SILVERADO – Bruce Broughton
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Despite being the quintessential genre of American cinema, the western often goes through periods of decline, lulls in production where very few films of quality are produced by Hollywood. The early 1980s was one of those periods when cowboys were seemingly out of fashion, having been tainted by the overblown budget and massive failure of Heaven’s Gate at the box office in 1980. It would take five years for someone to take a gamble on another one, but two came out in the summer of 1985 – Clint Eastwood’s introverted and introspective Pale Rider, and Lawrence Kasdan’s more traditionally adventurous Silverado. With an all-star cast of talented character actors including Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Linda Hunt, and even John Cleese, the film follows the escapades of four drifters who become unlikely friends and find themselves in the small town of Silverado, New Mexico, caught in the middle of a land war between open range cowboys and homesteading farmers, and dealing with individual demons from their own past. The film was a modest financial success, taking $32 million at the box office, and was generally well received at the time, but as the years have gone by Silverado is now looked on more favorably, and is considered a turning point in the revitalization of the genre.
The score for Silverado was written by the then-39-year-old Bruce Broughton, and at the time was the biggest assignment of his career to date. By 1985 Broughton was already a highly respected TV composer, having racked up several Emmy nominations for his work on popular shows like Hawaii Five-O, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Dallas, but he was a comparative novice when it came to theatrical films; Silverado was just his third movie assignment, after The Prodigal in 1983 and The Ice Pirates in 1984. However, despite his relative inexperience, Silverado was a massive success in musical terms, and is easily one of the standout works of the composer’s entire career. Fully orchestral, rich, bold, powerful, and steeped in the Western traditions of composers like Aaron Copland and Elmer Bernstein, Silverado is a classic of the genre that rightly earned Broughton an Academy Award nomination – although the fact that it remains his only Best Score nomination is nothing short of scandalous.
The score is built around two recurring main themes: the heroic and rambunctious Silverado theme, heard fully in the “Main Title,” and the gentler and more nostalgic Settler’s theme, which represents the homesteaders and their relationship with the vast open spaces of the American west, and which can be heard in its fullest during the middle section of the opening cue, and later towards the end of “On to Silverado,” where it is passed between strings, oboe, flute, and trumpet, accompanied by an expressive solo guitar. These two themes combine with a pair of smaller character motives for Mal, Danny Glover’s character, and for McKendrick, the evil cattle baron played by Brian Dennehy, which Broughton describes as an ‘ascending tritone figure’ to represent ‘the devil in cattle barony’.
The prominence of the Silverado theme is the cornerstone of the score, and its performances throughout the work allow the score’s individual identity to develop. Following its initial performance in the main title cue, it appears with rousing ebullience and wonderful whooping fanfares in “The Getaway/Riding as One,” with Jerome Moross-esque coloring and a little more drama in “The Strongbox Rescue,” and in the first half of “On to Silverado,” amongst others. The Settlers theme, on the other hand, doesn’t really assert itself until the score’s second half, and then only in small doses, with fleeting recapitulations in just a handful of cues.
In the more tension-filled sequences, typified by cues such as “Paden’s Horse,” “Tyree and Turley,” “Paden’s Hat,” and “Augie is Taken,” Broughton indulges in his love of very low-end brass writing and even lower-end piano clusters offset by nervous rattling metallic percussion, hallmarks that would later re-occur in his other great western score, Tombstone. Many of the orchestrations and instrumental embellishments – the hammered dulcimer countermelodies, the way he passes his melodic ideas around the different brass instruments, the repeated triplets in the brass punctuating the string writing, the way some of the tracks have almost waltz-like arrangements – have also gone on to be iconic Broughton touches, and it’s fascinating to experience their genesis here.
Some of Broughton’s action writing seems to intentionally channel the defiantly unsentimental Western scores of Jerry Goldsmith, especially things like Wild Rovers and Take a Hard Ride, which are dark and brooding and reflect the tough reality of life in the Old West rather than the romanticized version Hollywood often portrayed. “Ezra’s Death,” for example, is a dramatic piece which pits Mal’s theme and McKendrick’s theme against each other in a musical battle for supremacy. Later, cues like “An Understanding Boss,” the magnificently explosive “Party Crashers,” the urgent “You’re Empty, Mister/Emmet’s Rescue,” and the edgy and ear-shattering “Prelude to a Battle,” growl menacingly in the depths of the orchestra, and present stabbing, insistent rhythmic ideas that shred the nerves.
The final cues – the 8-minute “McKendrick Waits/The Stampede/Finishing at McKendrick’s”, the 9-minute “Hide and Watch/Jake Gets Tyree/Slick, Then McKendrick”, and “Goodbye Cobb” – provide a fitting climax to the score. The two long cues expertly mix variations on the main Silverado theme with the ominous suspense material, several action-packed flourishes, and interjections from the McKendrick motif, before the end credits cue “We’ll Be Back” provides a rousing final performance of the main theme to bring the album to a superb close.
The score for Silverado was first released on CD in 1992 by Intrada Records as a well-conceived 12-cue album running for a touch over 45 minutes. 13 years later Intrada would release this expanded 2-CD set of the score, showcasing the entire 84-minute work, including a couple of bonus cues and alternates, and with digitally re-mastered sound and more lavish packaging. Truthfully, I have always liked the tighter presentation of the 1992 release, which covers essential elements of the score in an easily-digestible timeframe, but the 2005 expanded version is well worth exploring for anyone with an inclination to delve into the score’s detail. Either way, Silverado is an essential purchase, being one of the best scores of 1985, one of the best Western scores written in the last 30 years, and one of the highlight works of Bruce Broughton’s entire career.
Buy the Silverado soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- 1992 ORIGINAL RELEASE
- Silverado Main Title (4:47)
- To Turley (2:43)
- The Getaway/Riding as One (4:21)
- Ezra’s Death (1:53)
- The McKendrick Attack (1:38)
- Augie is Taken (2:36)
- On to Silverado (6:26)
- This Oughta Do (4:51)
- Augie’s Rescue (6:36)
- Slick, Then McKendrick (4:03)
- Goodbye, Cobb (2:06)
- End Credits (We’ll Be Back) (4:22)
- 2005 EXPANDED RELEASE
- Main Title (4:46)
- Paden’s Horse (1:33)
- Tyree & Turley (3:39)
- That Ain’t Right (1:13)
- Paden’s Hat (3:37)
- The Getaway/Riding As One (6:07)
- Den of Thieves (1:46)
- The Strongbox Rescue (1:53)
- On to Silverado (6:23)
- McKendrick’s Men (1:24)
- Ezra’s Death (1:52)
- An Understanding Boss (1:47)
- Party Crashers (1:37)
- Tyree and Paden (0:52)
- McKendrick’s Brand (0:50)
- You’re Empty, Mister/Emmet’s Rescue (3:43)
- Behind the Church (1:15)
- Augie is Taken (2:36)
- Worried About the Dog (2:07)
- Prelude to a Battle (4:50)
- McKendrick Waits/The Stampede/Finishing at McKendrick’s (8:24)
- Hide and Watch/Jake Gets Tyree/Slick, Then McKendrick (9:30)
- Goodbye, Cobb (2:05)
- We’ll Be Back (End Credits) (4:22)
- The Bradley Place (1:48) [BONUS]
- Jake Gets Tyree (Original Version) (2:15) [BONUS]
- The Silverado Waltz (2:03) [BONUS]
Running Time: 46 minutes 22 seconds (Original Release)
Running Time: 84 minutes 17 seconds (Expanded Release)
Intrada MAF-7035 (1985/1992) – Original Release
Intrada MAF-7096 (1985/2005) – Expanded Release
Music composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton. Orchestrations by Chris Boardman and Don Nemitz. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Album produced by Bruce Broughton and Douglass Fake.