Friday, February 04, 2005

"Deliver Us" - Prince of Egypt soundtrack

I just listened to The Prince of Egypt soundtrack – excellent recording, I must say. Stephen Schwartz wrote all of the songs, with Hans Zimmer’s beautiful orchestrations. Even if Christian-affiliated movies aren’t your thing (I’m not heavily religious), The Prince of Egypt still is a beautiful movie with fantastic music and great animation.

“Deliver Us” is by far the most powerful song in the film. It opens the movie by introducing viewers to the hardships that the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. You hear the Prince of Egypt theme on a solo trumpet/cornet, which leads into a large men’s chorus chanting, “Mud … sand … water … faster!” This opening men’s chorus reflects the frustration of the Hebrew slaves. The music ties in very effectively with the visual elements – you see graphic images of Hebrew slaves being whipped and beaten. Lots of whipping sound effects and heavy percussion. Eventually a women’s chorus joins in for added emphasis.

The chorus transitions to some Middle Eastern instruments, two that I can’t identify. One sounds like a pipe instrument, the other like a recorder. This signals a change in the mood of the song: We are introduced to Yocheved, Moses’ mother. Ofra Haza sings the part of Yocheved, and her unique combination of Middle Eastern trills and embellishments with a powerful belt soars over the Hebrew chorus. This is one of the most hair-raising moments of the song. The words are the same as the earlier men’s chorus, yet Haza’s passionate pleas to God add that extra “umph” of intensity.

In the film we next see Yocheved and her two children, including Miriam, sneak away from the Egyptian soldiers stealing away the Hebrew infants, and deposit Moses into the Nile, praying that he will be safe. The transition is played on a Middle Eastern flute. Haza changes her timbre to that of a soft lullaby. As Yocheved lets Moses go, Haza emphasizes the sadness of the moment by increasing the volume of her voice. Schwartz adds a “wailing” effect for Yocheved’s character – she sings on the “ah” vowel in a Middle Eastern style.

In an instrumental interlude we see Moses’ basket make the tumultuous journey to the Egyptian palace where he will be raised. Schwartz uses this sequence to change keys. He takes a long, long time to modulate, creating aural tension for viewers. We literally cringe our teeth in hopes that Moses will make it to safety, not only because of the visuals, but because of the modulation! Schwartz also adds cymbals crashing to mimic waves, and recapitulates the original men’s chanting to illustrate a slave ship passing by.

The last and final section, once we’ve changed keys, has a descending melodic sequence, to reflect the calming of the waters as Moses’ basket enters the palace. The flute returns. Miriam sings from the edge of the river, as she watches Pharaoh’s wife discover the basket. She prays that Moses will grow up, and come back to save the Hebrews. Her last line is interrupted by the Hebrew chorus, who sings one last impassioned verse of the “Deliver Us” chorus. My favorite line is, “Send a shepard to shepard us.” Very cool. Haza sings a final “deliver us” in her unique Middle Eastern style.

All in all, I think that Schwartz and Zimmer effectively use instruments and specific voices to help illustrate the visual elements. You could seriously listen to this song without having seen this movie and understand the action.

1 comment:

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Would the music carry the same meaning if it were experienced without the visuals?