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Coliseum (Marc Timón Barceló)

December 2, 2014


Marc Timón Barceló, 2014, MovieScore Media
20 tracks, 55:55

Miklós Rósza meets Hans Zimmer – not in person, but musically in this score for “Coliseum”. Did Marc Timón Barceló take the best or the worst of both worlds?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Coliseum” is a spectacular show which recreates the deadly games of Ancient Rome in a live movie experience. The production follows the adventures of Marcus Octavius Atellus, the legatus of Rome who has been sentenced to fight as a gladiator in the Coliseum to recover his freedom; he must also survive the machinations of his nemesis Domicianus, the evil brother of the Titus who plans on becoming the emperor. Featuring more than 100 actors, horses, exotic dancers, fire stunts and chariot races, the show features such set pieces as the Battle of Hispania, a ‘David and Goliath’ duel with Porphyrion the Giant and a tender romantic subplot between Marcus and his one true love, Cleopatra.

What does it sound like?

Composer Marc Timón Barceló himself says of the score:

You can’t create ‘Roman’ music without Miklós Rózsa (Ben-Hur) or Alex North (Cleopatra), so I studied their use of brass, how they orchestrated, how they recreated the sound of archaic days. Then I looked at our present with a focus on Hans Zimmer (Gladiator) – from him, I learned about orchestral textures, powerful ostinati and thunderous war percussion. I also tried to mix the two fundamentally different ways of understanding film music in one soundtrack. While we tend to look at John Williams and Hans Zimmer as opposites, I always thought it would be possible to do a score with both styles co-existing: on one hand we’d have melodies and leitmotifs, on the other we’d have big percussion, textural atmosphere and loops.

And so the score opens with a Rószaesque fanfare, which segues into the “The Emperor’s Entourage”. The use of brass and winds, and the harmonies, undeniably evoke memories of an era long since passed. Its slow, steady rhythm also reminds me of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” – but that’s more in tone than in actual notation. It does introduce one of the score key ideas, a 5-note motif (4 up, 1 down) for brass representing the Romans.

“Marcus Octavius Atellus” is a lot more modern with slow chords, duduk, percussion and chanting choir. It’s quite dark, but in the middle also houses a beautiful, almost “Crimson Tide”-like anthem for strings, brass and choir. “Cleopatra’s Theme” is a slow, slithering waltz for softer instruments like strings and woodwinds. It sounds seductive, perhaps more so than actually romantic; and when the full orchestra carries the melody I’m oddly reminded of Chris Young’s “Hell Raiser” (probably because that too features an oddly seductive theme in a 3/4 measure).

Cues like “Exotic Dances from Egypt” and “Sands of the Coliseum” heavily feature ethnic instruments, particularly percussion and winds. “Mehara the Horse” is a lively cue, sounding almost like a Western. It contains a new fast-paced theme. It’s very agile, but difficult to remember. “Fighting Never Ends” opens with wailing vocals, so typical for this genre nowadays, and it ends with a beautifully lush theme for strings. Long notes, warm chords, a little bit Horner-ish… this is my kind of theme!

The second half of the score sees Barceló shift up a gear, where the action material is concerned. Interestingly, a lot of the action music is quite modern, relying on percussion, staccato brass, chanting choir and repeating patterns. “Porphyrion the Giant”, “Hercules’ Sword” and “The Last Combat” are good examples of this. The latter cue owes a lot to Gustav Holst’s “The Planet” (can you guess which movement). Electronics start to play a role as well – the composer adds metallic sounds that blend in quite nicely most (but not all) of the time. Synths, action music and lush melodies all come together in the epic “Battle of Hispania”, which reminds of Horner’s “Avatar” one moment, and of Williams’ “Star Wars” the next (listen to the horns and trumpets from 5:10 – a most excellent sequence, by the way).

It’s not all pomp and circumstance though. “Domicianus and Titus” presents the most gorgeous theme on woodwinds and then strings; which is reprised dramatically in “Domicianus Treason”. We’re also treated to a reprise of “Cleopatra’s Theme” and to a beautiful (Horneresque) “Honor and Victory”. The album closes with “Rudis” – a song for female voice and piano. It’s reminiscent of Horner, Shore (think “Lord of the Rings”‘s songs) and Goldenthal (“Final Fantasy”) all at once. However, it’s very much rooted in the score it belongs to through the use of one of its main themes.

Is it any good?

It may not seem fair to summarise this score as “Ben Hur” meets “Crimson Tide” meets “Avatar”, but the composer himself doesn’t shy away from his influences. It proves a most enjoyable album. Fans of Hollywood’s golden age will appreciate the effort Barceló has made to capture the sound of that era; though they may lament that he then diffused it with modern scoring techniques. Whilst there is a lot to enjoy here, there is also a lot of familiar, pretty average music here. All of it is expertly executed, but it is hard to get excited over a wailing woman or a duduk. The synths fit well most of the time, but certainly not all of the time. Against the rich orchestral arrangements, they occasionally sound a little cheap. A lot of the score sounds more than just familiar, though, with some exceptions, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it is just stylistics after all.

When the score is good, it is excellent. It houses some fabulous themes, such as Cleopatra’s and Domicianus’ themes. The writing and orchestrations are exquisite, especially in those cues that clearly harken back to the days of Messrs. Rósza and North. Fans of modern filmmusic may find parts of “Coliseum” reminiscent of Zimmer, Horner, Williams and Velazquez. All in all I can’t escape the feeling that the whole score doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts, but it is a most interesting album. And as I said earlier, when it soars it really is magnificent.

Rating [3,5/5]


1. Roman Fanfare (0:19)
2. The Emperor’s Entourage (2:39)
3. Marcus Octavius Atellus (4:11)
4. The Tribes (2:33)
5. Cleopatra’s Theme (3:09)
6. Exotic Dances from Egypt (5:03)
7. Sands from the Coliseum (1:48)
8. Mehara the Horse (1:24)
9. Fighting Never Ends (1:26)
10. Porphyrion the Giant (2:08)
11. Dominicianus and Titus (2:17)
12. Hercules’ Sword (3:12)
13. Destiny of the Gladiator (3:29)
14. Domicianus Treason (2:30)
15. The Last Combat (2:09)
16. Cleopatra’s Theme (Strings Version) (3:14)
17. Battle of Hispania (9:52)
18. When Dreams Come True (0:36)
19. Honor and Victory (1:48)
20. Rudis (2:08)


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