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SoundReels: Desert Fun With Maurice Jarre's Score For 'Lawrence of Arabia'

Columbia Pictures
Scene from 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia is, hands down, one of the classics.

Directed by David Lean and showcasing a cast full of Hollywood legends, the film won 10 Academy Awards — including one for its sumptuous score by Maurice Jarre.

Jarre was a true giant of film music who, at the time of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), was still at the beginning of what would become an illustrious career.

This episode of SoundReels explores the epic sweep of Jarre's Oscar-winning score for Lawrence of Arabia.

And don't be fooled — Jarre's score is anything but mere background music for the film's stunning views of expansive swathes of the Middle Eastern desert.


"The score, the epic sweep of the music, turns him into the legend of Lawrence of Arabia," says Kenyon College associate professor of film Jon Sherman, who is co-hosting SoundReels with me during The American Sound's Summer Festival of American Film Music.

Jarre's score heightens the film's expansive feel and intensifies emotions at key moments in the narrative — moments that, for the emotional power of image and music, have gone down as some of the greatest moments in all of cinema.

Take, for instance, the scene near the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia that cuts from a conversation between Lawrence and British diplomat Dryden inside the confines of the British Arab Bureau, to a view of a burning desert sunrise.

Jarre's score imbues the scene with a sense of awe as expansive as the Arabian dunes themselves:","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910001","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910001","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">" target="_blank">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910001","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910001","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

An extraordinarily intense camel ride leads to the return of Jarre's expansive "desert theme" as the jubilant underscore to one of the most iconic scenes in all of film:","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">" target="_blank">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

And now, the moment that seals Lawrence's status as a legend. Lawrence returns from rescuing an Arab tribesman who had fallen by the wayside during the trek across the formidable Nefud Desert.

The music speaks for the crowd that surrounds Lawrence, who utters only a single line, marking his triumph over fate itself. This is the moment in which Lawrence becomes nothing short of a god in the minds of his followers:","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">" target="_blank">","_id":"00000178-6a31-ddab-a97a-6a390a910002","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

In this episode of SoundReels, Sherman and I also talk about the dramatic problems of the film's second half and what those challenges mean for the film's musical score.

Enjoy other episodes of SoundReels, Classical 101’s film music podcast, here. And experience more great film music during the Summer Festival of American Film Music on The American Sound, Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on Classical 101.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.