers and a large flat panel screen which was connected to a DVD player. This enabled James to select scenes from the film to check correct tempo to the music if necessary. The recording was being made on to 32 individual tracks in 24 bit 96 KHz sound.

What I found fascinating as the sessions proceeded was how quickly the orchestra would respond1 Here was music which they had not seen until the session that day, yet they usually required just one or perhaps two rehearsals before Nic and James would go for a take. Cues were rarely recorded in their entirety in one take unless they were very short. Depending on length, most cues were split into several takes. In the control room, James would often ask for changes after each rehearsal or take. He would either make comments through a microphone which could be heard over speakers by everyone in the soundstage or, if Nic and James wanted more lengthy discussions, they would communicate privately by intercom. James would sometimes ask for another complete take or ask for certain bars within a cue to be played again if, for example, the orchestra was not quite together or because an instrument should be more (or less) prominent or perhaps because there was some studio noise. Sometimes only four or five bars would be needed to be played again for a take. Even when a take was considered satisfactory, James would often request another, for safety. The control room also had access to a balcony overlooking the courtyard of the building from which, during breaks, James could conveniently puff away on a cigar!

The sessions were very intensive with everyone aware that time was expensive and could not be wasted. There were two four hour sessions each day from 9.00am to 1.00pm and from 2.00pm to 6.00pm with two short breaks during each session. Although very many cues were recorded over the two days as the following notes indicate, I should point out that these were not necessarily complete cues. In many cases these were parts of cues to be added to takes which had been recorded prior to these sessions. Of course, not all the players were required for every cue and when not needed players would withdraw from the soundstage.

Very many cues or parts of cues were recorded during the sessions but I have not commented on each and every cue. For detailed cue analysis I refer readers to Frank de Wald’s detailed analysis in PMS 50 and 51.

The first cue to be recorded on Thursday March 13 was “Ben Jussuf”. Much of this music, which follows the “Prelude”, was replaced in the film by a single drum beat but as originally written Rózsa’s cue was for full orchestra and is wonderfully ominous and vastly more exciting than that single drumbeat. After a first rehearsal of the cue Nic asked the orchestra to play it a hair faster, to which James quipped that perhaps it should be a rabbit faster. After the first take James asked for more from the violas and after the second take Nic again asked the players to take it a little faster. The third take was considered satisfactory although it was deemed necessary to record some of the bars again before Nic and James were completely satisfied with the result.

The next cue, “Bad News” included harp but after the first take it was judged to be not loud enough and so there was a slight delay whilst Jan came into the studio to re-position the spot mike (several times during the sessions, Jan would have to re-position mikes). The final section of the cue took a few takes to get right. The following cues were “Burgos”, “Destiny” and part of “Gomaz’ Death”. The latter contained some very frenzied writing and at the first rehearsal the fast playing went a bit awry towards the end of the cue which drew laughter from the players.

Next came “The Slap” with it’s loud orchestral sting followed by “The Meeting” and “The Gauntlet”, at the end of which James was heard to say “it fits” over the speakers as he finished viewing the take matched to the action on the DVD. During the four sessions there was usually only one harp but for “Wedding Night” two harps were required. The second harp player arrived only for this cue and all her work for the day was completed in about 10 minutes! “Forgiveness” underscores the scene when Rodrigo, having been banished, sees Chimene waiting for him. After the first rehearsal Nic asked for the opening to be much quieter and that it should be “like the sun rising”.

The cue “Sancho’s Demand” was only dubbed onto some non-English language prints of the film but even on those prints the music was abruptly abbreviated. For the first time that day clicks were used. Clicks are audible metronome signals that the conductor and musicians hear through headphones during recording which helps them to perform the music at exactly the right tempo. Clicks would be used on several other cues as the sessions proceeded and headphones would be available by the side of the players for their use when required. The use of clicks in the sessions demonstrated just how similar the recording was to a film studio recording session where music is directly married to the film. “Sancho’s Demand” is an exciting piece of music and took quite a few takes to get the tempo right, with James checking to see that it was matched to the picture on the DVD. It was interesting to note that many of the cues which had been cut from the film were the more obvious melodramatic pieces which makes one wonder whether the director and/or music editor particularly disliked having too much of that type of music in the picture.

Other cues included “Sancho’s End” which Nic described to the orchestra as “it’s a storm at night and needs to be creepy”, “Investigature”, which contains some wonderful sounding tubular bells, an insert for “Road to Asturias” and “Betrayal”. The last cue to be recorded on the Thursday was “For Spain” and completed about 40 minutes of recorded music for the day.

On the morning of March 14 the studio was even more crowded than the day before because a professional TV team had moved in and installed six remote controlled video cameras on the soundstage and one in the control room. Video clips being intended to go on YouTube.

Before starting the session Nic addressed the orchestra saying, “Thank you for playing so well yesterday. Today, we are going to play louder and faster”. This proved to be very true because some of the most furiously fast-paced music from the score was to be recorded that day.

“Rodrigo’s Men” was the first cue of the day. Not only was the music cut from the film but so was the scene (whatever it was!) which was originally intended to open Part 2 of the film. Definitely a pity, because this is a really glorious, rousing march and it will be good to have it available on CD. After the rehearsal Nic asked for “more from the horns” and after two takes and one partial take it was completed.

Part of “Siege of Valencia” followed. James asked Nic whether he wanted clicks. “Why not, let’s keep the energy going” responded Nic. A very short piece from “Rodrigo’s Encampment” followed and after that came “Unity”. This is a wonderful cue with really joyous music (loud gong here) which again was totally dropped from the film.

After “Rodrigo’s Doubts” came another very dramatic cue “Battle Preparations”. Nic’s instructions to the orchestra for this included telling the tom-tom players to “be as loud as you can” and that the timpani’s should “really go for it”. This resulted in a very powerful thunderous opening and after the take Nic pronounced himself well pleased with the result. “Terrific - bravo everybody”.

The first part of “Farewell” underscores the scene when Alfonso tells Urraca about his dream. Tremolo strings add to the mysterious nature of the cue. The second part of the cue featured the love theme played expressively on solo violin by Lucie Svehlova, who was so effective on the violin solos in Tadlow Music’s “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” recording. The last part of the cue highlighted the El Cid march leading to the end of Part 1 of the film; which of course had not previously been recorded and is missing on TV prints and most DVDs.

Other cues included “United Again”, part of “Battle of Valencia” and “Revolt” – which elicited an amusing comment from James, “That started great, and then it got very revolting”. It took a while to get the brass right in this cue before Nic and James were satisfied with the take. “The Twins” was orchestrated by Nic as heard in the film; previous recorded versions of this cue had used alternative orchestration and Lucie Svehlova was again featured on solo violin.

The final music to be recorded was part of the cue “Courage and Honor” where Rodrigo fights Chimene’s father, Count Gormaz. The first rehearsal led Nic to exclaim, “It really is that fast. Miklos Rozsa is crazy sometimes!”. It was clearly a challenge to play such fast paced music but after several takes, everyone was eventually satisfied with the end result.

During the last few cues I was beginning to wonder whether everything would get done in time but at just five minutes before the end of the session all the cues had been recorded. James went onto the soundstage to thank the orchestra for what had been two of the best days of his recording career.

Nic and James were not quite finished though because the TV cameras came into the control room to film an interview, with me asking them a few questions which I had hastily jotted down previously.

Throughout the sessions James was remarkably relaxed, calm and jovial despite the obvious pressures, whilst Nic was the consummate professional, fully in command of the orchestra with whom he clearly had a strong rapport. He never expressed annoyance when things went wrong – I only observed him being a bit sharp with one player who came in at the wrong time and Nic immediately apologised.

Viewing and listening to the sessions, it was abundantly clear to me that James and Nic are huge admirers of the music and were going to quite exceptional lengths to ensure that the recording will be as authentic to Rózsa’s original intention and to the original soundtrack as it is possible to get. The City of Prague Philharmonic clearly loved playing the music and the quality of their performance and interpretation would, I believe, be difficult for any orchestra to improve upon.

It remains for me to thank James for the unique opportunity to attend this major Rózsa recording event and to also thank James and Nic for the hospitality they extended to me during my stay in Prague.

Copyright 2008. Not to be reproduced without permission of the author