About this Recording
8.225217 - TIOMKIN: Red River

Conductor’s Preface

Conductor’s Preface

Finally, I get to conduct music by Tiomkin, a man who composed scores with a particularly unique sound. I think it is uncanny the way in which a composer can sound like himself, whatever the subject matter of a particular project he is working on. It struck me, as I was conducting this music, that not only do composers, in general, not write music like this any more, but there also seems to be a lack of individual style among film composers today compared with the golden age composers.

            Tiomkin’s style was a very bold orchestral sound, using dynamics (loud and soft) with thick block chords to great advantage. Also, he often used soloists from every section in the orchestra, playing completely different lines, thereby making the music seem almost chaotic at times. For instance, he would use a soft solo violin obbligato over the entire tutti orchestra—all playing very softly. This creates a very thick and intense sound, but still seeming almost distant. He is also known for his use of loud flutter-tongue in the brass section, which creates a brash, painful sound. Our brass players had a good time with it, and gave me funny looks from time to time. With this score for Red River and many others, he took advantage of his memorable thematic material, reprising the main themes often but always with interesting variation. All of these traits give Tiomkin’s music that identifying quality.

            I became familiar with Tiomkin’s music when I was about nine years old. I had a reel-to-reel tape with scores from The Alamo and The Guns of Navarone that I pretty much wore out. I think this is when I first felt the desire to re-create a performance of a score. I tried writing out part of the battle music from The Alamo for our school band, but it proved far too difficult for our group to handle. Little did I know that some day I would be conducting his music with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. That desire never left me, and now that we have recorded Red River, I feel somewhat fulfilled. However, I’d like to do more of his music.

William Stromberg

December, 2002


There Once Was A Cowboy From Russia …

Sounds like the opening of a Saturday night bar joke, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. There really once was a cowboy who hailed from the land of borsch soup and babushka dolls. His name was Dimitri Tiomkin and he was one of the finest Hollywood composers of the 1940s and 1950s; the golden age of Hollywood music.

            When I learned that composers John Morgan and Bill Stromberg were going to Russian to record Red River as part of their ongoing Hollywood classics series with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, I was thrilled to be able to tag along and be an audience of one during recording sessions that took place at Mosfilm the last week of February 2002.

            Listening to this gifted assembly of musicians playing Tiomkin’s cues was a truly unforgettable experience. Never once did I lose track of the fact that we were working in the very place where the young Tiomkin’s career had first blossomed. Day after day I listened to sweeping, emotional music that so brilliantly showcased the American west and its place in our history. Yet I was in Moscow and these players, for the most part, had no clue as to what the cowboy experience was to our culture.

            Once asked by a reporter how it was that a Russian could so perfectly capture the mood and feel of the American west, Tiomkin laughed and compared the open American prairie to the mountain steppes of his own central homeland. In his thickly accented English, he replied, “The steppes are the steppes all over the world.”

            At one point, conductor Bill Stromberg, getting set to do a long cue, paused at the podium, baton at midpoint in the air, looked up at the sound booth and said, “Damn it, John, nobody writes like this any more. All you have to do is look at the notes and its pure Tiomkin. It’s his signature all over the place.”

            To add a poignant underline to that declaration, later in the week while interviewing one of the French horn players, our translator asked the fellow if he realized the music they were playing had been written by a fellow Russian. The young man immediately began nodding his head affirmatively. “Dah, dah,” he said, further adding that the entire orchestra had easily recognized the familiar Russian themes of all the greats from Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninov and Prokofiev in the pages before them. In other words, they saw it as Russian music, period. Absolutely amazing.

            The highlight of the entire week came on the third day of recording when a thirty-man Russian choir arrived to do the cue “Get Along Little Doggies.” Since none of them spoke English, they would sing the words phonetically. As the choir director began warm-up sessions, I milled about with John and Bill, totally mesmerized by what we were witnessing.

            After listening to the gorgeous harmony of those deep, resonating voices, an ironic thought came to me and I went over to John and shared it with him. Long ago, in his Hollywood home, Dimitri Tiomkin sat at his piano mentally composing the lyrics for a song to be performed by a group of rowdy, lusty cowboys. Being a foreigner, the native accent of his thoughts never truly left him. Ergo, he must have been imagining the sounds exactly as we were actually hearing them some sixty years later.

            The Russian cowboy had come home. It had been an incredible odyssey. Thanks John and Bill for inviting me along. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


Ron Fortier

Somersworth, September, 2002

Ron Fortier is a professional writer. He is currently writing electronic pulp stories for the internet and working on a new film script.


The Red River ‘T’  Dimitri Tiomkin, Hollywood Maestro

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 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

                        Film Score: The View from the Podium

            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-than-life 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 immigrated 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 contemp-orary 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 première European performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F major to raves from critics and audiences alike.

            Then Hollywood knocked at his door. 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, dropped in standards and Hollywood left-overs and tossed 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-the-dust 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, new-to-the-ear 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 the mercurial 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

Dimitri Tiomkin: A Portrait

            And then there was Red River, Tiomkin’s first great personal score, a score 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 OK 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 be 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 on-screen 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 story-teller, his films 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 dialog. 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 the 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, demonstrating 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 story teller; you could sit and listen to him for ever ... 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 heart 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 well 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;

            You had to be fun to be around;

            And most importantly, you had to know who

            was boss.

            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 sound track 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 co-write 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 raw-hide 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 dialog. Hawks would apply 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 that 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; Harry Carey Jr. would be 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 in 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 for 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 to 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 bow-and-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 dialog 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 that 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 for ever 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 would turn 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 great 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 Journal of Film Music

            The box office and 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, for ever 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 risked all to join a group of adventurous men making a seemingly impossible trek by keelboat up the wide Missouri River, a trek that carried 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 had told him about a new kid on Broadway, someone named Marlon Brando (eventually, Dewey Martin and Kirk Douglas would be cast as the two friends.).

            And music?

            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 ...


Among the annals of the great state of Texas may be found the story of the first drive on the famous Chisholm Trail. A story of one of the great cattle herds of the world, of a man and a boy—Thomas Dunson and Matthew Garth, the story of the Red River D ...

            – The Great Tales of Texas

[1]       Main Title. Two distant French horns fanfare the main titles as the male chorus of “Settle Down” references “... the sun is sinking in the West.” The effect is theatrical with Tiomkin using the horns as a sunset metaphor, followed by full fanfare, orchestra and chorus to bring us into the vivid milieu of the Old West and the legend of the Red River D, for Dunson. “The Great Tales of Texas” narrative cue musically links sequences in the film. Referenced is a refrain from a popular period song, “Deep in the Heart of Texas”: “... the stars at night are big and bright...”

In the year 1851, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) accompanied by a friend,Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan), left St. Louis and joined a wagon train headed for California. Three weeks on the trail found them near the border of Texas. The land to the South looked good...

– The Great Tales of Texas

[2]       Dunson Heads South. “Banjo on my knee...” is featured to highlight the immigrant wagon train and a cross-fade of orchestra brings in a theme that represents Dunson’s ideals and vision of life and empire that becomes his sweatheart’s “Fen’s (Colleen Gray) Theme.” Pervasive, delicate and affecting, it humanizes Dunson’s vision but is undercut by a menace of hostile Indians. Dunson leaves Fen with a bracelet from his mother and his love to the safety of the wagon train, a decision that will haunt him for ever. Striking out on his own, Dunson goes South; Tiomkin brings in a male chorus for “Fen’s Theme,” which is sadly a memorial.

[3]       Red River Camp. “Old Man River ...” is used by Tiomkin as Dunson and his pal Groot first see the mighty Red River, the gateway to Texas. Ominous rumblings as smoke declares a horrifying attack on the wagon train where death to all is certain.

[4]       The Red Menace Strikes. The first of several great orchestral furies that Tiomkin unleashes that begins with the shrill point of a burning arrow; Dunson and Groot battle the marauders; Dunson is unstoppable. In the middle of the Red River, he kills the last of the attackers with three strikes of a Bowie knife. Tiomkin marks these knife strokes with a chilling clash of brass (and later will recall the attack with three plucks of a harp’s string). Dunson grasps the dying man’s wrist and sees the bracelet that he gave to Fen. Tiomkin offers a sad remembrance. Dunson has killed her murderer and the dead man’s blood mixes red with the river that marks the beginning of Dunson’s Texas. The blood and water allow Dunson a vengeance that sublimates his tragic loss, a symbolic baptism to help wash away his inconsolable grief. Like most men, Dunson will deal with grief by acting and doing. He is wedded to Fen’s memory—and his dream of empire. By crossing the Red River, he crosses over to a new life.

[5]       The Lone Survivor. An eerie narrative for a boy (Mickey Kuhn) leading a cow out of the wilds, the sole survivor of the massacre. Dazed, he details the killings. Dunson slaps him back to reality and the boy draws a gun; Dunson takes it away from him and a bond ensues as Dunson gives it back. Trust and kinship are born of time and place between Matthew Garth and Tom Dunson; Tiomkin expresses Dunson’s staunch Protestant beliefs that recall the plight of Job, “…We brought nothing into this world, and it’s certain we carry nothing out. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen…” The Lord has taken Fen —and now, God has given Dunson a son, Matthew Garth. Dunson eyes Groot, “He’ll do…”

[6]       Birth of the Red River D. Dunson, Groot and Matt begin the trek and Tiomkin accompanies them with a fanfare that’s brushed aside by impatient brass for Dunson’s ambitious push onwards. “The Great Tales of Texas” moves on and a full orchestral rendition of “Settle Down” marks limitless horizons; Tiomkin ups the register for a feeling of consecration and majesty.

And that was the meeting of a boy with a cow and a man with a bull and the beginning of a great herd. In search for land, they traveled South through Texas, across ... promising land, but weighed it and ... found it wanting. So they went on through the panhandle, ever southward... past the Pecos... nearing the Rio Grande...

– The Great Tales of Texas

The music literally takes a breath of expectation as Dunson dismounts and claims his dream, “…my land, as far as you can see…” As the Red River D brand marks Dunson’s bull and Matthew’s cow, the first “We’re off to Missouri …” is heard as Dunson begins to think years ahead to the great trail drive that will change him and the West for ever. Dunson tells Matt that he will add his name to the brand when he earns it.

[7]       Mexican Burial. A dramatic flourish for a pistolero who rides up to defend a Mexican don’s claim to the land. Then “Bury me not on the lone prairie ...” as Dunson buries the brave pistolero. “They’re off to Missouri” refrains Dunson’s ambitions as the branding iron points up the grave-site.

            “How’d you know when he was gonna draw?” Matt asks Dunson.

            “By watching his eyes; remember that!”

            “I will ...”

[8]       Growth of the Dunson Empire. A rousing narrative of fourteen years of hard work and sacrifice as the ranch is built—and grows, only to face financial ruin in the wake of the Civil War. Revealed is the adult Matthew (Montgomery Clift) wearing Dunson’s mother’s bracelet, a sign of family and love.

[9]       Roundup. Exuberant and stirring, featuring a solo accordion, the roundup will make—or break the ranch. Cherry Valance (John Ireland), a gunman for a neighboring rancher, joins the drive.

            “You know, there are only two things more beautiful than a good gun; a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere ... Ever had a good Swiss watch?” Cherry asks Matt.

[10]     Suspense at Dawn. An earth-shaker of a scene as tense strings and deep horns accompany Tom Dunson’s lonely predawn ride to the perimeter of the great herd and his band of drovers. Unprecedented in a Hawks film, the camera—with Dunson looking around at the 9,000 head of cattle—pans a full 180-degrees taking in man and beast, dream and empire all in one shot that ends with the cattle baron turning his entire life’s work over to his surrogate son.

[11]     On to Missouri. “Take ’em to Missouri, Matt!” Drovers yell; the herd moves, and music and film become a surging freight train, heading out toward fate and fortune. “They’re off to Missouri” is taken up in full orchestral force and chorus.

            “There they are, Matt. Fourteen years of hard work. And they say we can’t make the drive,” Dunson says.

            “They could be wrong”

            “They better be ...”

[12]     The Drive Moves North. Tiomkin herds the cattle onward, sweeping along in epic style.

[13]     The Brazos Trail.: Excitement and hard work as the drovers move the great drive north.

[14]     Stampede. Rolling thunder of orchestral dissonance and disarray as themes try to gain control of 9,000 head of cattle spooked by an accident at the chuck wagon—a drover out to satisfy a sweet tooth that ends in a calamity of pots and pans. Sections of the orchestra fight one another and are brought under control by a stunning calm of “They’re off to Missouri..”

[15]     Missing Cowboy. An elegy for a dead cowboy with “Bury me not on the lone prairie ...” becomes a tender sense of comradeship as a drover offers to stay the night with the body to keep scavengers away. For the first time, Tiomkin reveals a rumble that will depict Dunson’s rage and anger. Dunson blames himself for the needless death of Dan Latimer (Harry Carey, Jr), who dies leaving a wife and new baby. Dunson will never be the same again. Dunson orders full pay for the dead drover and thinks of Dan‘s widow.

[16]     Latimer Burial. Young Latimer is buried against a spectacular backdrop of a mountain darkened by passing clouds. “Bury me not ...” is a sad refrain lost to Dunson’s anger at a drover who started the stampede . Dunson is out to lash the drover with a whip; the drover draws on Dunson; Matt wounds him rather than allowing Dunson to kill the man.

Forty days and the dust turned to rain. Short rations with Dunson driving both cattle and men. There was no turning back despite the loss of the other grub wagon ...

 – The Great Tales of Texas

[17]     Thunder on the Trail. Pounding storms mark the way along the Chisholm Trail. Rations are short and water is low. Men are angry and so is Dunson.

            “We’ll drink rainwater if we hafta,” growls Dunson.

[18]     Red River Ahead. a magnificent exposition marking a return to the great Red River—reverential, muscular, with a sense of memory and sacrifice. Opening fanfares as the Red River merges with the endless flow of cattle.

[19]     Red River Crossing. Tiomkin marks the majesty of Dunson’s dreams and ambitions—and hopes—as the herd, an endless flow like the river itself, crosses the mighty Red.

[20]     Cottonwood Justice. Dunson intends to hang men for deserting the drive; Matt steps in and stops him with gunplay. The relationship between Dunson and Matt is torn apart.

[21]     Dunson Swears Vengeance. Matthew pledges to get the herd to the railhead; Dunson is unmoved. “Every time you turn around, expect to see me; ‘cause one time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there ... I’m gonna kill ya’, Matt ...”

[22]     Comanche Arrows. Tiomkin brandishes full orchestral frenzy as hostiles attack an encircled wagon train. Matt and his drovers ride hard to the rescue through the frenzied attack to help defenders, where Matt pulls an arrow from the shoulder of the beautiful Tess Millay (Joanne Dru).

[23]     In Wait. Tense strings and brass refrain Dunson’s rage.

[24]     Fight for Life. Groot and Cherry tell Tess the story of the Red River D—and the breach between Dunson and Matt.

[25]     Vigil in the Night. A drover rides nighthawk, watching the herd; the eerie music frames the fear that Dunson is out there ... somewhere.

[26]     Foggy Night Surrender. A cascade of melody introduces Tiomkin’s musical commentary on a classic example of Hawks’ romantic relationships. The music highlights a tension which features solo violin and a charming flirt of a waltz that becomes a full phrasing of “Settle Down” as the dream of empire and community is passed on.

In the meantime, Dunson had found men and ammunition and taken up the chase ...

            – The Great Tales of Texas

[27]     The Spectre Takes Form. Dunson’s rage musically accompanies the pursuing cattle baron and ten hired guns; a solo violin plays “Settle Down” for Tess as Dunson and his gang ride into the wagon train’s camp; the first time Dunson has seen a wagon train since Fen’s death.

[28]     Interlude. Dunson and his guns are told of the rescue from Indians by Matt and the drovers. The men are invited to stay for supper; Tess takes Dunson to her lean-to. There in shelter, Dunson sees his mother’s bracelet on Tess’ wrist. Like a ghost, Fen rises up from the dead through Tiomkin’s music, her theme standing between Dunson and Tess.

[29]     Out of the Past. Murderous tension gives way to “Settle Down.” “So he went off and left you?” asks Dunson. Tess asks if any woman could love a man who’d go off and leave her. “Settle Down” continues as she adds, “Nothing I could say or do could change his mind ...”

[30]     Memory of Love. In the wake of “Settle Down,” Fen’s theme returns in full force. The effect is devastating for a stoic Dunson. Tiomkin reaches deep inside Dunson with a brilliant summation of his hopes and dreams. Fen’s theme embraces it all; her tragic loss is as real—and searing—as it was fourteen years ago. Tiomkin recalls the death of the Indian who killed Fen; the brass clashes of knife strokes have been transformed into three delicate plucks of a harp string. “... like you had knives sticking in you,” Dunson recalls, remembering the death of his love. “Settle Down” moves the emotion back to Tess who asks to join Dunson in finding Matt. The memory of Fen, seeing Tess, prompts Tiomkin to reveal that Dunson will never leave anyone alone again; and that he cannot—and will not murder Matt—despite Tiomkin’s cunning use of Dunson’s rage to end the scene.

... One hundred days, and in Matthew Garth’s heart a growing fear that there was no railroad. Could they all have been wrong?...

– The Great Tales of Texas

[31]     A Joyous Meeting. “The Great Tales of Texas” gives way to the freight train push of the herd. A cowboy complains that the drive will go on for ever and soon will move up and down Canadian icebergs, which is picked up by a playful clarinet. A sense of expectation bursts through with “She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain when she comes ...” as a great Iron Horse rolls into view, directly in the path of the oncoming herd; thousands—and thousands—of cattle spill out over the hillside and around the tracks. The engineer blows his whistle to celebrate the drovers’ arrival.

[32]     Approach to Abilene. A banjo joins in celebration as the music becomes a jaunty, swaggering expression of accomplishment. Tiomkin drops the celebration, punctuated with a chime, as Mr. Melville, the cattle trader-buyer (Harry Carey, Sr.) from the Greenwood Trading Company rides up and welcomes the drovers—and the herd.

[33]     A Big Day in Abilene. A solo French horn reprises “... the stars at night are big and bright ...” that gives way to a chorus and orchestra declaring that “... tonight we’ll be painting the town!” “Oh, Susannah” caps the celebration. And miles away, Dunson rides up to the very rails that Matt, the boys and the herd crossed hours before. The sight of the rails at Abilene have failed to assuage Dunson’s rage. Tiomkin brings up the full expression of “They’re off to Missouri” that marks Matt’s great achievement and fulfillment of the promise that he made to Dunson. “I’ll get your herd to market ...”

[34]     The Spectre Closes In. Dunson’s threat hangs over a discussion by Matt and Mr. Melville. As Matt leaves, Melville lingers with the boys, admonishing them to take care of the herd, adding matter-of-factly, “I’ll buy the drinks when it’s over.” Tiomkin accompanies the scene with a straightforward, beautiful playing of “Settle Down.” Tiomkin—and Mr. Melville—furtively hint at what’s to come.

[35]     A Message for Matt.: Dark tension gives way to “Settle Down” as Matt meets Tess in a hotel room. She tells him Dunson is camped out of town—and he is intent on killing him. Her worries are calmed by “Settle Down.”

[36]     The Challenge. Dunson and his men ride up to the sprawling railhead and the herd at Abilene. The conflict is older than Greek tragedy—the violent struggle between man and boy, father and son, an old way giving way to a new, and blood must be exacted to seal the ritual of deadly climax. Apparently, nothing on the face of the earth can stop Dunson, not even Fen’s aching memory. A drover rides up, warning Matt that Dunson is coming. Almost as if Tiomkin was scoring a ballet, his music follows Dunson as he dismounts and wades through a herd of cattle, like a rampant Moses crossing the Red Sea. Cherry Valance pulls his gun and Dunson shoots him. Blood is drawn. And only then, the violence—and Fen’s memory—begins to gnaw at Dunson. Dunson crosses over the steel of the railroad tracks, lines drawn in both absolute and symbolic terms that separate him and Matthew (Dunson‘s hired guns stay beyond the tracks). The meaning is indelible. In crossing those tracks, the autonomous, primitive way of the Old West will become a new frontier, brimming with social change and an unheard of sense of community. In sheer wrath, Thomas Dunson confronts his adopted son. Now, man and boy, father and son, generation and generation, frontier and agrarianism, seem destined to violent, tragic chaos.

            “Draw! ... you’re soft ... won’t anything make a man out of ya?” Dunson snarls.

            As bullets are fired by Dunson, one of them grazing Matt’s cheek, a knowing half-smile crosses his face. He has remembered Dunson’s advice. Matt has looked into Tom Dunson’s eyes—and he knows, for certain, there will be no killing. A no-holds-barred fist-fight follows with Matt gaining the upper-hand.

[37]     The New Brand. Tess fires a borrowed pistol and stops the fist-fight, scolding the two men who look on sheepishly. Tiomkin delights with a sly, good-humored orchestral exchange that marks the beginning of a new way of life for Tom Dunson and Matthew Garth—and for Matt and Tess. Dunson becomes the patriarch he always wanted to be; Matt and Dunson, the father and son they always were. Dunson’s authority is interrupted by Matt. “When are you gonna stop telling people what to do?” Dunson leans down to the soil that binds them both and draws two curving parallel marks, like the banks of a river—the Red River. “When we get home, we’ll add an `M’ to it ... you earned it ...” Tiomkin brings the force of a full orchestra and chorus, marking a bold fusion of myth and legend, of family and community, as the heroic tale of the Red River D, one of the great tales of Texas and the American West, comes to an end with a deft reworking of “Settle Down.” At the film’s beginning, the chorus sings, Settle down, little doggies, this is home for tonight ... Now, at the film’s end, with Dunson and Matt reconciled and the huge herd in Abilene, Tiomkin declares with full chorus and orchestra:

Settle down, little doggies, this is home ... for their lives ...

Jack Smith

Jack Smith is a noted film music critic for Films in Review magazine. A veteran reporter, he has interviewed numerous Hollywood celebrities. Smith lives with his wife, Jackie, in Southern California and is a successful commercial photographer.


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 that 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, owing to a conflict with dialog 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.


John Morgan

January, 2003


John Morgan

Widely regarded in film-music circles as a master colorist with a keen insight into orchestration and the power of music, Los Angeles-based composer John Morgan began his career working alongside such composers as Alex North and Fred Steiner before embarking on his own. Among other projects, he co-composed the richly dramatic score for the cult-documentary film Trinity and Beyond, described by one critic as “an atomic-age Fantasia, thanks to its spectacular nuclear explosions and powerhouse music.” In addition, Morgan has won acclaim for efforts to rescue, restore and re-record lost film scores from the past. Recently, Morgan composed the score for the acclaimed documentary, Cinerama Adventure.


William Stromberg

A native of Oceanside, California, who hails from a family of film-makers, William T. Stromberg balances his career as a composer of strikingly vivid film scores with that of a busy conductor in Marco Polo’s Classic Film Score Series. Besides conducting his own scores—including his recent music for the thriller Other Voices and the documentary Trinity and Beyond—Stromberg serves as a conductor for other film composers. He is especially noted for his passion in reconstructing and conducting film scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including several works recorded for RCA with the Brandenburg Philharmonic. For Marco Polo, he has conducted albums of music devoted to Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Philip Sainton, Adolph Deutsch, Hans J. Salter, Victor Young and Malcolm Arnold. He has also conducted several much-praised albums devoted to concert works by American composers, including two albums of music by Ferde Grofé.

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