Victory At Sea/Richard Rodgers

October 6, 2006


Under appreciated, neglected, a real diamond in the rough are all words and phrases that come to mind when “Victory At Sea” is discussed if it is even mentioned at all anymore. Then take Richard Rodgers one half of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the most successful broadway musical team in history (42 to be exact and 19 ended up on film) and ask him to do music to war footage for 26 1/2 hour episodes for an early on special for television which was quite new in 1952. Early on Richard had to think the writer/producer Henry Salomon had rocks in his head! Yet he agreed and the rest is history. Variety described Rodgers’ score as “the finest original work of its kind produced by an American composer”. Robert Russell Bennett and members of the famed NBC Symphony Orchestra round out the rest of the team in this project. Bennett, by the way, orchestrated for such golden age giants as Tiomkin (Lost Horizon), Alfred Newman (Gunga Din), and Franz Waxman (Rebecca) as well as doing his film and concert work. What you end up with is a combination of music, arranging, and performing that is unbeatable!

Robert took all of the material from the 26 shows and condensed it down into 9 movements or approximately 42 minutes, the length of a symphony. Each movement represents a specific part of the war from the U Boats in the North Atlantic, Guadacanal, Italy, and Pearl Harbor. “Song of the High Seas” begins with a depiction of the wind and the sea, a theme that does appear in the other tracks, but there is a brief message of a submarine lurking in those infinite waters before it strikes with dissonant and disturbing chords followed by the despair and tragedy of war. “The Pacific Boils Over” begins with a breathtaking hula slow and oh so Hawaii but then a danger motif and the drone of the planes and the attack! “Guadalcanal March” is standard repertoire in any marching band assortment of music being a rousing upbeat Sousa style we are ready to do battle. “D-Day” tells us the story of the famous invasion with a solemn, proud, and positive theme played by all sections of the orchestra. “Hardwork and Horseplay” has a theme depicting drudgery then switches to a little bit of old time fiddling and then back to the march solemn theme. “Theme of the Fast Carriers” tells the tragedy of war with yet another new theme: the battle, the retreat with the wounded and a funeral at sea. Likely the most famous of the tracks is “Beneath the Southern Cross” a tango of all things to depict the war in the South Atlantic in places such as Brazil. The music was later adapted into a song “No Other Love”. “Mare Nostrum” switches to the advance on Rome and the liberating of North Africa and the Mediterranean. This is great action music with still another new theme. “Victory at Sea”, the final selection, includes a hymn of prayer and a further statement of the themes from “Guadalcanal March”, “The Song of the High Seas”, and “Beneath the Southern Cross”.

This material, considering where it came from, will drop your jaw in amazement. How Richard Rodgers came up with what he did is really quite simple. The man is a genius! The icing on the cake is Bennett and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The only problem is getting the material now that LP’s have gone the way of tubes in electronic devices. The review is based on a mono 1954 recording. There is something which is currently available and that is a Telarc recording (CD-80175) which includes 5 of the major themes. Recorded in 1989 and performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra it has about 21 minutes of material. It also includes short suites to many of the popular war films such as “The Longest Day”, “The Winds of War”, and “Casablanca”. There are two RCA releases which will offer nearly all of the recorded material from the series (60963-2 and 60964-2) and while out of print they are still available at reasonable prices and should be investigated. Very simply put this is a work which belongs in the top 100 soundtracks of all time. Highly recommended.

Golden Score Rating (*****)

Track listing

1. Song of the High Seas (04:55)

2. Pacific Boils Over (05:27)

3. Guadacanal March (03:09)

4. D-Day (05:33)

5. Hard Work and Horseplay (03:20)

6. Theme of the Fast Carriers (06:14)

7. Beneath the Southern Cross (03:41)

8. Mare Nostrum (04:15)

9. Victory at Sea (05:15)

Total Duration: 00:41:49

Robert Russell Bennett conducts members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra

RCA LM 1779


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