Rózsa, Miklós (1907–95)
Quo Vadis (1951)
The use of dramatic vocalization to signify religious sentiments or the numinous greatly developed during the following decades through its inclusion in several Biblical “epics” including Miklós Rózsa’s Quo Vadis (1951), Ben-Hur (1959), and King of Kings (1961); Alfred Newman’s The Robe (1953) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); and Franz Waxman’s Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). In these films dramatic vocalization is used to accompany moments when God speaks to people, at the occurrence of miracles, the signification of “Holy Objects,” and the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Miklós Rózsa began this trend with his score to the film Quo Vadis. According to the composer:
[Quo Vadis] was the beginning of a long period of really interesting pictures which I feel brought out the best in me because I enjoyed my work so much. For that reason alone I am grateful to MGM. My Historico-Biblical period—my fourth—had begun.1
With his score, Rózsa set a style of composition for religious epics that influenced other composers dealing with films around the same time period.
In Quo Vadis, two scenes use dramatic vocalization to heighten their emotive significance. In the first, Peter the Apostle (Finlay Currie) sees a bright light, accompanied by dramatic vocalization. His companion, the young Nazarius (Peter Miles), possessed by the spirit of God, speaks with the voice of Jesus, telling Peter to return to Rome. The vocalization serves to signify the moment of supernatural possession of Nazarius, and also of revelation to Peter. In the second scene, as Peter is crucified, dramatic vocalization sounds for a mere few seconds, signifying his transfiguration into another plane of existence.
(Nauman 2009, 244–45)
Rózsa also used dramatic vocalization in the scores to The Thief of Bagdad (1940), The Red House (1947), Julius Caesar (1953), Knights of the Round Table (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961), and El Cid (1961).
|God Speaks with Peter the Apostle|
[~2:04:00] Peter the Apostle sees a bright light; his companion, the young Nazarius speaks with the voice of Jesus.
[~2:28:00] Peter is crucified.
1 Miklós Rózsa, Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1982), 145.