Rosemary's Baby - Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review


Rosemary's Baby - Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes?

“He has his father’s eyes.”

One of the most acclaimed and stylish and downright influential horror films ever made, Roman Polanski’s extremely faithful adaptation of the classic Ira Levin novel was the beneficiary of extraordinary performances, an atmosphere of pure creeping dread and paranoia, a bewitched setting of demonic geometry in New York’s Bramford Hotel … and a spellbinding score of occult mystery and surrealism from Polish-born Krzysztof Komeda (later known as Christopher Komeda). Thanks to La La Land we can now experience the lilting lullabies of the damned and the haunting terrors of poor Rosemary as she uncovers the appalling secret of a demonic coven that has suckered her into carrying the Devil’s unearthly child inside her.

The story that paved the way for William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin to stoke the infernal fires with The Exorcist and for Richard Donner and David Seltzer to run with the Satanic dogs in The Omen was a critical and commercial success, ushering-in a whole new subgenre of films centred around diabolism. The occult had been probed before in the likes of Night of the Demon, Night of the Eagle and The Devil Rides Out, but this was the movie that brought the Devil into our homes, in the modern world and without the aid of over-the-top effects and gothic imagery. It was fresh, frightening and surprisingly plausible – especially given the upsurge in satanic cults, the interest in black magic in social circles and alternative/New Age belief systems – and it was also eminently trendy, what with Mia Farrow ditching the long locks to sport a page-boy crop and John Cassavetes essaying the up ‘n’ coming go-getter fixing the dastardly deal that will make him a success in the sort of Faustian/Walls Streetian bargain that many who’d been spat out of the wrong end of the Summer of Love would have snapped up.

Moving into a plush New York apartment building, The Bramford, newlyweds Rosemary (Farrow) and Guy (Cassevetes) enter an evil world of the occult. Everything starts off fine with the odd, but friendly neighbours making them both very welcome in their plush, yet stifling new abode. Yet, all too soon enough, Rosemary begins to think that something is seriously amiss. Strange chanting emanates from next door, which would be off-putting at the best of times. But then a terrible nightmare in which she is raped by something unholy and unspeakable – an even made all the more abhorrent by the image of her own husband holding her down whilst the throng of friendly neighbours look on – instils within her the fear that all is not right with the baby she is informed that she is carrying inside her. Further investigations reveal that she could well be the centre-piece of some horrific ritual that has resulted in her becoming pregnant with the Devil’s child … and that Guy, himself, could well be in on the satanic pact. When all outside help is eradicated, and Rosemary’s attempts to escape the coven’s clutches are scotched, she ultimately gives reluctant birth to what could be a monster. But, in one of cinema’s most infamous and gripping of finales, Rosemary cannot bring herself to slay the newborn child and, instead, looks upon it with an adoring mother’s eyes. Levin was emphatic about the fact that this was, indeed, the Devil’s son. Polanski, on the other hand, elected to film the story in such a way that the whole sinister plot could, in fact, all be in Rosemary’s mind, and merely playing out the psychological fears of pregnancy, of being trapped in the big, impersonal city and facing the dawn of a dangerous new decade, and one that whispered conspiracy in the ear. Komeda’s eclectic and unnerving score could be taken either way, but its strong malevolent air suggests to me that Levin’s idea is firmly entrenched in the composer’s imagination.

Christopher Komeda was one of the premier modern jazz practitioners (free and avant-garde) who brought the new European vogue into the movies with such a freewheeling and dexterous power that it would become the mainstay of cop thrillers, modern melodrama, comedies and, of course, a thousand TV shows like Kojack, The Streets of San Francisco and Columbo. He took the baton from such genre composers as Les Baxter, remoulded it and created something new and striking. His work influenced Lalo Schifrin, who riffed quite memorably upon such a distinctive style in his scores for Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, and Billy Goldenberg, who fused it with disco funk for the grimy urban police-drama, Busting. Those Dirty Harry scores, in particular, would emulate the magical juxtaposition of haunting female vocals and powerful, pulsating jazz rhythms to scintillating effect. Listening to them now, after wallowing in Komeda’s soundtrack, I am stunned at how similarly Schifrin would write and arrange his material. They are truly brethren. Much of the more nightmarish and surreal cues in Rosemary’s Baby could just as easily needle the psychotic mind of Andy Robinson’s Scorpio. But then I would even go as far as to say that another renowned maestro probably learned a couple of new tricks from this relative newcomer, for this is the sort of thing that would also help Ennio Morricone find the quasi-lyrical 60’s lilt that made his work on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage for Dario Argento such an unforgettable experience to go along with the powerful visuals. I am not overly fond of jazz music, in and of itself, but, even to me, the discordant arrangements and colliding motifs that can seem so ramshackle and random in a smoke-filled bar become an immensely effective tool in the orchestral arsenal of a film score. To understate it even more, the impact that jazz theology has had upon evoking movie moods, be it suspense, action or boozy in-character reflection, has been possibly the greatest since Max Steiner first coined the leit-motif for his whopping double-whammy of The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong. One of my favourite genre scores is Ron Grainer’s wildly offbeat, though catchy and exciting music for The Omega Man but, listening to what Komeda came up with here it is undeniable that Dr. Who tunesmith, Grainer, was heavily influenced by it. There are many phrases and themes you can hear here that he seemingly adapted for Charlton Heston’s end-of-the-world classic take on Richard Matheson’s seminal novel I Am Legend. Of course, the presence of the demonic cult-like plague-ridden denizens of the apocalyptic new world that Heston’s blood-saviour finds himself in was probably enough inspiration to have Grainer follow Komeda’s trailblazing path.

He would work with Roman Polanski on his first film, the psychological thriller Knife in the Water, and then on the director’s segment of the anthology film Beautiful Swindlers. Missing out on the classic Repulsion, he performed the scoring duties on Cul-de-Sac and the awesome Dance of the Vampires (aka The Fearless Vampire Killers), eschewing his jazz for a lavish and sprightly horror smorgasbord. He was immediately enthralled at the opportunity to provide the music for Rosemary’s Baby, finding within its disturbing core the possible inclusion and subversion of a series of lullabies, the theme of pregnancy and of a newborn demon conjuring all manner of unusual ideas and disparate concoctions in his mind.

Bringing to the party such evocative instruments as the vibraslap, the waterphone, an electric clavichord, synthesiser and harpsichord, and utilising techniques as cutting-edge and disquieting as tape-delayed piano and synth-lines, pitch-bending synth, echoes and instruments played off-key or slowed-down, Komeda seemed to have carte-blanche to create a landscape that hadn’t been heard before. There are elements of Silver Age SF with the terrific Theremin-like sound of synth, there is the light and caressing pop quality of the ethereal hippy era, there are jazzy interludes … and there is pure, pant-wetting, clammy-palmed terror. It’s an unorthodox mix of themes and moods, but Komeda corrals them all into one phantasmagorical collage of supernatural/psychological colour. His intention is freak out and freak us out.

He is hugely successful.

La La Land provide us with a single disc that contains both the original album release in stereo – which is a bravura arrangement in its own right, and has been restored and cleaned-up for this edition – and the full score, in mono, which follows afterwards, commencing at Track 13, expanding upon the album and playing in subtle variations. There are also some Source Cues and Bonus Tracks to savour at the very end.

Sadly, time is short and I am not going to go track-by-track with this exemplary release – I have a simply huge score review just waiting in the wings, you see – but I will select the main points that I find of interest and dissect their effect and originality in particular.

Komeda and Polanski have Mia Farrow performing the haunting vocals in the Lullaby From Rosemary’s Baby Part I, which is a wordless, lyrical humming at once soothing, sensual and beguilingly fragile. It is a susurration of intimate daydreaming and loving fancy. It is both hopeful and optimistic, yet tainted by the caught-in-amber impression of being locked in time and following a preordained path. Komeda is cunning enough to keep the demons at bay, though the really splendid thing about his whimsical orchestration is that we do sense the hand of fate at work and feel the burgeoning sensation of there being some very dark clouds gathering on the horizon. This theme is heard again several times throughout the score, and it becomes the sweet drug that serenades the delicate heroine as negotiates this fiendish trap. Harpsichord and the buzzing vibraslap create an unusual and somewhat medieval flavour to the gentle lullaby. Xylophone and chimes add a delicate touch in Track 17’s evocation.

To shape some tentative respite from what will become a prevailing Satanic atmosphere of dread and wall-closing claustrophobia, the score provides some very lilting and deceptively coy passages that are used to depict Rosemary on her montage shopping sprees. Track 5’s Christmas (Track 19’s Holiday Music in the film score) takes us for a delightful Henry Mancini-like spin that really puts the image in your mind of someone like Audrey Hepburn gadding about the boutiques and salons of either Paris or New York. It’s a sweet, soft whirlwind of femininity. And you know that it just has to be corrupted.

As an evocative reminder of the outside world and its hippy ethics, Komeda serenades the sun with the awesome sugar-pop Track 9, Rosemary’s Party, which he wrote with songsmith Hal Blair, and had Jimmie Haskell arrange and conduct. This is pure nostalgia and a superb slice of irresistible 60’s pizzazz. Actually entitled “Moment in Time”, this can also be heard in the Source Cue 34, with a piano solo. Danny Elfman would affect something very similar with Veruca Salt in his score for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but this is the real deal. Very catchy and boasting that essential hip-swaying, hair-tossing, ever-smiling vibe of flowers, flares and freedom. Tambourine, twanging guitar and madcap, fuzzy-chinned male vocals really capture the bygone euphoria of 1968 – just before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Franklyn J. Schaffner’sPlanet of the Apes and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby would tear such cosy culture apart forever.

Tracks 30, Musical Moment, is one of those smoochy, Love Boat after-dinner canoodles for gentle piano, lazy tenor sax, airy strings and slow, smiling rhythm section. It’s an old school slowie … and it is incredibly romantic. You just want to grab a lady and swoon around the dance-floor. Ironically, its inclusion only adds to the terrible tragedy that engulfs Rosemary. We know that things aren’t going to stay this relaxed and loving for long.

But the most inventive and affecting sounds that Komeda’s score gives birth to are those surrounding the coven and its diabolism at work. Creepy chanting unhinges you in Tracks 2 and 15, with unearthly twists and rattles, lurching string swells, and an eerie flute setting the scene for the demonic impregnation, itself – which comes in Track 3’s emotionally walloping Dream and is further expanded upon in Track 16’s film score version of the same outstanding cue. This is a fabulously woozy kaleidoscope of swirling, trance-inducing insanity – a total submersion into delicious depravity, and a musical helter-skelter that moans and warbles like a gaggle of drunken mermaids. Some of the phraseology even suggests faint mockery and laughter, a sort of inebriated cloud of buoyant humiliation that bubbles just around the central figure of a drugged, stupefied and unwittingly subservient Rosemary. You can’t help falling under its intoxicating spell, yourself, Komeda somehow capturing the musical mood and menacing essence of the medieval carnival and lacing it with a terrible cocktail of absinthe, spider-venom and rohypnol. Glimmering harp and weaving synth careen slowly from side to side, icy, scratched strings jangle the ears. A wavering, hypnotic bass-line thrums and reverberates beneath insistent male and female chanting. The whole cue seems to be swaying back and forth, the musical image blurring and fading, then sharpening into something dark and grim, yet horribly familiar. The music is of mutated sex, its movements horribly, seductively in-synch with the deed. Glacial tones and metallic percussion seem designed to keep you from slipping away into oblivion, as though not allowing any escape from the ordeal.

Track 23 finds Rosemary making the alarming discovery that the man she trusted most of all, Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy), is actually part of the constricting coven too. A laidback jazz beat underscores the tense sequence in which she realises that his cologne matches the foul smelling potion-tainted charm that her neighbours have given her. Komeda has violins stagger, glassy percussion warble and woods lurch. A nervous, spidery piano cracks the reverie, tribal shakers and fluttering woods then close a distinctly uncomfortable cue. Komeda keeps this cauldron of suspense bubbling over in the next track with a bizarre wailing synth and surreal woodwind nudges. After a series of spellbinding, fairytale descending piano lines, Rosemary’s lullaby-waltz briefly returns, but it sounds forlorn, lost and horribly isolated.

Jazz lovers will be enraptured by the delirious appearance of the legendary musician and composer Don Ellis in Track 25, as he performs some incredibly elastic solo trumpeting. The sound he unleashes is woozily fiendish, a monstrous, discordant flailing that tears itself out of the wackiest and most clown-like, prat-falling variation of the lullaby theme. The clarinet struts jovially in the background. Drums bounce and skiffle lightly. Ellis does things to the trumpet that no musical instrument should ever have to experience – and we hear it screaming in agony. The final seconds of this orgiastic cue fade on the dying breaths of the trumpet. Mad. Bad. And dangerous. And utterly brilliant.

Track 11 (original album) and Track 28 (film score) offer variations on the harrowing climax. Having gone through the pregnancy and given birth to the child, whom the coven is now celebrating, the new mother can see only one course of action left. But as Rosemary moves through the gathering towards the blasphemous cradle, kitchen knife in hand, and finally sees her son’s inhuman eyes (“His father’s eyes”), she finds her own maternal instincts too powerful to overcome. And in one of the genre’s most devastating finales she yields to her son, named Adrian, the son of Satan, clearly intending to help nurture him. The music is like a locomotive grinding to a halt. There is a hint of Bernard Herrmann’s driving rhythms gradually slowing down, and then Ellis and his trumpet recommence with a wailing flurry that wouldn’t be out of place in The Twilight Zone. Bass guitar then thrums out a dread heartbeat until the end of the cue.

This is followed by the final rendition of the Lullaby waltz, extended and sans Farrow’s vocals on the album finale but with them intact on the film score version. Perhaps here, most of all, I can identify the similarity to Grainer’s Omega Man themes – a strain of the relaxed and the dreamily upbeat amidst vaguely darker tones that suggest all-too prevalently the darkness that has entered the world, as the strings gently sway towards the close of the track.

The original album actually offers a very strong and rewarding listening experience. Komeda shaped and arranged it perfectly. Although some cues are omitted, this approach finds the perfect balance between the supernatural and the playfully coy and lulling. But having the complete score is a real treasure, and it is great to be able to compare and contrast the variations between the cues, charting the evolution of Komeda’s musical tapestry of evil. Polanski would investigate the realm of the Devil again in 1999’s hugely disappointing The Ninth Gate, starring a pre-boil Johnny Depp as the book detective enmeshed in occult goings-on, and for that he would have the incredible music of Wojciech (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) Kilar to back him up. Kilar’s score is a dazzling piece of work and undoubtedly the best thing about such a tedious letdown of a film. Polanski had lost his mojo for the macabre, but not for music!

To complete this excellent package, we have a great write-up on the film and the score from Scott Bettencourt, plus a feature on the music and a track-by-track analysis from John Takis in a 24-page, illustrated booklet. In this we learn about the genesis of the film adaptation of Levin’s book, and how Polanski came to recruit Komeda, and how the two became firm friends. Their collaborative relationship could well have gone on to even greater heights had not Komeda died very young during a tragic accident that robbed not only the revolutionary filmmaker of a vital and inventive weapon in his creative tool-bag, but Cinema, in general, of a burgeoning talent.

Rosemary’s Baby is a beautifully insidious and unforgettable score that takes you on an emotional journey back in time to the last halcyon days of the 60’s, when suddenly it really seemed as though the world was going to Hell.

La La Land's release is limited to 3000 copies worldwide.

Track Listing

Original Album Presentation

1. Lullaby From Rosemary's Baby, Part 1 (2:22) Vocal by Mia Farrow

2. The Coven (0:45)

3. Moment Musical (2:08)

4. Dream (3:48)

5. Christmas (1:59)

6. Expectancy (2:22)

7. Main Title (Vocal) (2:25) Vocal by Mia Farrow

8. Panic (2:03)

9. Rosemary's Party (2:07)

10. Through the Closet (1:44)

11. What Have You Done to Its Eyes (1:28)

12. Happy News (2:00)


13. Main Title (2:30)

14. Furnishing the Apartment (1:00)

15. Chanting (0:36)

16. Dream (4:11)

17. Lullaby (1:03)

18. The Pain / How to Prepare a Good Steak / The Ear (1:16)

19. Holiday Music (1:30)

20. After the Call to Hutch / Good Appetite (1:04)

21. Lullaby—Crib Sequence (1:16)

22. Scrabble (2:03)

23. Book About Witchcraft / The Horrible Doctor / The Fragrance (2:51)

24. The Horrible Doctor #2 / The Short Dream (1:13)

25. The Iron Bars / Elevator—Lift / Dr. Sapirstein and Syringe (2:58)

26. Path to Pit of Evil #1 (1:55)

27. Path to Pit of Evil #2­3 (1:41)

28. What Have You Done? (1:27)

29. End Title (1:11)


30. Moment Musical (2:14)

31. Bossa Nova (0:14)

32. TV Music (1:32)

33. Moment in Time (2:03)

34. Moment Musical Jazz (With Piano Solo) (3:58)


35. Lullaby From Rosemary's Baby (2:23) (Main Title film soundtrack, excerpt)

36. Lullaby From Rosemary's Baby, Part 2 (2:13) (Dot Records single, B-side) Vocal by Mia Farrow

Total Running Time 71:21

La La Land’s release of Rosemary’s Baby comes closely after FSM’s fantastic unveiling of Bernard Herrmann’s equally demonic baby score for It’s Alive, and the two make for a bravura and haunting double-bill of infant terror. Christopher Komena created a simply outstanding score for Polanski that elevated an already intelligent and gripping horror film into something far more memorable. His integration of era-laced Flower Power harmony contrasts brilliantly with down ‘n’ dirty demonics that prey heavily upon the soul, yet seem so quintessentially of the era. There’s lots of chanting and queasily unsettling hallucinogenics to navigate, and the score marvellously floats over you and consumes you, assimilating you from the inside … much like the infernal predicament that afflicts poor Rosemary and her monstrous offspring.

In a year that has already been possibly the best yet for film score fans, this release of Rosemary’s Baby is one of the many undoubted high-points. The presence of the old album presentation, all cleaned-up and sounding terrific, is cause for celebration enough, but having the original score in its entirety and with glistening clarity and detail is the icing upon a satanic cake. At once this score is a snapshot of an era that was breaking taboos and conventions on a seemingly daily basis, but then so much of it also sounds rare and dazzling and avant-garde even today. This is almost one-stop-shopping for aficionados. You have the sweet lullabies and ballads of the twilight of the Summer of Love, and you have the mesmerising dark side of such fragile and doomed tranquillity. There’s even Don Ellis dragging his trumpet into the Pit and tormenting it without mercy. And this just emphasises that the heavily gothic flavoured occult elements are what this score is best remembered for, and these have lost none of their potency. Disquieting, unnerving and majestically beautiful, Komeda’s clever and unusual score is the stuff of exquisite nightmares to some … and dreams to others.

Dark, demented and diabolical, this is music of devils.

And it comes with my highest recommendation.






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