Ivanhoe & The Lionheart’s Ballad

I was pleased to recieve a comment recently by Laurence, regarding my article about the ‘medieval' chant used during one of the scenes of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). 

You can view my post here:- The Chant of the Crusaders.

Prince John (Hubert Gregg) watches his brother King Richard leave for the Holy  Land

Laurence says:
“Interestingly, the same theme is used for background music to the prologue in ‘Ivanhoe’, scored, of course, by Miklos RózsaIt is reputed to be based on a tune written by Richard the Lionheart himself. Rózsa's sleeve notes for 'Ivanhoe' state, “ Under the opening narration I introduced a theme from a ballad actually written by Richard the Lionhearted”.
In my opinion, the 1950’s were a golden era for films such as theseIvanhoe is another of my favourite movies, released the same year as Walt Disney’s live action film The Story of Robin Hood.  Our regular contributor Neil Vessey, has a fantastic web site dedicated to Films of the Fifties. Take a look!

MGM’s Ivanhoe (1952) starred Robert Taylor as the Saxon knight, loyal to King Richard the Lionheart who has been captured and ransomed. Also appearing in this epic adventure are Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders. The film is based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1819.

Ivanhoe lobby card

Richard the Lionheart’s Ballad
As Laurence says, it was Miklos Rózsa (1907-1995) who scored the music for MGM's Ivanhoe and in 1953 he was nominated for both Academy and Golden Globe awards for his work. Rózsa is known for composing the music for nearly a hundred films. 

In 1987 Rózsa described to Bruce Duffie the medieval sources that inspired him to write the soundtrack for Ivanhoe:
“The various themes in Ivanhoe are partly based on authentic Twelfth Century music, or at least influenced by them. Under the opening narration I introduced a theme from a ballad actually written by Richard the Lionhearted. The principle Norman theme I developed from a Latin hymn by the troubadour Giraut de Bornelh. This appears the first time with the approaching Normans in Sherwood Forest. Later during the film, it undergoes various contrapuntal treatments. The love theme for Ivanhoe and Rowena is a free adaptation of an old popular song from the north of France. The manuscript of this I found in a collection of songs in the Royal Library of Brussels. It’s a lovely melody, breathing the innocently amorous atmosphere of the middle ages, and I gave it modal harmonizations. Rebecca needed a Jewish theme, reflecting not only the tragedy of this beautiful character but also the persecution of her race. Fragments of medieval Jewish motives suggested a melody to me. My most difficult job was the scoring of the extensive battle in the castle because the producers wanted music to accompany almost all of it. I devised a new theme for the Saxons, along with a motive for the battering ram sequence, thereby giving a rhythmic beat which contrapuntally and polytonally worked out with the previous thematic material, forming a tonal background to this exciting battle scene. Scoring battles in films is very difficult, and sadly one for which the composer seldom gets much credit. The visuals and the emotional excitement are so arresting that the viewer tends not to be aware that he or she is also being influenced by what is heard.”         (Movie Music UK) 

Ivanhoe sings King Richard's ballad outside the castle walls.

As my regular readers know, I have posted many times on various aspects on the life of Richard the Lionheart. He is a king who has always interested me. So I was keen to investigate this ballad that has been attributed to him and used in Ivanhoe

The Lionheart is Captured
On his way back from the third Crusade in 1192, King Richard I (1157-1199) was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria and sent to a strong castle built high on a mountain-slope over-looking the Danube: the castle of Durnstein. Legend states that Blondel, King Richard's faithful minstrel, travelled the length and breadth of Germany in search of his missing lord. He visited castle after castle and outside each one sang the first lines of a song which he and Richard had composed together.

One day while resting in a garden at the foot of a tower in which Richard was held, the king saw him and sang, ‘ for he sang very well- the first part of a song which they had composed and which was known only to the two of them’ . This was the inspiration for the opening scene of the film, Ivanhoe (1952).

Blondel’s Song
In its earliest known form, this story was told in a Rheims prose chronicle written in about 1260. But it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the legend took off. There was a troubadour known as Blondel de Nesle who lived at the same time as King Richard I. He was a native of Picardy whose work showed the influence of Gregorian chant. Twenty three of his songs have survived. But sadly, there is not a shred of evidence to link him to the legend or that he ever met the Lionheart.

Blondel outside the castle in Durnstein

So what was this ballad ‘actually written’  by King Richard the Lionheart, that Rózsa used?

King Richard's Ballads?
Two songs do exist that are attributed to King Richard I in early troubadour manuscripts, the ‘ rotrouenge’  said to have been composed in captivity and a ‘sirventes’  aimed at Dauphin of Auvergne. It is impossible to to be absolutely certain that Richard did write them, but the evidence that he was unusually interested in music is overwhelming. Richard was well educated, his upbringing would have included music. His mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine and a generous patron of poets and musicians. Richard grew up almost exclusively in Eleanor’s court. He was surrounded by the poetry and troubadour culture throughout his childhood.

The incredibly beautiful song, written in captivity, Ja nus hons pris, translates as "no man who is imprisoned' and is said to have been addressed to Richard's half-sister, Marie de Champagne, expressing the feeling that he had been abandoned by her and his barons to an unfair fate. 

Is this what Rózsa based his opening theme on for Ivanhoe?

Ja Nus Hons Pris
Original Old French
Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa raison
Adroitement, se dolantement non;
Mais par effort puet il faire chançon.
Mout ai amis, mais povre sont li don;
Honte i avront se por ma reançon
Sui ça deus yvers pris.


Ce sevent bien mi home et mi baron–
Ynglois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon–
Que je n’ai nul si povre compaignon
Que je lessaisse por avoir en prison;
Je nou di mie por nule retraçon,
Mais encor sui [je] pris.


Or sai je bien de voir certeinnement
Que morz ne pris n’a ami ne parent,
Quant on me faut por or ne por argent.
Mout m’est de moi, mes plus m’est de ma gent,
Qu’aprés ma mort avront reprochement
Se longuement sui pris.


N’est pas mervoille se j’ai le cuer dolant,
Quant mes sires met ma terre en torment.
S’il li membrast de nostre soirement
Quo nos feïsmes andui communement,
Je sai de voir que ja trop longuement
Ne seroie ça pris.


Ce sevent bien Angevin et Torain–
Cil bacheler qui or sont riche et sain–
Qu’encombrez sui loing d’aus en autre main.
Forment m’amoient, mais or ne m’ainment grain.
De beles armes sont ore vuit li plain,
Por ce que je sui pris


Mes compaignons que j’amoie et que j’ain–
Ces de Cahen et ces de Percherain–
Di lor, chançon, qu’il ne sunt pas certain,
C’onques vers aus ne oi faus cuer ne vain;
S’il me guerroient, il feront que vilain
Tant con je serai pris.


Contesse suer, vostre pris soverain
Vos saut et gart cil a cui je m’en clain
Et por cui je sui pris.


Je ne di mie a cele de Chartain,

La mere Loës.

No prisoner can tell his honest thought
Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong;
But for his comfort as he may make a song.
My friends are many, but their gifts are naught.
Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here
I lie another year.

They know this well, my barons and my men,
Normandy, England, Gascony, Poitou,
That I had never follower so low
Whom I would leave in prison to my gain.
I say it not for a reproach to them,
But prisoner I am!

The ancient proverb now I know for sure;
Death and a prison know nor kind nor tie,
Since for mere lack of gold they let me lie.
Much for myself I grieve; for them still more.
After my death they will have grievous wrong
If I am a prisoner long.

What marvel that my heart is sad and sore
When my own lord torments my helpless lands!
Well do I know that, if he held his hands,
Remembering the common oath we swore,
I should not here imprisoned with my song,
Remain a prisoner long.

They know this well who now are rich and strong
Young gentlemen of Anjou and Touraine,
That far from them, on hostile bonds I strain.
They loved me much, but have not loved me long.
Their plans will see no more fair lists arrayed
While I lie here betrayed.
Companions whom I love, and still do love, Geoffroi du Perche and Ansel de Caieux, Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue. Never to them did I false-hearted prove; But they do villainy if they war on me,
—While I lie here, unfree. 
Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue.
Never to them did I false-hearted prove;
But they do villainy if they war on me,
While I lie here, unfree.

Countess sister! Your sovereign fame
May he preserve whose help I claim,
Victim for whom am I!

I say not this of Chartres’ dame,
Mother of Louis!
Click here to hear Ja Nus Hons Pris

Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) sings to King Richard the Lionheart

My Heart Was A Lion
As Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) rides past several castles, in search of his king, he sings:

My heart was a lion, but now it is chained,
Far do I travel, and will travel and sing
I travel, I travel in search of my heart
I vowed me a vow and I pledged this to be, 
Far will I travel until thou art free.

I think John Haines, in his book, ‘Music in Films on the Middle Ages’, sums it all up very well:

“As it turns out, ‘My Heart Was A Lion,’ is not based on any surviving medieval melody. It does not even occur in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe.’ It does, however, resemble a modern folk song. Both music and text are apparently new to the 1952 film. It is possible that someone other than Rózsa wrote the music for this song. In the composers sketches for the film, dated November 1951 to January 1952, the music for ‘My Heart Is A Lion’ is nowhere to be found. If Rózsa did not write the song, then quite possibly his orchestrator, fellow Hungarian Eugene Zador - whose daughter once accused Rózsa of not giving enough credit to, ‘young former friend and colleague, the glorified copyist’ - made it up.
Whoever composed it, the song exhibits a few vaguely medieval touches, namely its use of a minor scale and its stepwise approach to cadences. But, in the main, it is a patently modern creation. . .The minstrel song in Ivanhoe bears only the slightest resemblance to the medieval ‘Ja Nus Hon Pris’. The word ‘chained’ vaguely matches Richard’s description of himself as a prisoner (hons pris), but that is all. And its melody has little to do with the music that survives in medieval manuscripts for ‘Ja Nus Hons Pris.’  In short, rather than medieval influences, Ivanhoes’s horseback song bears the marks of modern musical traditions, including that of a singing cowboy”.

John Haines: Music in Films on the Middle Ages Routledge (2013)

Many thanks to Laurence for getting in touch.


Clement Glen said...

Many thanks to Laurence for getting in touch.

Unknown said...

Many thanks to both Clement and Laurence for subject blog. As a regular to this blog and an unconditional admirer of both films Story of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, as well as their respective composers, Clifton Parker and Miklos Rozsa, I can transmit some information of my own. As for Ivanhoe's song, My Heart Was A Lion, let me quote the liner notes for Miklos Rozsa's 2009 FSM Treasury Box 04 (15 CDs covering Rozsa's scored films from MGM between 1949 and 1968, a true treasure indeed!): Song Of Ivanhoe - Rozsa composed this song, heard at the opening of the film, for Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) to sing as he travels through Austria in search of King Richard (''The Lionhearted'', played by Norman Wooland). The composer himself supervised this performance by Robert Taylor and an unidentified lutenist. The words are by Marguerite Roberts, the uncredited co-author of the screenplay. Incidentally, the complete Rozsa Ivanhoe soundtrack is available on CD (Rhino RHM 27772 - 2002) and on a score reconstruction CD by Daniel Robbins (Intrada MAF 7055D). Both wonderful discs are a must for collectors and lovers of both film and score, available on Amazon or ebay.
As for the Giraut de Bornel's tune used in Ivanhoe's Prologue, as well as during the Austrian's monk scene at the beginning, where Ivanhoe cannot read Austrian, but not English as well (Richard's message is in fact in English)!, it seems to have been used again by Clifton Parker for the Chant of the Crusaders, but with some variations, if you listen very carefully).
By the way, it is interesting that there is another connection between Miklos Rozsa and Clifton Parkerl. MGM' Knights of the Round Table (1953) was also scored by Rozsa and starring Robert Taylor (Sir Lancelot). Upon his return from the war against the Picts, his minstrel friend Gareth sings a tune entitled My Lady Fair, composed by nobody else than Clifton Parker! Also Gareth is being played by Anthony Forwood, our Will Scarlet in The Story of Robin Hood. Amusing coincidences aren't they?

Unknown said...

I forgot to sign the preceding blog : Christian Roy from French Canada!

Clement Glen said...

Hi Christian and thank you for your comments. Its great to finally get the name of the person who came up with the words to ‘My Heart Was A Lion,’ Marguerite Roberts. And fascinating to learn of the cross-overs by the composers in those epic 'medieval films' of the 1950’s. Something perhaps Neil could pick-up on at his fantastic Films of the Fifties web site.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Ivanhoe's song to King Richard at the beginning of the film (My Heart Was a Lion) is indeed an original tune composed by Miklos Rozsa, and not based upon authentic medieval melodies, such as Reis Glorios (the Norman Theme) and Ja Hu Non Pris (played under the opening narration and at Cedric's banquet). I have found the name of the 'said unknown lutenist' accompanying the singing of Robert Taylor. It is Jack Marshall who was as well used for similar scenes in Knights of the Round Table (1954), music by Miklos Rozsa, and The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955), music by Bronislau Kaper. Of course, the orchestral parts were played by the MGM Studio Orchestra for all three films, including Ivanhoe.
Christian Roy, Quebec City, Canada

Clement Glen said...

Many thanks Christian,