Alfred Newman was not only one of the most important figures in film music in purely music terms, but his sphere of influence as head of the Fox music department has never been matched. Despite this, his scores seem to go by the wayside more often with younger collectors. Compared to Miklos Rozsa or Bernard Herrmann, relatively few of Newman's massive catalogue have been released and precious few re-recorded. Adding to this, I don't think some of his trademarks - the high string sound for one - are always appreciated by younger fans. I must say that I am only just warming to Newman's music, but scores like Song of Bernadette make it a lot easier to appreciate Newman's genius as both a composer and conductor.
The Song of Bernadette is a considered masterpiece and quite rightly so. The Oscar winning score was instrumental in giving the film the much needed spiritual lift it would have sorely lacked otherwise. The highlight is almost certainly The Vision with its spectral high end choral writing that brings the entire scene the beauty that cannot be conveyed purely by acting or directing, but also makes for stunning music. The widow of Gustav Mahler was apparently 'profoundly moved' by the music - one can only imagine how moving it must have been hearing it performed live in the studio. The choir makes several other appearances throughout the score, most notably during The Grotto.
Aside from the human choir, Newman uses a brass choir to suggest the power of the church and there are many stirring brass chorales throughout, the Commission Convenes being another highlight. Aside from the more liturgical side, it is the little musical asides that give the music its full scope in relationship to the film. The Day Begins is a simple and jaunty scherzo which reminds the listener that Bernadette may well have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, but she was still, by most standards, fairly uneducated in both general and religious terms. What the three unused cues are for isn't really made clear, but they are more than worth hearing and sensibly programmed at the end so as not to interrupt the narrative flow of the final score order.
It must be remembered that this score was recorded almost sixty years before album producers Nick Redman and Rick Victor were able to do their best restoration job. The sound is somewhat fragile and occasionally spoils during the louder sections, this is an unavoidable side effect of the age and recording methods of the time. It has often been said that no one could reproduce the distinctive string sound that Newman achieved and thus any re-recording would likely be deemed unacceptable. On the other hand, I'm greatly in favour of re-recordings of scores of this vintage and such a recording would doubtless show up the subtleties of Newman's orchestration. However, this restoration is splendid and with detailed liner notes by Jon Burlingame that describe the history of the film and its music brilliantly, the result is a masterful release of an exceptional score. Newman had the most pride for this score and its Oscar win and rightly so. A classic as both film music and music in general.