To create the lush musical score for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Michael Kamen had to rob from the past and give to the present: He filled his orchestra with dozens of medieval instruments. ”When I was a kid watching the old Robin Hood movies,” says Kamen, who composed the scores for Brazil and Die Hard, ”it bothered me to hear contemporary music in the background. Musicians in the 12th century had a lovely, virile sense of rhythm, and all of that went into this score: plucks of strings, steady drum beats, piercing cries of horns.” The musical relics Kamen rounded up to produce those sounds included cimbaloms (”They look like the inside of a piano without the keys”), hand-held drums, harps, conch shells, shofars (ram’s-horn trumpets), and ”lots of weird flutes-it looks like the musicians are playing a bunch of sticks.” Many of the instruments came from the orchestra members’ own collections. ”Trombonists,” he says, ”collect bizarre things.”
As part of his research, Kamen, an accomplished oboist, played each instrument himself. Because there is so little documentation of 12th-century music, the instruments were his main key to the past. ”The sounds they evoke are poignant and romantic,” he says. ”Pretty lusty stuff.” Robin’s signature music is ”heavy on horns” to sound heroic and purposeful, while Robin and Marian’s love theme is a simple melody relying mainly on harps. Morgan Freeman’s Azeem has such a strong presence that Kamen felt he should always enter to the sounds of silence.
Medieval instruments alone, however, do not a ’90s movie score make. Kamen has bolstered his melodies with synthesizers and other bits of recording- studio technology to add depth and punch. ”I am a musical purist,” he allows, ”but hey, this is a summer blockbuster.”