Dramatic Vocalise Database

Tiomkin, Dimitri (1894–1979)

Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

“Howard Hawks’s Land of the Pharaohs was the first of the Tiomkin super-epics; the composer took full advantage of the opportunity here presented him to write on a large and lavish scale. For the most spectacular sequences an orchestra of ninety and a chorus of eighty were employed, the latter under the direction of Jester Hairston. Yet it is typical of Tiomkin’s unpredictability that, after an opening flourish of brass, the credits come up to haunting, evocative music, fastidiously scored, whose general dynamic never rises much above a piano. A faraway singer rolls back the sands of time five thousand years; in her chant with its strangely primordial, darkly exotic quality are disclosed the two complementary strains of the main theme.” 1



Opening Credits and Scene

The opening credits include the melismatic singing of a solo contralto. The following scene includes a grand procession with on-screen musical performers. Much later, after Pharaoh has arrived, a short segment of dramatic vocalization accompanies him as he walks through the palace.

Final Scene and Ending Credits

As the pharaoh’s body is placed in the tomb, a wordless chorus is heard singing a lamentful version of the music that opens the film.

“In the climactic scene of the sealing of the tomb . . . the melodic protagonists are the two major themes of the picture; in a spectacular orchestral tour de force we hear them chanted by the priests as they wait to be immured in the tomb. The music also intensifies Queen Nellifer’s impotent despair as she realizes she is to share their fate; but above all it depicts the rushing and pouring of the great barrages of sand that set the sealing mechanism in motion with an inexorability that no power on earth can stay.” 2

Palmer’s assessment is questionable since the priests he refers to have previously had their tongues cut out by order of the Pharaoh. The visual imagery never clearly establishes whether it is the priests who sing, or if the vocalization is part of the non-diegetic orchestral music that accompanies the scene. Following the sealing of the tomb, the same chorus is heard once more, yet, the priests are nowhere in sight.


1 Christopher Palmer, Dimitri Tiomkin: A Portrait (London: T. E. Books, 1984), 99.

2 Ibid., 101.