Silver Screen - Ben-Hur with music by Carl Davis was performed live on stage with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008.
Ben-Hur was the most expensive silent film ever made, with the total costs adding up to four million dollars. Starring Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur and Francis X Bushman as Messala, this action-packed film was instantly a roaring success on its release in 1925.
Ben-Hur and Messala, courtesy of Photoplay Productions
The film is based on the novel Ben-Hur. A Tale of the Christ by the American lawyer and author Lew Wallace, itself a best-seller in 1880. The story of human conflict and godly redemption is set at the height of the Roman Empire, and no expense was spared in the reconstruction of marine battle scenes and chariot races.
Filming the Galley, courtesy of Photoplay Productions
Carl Davis is no stranger to composing music for screen. Recent scores include the BBC drama Cranfordand Pride and Prejudice, as well as The World at War series. Written for full symphony orchestra, his music for Ben-Hur is a powerful force which enhances some of the most unforgettable moments in screen history - including the chariot race between Ben-Hur and Messala, when two sets of timpani beat alongside the frenzied screen action.
Listen to soundclips from the music, including the Chariot Race, in the player on the left.
Filming Messala's Chariot, courtesy of Photoplay Productions
It isn’t a picture. It’s the bible!’ ‘Ben-Hur is the greatest single thing for religion, for the theatre, for the church, for the stage and screen, and for the masses, high and low, ever uttered’ Variety 1926
‘It’s quite a tightrope act!
Aligning music with film can be a tricky business. Carl Davis says: ‘Silent films were handcranked so we have to determine the correct projection speed for each film. I compose the music to synchronise with the set speed, which must be duplicated exactly at every screening. I rely on visual cues on the score, and I make constant adjustments when conducting. It’s quite a tightrope act!’
The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Carl Davis are an established partnership. Since 1997, performances together have included Flesh and the Devil, The Crowd, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Intolerance and Chaplin’s The Immigrant & The Kid and Modern Times, and most recently Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s own film pedigree includes the soundtracks for Lord of the Rings trilogy, East is East and Eastern Promises amongst many others.