Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE BIG COUNTRY – Jerome Moross

THE BIG COUNTRY – Jerome Moross


Original Review by Craig Lysy

MGM set out to bring an epic tale of Americana to the big screen. For this massive production they hired William Wyler as director and producer. A screenplay authored my a multitude of writers created a complex narrative, which sought to move beyond the genre’s traditional narratives to explore the darker and more ambiguous psychology of old west. A stellar cast was assembled, which included Gregory Peck (James McKay), Jean Simmons (Julie Maragon), Burl Ives (Rufus Hannassey), Charlton Heston (Steve Leech), Caroll Baker (Patricia Terrill) and Chuck Connors (Buck Hannassey). The story involves romance and the battle for water and grazing rights on the high plains. We see Captain James McKay, a wealthy and now retired sea captain who has come west to marry fiancée Pat Terrill, who seems pampered and controlled by her wealthy father, Major Henry Terrill. As a military seaman McKay’s formal personal affect, values and approach to life seem culturally incongruous and pretentious. When he eschews the code of the west of settling disputes with violence he creates an instant animus with the locals, especially ranch foreman Steve Leech. His apparent cowardice also loses the respect of Pat.

In the larger picture we find unfolding an escalating clan battle over cattle watering rights on the arid plains. Rufus Hannassey and Henry Terrill both covet “The Big Muddy”, land owned by Julie Maragon that is abundant with water. She wisely keeps a fragile peace by allowing both clans access to her water. McKay, who is increasingly estranged from Pat meets with Julie, and they discover a mutual attraction, which leads in time to Pat ending their engagement. McKay eventually convinces Julie to sell him the water rights, thus triggering a confrontation with the Hannassey clan, which ultimately results in both patriarchs killing each other in a duel. The film concludes with McKay and Julie riding off to start a new life at the Big Muddy.

Wyler hired Moross, impressed by his earlier triumph in the genre “The Proud Rebel” (1958). Moross had in his childhood developed a love of the vast vistas of the American west as well as its traditional folk music, which he says always inspired him. He used this love to create a multiplicity of themes and motifs to culturally express the bravado of the old west on the grand tapestry upon which he was given. His music filled the spectacular vistas of the western plans and enhanced the film by fleshing out the emotional drivers of the main characters. His Main Theme has passed into legend and is now regarded as the iconic Americana theme for the old west. We bear witness to a stunning swirling vortex of violin arpeggios from which sound heraldic horns festivamente that grandly declare the indomitable American spirit. The theme has a ternary form with the opening line of violins and trumpets serving as a stunning introductory prelude. It’s violin carried A Phrase espouses proud confident nobility while its B Phrase, which flows atop violins and harp glissandi, speaks to the wondrous vistas of the American west.

Pat’s Theme is dance-like in construct, flowing as a gentile two-step between violin and viola. The Cowboys Theme conveys classic Americana with its horns bravado and cocky staccato rhythms. Julie’s Theme is in reality the scores’ love theme. Performed by lush strings with an array of woodwinds, it expresses inviting warmth. Buck’s Theme is arrogant and simple in construct like its namesake, featuring repeating statements by blaring high trumpet. Major Terrill’s Theme, like its namesake is an aggressive staccato identity emoted by harsh strings and grating horns. The Abduction Theme offers a dark staccato construct, which perfectly captures its violence. The Stalking Theme speaks to the dark currents of violence that underpin the Terrill-Hannassey feud. It flows from the lower register atop timpani and bassoon with a stilting foreboding rhythm, which seems disconcerting and clumsy. The Spirit Of Violence Motif is expressed as repeating bleak tonal statements often as contrapuntal responses to the kindred Stalking Theme.

This effort by Moross is acclaimed as his Magnum Opus. The marriage of imagery, narrative and music reveals Moross’ mastery of his craft. It is no doubt not only one of the finest scores of the Americana genre, but also of the Golden Age. He provides eight themes and a motif, which time and time again features thematic interplay of the highest order. His Main Theme, one of the best to ever open a film, has passed into legend and earned him immortality. I recommend with enthusiasm that this score is essential to the collection of lovers of film score art.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score I have embedded a Youtube link to a wonderful suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbowH6D2l_c

A more comprehensive review of the score may be found at: https://moviemusicuk.us/2014/09/08/the-big-country-jerome-moross/

Buy the Big Country soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:21)
  • Julie’s House (2:10)
  • The Welcoming (3:09)
  • The Hazing (1:49)
  • Courtin’ Time (1:21)
  • The Terrill Ranch (1:35)
  • Old Thunder (1:40)
  • The Raid, Parts 1 & 2 (3:39)
  • McKay’s Decision (1:03)
  • The Capture (1:28)
  • McKay’s Triumph (0:35)
  • Major Terrill’s Party (1:30)
  • Major Terrill’s Party, Part 2 (1:09)
  • Waltz (2:16)
  • Polka (0:54)
  • Night in Blanco Canyon (0:52)
  • McKay’s Ride (1:20)
  • McKay Is Missing (2:02)
  • The Old House (2:18)
  • Waiting (0:30)
  • Horror Stories (1:04)
  • Big Muddy (2:33)
  • Still Waiting (1:37)
  • McKay Alone (1:20)
  • Night at Ladder Ranch (1:09)
  • The Fight (2:54)
  • Cattle at the River (2:21)
  • Pat’s Mistake (1:20)
  • Buck Comes for Julie (1:12)
  • The Abduction (1:10)
  • The Captive (1:34)
  • The Attempted Rape (2:10)
  • The War Party Gathers (2:39)
  • McKay in Blanco Canyon (2:27)
  • Jim and Julie (0:35)
  • The Major Alone (1:51)
  • The Duel (0:51)
  • The Death of Buck Hannassey (2:44)
  • Ambush in Blanco Canyon, Part 1 (1:16)
  • Ambush in Blanco Canyon, Part 2 (1:47)
  • The Stalking (1:21)
  • End Title (1:59)

Running Time: 72 minutes 35 seconds

La-La Land Records LLCD-1055 (1958/2007)

Music composed and conducted by Jerome Moross. Orchestrations by Jerome Moross, Bernard Mayers, Gil Grau and Conrad Singer. Edited by Lloyd Young. Score produced by Jerome Moross. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. Karoly Mazak
    June 28, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    This is indeed one of the greatest scores of all time. It is surely in my personal Top10, maybe even in the Top5.
    The same with the film itself, one of the best ever.

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