|About this Recording
8.557699 - TIOMKIN: Red River
Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)
Red River Film Score, 1948
Howard Hawks produced Red River, a saga of the cattle drives of old. The star [was] John Wayne, who can move in the grand style among cowboys and rustlers, a lord of the prairie. So there I was, musically in the middle of the West again. A fellow Russian said to me: ‘How can you, a Russian from the St Petersburg Conservatory, write music for a Western?’ ‘Well,’ I replied in Russian, ‘Did Johann Strauss, when he wrote ‘The Blue Danube,’ know how to swim?
– Dimitri Tiomkin
Ever westward, from the banks of the wide American rivers—the Missouri, the Ohio, the Mississippi and the Shenandoah—to the expanse of the Great Plains, to the sweeping vistas of Monument Valley, to the flatlands of Texas and the Chisholm trail…
And then beyond lies a continent of legendary scores for Hollywood Westerns, a topography of myths and legends.
Some are signposts, Garden of Evil (1954), Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), Bite the Bullet (1975) and the television mini-series, Lonesome Dove (1989). Then others are huge territories marked with towering mesas and massive cliffs—Max Steiner Territory, Alfred Newman Territory.
And Dimitri Tiomkin Territory, where the Red River T brand—T for Tiomkin—rules over an expansive range of great film music that includes Duel in the Sun (1946), The Big Sky (1952), High Noon (1952), Giant (1956), Night Passage (1957), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and Rio Bravo (1959).
Here on this frontier where longitude and latitude intersect, three great scores triangulate as cornerstones for assessing any music for Hollywood Westerns: Max Steiner’s The Searchers (1956), Alfred Newman’s How the West was Won (1962), and arguably the greatest, Dimitri Tiomkin’s Red River (1948). All other scores for Westerns surely follow these three great works in both quality and cinematic application.
These scores are prime examples of music as narrative literature. Proceeding from the premise that all film music is linked to cinematic narrative, then all music for films works best as orchestral narrative. Stray too far into the abstract and the music becomes an anonymous irrelevance when experienced away from its source—or worse, it becomes a musical lampoon of counterpoint. On the other hand, a great film music composer can wed the abstract to specific orchestral descriptions and cinematic flow—mindful of symbolism and narrative—and create a truly rich, rewarding and exciting listening experience quite apart from the film.
An unabashed, self-admitted showman, eager to please audiences, Dimitri Tiomkin became increasingly adept at this—and in this respect, Red River is his first really great personal score, the first to truly bear his bold stylistic signature as he became one of the most renowned maestros of Hollywood’s Golden Age of Motion Picture Music.
… Tiomkin has always had the ability to compose music which pulses and surges, and he has attempted whenever possible to be involved with his films while they were being made, rather than wait until they were completed before writing his music. His characteristic of writing powerfully accented rhythms in the bass clef is virtually a trademark, and what is also characteristic of Tiomkin is his love of being a film celebrity … if nothing else, it has helped bring attention to the otherwise somewhat neglected role of being a film composer …
– Tony Thomas
Born in the Ukraine in 1894, Dimitri Tiomkin spent much of his boyhood at his mother’s side at the piano as she taught him the power and art of music. By age thirteen, he had entered the prestigious St Petersburg Conservatory and studied piano with Felix Blumenfeld. There, Tiomkin came under the influence of Alexander Glazunov, the renowned Russian classical composer who taught the young man counterpoint and harmony.
As a student, Tiomkin earned money playing piano for silent films, an after-school job that surely had an impact on his later years in life as a film music composer. What better way to understand the relationship between film, music and an audience than by accompanying the silent images on that larger-thanlife silver screen? It was an experience that stayed with him the rest of his life—and gave Tiomkin a rare appreciation of that magical sublimation of sight, sound and music that can occur when each facet of the cinematic experience is melded into one memorable emotion.
Like so many Russians, he emigrated to Western Europe after the wrenching violence and politics of the Russian Revolution. The young Tiomkin was featured in a variety of playbills, including being a piano soloist with the great Berlin Philharmonic. Traveling on to Paris, the City of Lights, he became popular for performing contemporary Russian, German and French musical works.
And in that extraordinary creative milieu of art and life, Tiomkin first encountered a lifelong love— American jazz—and gave the brilliant European première of Gershwin’s Concerto in F major to raves from critics and audiences alike.
Then Hollywood came knocking. Tiomkin sold several original jazz compositions to Metro Goldwyn Mayer. After playing Carnegie Hall and other prestigious venues—as the Great Depression hit with full force—Tiomkin and his first wife, Albertina Rasch, set out for Tinseltown, where they had been invited to produce ballet numbers for films. But ever shrewd, he soon saw an exceptional opportunity in film music, a new art for the new technology of talking motion pictures. Tiomkin composed a score for an early version of Resurrection (1931) and a charming adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (1933).
Hollywood was still comparatively primitive. One day I looked out my bedroom window and saw a man running along the street and a policeman chasing him and shooting. The fugitive fell and a splotch of red appeared on the pavement. Wonderful, I thought—Hollywood realism. Then I noticed there wasn’t any camera …
– Dimitri Tiomkin
Tiomkin’s first great opportunity as a film composer came in 1937, when a short, rapid-fire cinematic genius named Frank Capra took a chance on a Russian composer to score a major epic—the Columbia Pictures production of James Hilton’s popular book, Lost Horizon. It was a creative benchmark for Tiomkin and the beginning of a special association with Capra: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Capra, however, hedged his hard-eight throw of the dice on Tiomkin by hiring Max Steiner to conduct the Lost Horizon score.) The bet paid off—the music for Lost Horizon remains one of the greatest scores ever written for a film.
At the Hollywood première [of Lost Horizon], I met George Gershwin going into the theater. “They tell me, Dimi, you have something special here,” he said … During the picture, I sat behind him and soon, he turned and nodded, and gave the Broadway- Hollywood sign of excellence—thumb and forefinger making a circle. That, I felt, was tops in criticism … Lost Horizon brought me offers from various producers including Sam Goldwyn …
– Dimitri Tiomkin
Capra’s influence on Tiomkin was considerable. The director loved American music standards and folk songs. It was a powerful way to connect an idea and an emotion with audiences. “Buffalo Girls” marks the main title of It’s a Wonderful Life; American anthems scroll through Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The unused end titles composed for Meet John Doe are the musical blueprints for Duel in The Sun (as well as perhaps an indication of woes to come on It’s a Wonderful Life). Tiomkin learned a lot from Capra and gained an extensive working knowledge of America’s favorite music and folk songs. But instinctually as an artist, Tiomkin knew that there was more to scoring a film than fitting folk songs into soundstage performance.
… I was born into a family of concert musicians. When you have thought in terms of music as long as I have, it is easier to write original music than to bother recalling appropriate bars of music written in the past. After all, scenes and even sequences change so swiftly on the screen that very often there isn’t time for more than a couple of measures. It is really simpler and more effective to compose than to rummage around classical music to find something that expresses the idea …
– Dimitri Tiomkin
During this formative period, in addition to working with Capra, Tiomkin scored other films, none of which matched the quality of Capra’s movies. That creative association—and close friendship—would come to an end with It’s a Wonderful Life. Tiomkin adhered to the Capra formula for film scoring for some of It’s a Wonderful Life. The main title’s “Buffalo Girls” is romantic and nostalgic and there’s notably a poignantly powerful use of “Red River Valley” for the relationship of hero George Bailey and his father. But in the orchestral narratives that framed this rather dark story of a good man who regrets missed opportunities and faces scandal and suicide, Tiomkin stretched beyond what he would normally score for a Capra film. The music as originally intended by Tiomkin gives It’s a Wonderful Life a special depth of darkness—even horror. But Capra didn’t like it. At the last moment, he scrapped major portions of the score, dropping in standards and Hollywood left-overs and tossing huge chunks of Tiomkin’s music to the cutting-room floor. Nothing was ever the same again between these two great film artists.
Despite what he considered the artistic and personal setback of scoring It’s a Wonderful Life, Tiomkin’s reputation as a composer for films grew. Earlier, Tiomkin earned the opportunity to write music for David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun, his lust-in-thedust super Western. (Selznick actually invited Hollywood’s great composers to compete for scoring the film.) The epic oater was a box office success, a critical yawn, and Tiomkin’s music a smash hit. The sensuous love theme and Tiomkin’s grandiose, novel orchestral narrative broke new ground for film music— and for Tiomkin’s reputation. Music from the film was released in a popular three-record 78 rpm album performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, an unprecedented event for the times. Selznick then engaged Tiomkin to adapt music by Debussy and write original music based on those themes for the haunting Portrait of Jennie (1949).
Dimitri Tiomkin was well on the way to becoming one of the best known film composers in Hollywood.
Tiomkin’s relation to the Hollywood scene was more than incidental … he was one of those expatriates of immense energy, determination and resilience who actually helped create the Hollywood myth … those like Tiomkin who blazed a trail in Hollywood were actually winning the West all over again. This is surely why Tiomkin’s Western music has such a dynamism and commitment, for in it he is surely reliving a part of his own experience …
– Christopher Palmer
And then there was Red River, Tiomkin’s first great personal score, a work that fully delineates his matchless style and approach to composing music for films. Echoes of folk songs are used here and there in Red River but only rarely to deftly bridge Tiomkin’s truly original orchestral narrative. As he matured as an artist and composer, the technique was dropped completely. But Tiomkin kept a keen ear and appreciation for the structure of those old songs as evidenced by High Noon, which was built around an original Tiomkin “folk song.” Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Friendly Persuasion and Tension at Table Rock (1956) continued that Tiomkin hallmark approach to Westerns. It became, in fact, a sort of trademark of the Tiomkin sound. Contemporary film music composer Basil Poledouris, who wrote the score for Lonesome Dove, once mused that the best approach to writing a Western score was to create themes that sounded like folk tunes but were actually original compositions. Tiomkin developed that technique and made it uniquely his own throughout his great Western scores.
For his last score for Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo (1959), again starring John Wayne, Tiomkin revisited his score from Red River, tying the two films and the works of that great director and Wayne together in one powerful film music experience. “Settle Down” became “My Rifle, My Pony and Me,” Rio Bravo’s main title, and went on to become a hit recording by one of the film’s stars, Dean Martin.
When John Wayne poured his heart and personal fortune into filming The Alamo (1960), he looked to Dimitri Tiomkin for music. For Wayne, the composer created one of the greatest—and most admired—scores of all time. Everything that Tiomkin knew—and loved—about America is reflected in this epic score. The music brims with Tiomkin “folk songs”: “Here’s to the Ladies,” “Tennessee Babe,” the haunting “Green Leaves of Summer,” and the gallant “Ballad of the Alamo.” Shouldering the songs and the roaring onscreen action is a brilliant, full-blooded orchestral tone poem which eloquently portrays one of the most valiant moments in American history.
But Tiomkin was much more than a composer of music for Westerns; he wrote superb scores for virtually every sort of Hollywood film. For the next twenty years, Tiomkin’s name would stand as a keystone to the success of some of Hollywood’s greatest films by its greatest directors—notably Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, George Stevens and Stanley Kramer.
Among Tiomkin’s masterful scores are Shadow of a Doubt (1942), D.O.A. (1950), Cyrano De Bergerac (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Well (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), The High and the Mighty (1954), His Majesty O’Keefe (1954), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Friendly Persuasion 1956), Rhapsody of Steel (1959), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), The Sundowners (1960), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). Tiomkin earned Oscars for High Noon, The High and The Mighty and The Old Man and the Sea, with nominations for twenty other scores. As the 1950s and the Golden Age of Hollywood came to a close, Dimitri Tiomkin was the highest paid composer—and surely one of the best known.
During the latter part of his life and career, he lived in London in comfortable retirement with his wife, Olivia. Dimitri Tiomkin died in 1979.
Howard Hawks and Red River
Hawks consciously shoots most of his scenes at the eye level of a standing onlooker. Consequently, even his spectacles are endowed with a human intimacy which the director will not disturb with pretentious … shots. Hawks will work within a frame as much as possible, cutting only when a long take or an elaborate track might distract his audience from the issues in the foreground of the action. This is good, clean, direct, functional cinema, perhaps the most distinctly American cinema of all …
– Andrew Sarris
Howard Hawks wanted to make a Western. Artistic and personality clashes had prevented him from finishing Viva Villa! (1934) and The Outlaw (1941). And making a Western appealed to him and his anti-authoritative outlook. Stoic, silent, with a hint of sullenness, Hawks stood over six feet tall and was fence-rail thin. Some called him the silver fox. One of the best screenwriters that Hollywood has ever known, Ben Hecht, called him both a friend and “… a mysterious, drawling fashion plate, purring with melodrama.” He was drinking buddies with the two greatest authors of the twentieth century, Hemingway and Faulkner. As a producer and director, Hawks was the consummate professional: he was good at what he did. A self-described storyteller, he directed films that consistently made money at the box office, a lot of money. Critics praised him as well. That gave him an incredible autonomy shared by few directors, notably his old friend and peer, John Ford.
But if Ford made screen art that endured as movies, Hawks made movies that became art, singularly stamped by a keenly identifiable point of view and a definite way of seeing life and living. The great French director, François Truffaut, said that Hawks was the most intelligent director who ever stood behind a camera. The transformation from Hollywood professional to cinematic artist was celebrated by such renowned American critics as Andrew Sarris and Manny Farber, in addition to the legendary gang at Cahiers du Cinéma—André Bazin, Truffaut, Jean Luc- Godard and Claude Chabrol. In a general way, the very essence of modern cinema can be traced back to Hawks’ no-nonsense, straight-on approach to film, in directorial style and in oblique dialogue. It worked in every genre—drama, action-adventure, Westerns. And Hawks virtually invented screwball comedies, a cinematic form that is as entertaining today as it was in the 1930s.
Hawks’ dominant personality pervades every frame of his films and the memorable men and women who worked for him in front of the cameras are reflections of who Hawks was as a man and an artist. Who was Howard Hawks? His persona is vividly there in Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and, of course, John Wayne. The performances of these three men in a Hawks film are markedly different from their work in other films, displaying a special masculine tension and practicality—and in each Hawks film, the actor seems to hold up a mirror to Hawks’ own individuality and cast the image back on his own performance. In every movement and inflection, there’s a little bit of Howard Hawks. There’s that ineffaceable, easy sense of professionalism, friendship and loyalty that marks any Hawks hero. Says Lauren Bacall: “Howard was a great storyteller; you could sit and listen to him forever … He took me to lunch and told me about his directing experiences with various actresses. It was always what he said to them or Howard Hughes, to Jack Warner— he always came out on top, he always won. He was mesmerizing and I believed every story he told …”
I never liked the sort of women who sat around drinking tea in the parlor; the women in my films are the sort of women I like, women who can hold their own with anybody …
– Howard Hawks
During the 1940s, the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age, you could well find anyone who was anybody over at Hawks’ house for weekend cut-throat croquet, where a lawn-game became a deadly serious exercise in skill and upmanship, a perfect metaphor for Hawksian humor and life. Or you could see Hawks, Vic Fleming, Clark Gable, William Wellman and other Hollywood superstars roaring over canyon roads astride motorcycles.
Indeed, if you were part of Hollywood then and you were really good at what you did, you might be lucky enough to work for Howard Hawks. And if he liked you, you became a part of the group who worked with him often. There were, of course, prerequisites to entering that inner circle:
You had to be good at what you did;
If you crossed Howard Hawks, you were out. Permanently. In the early 1960s, Tiomkin did just that. When Hawks hired Tiomkin to score Hatari!, the only thing he asked of the composer was: No strings. Typically, Tiomkin came in with a score that included, yes, strings. Hawks got angry, Tiomkin was fired, and Henry Mancini went on to score Hatari!; Hawks never worked with Tiomkin again. Hatari! was a smash hit, one of Paramount’s biggest money-makers and the soundtrack LP pushed its way to the top of the charts. Ironically, Mancini’s score included strings.
Like several directors—George Stevens, William Wyler and Frank Capra—and other stars at the time, Hawks formed his own production company and began looking for a story set in the Old West. The story of the King Ranch, founded by a riverboat captain who came to Texas and stayed to make an empire, appealed to him. But disagreements with the ranch derailed the project.
“They wanted me to do some PR story …” he once recalled.
Then Hawks came across a five-part serial in the The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine where you could find not only Norman Rockwell, but writers like Borden Chase, A. B. Guthrie, Jr—who would later cowrite the script for Shane (1953) and pen novels like The Way West (1967)—and James Warner Bellah, who would craft the saber-edged stories that became John Ford’s legendary Cavalry Trilogy, Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950). The hard-drinking Borden Chase and Hawks were acquain-tances—both loved horses and Chase was hired by Hawks for $1,200 a week to write Red River.
Chase’s story, “The Chisholm Trail,” offered a framework for Hawks’ vision of the Old West—a rawhide patriarch and empire builder, a romantic young hero and a heroine with a heart of gold and a tarnished past. Chase could build a plot, but he needed help with dialogue. Hawks applied his distinctive style of having everyone saying something at once without directly saying anything but, in the process, revealing everything an audience needed to know about what was happening on the screen.
Hawks originally wanted Gary Cooper, rodeo champ Casey Tibbs and Cary Grant for the leads in Red River. Cooper declined—the role of Tom Dunson was too dark; the role of Cherry Valance was too small a role for Grant. Casey Tibbs seemed to lack the screen presence and acting skills for the role of Matthew Garth.
Hollywood agent Charles Feldman pitched his client John Wayne to Hawks. Wayne had made an impressive hero for John Ford in Stagecoach (1939) and in leads for top-drawer Westerns like Tall in the Saddle (1944). Ford liked Wayne and the actor had learned a lot from Ford. The price was right—$50,000 for the role, and for every week over schedule, $10,000; then 10 percent of the film’s profits with a guarantee of $75,000. But Wayne hesitated; he seemed to balk at the idea of playing an older man.
“You’re gonna be one pretty soon, Duke, get used to it …” drawled Hawks.
For the role of Matthew Garth, Hawks wanted Jack Buetel, the star of The Outlaw, the film that Hawks began with screenwriter pal Jules Furthman for Howard Hughes. Hughes became obsessed with co-star Jane Russell and building her a special bra; the quirky millionaire then decided that he could best direct her and everyone else and dismissed Hawks from the film which, except for its notoriety, would go on to become a notable box office bust. But Hughes owned Buetel’s contract—and wouldn’t release him for Red River.
Leland Hayward, who knew Hawks’ wife Slim, suggested a new kid, Montgomery Clift, who was a hit on Broadway. Clift actually had balked at the idea of coming to what he called “Vomit Town.” As the starting date of filming for Red River approached, Hayward sent a script to Clift, who was somewhat amused at the prospect of a film with John Wayne—but immediately saw possibilities in the role of Matthew Garth and working with Howard Hawks. Clift came to Hollywood. Slim arranged to have Hayward bring the young unknown actor to lunch at the Hawks house. There, Hayward slyly brokered a lunch into a sweetheart deal for Clift—almost as much money as Wayne was getting for his role. Hawks signed his new discovery and told him to learn to ride. Montgomery Clift went to Arizona to learn the fine art of wrangling and range riding.
A tough, energetic young actor, John Ireland, was cast as gunman Cherry Valance. After starts and stops with a number of actresses, two Hollywood beauties were cast for the female leads in Red River. For Tom Dunson’s long wife-to-be, Fen, Colleen Gray, and Joanne Dru would play the smoldering Tess Millay, Matthew Garth’s love.
Support players would include a roster of the best faces in Hollywood. Oscar winner Walter Brennan would characteristically threaten to steal any scene he was in; Paul Fix and Noah Beery Jr. came on board; Chief Yowlatchie, a 55-year-old Yakima Indian, would sign on; Frank Worden, one of John Ford’s stock company, was on hand as a wry, off-the-wall cowboy, a role that presages his brilliant performance as Ol’ Mose in The Searchers; Harry Carey Sr. would turn in a performance that demonstrated his stature as a Western superstar of yesteryear; and Harry Carey Jr. would prove memorable as a doomed young cowboy who sets off a sense of rage in Tom Dunson. Red River would be the only film that the father and son would appear in together.
For the score of Red River, Aaron Copland’s name came up during pre-production discussions. Copland had written memorable music for such films as Of Mice and Men (1939) and a brilliant score for Sam Wood’s version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1940). But Hawks preferred someone else. The lanky director had an uncanny ear for film scores. And Hawks had enjoyed working with Dimitri Tiomkin on Only Angels Have Wings (1939), a knockout box-office success that starred Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in a tense story about pilots and air mail flights in South America. Hawks liked Tiomkin; he knew that Tiomkin was good at what he did—composing exciting, colorful music, the sort of score that a great Western needed. Tiomkin liked Hawks as well and delighted at the possibilities of scoring a true horse opera and what was shaping up to be a classic Hollywood movie.
The little Russian composer, who talked fast in broken English and was a walking burst of imagination on and off the soundstage, was back in the saddle.
Red River loomed as a blockbuster Western, perhaps the first super Western following the end of World War II. Hawks sensed that audiences wanted what a Western offered after the horrors of the war—a sense of straightforward morality where myths and legends give reason to life and liberty.
The plot of Red River was a tour de force: an odyssey of an immigrant’s trek West to build an empire of dreams, hopes, riches—and, most importantly, a family. It was an epic marked by tragedy and highlighted by what intrigued Hawks most: Strong men and friends, all professionals, banded together to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. In Red River, that task would be the first great cattle drive up the fabled Chisholm Trail, named for a man who blazed a way all through the Indian nations.
Howard Hawks had his Western. Now all he had to do was get it on film.
Red River brought an example of the unexpected mishaps that can bedevil the motion picture business. In the filming of the Texas cattle drive, hundreds of cows died from hoof and mouth disease contracted from some Mexican cattle, and the ranchers from whom the herds had been rented had to be reimbursed. Howard Hawks was a champion bowand- arrow fisherman, magnificent at shooting an arrow into a fish in water, but not so good at swinging a lasso …
– Dimitri Tiomkin
Hawks ordered color tests for Red River but preferred a more realistic look in black and white. To bring the film to the screen, Hawks sought out Gregg Toland, the great cinematographer who filmed The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Citizen Kane (1941). Toland had finished up The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) for William Wyler, but Sam Goldwyn refused Hawks’ request, fearing that Red River would run past schedule and Toland would be unavailable for The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Hawks hired Russell Harlan, a rugged-looking cameraman who had spent ten long years filming a roster of B-Westerns. Harlan would give Red River a sense of epic sweep and pictorial beauty rare in a Hawks film. It would be the start of a creative association that would last over seven films and nearly twenty years.
Take care of my boy Duke and get a great picture …
– John Ford
Months of filming began in Elgin, Arizona, some forty miles from the Mexican border. Rains delayed the shooting schedule. Script woes brought Borden Chase out on location where he drank a lot and angered Hawks, who brought in Charles Schnee to help things out. Hawks took out a yellow legal pad and went to work on dialogue himself.
As the days stretched on, tension broke out among the cast. Wayne was irritated with Clift and Clift with Wayne. And worse—the cattle refused to do what anybody told them to do—more than 9,000 head, a herd that stretched almost a mile long and a half-mile wide.
Just try and tell those … damned cows what the hell to do!
– Howard Hawks
But Hawks liked what he was getting on film, and he liked the performance he was getting from Montgomery Clift.
For the climactic fight scene between Dunson and Matthew, Clift encountered a big problem: he didn’t know how to fight. Wayne was amused, the director wasn’t. Hawks later said that he “… wore an arm out showing the kid how to throw a punch.”
John Wayne turned in a breathtaking performance for Hawks. It would be the bedrock of future performances, notably that of Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s great masterpiece, The Searchers. From the way John Wayne walked, to the way he looked at other actors, to the broad shouldered angst of a strong man out of step with his times and his world, he would become the great cinematic icon that he was destined to be—and is still today—that lonely, heroic figure, riding forever between the winds of an endless horizon bordered by American empire and agrarian ideals.
And if you look hard enough at John Wayne’s rugged face, you’ll see traces of two men: John Ford and Howard Hawks. And perhaps of the two, it is the Red River D that tips the balance of Wayne’s enduring image toward Hawks’ influence.
I didn’t know the big sonuvabitch could act …
– John Ford
Shooting ran long, bills piled up, and loans were taken out. The weather, the rewrites and Hawks’ deliberate, insistent pace threw the production over budget to almost $3 million.. An extra month of filming compounded the costs. The mammoth stampede sequence, filmed by associate director Arthur Rosson, took thirteen days to shoot; seven men were hurt and animals suffered as well. In the end Hawks would get $125,000 for his role as director/producer. It would be years before Red River turned a profit.
In post-production, Tiomkin went to work on the score. One of the difficulties in scripting Red River was in providing characters with reasons for what they did without tedious exposition. Hawks tried building the script with indirect references to motivations but scrapped most of the lines. Tiomkin used music to make it all work and illuminate character and drama. The composer saw where he could help the film build emotion—and bring characters and story together.
If I ever see another cow, it will be too soon …
– Dimitri Tiomkin
Had Tiomkin not scored another Western after Red River it would still stand as almost an apotheosis of the genre in the grand manner of the Old Hollywood West, epitomizing the “idyllic sublime,” with its romance of cowboy songs (both original and quoted) sung by a soaring soulful chorus, and with far less of a Russian accent than Tiomkin’s own speaking voice.
– William Rosar
The critical success of his first Western pleased Hawks. The entire project had been a personal triumph, if not a financial one.
“I called Ford and told him about the scene where Duke reads over the dead cowboy and that shadow passes over the mountain. I said, ‘I’ve done one that’s almost as good as you’ …” Hawks later recalled.
He now understood Ford’s affection for making Westerns—it was a great excuse to get away from Hollywood and the suits, camp out with your friends and create an exciting film.
What next? His imagination ever restless, forever seeking a good story, Hawks came across a book by that Saturday Evening Post alumnus, A. B. Guthrie, Jr. It was a heroic story about two friends who risk all to join a group of adventurous men making a seemingly impossible trek by keelboat up the wide Missouri River, a trek that carries them all through the great Indian nations of the American frontier.
Hawks liked the idea; he began thinking about who would play the leads in the film. Among those considered, a young Robert Mitchum. And the other? Well, someone told him about a new kid on Broadway, someone named Marlon Brando. Eventually, Dewey Martin and Kirk Douglas would be cast as the friends.
There were no doubts. Hawks would turn again to someone who was good at what he did, someone he liked—Dimitri Tiomkin—to compose a breathtaking hush of an epic score, one of his greatest, for …
The Big Sky …
Red River Music Notes
When Bill Stromberg, Jack Smith and I were throwing around ideas for a Dimitri Tiomkin CD, we felt several prerequisites would have to be met. First, we wanted to do one of his truly great scores for a great film. Secondly, we felt it was necessary to record a score that hadn’t been previously recorded to death and one that the original music tracks were not sitting around in good enough condition to be released. Red River met those criteria in addition to being a rich, exciting, and colorful score that varied enough that we had no qualms of recording every cue composed for it. Additionally, the original score was recorded optically on film, which has a limited range, exacerbated by the relatively low music volume as heard in the film’s final sound mix. So, we felt, a new digital stereo recording would present this music in its best light, bringing out the timbre and subtleties that previously were only heard when Tiomkin was standing in front of the live orchestra conducting this music to picture.
During the forties, Tiomkin was honing his craft. Evidently the composer felt no film was beneath his talent, and so, dotted among classics such as Meet John Doe, Duel in the Sun, and It’s a Wonderful Life, we find Tiomkin scoring such cinematic gems as China’s Little Devils (1945), Whistle Stop (1946), and The Dude Goes West (1948). With these modestly budgeted affairs, the composer was able to experiment both musically and dramatically without conforming to what was expected of him for major studio productions. He never had a long-term contract with any studio, which enabled him to develop relationships with important directors who worked both independently and under a particular studio umbrella.
We were extremely fortunate to have had access to the original orchestrations by Tiomkin’s long-time associates Lucien Cailliet and Paul Marquardt. We also had most of the vocal arrangements by Tiomkin’s choral director, Jester Hairston, who first worked with the composer on Lost Horizon—thus beginning a twenty-year association. Hairston formed the first integrated choir used regularly in films. He also was an actor, appearing in such films as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Being John Malkovich (1999), to name but a few. He died in 2000 at the age of 99.
A great deal of preparatory work went into this CD. As is customary with film scores, many changes are made at the actual recording sessions. These modifications are often purely technical where timings need to be adjusted, bars of music cut or added to, or instrumental alternatives made, owing to a conflict with dialogue or sound effects. For these, we went back to the original version of the orchestrated score. Other changes are more subtle and problematic. Tiomkin was known to tinker with the orchestration on the recording stage to get the exact effect he was after. Some of these changes are amended in the music, most are not. After careful comparison of the film’s soundtrack and surviving acetates of the music alone to the full score, I implemented as many of these changes as possible. A good example of this is the last part of Dunson Heads South. As Tiomkin originally conceived the music, the orchestra accompanied the chorus right to the end of the cue. Since the chorus and orchestra were recorded separately and then combined together at a later mix, Tiomkin made the decision to fade out the orchestra early and have the chorus complete the music, a cappella. The acetates have the orchestra going until the end and only by way of the film’s soundtrack does one realize what Tiomkin did by letting the beauty of Jester Hairston’s choral arrangement end the cue. It is a magical moment.
The Red River orchestra, although large, is not outlandish by Tiomkin’s standards. Woodwinds consists of two flutes, two oboes, three clarinets, and one bassoon, doubling their customary instrumental partners. Four horns, four trumpets, four trombones, and tuba make up the brass section. The percussion is normal orchestra battery for four players, although three sets of timpani are needed for Stampede. Several indigenous percussion associated with the American West are also used, including the whip, horse hoof, train whistle, and cow bell. There is one piano, doubling celeste, one harp and strings. (As usual for scores of this period, the strings were under-built in relation to the other instruments, so for this recording we utilized a larger string section to better balance the sound acoustically.) Finally, a full choir, banjo, and accordion are used in several sequences.
Both Bill Stromberg and I felt a certain deja vu while recording this score. We were doing it in Russia with Russian musicians who immediately recognized the kinship they had with the music of Russian-born Dimitri Tiomkin. To top it off, we were recording at the same studio (MosFilm) that Tiomkin conducted his final film project, Tchaikovsky, in 1971. We felt Tiomkin’s spirit hovering over us making sure the tempos and nuances were on the mark. After all, his music from over fifty years earlier was finally performed in his homeland.
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