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Artwork copyright (c) 1980 Universal City Studios, Inc; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall

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TV masterpiece

Jerry Goldsmith's incursions into television have been pretty rare over the last thirty years or so, but the results have invariably been superb.  From his epic, breathtaking music for the miniseries QB VII to his superb theme for the series Star Trek: Voyager, it is always worth taking note when Goldsmith writes for television - the project must be something he really cares for in order to agree to do it.  And Masada is the best thing he's written for television.

It was a four-part miniseries first shown in 1981, concerning the siege of a Roman fortress in Palestine by Judean rebels just after the death of Christ, starring the great Peter O'Toole.   It was nominated for just about every Emmy going - and won two, one for Supporting Actor (David Warner) and one for the second episode's music (you know who).  (Goldsmith only scored the first half of the miniseries, with the second half scored by his friend Morton Stevens, based around his themes - and Stevens himself was nominated for an Emmy for the fourth episode.)

The main theme may take you by surprise, being a somewhat jaunty march, but it is truly a fantastic theme (one of Goldsmith's very best) and I'm surprised he doesn't perform it in concert these days - it's a crowd-pleaser, certainly.  Its greatest use is in "The Road to Masada", one of the top cues in the composer's career - the main theme alternates with another great theme in a seven-minute tour-de-force that no other film composer would have been capable of producing.  Also prominent in the score are various Jewish motifs which give a great sense of time and place.  

"Night Raid" is a thrilling piece of action music in Goldsmith's grandest tradition.  "The Old City" sees Goldsmith managing to convey both the sense of desperation of the people and the place with some of his most strikingly beautiful writing.  "Our Land" is stunning, with another theme being performed by strings with Golden Age-style vibrato.  A style not often employed by Goldsmith, but a joy to behold.  And when the main theme appears in a subtle arrangement, played by an oboe, in "The Encampment", it could break your heart.  And so could the concluding "The Slaves", an understated but beautiful way to close the album.

This is probably the best music that's ever been written for television, and right up there with the best of Goldsmith's film scores.

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  1. Main Title (5:04)

  2. The Old City (3:26)

  3. The Planting (2:56)

  4. The Road to Masada (6:54)

  5. Night Raid (3:30)

  6. Our Land (4:41)

  7. The Encampment (2:30)

  8. No Water (2:30)

  9. The Slaves (5:14)