This is the first of a series I’d like to do, where I preach the good news of film music to you—one track at a time. My hope is that those who already like this stuff will either nod in agreement or be blessedly exposed to new scores or composers, and that those unconverted to the religion of the music of cinema will be transfixed and forever changed. These will be tracks that prove the genre very accessible, that give me extreme pleasure, and that demonstrate why I’m so hopelessly bewitched by this corner of music.
Exhibit number one: “The Caravan,” from Jerry Goldsmith’s The Mummy.
I never would have thought it possible, but Goldsmith has essentially caught up to the front winner in my heart (John Williams, who remains number one if only due to his seniority there). His melodies were masterful, his orchestration skills sublime, and his talents limitless. I love Goldsmith scores from the beginning of his long career to the end, and this action/adventure score from 1999 is no exception. The ’90s found Goldsmith “streamlining” his writing style, and even though some longtime fans lost interest in him as he shook off a few compositional complexities, I find the bulk of his ’90s output thoroughly engaging and chock full of gold.
The Mummy is a great amalgam of Jerry’s gifts writing for action, suspense, exotic locale, and romance, but my favorite track is “The Caravan,” a fantastic little set piece that quickens the ol’ heart rate.
A solo flute begins the track, singing the score’s love theme—a hopeful, Egyptian-flavored melody—over a gentle breeze of strings. Then, percussion. Goldsmith had such a knack for finding the perfect rhythm for action set pieces, a meter that both hurtles the onscreen activity forward and engages the listener like an infectious pop hook. Here he layers complementary rhythms on different drums, ramping up the momentum, then fades in a simple, anticipatory motif in the indigenous “ethnic” mode.
Like an approaching caravan seen from a distance, a string chord slowly advances across this desert of rumbling percussion—then arrives in style with full-throated French horns and chorus heralding a glorious, serpentine motif. As only Goldsmith could do it, this procession seamlessly transitions into a more rapid, syncopated rhythm, strings gliding above the new pulse on wings. Retaining all the same elements, Goldsmith has the horns beating a quick and steady flow of notes and the chorus providing a grand counterpoint to the string melody. Then it’s over, and you just want more.
“The Caravan” is a two-minute blood rush of melody, rhythm, and immersion in an exotic culture. It’s a snapshot of Goldsmith’s compositional power, and a proof text for the gospel of film music.