My brand spanking new copy of Roger Hickman's study of Rózsa's magnum opus just arrived in the mail, and from first appearances I am glad to report that it is well worth its $30 price tag.
The 150+ page booklet immediately brings to mind Christopher Palmer's classic Rózsa monograph, both from its size and its bountiful musical examples (many from Rózsa's earlier scores, such as Five Graves to Cairo), which are inserted into the text rather than as an appendix. Like that scholarly effort, it begins with a twenty-page biography of Rózsa's musical background, his Hungarian national musical roots (Bartók and Kódaly), his early classical works, his musical life in Paris, London and Hollywood, his dual modern and romantic musical personalities, and his later concert works.
The next 25+ pages deal with his early film-scoring techniques, discussing melody, harmony and orchestration, the "brutal harshness" of his film noir and psychological noir period, the transition to a neo-Classic style in the late '40s and early '50s, and finally the modern synthesis of neo-Romantic and neo-Classic styles during his M-G-M widescreen years leading up to Ben-Hur.
Next up is a 20+ page diversion into the historical-critical context of Ben-Hur: the novel, Ben-Hur: the silent film and Ben-Hur: the epic, followed by a 30 page discussion of the Ben-Hur score within the historical context of Hollywood epic scoring (Victor Young, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman) and — most significantly — an exposition of Rózsa's thematic material in Ben-Hur.
The final 35 pages present an analysis and thematic structure of the score. End notes, bibliography and index close the book. The copper-brown tint of the cover and spine make this an aesthetically worthy shelf companion to Rhino's 2-disc set.
Mr. Hickman appears to be a praiseworthy successor to Christopher Palmer. He dedicates his booklet to his wife Maureen "for being the Esther in my life and leading me to a rediscovery of Ben-Hur."
Rating: nine bronze Spina dolphins up!