|About this Recording
8.225079 - STEINER: They Died with Their Boots On
Max Steuber (1888 – 1971)
They Died With Their Boots On
A rich, musical heritage...
When Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner of Vienna, late of London and Broadway, hopped aboard that train bound for Hollywood, he was heading west in more ways than one, Almost from the beginning of his association with the movies, Steiner was called upon to create musical accompaniment for stories about our country's sagebrush days, After some song and dance musical direction chores, the first dramatic scoring Steiner did for RKO was for Edna Ferber's Cimarron, a sprawling saga about the Oklahoma land grab and the building of an empire, Immediately, the "loping march" became a staple in Max's magic bag of tricks, Stoic and sentimental in the same measure, the theme for Cimarron paved the way for three decades of music to accompany pioneering, prospecting, gunslinging and endless battles with the Red Man.
While the term Horse Opera relates more to the "traditional" tale-telling in western stories, the term also reflects quite properly the Steiner approach to scoring western pictures. Steiner's usual Wagnerian approach to scoring was even more overt in these oaters, with both the melody lines and the synchronization to action more pronounced. Like Tiomkin, Steiner instinctively reflected the passion of a grateful, supremely talented immigrant. When writing about American ideas and, more importantly, American ideals, the music was truly heartfelt, even when underscoring the desperate struggles that made us into a great nation. Listen to Steiner's majestic march for Gold Is Where You Find It coupled with a darling of a romance theme for George Brent and Olivia De Havilland. When Claude Rains and the other farmers march on the encroaching mining company, Steiner's minor key variation of the main theme underscores the ultimate futility of yesterday's farmer doing battle with tomorrow's corporation. America's growing pains. The next year, 1939, brought Steiner's "Grand Saloon", Dodge City, to the screen. This picture had everything - wagon-trains, iron horses, herds of buffalo, public hangings, bar-room brawls, saddle-pal humour, back-alley murder, all topped off with a fierce steam engine shoot-out. Add Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (gorgeous in gingham), Alan Hale, Victor Jory and the spirited direction of Michael Curtiz and you have a Technicolor classic. Neither the story nor the music are terribly complicated, but they are both infectious and furiously entertaining.
Civil War themes were a major part of many of the westerns that Steiner scored at Warner Bros. There were invariably quotations and interpolations of "Dixie", 'Battle Hymn of the Republic" and many other period tunes associated with the struggle between North and South. Battle sequences, while primarily scored with Max's famous chord progressions and visual stings, also featured contrapuntal employment of Union and Rebel musical associations Brigham Young University as well as references to individual characters. In fact, Steiner's unmatched talent for deft interpolation was used to its fullest advantage in his western scores. While the Oscar-winning '.committee" score to Stagecoach was one whose major themes were based upon traditional songs, Steiner's westerns were primarily original, but with cowboy and period tunes used as reference and punctuation. A transitional title card might be covered by a full-blown quote from the first few bars of "Oh, Susannah", ending in a minor key and segueing to the hero's theme as he sauntered into town with his trusty sidekick. This incorporation of familiar melodies ensured that Steiner's scoring fabric would be woven with musical thread that would invariably strike a favourable, if sometimes wistful, response from the audience. Today's cynical audiences and critics would look down on this practice as being "schmaltzy." But to a generation of Americans, new and old alike, who were embarking on, enduring, and ultimately recovering from a devastating challenge to their liberty, "schmaltz" such as employed by Max Steiner was a welcome reminder of the heritage they were committed to preserving.
As the movies grew up, Steiner's approach to scoring grew more sophisticated. Pursued was a brooding, film-noir western and Steiner took an appropriately darker approach to the music. His score for John Ford's The Searchers is a classic evocation of tragedy and irony embodied in a lone determined figure. Steiner's last western, A Distant Trumpet featured some notable advancement in his thematic treatment of the American Indian. At the same time, his march theme remarkably echoed, in structure and orchestration, his first score for Warners, The Charge of the Light Brigade. After Steiner, the American West was left in the musical hands of the likes of Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North and Lennie Niehaus. Their treatments were, to be sure, more restrained and, perhaps, more psychological than those of dear old Max. But there can be no denying that the Western scores of Max Steiner, to an extent unapproached by any other composer, reflected all about America that makes one marvel and be proud. For a boy who grew up on the knee of the Emperor of Austria, that was quite an accomplishment.
Ray Faiola November, 1998
(Ray Faiola, in addition to his duties as Director of Audience Services for CBS Television, has supervised audio production on several classic film score restorations.)
"Most westerns depicted the Indian as a painted, vicious savage. In They Died With Their Boots On, I tried to show him as an individual who only turned vindictive when his rights as defined by treaty were violated by white men..." - Raoul Walsh, Director, They Died with Their Boots On
When Oscar-winning composer Max Steiner walked onto the huge Warner Brothers' lot in 1941, it was as if he owned the world - and in a way, he did - the world of some of the best movies ever made. Max Steiner was at the height of his career, one of the greatest composers of that near-mythical time and place that was Hollywood's Golden Age. It was a life of round-the-clock deadlines, pages of music manuscript and long sessions with arguably the greatest musicians ever. The world of Warner Brothers movies truly seemed to belong to Max Steiner, expressed in colourful music that, even today, is unequalled in its ability to exhilarate an audience - and make them laugh or cry.
In a two year period, he had composed music for Sergeant York, Sante Fe Trail, Virginia City and more. Now, sitting down that first time to watch Raoul Walsh's new western about General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn - They Died With Their Boots On - Steiner saw the opportunity to create epic music for an incredible legend and national myth. History? History was for classrooms, this was the movies. And They Died With Their Boots On is a prime example of movie-making at its best.
And why not? It was directed by a man of the movies, Raoul Walsh. He had done it all. One of the first real movies, The Great Train Robbery, saw actor Walsh get shot by desperadoes; Walsh filmed newsreels of Pancho Villa, and the man who invented modern film-making, D.W. Griffith, cast the dashing Walsh as John Wilkes Booth in The Birth of A Nation. He would go on to star in one of the most popular films of the silent era, What Price Glory? , and later, he would play the same sort of role opposite Joan Crawford in Sadie Thompson. Raoul Walsh directed the first 70mm western, The Big Trail, and gave Marion Morrison a new name - John Wayne - and the Duke's first starring role. He became one of the great directors at Warner Brothers - and one of the most admired, professionally and personally. Men liked him, women loved him. Walsh also was best friends and serious drinking pals with Warner's superstar, Errol Flynn. Their bouts were legendary and the practical jokes fast and furious. After Flynn had an angry falling out with Warner's other great director, Michael Curtiz, who had worked with Flynn on films such as The Sea Hawk and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Walsh stepped in to direct They Died With Their Boots On.
They Died With Their Boots On was the eighth film in six years that featured Flynn and the beautiful Olivia de Havilland. It was their last together - she wanted more challenging roles - and their final scene plays with a special sense of poignancy and real life farewell.
They Died With Their Boots On opened to strong box office and critics liked it, too. But it would mark the beginning of a long period of decline for Flynn as drinking and carousing took its toll. Not unti11945, in the classic war film, Objective Burma, also directed by Walsh, would Flynn find another role as strong as that of Custer in They Died With Their Boots On.
Max Steiner's action-filled, romantic score brings back vivid memories of the great stars at Warner Brothers during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and of this enduring, classic western.
"When the picture was finished, I sat in the projection room with Jack Warner and watched a rough cut. After it was over, Jack nodded. 'That is one of Flynn's best. If Custer really died like that, history should applaud him." - Raoul Walsh
They Died With Their Boots On
 Main Title - West Point: Menacing drums and brass herald the Warner Brothers emblem. Line drawings, like steel engravings from a history book, background main titles as Garry Owen takes prominence, the march of choice for Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry who will "die with their boots on." (Because of the nature of the music for the main titles, Steiner didn't use his traditional Warners fanfare, which he composed in 1937.) At West Point, cadets march across parade-grounds and a montage ends, featuring new recruits for America's premier military academy. (This cue was originally used for a similar sequence in Santa Fe Trail (1940), also starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Flynn played Jeb Stuart and Ronald Reagan starred as Custer!)
 Custer Arrives -Trick -West Point Montage: Muted brass like little tin horns announce a be-splendoured visitor amid orders to "Turn out the guard!" Steiner takes up the response of troops with full orchestra as the mysterious "officer" rides up muleback with servant and hounds in tow, instinctively saluting the troops and advancing for inspection. "I'm George Armstrong Custer of Monroe, Michigan..." Turnabout becomes fair playas Custer, along with his flea-ridden hounds, is "assigned" new quarters (actually a senior officer's quarters). Later found out, Custer refuses to identify his prankster, Senior Cadet Edward Sharpe. But at inspection, Custer punches Sharpe, earning him a meeting with Lt. Colonel Philip H. Sheridan, the man who will become his mentor.
 West Point Montage: Steiner varies Custer's march-theme in a dissonant version as Custer's demerits are listed.
 West Point Graduation - Punishment Guard - Haste - Escort: Custer's nemesis, Sharpe, graduates and Custer predicts war if Lincoln is elected.
 Libby - Civil War Montage: Custer walks punishment on the parade-grounds as a radiant Libby, dressed in hoop-skirts and sunhat, crosses and asks for directions. The errant cadet, unable to speak, ignores her. Mistaking silence for rudeness, Libby grows irritated. Raoul Walsh's direction is playful and Steiner follows suit in flirtatious warmth. A call to the commandant's office breaks Custer's duty and he takes a detour to apologize to Libby, who now ignores him. Libby’s Theme is introduced, one of Steiner's most memorable melodies. Small fanfares present a soldier to his lady, and violins take up a full play of Libby. "Well, I can't imagine, ma'am... any pleasanter journey than walking through life with you..." Music and film are wedded here in a dramatic circle that will be closed by the film's end and marked by similar words - and Steiner's Libby. (An old vaudevillian adage advised, "Sing Danny Boy and they'll love you!" For Libby, Steiner revises this traditional ballad, retaining Danny Boy's exquisite sentimentality and finding new tenderness for Libby and her love, a move most likely appreciated by the very Irish Mr. W alsh. ) A montage including interpolations of "Dixie" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic", framed by bursts of orchestral fury backgrounds America's most tragic war.
 Polka - Mazurka: Gen. Winfield Scott invites Custer to lunch - and the new officer's career blossoms over creamed Bermuda onions. Steiner often arranged "source" music for scenes as here with a small dinner orchestra made up of string, octet, harp, piano, clarinet and flute, performing a medley featuring "Echo Du Mont Blanc" by Julien and "Lorgnette" by Talexy. Although this cue was mixed very low in the film, Steiner's perfectionistic tendency made even this little cue a minor masterpiece.
 First Battle Sequence: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and charging brass herald Custer's assignment to the 2nd Cavalry where he meets up with Sharpe. The next attack? Bull Run where
Custer and the 2nd Cavalry clash with Confederate troops. A wounded Custer is ordered to hospital by General Sheridan who later awards Custer a medal of valour. The general gives Custer a letter of introduction to Libby's father. Some of this chase music was adapted from Steiner's Virginia City (1940) score.
 Meeting Father: Steiner's film-music counterpoint is classic comedy as Custer sees Libby's father through a stereoscopic viewer. (See pages 25-27.)
 Mystic Teapot - Owl: The first phrasings of Libby's Theme are heard over and over again as she and her companion/servant, Callie, read tea-Ieaves, searching for Libby's romantic future. Callie predicts that someone will ring a door-bell - and the house door-bell rings. Custer is standing there and Libby's Theme receives its full treatment within this pivotal sequence. Callie ushers Custer to the front door and tells him to secretly meet Libby that night. Later, Callie escorts Custer to Libby, who appears on a balcony after Callie's signal, the call of a hoot-owl. A romantic interlude follows, cut short by a hoot from a real owl.
 Haste - Civil War: A clerk's mistake cuts orders for Custer's promotion to brigadier general, Michigan Cavalry Brigade. The focus of the fighting shifts to Gettysburg.
 Sharpe - Troops - Battle #2 - Band Medley: Confederate cavalry pose a dire threat; Union headquarters discovers Custer's bogus promotion and frets over Custer's competence. Disobeying an order, Custer and the Michigan Brigade break the back of Jeb Stuart's cavalry attack. General Scott is delighted. The Civil War ends with Custer's return to Monroe, accompanied by a medley of traditional songs, including "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", "The Battle Cry of Freedom", "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me". (Heard here for the first time, only a fraction of this medley is heard in the final release of the film.) Libby's father has a change of heart in wake of Custer's well-earned heroism, Custer and Libby announce their engagement and marriage.
 Wedding: Mendelssohn's traditional bridal march weds Libby and Custer; the wedding march also symbolically weds Libby to the life of a cavalryman as the new couple fatefully enter marriage through an archway of drawn sabres. Steiner had a way of interpolating songs and other reference music and making it his own. Here, he orchestrates Mendelssohn with organ and two sets of chimes and vibraphones, which seamlessly segues into the Custer/Libby Love Theme.
 The Letter: Despondent and drinking as civilian life passes him by, Custer spurns an offer by Sharpe to become president of a trading-company. A desperate Libby visits her adopted uncle, Gen. Scott and asks him for an assignment for her husband. Scott agrees. Later, Boots & Saddles trumpets as the Michigan Brigade sends Custer a commemorative gold watch with a miniature portrait of Libby on the fob. General Scott's letter arrives ordering Custer to Fort Lincoln in the Dakota territory. Low strings for Libby's Theme as she bids good-bye to the comfortable life that she has lived for one on the wilds of the frontier.
 Indians: The Sioux theme foreshadows the Little Big Horn as Indians steal horses; Custer captures Crazy Horse whom he takes to Fort Lincoln.
 Mysterioso: Custer enters the post saloon as troopers brawl outside. Inside, it is worse; Custer gives Sharpe one-minute to shut down the bar. Steiner underscores with a clock-ticking rhythm,
a few bars of music in this cue derives from Steiner's Gold is Where You Find It and Dodge City.
 Grazioso - Train: Sharpe and his backers want gold from the Black Hills - and Custer out of the way. Trumpets sound for Custer and his cavalry at Fort Lincoln. At quarters, he and Libby embrace.
Inside is the Indian commissioner with Sharpe, his cronies and floozies. Custer refuses whisky, declaring that water is the drink of choice for the 7th Cavalry. The next day, Sharpe gets the troops drunk and embarrasses Custer during a raucous troop review. In his saloon, Sharpe is confronted by an angry Custer. The commissioner stops Custer, who accuses the commissioner of being "... a contemptible parasite." This music illustrates Custer using his sword to methodically smash bottles of liquor in Sharpe's bar as one can hear each "crash" in Steiner's music. Underscored by the furtively-bowed violins, a train carries Custer and Libby to Washington D.C. where he faces reprimand for striking a government representative. Newspapers declare that gold has been discovered in the Black Hills. Custer suspects a conspiracy by Sharpe to violate the Sioux's treaty. A frustrating appearance before a senate committee ends in Custer's testimony being admissible only as a "dying declaration." (Heard here for the first time, this music was dropped after the scene was shortened.)
 The 7th Cavalry: Steiner's music creates an almost mystical bond between Custer and the men of the 7th Cavalry as the hearings end. Commander and troops are forged into one, edged musical tradition. Sheridan foresees the sacrifice of the 7th Cavalry .Custer asks for his command back, but Sheridan is powerless. Custer appeals directly to President U.S. Grant, soldier to soldier. "You know how a man feels when he's broken, when he's left behind and his regiment is marching out to fight..."
 Sharpe - Gold: Restored to command, Custer returns to Fort Lincoln in the dead of night and enters Sharpe's saloon. No liquor, not a drink has been sold since Custer's departure. Garry Owen returns, an unbreakable link between Custer and the 7th Cavalry .Custer invites Sharpe to drink, toasting the 7th Cavalry. Drunk by greed and Custer's "hospitality", Sharpe passes out.
 Final Good-Bye: The show-piece of the entire score - heard here for the first time in its original orchestration – and one of the prime examples of the genius of Max Steiner. Boots & Saddles opens, then is softened by Libby's Theme. Libby packs Custer's campaign bag while he checks his revolver, a brilliant visual symbol of life on the frontier. Libby's Theme pervades but is broken, musically and filmically as the gold chain on the commemorative watch, a treasured personal possession, is deliberately broken by Custer. A dark chord bears witness to Libby's eyes as she sees him break the keepsake. "I won't be able to take it with me," he tells her as he leaves the watch with his beloved. "It'll be the first time that you ever went into a campaign without it..." she answers. Music, direction, script and performances work a cinematic milestone as we are deftly allowed into this incredibly intimate moment as Custer surrenders his watch and heart but secretly places Libby's small portrait in the lapel pocket of his campaign coat. Libby helps him dress and talk of a future that will never be ensues. Taking his orders from a bureau drawer, Custer discovers Libby's diary - and realises that despite a brave front, she knows that he - and the men of the 7th - are riding to their deaths. "The premonition of disaster such as I have never known is weighing me down..." Libby's Theme, in solo violin, creates a heart-breaking moment, and in that moment Walsh and Steiner beautifully shift the focus of the scene to Libby as the violin takes up a moving reference to the 7th Cavalry and George Custer. Her theme returns, to be interrupted by the demands of Boots & Saddles. Deep drums signal Custer's departure. "Good-bye," he tells her. Libby's Theme brushes the tattoo of brass aside as Custer tells her, "Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing..." Departing, Custer bumps a chair, leaving it to rock back and forth in emptiness. Almost as a gesture of comfort and love, Walsh and Steiner stay with Libby. Then the camera abruptly dollies back in the wake of George's departure. Libby collapses, Steiner catches her - and us, too - in an emotional orchestral rush.
 March-Out - Sioux: Snare drums and fifes accompany a full dress assembly of the 7th Cavalry as Custer leads them a last time from Fort Lincoln to their rendezvous with legends at the Little Big Horn; Crazy Horse calls a war council.
 Camp at Night: A scout reports the position of huge numbers of Indians, just across the Little Big Horn River. Custer decides to attack, thus distracting the warriors from massing against infantry. A final letter is written to Libby, a "dying declaration." The troop's adjutant - an Englishman - is given the opportunity to leave carrying the letter. Irate, the officer declares that he's as much an American as anyone in the troop. Steiner symbolically weaves Rule Britannia and America together. A hog-tied Sharpe is offered freedom - it's Sunday, the 27th of June, 1876, on Rosebud Ridge above the Little Bighorn- and the way out is east, through an impenetrable army of Indian warriors. Or Sharpe can join the regiment, which rides at dawn, to hell or glory, advises Custer.
 The Little Big Horn: From the rising sun, Custer and his men ride out. This sequence - musically and cinematically - is virtually unmatched in film. Raoul Walsh earns his reputation as the consummate Hollywood professional; Steiner demonstrates his uncanny talent for writing music that is the equivalent of a theatrical freight train. As a document, the Battle of the Little Big Horn is framed mostly in high long-shots, vividly illustrating how Custer, who was 36 years-old, and the 7th Cavalry were fatally trapped by Indian warriors. Drawn into the fight by advance scouts, Custer and his men charge. The hills are swept with thousands of men on horseback. Custer and his men are surrounded and cut off. The cavalrymen dismount and circle for defense. The onslaught has begun, wave after wave of warriors attack. The fighting is desperate, the ring of Indians close in; one by one, the troopers die. As the end nears, Custer takes his sabre, and standing by the regimental battle-flag, defies his fate as Crazy Horse charges, firing a shot that slays the general.
 Dying Declaration - Finale: Musically, Steiner makes Libby the sole survivor of the Little Big Horn. Garry Owen, played in a much slower, more sombre cadence than previously performed in the film, identifies Libby as the last member of the now gone 7th Cavalry. It is up to her, not only to continue the tradition of the command, but to guarantee that those who have died with their boots on have not died in vain. With quiet purpose, Libby shows a dying declaration to General Sheridan and those who connived to take land away from the Indians. In death Custer achieves what he could not in life. His sacrifice, and that of his men, shoulder ideals almost lost to greedy men. Libby's Theme returns, with strength and heroism as, for a last time, Garry Owen proceeds, in final salute. The film ends here, but it is worth noting that the beautiful Libby would live on, well into the twentieth century .This charming, admired woman would witness the era of flight, the First World War, the beginnings of the Great Depression and the presidential inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And while she lived, wherever she went, her love and her daunting presence lifted Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry from the pages of history into one of the great, enduring legends of the American West.
Elizabeth Bacon Custer died on 6th April, 1933.
 End Cast: playout of screen-roles. This stirring arrangement was borrowed and adapted from Adolph Deutsch's score to The Fighting 69th (1940).
 Original Theatrical Trailer: A brilliant, unofficial Overture, scored to the trailer, a rousing build-up of what's to come! Warner Bros. knew the importance of trailers in the promotion of their films. Even the smallest "B" films usually had specially composed music based on material from the score proper. This is the first time trailer music, per se, has been included in a rerecording or even in an original sound track recording.
Film music critic
Films In Review & Sound track!
Yellow Hair and Crazy Horse in Moscow
An Observer's Journal of the New Recording of Max Steiner's
They Died With Their Boots On
It seemed particularly incongruous: two Los Angeles-based film musicians together with an archivist-videographer from Utah driving in a Russian vehicle through the streets of Moscow and up to the guarded gates of Mosfilm Studios. The temperature was in the low teens under a steel-blue sky. Late March was certainly not the tourist season, even in Russia. We were here to record Hollywood movie music - to a Western no less - about George Armstrong Custer (named "Yellow Hair" by the Indians he fought), who perhaps to some Russians might be regarded as America's Ivan the Terrible. William Stromberg and John Morgan had been in Moscow eight times before, making the daily trips from their room in the stately-looking Stalin-era hotel to the Mosfilm studio, built in 1932. Sergey Eisenstein made films there and in the 1960s Dimitri Tiomkin conducted a score in an auditorium adjacent to the recording studio. Now, after previously recording a number of classic film-scores, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Rains of Ranchipur, and King Kong, this dedicated pair would, over the next five days, record Max Steiner's score to They Died With Their Boots On. Actually, Steiner had been there before us. In 1906, he was in Moscow to conduct a six-week run of his own musical, The Crystal Cup.
Monday, 30th March began early as did every day, with a cold hotel breakfast of meats, cheeses and fish. Until recording time in the afternoon, Bill and John spent time going over the scores and discussed how the material would be approached. Weeks before, they had already planned each day's work, and had subsequently faxed the recording schedule and specific instrumentation requirements to the Moscow Symphony. Now, all of the time-consuming pre-performance planning had to payoff in the time allotted them. My role as an archivist was to videotape as much of each session as possible to stand as a record of the process by which a classic film-score is recorded. This audio-visual record, capturing individual orchestra members, Bill at the podium and John in the recording-booth (as well as conferences together in solving problems during the sessions), is now part of the permanent collection at the Brigham Young University Film Music Archives along with the Max Steiner Papers.
Making our way through the complex of buildings comprising Mosfilm, we entered the recording-studio. Soon, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra members arrived and made their way through the large double doors. Bill and John exchanged greetings to orchestra members with whom they had worked for the past four years. Bill hoped he could familiarise the orchestra with the film whose music they would be recording for the next five days, but Sasha, the first violinist who usually acted as Bill's translator, was ill that day. Out went Bill's planned introduction to the film and up went the baton. Just after 3:00 p.m. the orchestra began its first of three run-throughs on the Main Title. With strong brass and the cadenced beat of the drums, the magic had begun. Moscow became Hollywood and Mosfilm was transformed into Stage 8 at Warner Bros. 1998 sounded as if it were 1941. The drumbeats over the Warner Bros. shield were soon joined by the brass and the "Crazy Horse" motif in the Main Title when the names of Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland appear on the screen. Then strings, brass, and percussion combined for the rollicking tune of "Garry Owen" over the film's title. After a couple of rough starts, the orchestra recorded the entire Main Title on the third try.
John was stationed in the recording-booth with engineer Edvard Shakhnazarian. As the orchestra played, the pages methodically turned over on John's score. Edvard used the public-address system to signal Bill at the podium, then John's voice could be heard with a correction, a comment, and an admonition for orchestra members to turn off their wrist-watch alarms. Occasionally, Edvard would come out to adjust one or more of the nearly 25 microphones on the floor. Things progressed well throughout the session. The final cue rehearsed for the day, at around 6:00 p.m., was Polka-Mazurka. This light, lilting number involving only the strings was a deceptively difficult piece to play. The strings were not together, hardly surprising given a full session. "Mesty, mesty," came the fractured English from Edvard telling us as best he could that the take was still muddled. Fortunately, that cue was only being rehearsed and not recorded on that day. The first day's session of three hours was deemed "a good omen" by Bill as he met with John and Edvard to listen to tapes in the booth after the orchestra members left for the day. Later on Bill said, in a post recording session videotaped interview, that the many albums of film-music they had done for Marco Polo have resulted in Moscow Symphony's more instinctive response to film music material.
Tuesday began at 3:00 p.m. First Battle Sequence and The Final Goodbye were rehearsed and recorded that day. Fortunately, Sasha had returned and his lyrical rendition of "Libby's Theme" during the farewell was powerful even after repeated rehearsal takes. When Bill rehearsed just the strings, the brilliance of Steiner's storied compositions came through as layer upon layer of music was revealed. The final cue of the day was March-Out. Bill and John were very pleased at the end of the day. In eight hours of rehearsal and recording during the previous two days, 24 minutes of usable material were "in the can."
April Fool's Day is not appreciated in Russia as it is in the United States, and perhaps to the superstitious that was why it was a good day on the recording-stage. At breakfast on this Wednesday morning, we discussed something that was only realised after the conclusion of yesterday's recording. At the end of The Final Goodbye cue, there should not have been a cymbal crash, even though it was written into Steiner's score. Since it was not performed that way on the finished film, it was decided to record the cue again and drop the cymbal crash. That would be done on Friday. The faint bugle-call would be rerecorded as well and be more "aggressive." Under a sky drizzling rain, we started at 10:00 a.m. for another four-hour session. The orchestra began with Mystic Teapot cue and continued for quite some time. These quieter, more delicate passages were more difficult to get right. Calls from the booth were often frustrating in their frequency as the eyes and ears of Edvard and John caught slight mistakes. The final cue was The Letter successfully recorded by 2:00 p.m. So far, with fourteen additional usable minutes recorded today, we are right on schedule. After our mid-afternoon dinner at Pizza Hut/KFC (a more upscale establishment in Moscow than in the United States), Bill and John continued to write out parts for the End Cast music.
Wednesday began, as scheduled by the Moscow Symphony, in the afternoon at 3:00 p.m. The warm-up was rough and took longer than usual to get started perhaps because they were aware that this was one of the two six-hour days. In three hours time, two out of the three sections of the Little Big Horn had been recorded. Bill was awash in perspiration as this afternoon of furioso conducting was taxing indeed. It was during one of these charged cues that a percussion-player leaned over to me during a pause in videotaping and asked-in broken but discernible English - "what kind of film goes with this music?" I felt it best to reduce the plot to "cowboys and Indians." He smiled in understanding and returned to his post beating on the drums for yet another adaptation of the "Crazy Horse" motif during a battle-cue. Some relief to the orchestra's delight was had with Band Medley cue. However, near where I was videotaping, the First Chair trombone player got up and started talking excitedly in Russian, then removed the mouthpiece from the instrument and repeatedly pressed it to his lips. As it turned out, the brass section had had enough. They were tired and demanded a break in addition to the contractual intermissions. When Bill gathered what was going on, he told them to keep playing, but softer which was clearly appropriate for March-Out cue. The symphony performed beautifully as the final recorded take for the Trailer ended with cymbal crashes at 9:00 p.m. This was a particularly welcomed cue by all of us as this is the first time trailer music has been included in a classic film-score release. As tough as the day was, Bill happily reported that they were right on schedule, and perhaps a bit ahead. This was particularly good news inasmuch as Thursday would be another six-hour session.
With a bone-chilling cold and snow flurries on Friday, a recording-studio was an ideal alternative to walking the streets of Moscow. It began at 3:00 with a The Final Goodbye, this time without the cymbal crash at the end. The Finale and Dying Declaration were completed. Progress was swift inasmuch as the music was easier on the players than it had been on Thursday. The Wedding cue went smoothly, although with the electric organ playing in the recording-booth, Bill could only hear the orchestral rendition out on the floor. The Grazioso was recorded and then all players were excused except the strings, one harp, a clarinet, flute, and two string bass. It was time for the Polka-Mazurka. It turned out, as John said just after the completion of the session, that the "shortest cue turned out to be the longest to record." Take after take, the strings were not properly synchronized. Bill was clearly annoyed at the frequent stop-start-stop orders from the booth; however, he was also aware that one must try again and again until the performance is just right. At 8:00 p.m., Edvard and John finally said "good" to the complete take and the recording session was over -- one hour ahead of schedule. The five days ending on 3rd April and that included 23 hours of rehearsal and recording produced just over seventy minutes of music on this compact disc release for you to enjoy for years to come. The Stromberg-Morgan partnership worked smoothly and intuitively during these hectic days of recording, even during the times when the existing arrangement sometimes required immediate modification before recording could continue. Fortunately, interested persons can relive much of this fascinating and at times tedious process. The seven hours of digital video tape documenting the evolution of this premiere recording may be accessed at the BYU Film Music Archives housed in the Harold B. Lee Library.
Max Steiner's score to They Died With Their Boots On wasn't ground-breaking in the sense that a King Kong or a Citizen Kane was, yet it certainly fits in the category of "one of the best of its kind". Although the composer preferred character-driven films such as the Bette Davis dramas, in truth, no one surpassed Steiner in writing exciting, pulse-pounding action music. In scores such as The Most Dangerous Game, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Rocky Mountain and others, Steiner had an uncanny knack of taking all the appropriate thematic material and by twisting, turning and combining these elements, he was able to compose a real piece of music that always had a forward propulsion and integrity of musical line.
Thematic material was always important to Steiner and he normally started every score by sketching the main themes and motifs before actually composing the score. For They Died With Their Boots On, Steiner created an unique theme for Crazy Horse, first heard in the opening section of the Main Title. This completely original "Indian" sound soon became the paradigm for most other film-composers when dealing with Indians and soon became cliche. He also composed a secondary theme for the Sioux (played by high woodwinds) that could be utilised quietly and mysteriously as well as screaming over the entire orchestra during the final battle sequence... especially when orchestrated for six piccolos, two soprano saxophones and two E flat clarinets! For Custer's martial theme, Steiner composed it in such a way that he could gently and subtly incorporate it as a secondary accompaniment to Libby's theme, which musically and dramatically unites these two characters in a single bond.
Opposite: On the final page of the full score, Hugo Friedhofer gave Steiner (who lived on Cove Way in Hollywood) this sketch during the scoring of They Died With Their Boots On, commenting, in dialect of course, on the tremendously arduous work required by the players for the final Little Big Horn battle sequence.
Max Steiner's principal orchestrator during this period (starting in 1936 with Charge of the Light Brigade) was the great Hugo Friedhofer, who himself would develop into one of the most respected film-composers in the 1950s, Although Friedhofer was slow, methodical and deliberate in his composing, his orchestrational ability was fast, accurate and inventive. They Died With Their Boots On was a long movie (142 minutes) with music occupying over ninety minutes of its running time. Friedhofer orchestrated the entire score himself, which resulted in nearly a thousand orchestral pages. As Friedhofer has said, "Steiner's sketches were so complete they required a road-map to find your way around them...he would write different musical lines in coloured pencil with written instructions to me in the margins." In preparing previous Marco Polo film-music albums where I had to orchestrate Steiner's music from his sketches, I can certainly attest to the detail, logic and brilliant orchestration this composer writes into his music.
Steiner's orchestra was certainly enormous for its day. It includes three flutes, two oboes, five clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, seven percussion, two harps, two pianos, celeste, organ, novachord and strings. For the battle music, Steiner employed an additional six piccolos, two Eb clarinets, two soprano saxophones and six military snare drums.
When editing and restoring They Died With Their Boot On for the present recording, we were determined to present the music faithfully to Max Steiner's vision. Steiner was always careful to interpolate historically correct tunes and bugle-calls in his scores. For this score, he utilised period bugle calls such as "Boots and Saddles", "Assembly", "Drill Call", "Reveille", "Guard Mount", etc. Most of these on-screen bugle-calls were recorded separately and married to the sound track in the final mix, however, Steiner never left anything musically to chance and carefully indicated in his sketches the exact placement for these overdubs and composed his music with this in mind, although he would frequently have the overdubs played "off key" to clash purposely with the underscore. Where musically appropriate, we have restored many of these bugle-calls to this performance of the music.
This score was extremely difficult, both musically and technically, to rerecord for this present recording. When conductor Bill Stromberg was rehearsing the fiendishly difficult Little Big Horn sequence, I was sitting in the recording-booth with our recording-engineer Edvard Shakhnazarian, who has worked with such great Russian musical artists as Shostakovich, Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov. After several muffed takes, he turned to me and in his broken English said: "Mahler easy, Steiner difficult".
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