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Westerns are films set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West. Some of the most beautiful music scores had been inspired by these movies.

 

“Will, I think you’d better go while there’s still time. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us” (High Noon, 1952)

A town Marshall is personally compelled to face a returning deadly enemy, while his own town refuses to help him. Dimiti Tiomkin can probably be considered the father of western film score. His memorable score for this magnificent western adds to the suspense that builds up as Will Kane awaits Frank Miller, who is arriving on the noon train.

 

“We deal in lead, friend”  (The Magnificent Seven, 1960)

Based on the Japanese legendary film The Seven Samurai, it tells the story of Mexican peasant villagers oppressed by bandits that decide to hire a group of seven gunfighters to defend them. The epic score composed by Elmer Bernstein gives me a sense of euphoric excitement, followed by a relaxing sense of inner peace. It is like riding a horse at full speed in a wide-open prairie, then going across a turbulent blue-white river, and finally reaching a nice green meadow.

 

“Every gun makes its own tune” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966)

Ennio Morricone composed the score for the ultimate Spaghetti Western film. Three gunmen set out to find a hidden fortune during the American Civil War. The inimitable music is very thrilling, and the background of hallucinatory chanting voices is exhilarating. It makes me feel like an outlaw galloping in a western desert with dusty winds and rolling tumbleweeds, while being chased by vicious bounty hunters. The “man with no name” also rode to the tune of magnificent scores in the first two films of the Sergio Leone’s trilogy.

 

“I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was” (Dances with Wolves, 1990)

The maestro John Barry wrote a melancholic, romantic, and incredibly beautiful score for the exiled military man who befriends wolves and Indians. The majestic and melodic “John Dunbar Theme” is an essential element in this transcendent, endearing, and breathtaking film.

 

“Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and that his skin is dark?” (The Last of the Mohicans, 1992)

Three trappers in the midst of the French and Indian War protect a British Colonel’s daughters. Trevor Jones composed a passionate orchestral composition that turned out to be one of the most popular and acclaimed scores of the nineties. Due to minor music cue contributions by Randy Edelman, the score was unfortunately not eligible for Oscar consideration.

 

From Stagecoach (1939) to True Grit (2010), we has been blessed with numerous western score masterpieces. I just have scratched the surface of this treasure trove. Get your shovels ready and dig deeper. You will not be disappointed.

 

Western Good-Bad-Ugly

Notable Western Scores

 

Stagecoach (1939) – Richard Hageman, Frank Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken, Louis Gruenberg, and Gerard Carbonara

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) – Max Steiner

Fort Apache (1948)- Richard Hageman

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Richard Hageman

Lone Ranger  (TV Series 1949) – “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini

Rio Grande (1950) – Victor Young

High Noon (1952) – Dimitri Tiomkin “The Ballad of High Noon”

Shane (1953) – Victor Young

The Man from Laramie (1955) – George Duning

Friendly Persuation (1956) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Searchers (1956) – Danny Knight

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – George Duning

Cowboy (1958) – George Duning

The Big Country (1958)– Jerome Moross

Rifleman (TV Series 1958) – Herschel Burke Gilbert

Rawhide (TV Series 1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Bonanza (TV Series 1959) – David Rose

Rio Bravo (1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Horse Soldiers (1959) – David Buttolph

The Alamo (1960) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Magnificent Seven (1960) – Elmer Bernstein

How the West Was Won (1962) – Alfred Newman

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Ennio Morricone

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – Ennio Morricone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – Ennio Morricone

Return of the Seven (1966) – Elmer Bernstein

Once Upon a Time in the West  (1968) – Ennio Morricone

Hang ‘Em High (1968) – Dominic Frontiere

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Jerry Fielding

Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1970) – Ennio Morricone, Stanley Wilson

Duck You Sucker (1971) – Ennio Morricone

The Cowboys (1972) – John Williams

My Name is Nobody (1973) – Ennio Morricone

High Plains Drifter (1973) – Dee Barton

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – Jerry Fielding

Silverado (1985) – Bruce Broughton

Glory (1989) – James Horner

Lonesome Dove (TV Miniseries1989) – Basil Poledouris

Dances with Wolves (1990) – John Barry

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Trevor Jones

Unforgiven (1992) – Lennie Niehaus, Clint Eastwood

Gettysburg (1993) – Randy Edelman

Maverick (1994) – Randy Newman

Wyatt Earp (1994) – James Newton Howard

Legends of the Fall (1995) – James Horner

Deadwood (TV Series 2004) – David Schwartz

The Proposition (2005) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – Marco Beltrami

True Grit (2010) – Carter Burwell

 

 

Epic films are larger than life. They project into the movie screens with an aura of greatness what the human spirit is able to aspire to, and what it can ultimately is able to endure.

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler turbulent love affair during the Civil War and Reconstruction is the most successful film in box-office history. Max Steiner’s haunting and spectacular “Tara’s Theme” is a true musical treasure, and one of the most famous melodies in film history. The score for which “the father of film music” is possibly best known, led to the conversion of many skeptics. The film producer David O. Selznick, who has previously been opposed to original film scores, turned into a true believer, as revealed by his well-known comment “really fine musicians are recognizing that scoring is a new form of musical art.”

“May God grant me vengeance, I pray that you live till I return” (Ben-Hur, 1959)

Miklos Rozsa blessed the ultimate Biblical epic with a powerful, magnificent, and glorious score. “Circus Parade (Parade Of The Charioteers)” during the chariot race is not only the climax of this blockbuster film, but also possibly the pinnacle of all epic film music. Watching this movie in the big screen is one of my childhood’s treasured cinematic memories.

“He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior…He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey” (Lawrence Of Arabia, 1962)

Maurice Jarre’s evocative, majestic and breathtaking score is a film and musical composition masterpiece. The sweeping, romantic, and exotic overture is epic on a grand scale. The melodic music mesmerizes you like the incredible power and vastness of the Arabian Desert.

“Now take back the soul of Denys George Finch Hatton, whom You have shared with us. He brought us joy…we loved him well. He was not ours. He was not mine.” (Out Of Africa, 1985)

The inspiring, lavish, and all-encompassing music for this epic romantic drama film is one of the most memorable scores ever written. “Main Title (I Had A Farm In Africa)” is stunningly beautiful with gloomy undertones that are somehow emotionally over-whelming. Only a very skillful master like John Barry could conjure in melody the fundamental nature of Denys and Karen’s relationship. The composer of Somewhere in Time (1980) and Born Free (1966) had an incredible gift to transport us to other times, and to melodically depict the astounding African scenery “at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

“So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.” (The Mission, 1986)

The film portrays the moral and spiritual conflicts faced by Jesuit priests converting natives of South America into Christianity, as they are confronted with the need to conform to Portuguese and Spanish politics of colonization and slavery. The natural beauties of the Iguazu pierced by a crucified priest flowing down the falls.  The ugliness of human sin and suffering transformed through religious penance into the beauty of liberation. A slave trader reading about charity and pure love in Corinthians Chapter 13, right before choosing to take up priesthood. Robert Bolt (a former Marxist) deciding to write the script of a stirring religious movie. An inspired Ennio Morricone producing exquisite acoustic splendor through violin and oboe. As Cardinal Altamirano, one has to see the hand of God in all these labors of love.

Although some may argued that the golden era of epic films has passed, I believed that as long as humans can hope, dream and love new epic masterpieces will continue to be forged. Don’t despair; new epic musical works of genius will continue to reach our ears and our hearts for years to come.Image

Notable Epic Film Scores

Captain Blood (1935) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Alexander Nevsky (1938) – Sergei Prokofiev

Gone with the Wind (1939) – Max Steiner

Henry V (1944) – William Walton

Ivan the Terrible (1944) – Sergei Prokofiev

Captain from Castile (1947) – Alfred Newman

Samson and Delilah (1949) – Victor Young

Quo Vadis (1951) – Miklós Rózsa

Ivanhoe (1952) – Miklós Rózsa

The Robe (1953) – Alfred Newman

Prince Valiant (1954) – Franz Waxman

The Ten Commandments (1956) – Elmer Bernstein

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) – Malcolm Arnold

Ben-Hur (1959) – Miklós Rózsa

Spartacus (1960) – Alex North

King of Kings (1961) – Miklós Rózsa

El Cid (1961) – Miklós Rózsa

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Maurice Jarre

Taras Bulba (1962) – Franz Waxman

Cleopatra (1963) – Alex North

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Becket (1964 film) – Laurence Rosenthal

Lord Jim (1965) – Bronislau Kaper

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) – Alfred Newman

Doctor Zhivago (1965) – Maurice Jarre

A Man For All Seasons (1966) – Georges de la Rue

War and Peace (1966) – Nino Rota

The Lion in the Winter (1968) – John Barry

Ryan’s Daughter (1970) – Maurice Jarre

Papillon (1973) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Wind and the Lion (1973) – Jerry Goldsmith

Barry Lyndon (1975) – “Sarabande” from Suite in D minor (HWV 437) by George Frideric Handel

Gandhi (1982) – George Fenton, Ravi Shankar

A Passage To India (1984) – Maurice Jarre

Out of Africa (1985) – John Barry

Henry V (1989) – Patrick Doyle

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) – Vangelis

Braveheart (1995) – James Horner

The English Patient (1996) – Gabriel Yared

Titanic (1997) – James Horner

Joan of Arc (1999) – Éric Serra

The 13th Warrior (1999) – Jerry Goldsmith “”Valhalla”

Gladiator (2000) – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard

The Passion of The Christ (2004) – John Debney

Troy (2004) – James Horner (replacement score) / Gabriel Jarred (rejected score)

Alexander (2004) – Vangelis

Kingdom of Heaven (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Painted Veil (2006) – Alexandre Desplat

Tristan & Isolde (2006) – Anne Dudley

Atonement (2008) – Dario Marianelli

Australia (2008) – David Hirschfelder