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Barry Lyndon’s iconic duel adaption of George Frideric Handel’s “Sarabande” by the National Philharmonic Orchestra is Kubrick artistry at its purist form.
The thumping beat of Barry Lyndon’s “Sarabande” duel music drapes over every part of the soul as your body tenses for challenge instinctively. There’s no fight or flight option to be found in the brick-by-brick tension of the theme, just fight. No placing the car on reverse, no hightailing to safer ground to better plan another day, no exit door. Barry Lyndon’s duel iteration of “Sarabande” represents one’s baser impulses when push comes to shove, inspiring focus and precision on the rival at hand. A situation without diplomatic resolution but demanding satisfaction.
“Sarabande” shares parallels with Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, in physically latching onto intangible, animalistic senses without touch. Except unlike Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart driving its protagonist mad with guilt, Redmond Barry’s mind could not hold more clarity in the moment “Sarabande” plays. The film’s audience on the other side of the telly or in 1975’s debut on the silver screen merging with the protagonist as one. The nurturing buildup of a crescendo spelling demise for the fallen and greatness for the victor.
“Sarabande” Duel #1: Redmond Barry vs. John Quin
An instinctual wave of urgency envelops the viewer universally the first time Handel’s “Sarabande” plays in a slow burn. A duel on the horizon as universally relatable young upstart Redmond Barry challenges elder British army captain John Quin over his pilfering of Nora Brady’s hand in romance. The apple of Redmond Barry’s eye being taken by a higher status, richer male of the pack as he’s asked by family and friends to keep his protest under wraps. Yet, the dissent only grows until viewers arrive at the stage of no return for Redmond.
Surreally enough, the thought crosses your mind Redmond might actually meet his maker at the conclusion of the duel. Despite the fact the scene occurs fairly into the onset of Barry Lyndon… The plausibility of the scenario rains before your eyes. George Frideric Handel and the National Philharmonic Orchestra’s auditory wonder keeping you channeled into the moment. Fully immersed in what’s unfolding in front of you, on the edge of your seat. A Stanley Kubrick masterpiece.
“Sarabande” Duel #2: Barry Lyndon vs. Lord Bullingdon
The modern Shakespeare-like tragedy comes full circle when Barry’s step-son Lord Bullingdon arrives back on his mother’s estate demanding satisfaction. When Lord Bullingdon descends on the Lyndon estate and spots a disheveled half-asleep, presumably drunk Barry post-death of son Bryan Patrick Lyndon. “Sarabande” duel edition ominously plays as the true heir walks toward his rival. Lord Bullingdon prods Lyndon awake with an aristocratic cane, and speaks of the great shame no gentlemen experienced during Barry’s tyranny of his mother’s estate. The two soon become players in a duel standoff akin to a Ennio Morricone composed western.
Barry subtly finds himself in Quin’s position as the elder but when Bullingdon makes a hasty mistake with his first shot, he takes mercy on him. Shooting his pistol to the side, intentionally missing his step-son. Perhaps, expecting humbled respect in return or being unable to hurt Lady Lyndon further emotionally after countless acts of infidelity. Instead, Lord Bullingdon takes the second shot, forever crippling Barry and soon seeing him off the Lyndon estate. From riches back to the destitute streets he once emerged from.
All through the thumping, imminent danger and challenge of “Sarabande” and its conclusive Harpsichord themed irrevocable sorrow. The natural order reasserting itself despite all of Redmond Barry’s perseverance, chapter after chapter. No escape. The man known as Barry Lyndon, a flirtation of a life of eternal fortune… Gone. Only Redmond remaining in Lyndon’s place.
The Barry Lyndon official soundtrack is available for purchase on Amazon. Track #11, “Sarabande-Duel – National Philharmonic Orchestra” is the George Frideric Handel adapted track featured in this article.