Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > LEGENDS OF THE FALL – James Horner



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Having just finished the comedy Leaving Normal, director Edward Zwick decided to change direction and film an epic historical drama, which showcased the talent of rising star Brad Pitt as a romantic leading man. To that end he found the perfect vehicle in the 1978 novella Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. His production company Bedford Falls purchased the film rights with TriStar Pictures agreeing to distribute. Zwick, William Wittliff and Marshal Herskovist would produce the film, with Zwick directing. He hired screenwriters Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff to adapt the story for the big screen and brought in an outstanding cast, which included Brad Pitt as Tristan Ludlow, Anthony Hopkins as Colonel William Ludlow, Aiden Quinn as Alfred Ludlow, Henry Thomas as Samuel Ludlow, and Juilia Ormond as Susannah Fincannon. The film is set in the territory of Montana circa 1890 when Colonel William Ludlow resigns his commission, loathe to continue his part in the army’s cruel betrayal and slaughter of native Americans. He settles on a ranch in a remote part of Montana where he and his wife Isabel live a tranquil existence in peace. Isabel bears him three sons – Tristan, Alfred, and Samuel – but ends up leaving him as she is unable to bear the isolation and long harsh winters, which forces William to raise the boys himself. Almost 20 years later, the the now-grown Samuel returns home to the ranch with his fiancé Susannah, but this is a harbinger of sorrow as it precipitates a series of tragic events which fracture the family and set brother against brother as they compete for her affections.

After Samuel dies tragically in World War I Susannah finds solace in Tristan, whom she loves, but he abandons her as he is plagued with guilt from Samuel’s death; this eventually brings her into the arms of the eldest brother Alfred. Years later Susannah, now the wife of Alfred, commits suicide when Tristan returns as she realizes that she cannot bear to live without him. The film ends with hope as William, Alfred and Tristan reconcile, reuniting the shattered family. The film was a huge commercial success earning $161 million or 5.3 times its $30 million production costs and firmly established Brad Pitt as a bona fide romantic leading man. The film received mixed reviews with a slight majority reviewing it favorably. In awards season it achieved a modest critical success earning three Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Cinematography.

Zwick had collaborated with James Horner on Glory in 1989 and believed his impassioned and inspiring music was instrumental in elevating its narrative. As such he was the natural choice for the project. Zwick instructed Horner that he wanted to flesh out the film’s melodrama of love, desire, guilt, betrayal and vengeance. He felt that the music had to speak to the old – the Ludlow’s Cornish ancestry, as well as the new, found in the pristine breath-taking beauty of the Montana wilderness with its native American auras and rhythms. Horner took on the assignment with a passion, and in the end surpassed Zwick’s vision, composing what many believe to be his Magnum Opus. Horner’s conception for his soundscape would employ a number of soloists to achieve Zwick’s vision, including Jay Ungar and Dermot Crehan on fiddle, Kazu Matsui on shakuhachi, Tony Hinnigan and Mike Taylor on flutes, and the sterling voice of Maggie Boyle.

The construct of the score would incorporate leitmotifs, but not in the traditional sense in that only one theme is attached to a character (Tristan), while the rest speak to different emotional dynamics operating in the film’s narrative. Horner’s traditional approach to scoring a film sought to capture the emotional drivers operating in the scene, both overt and covert, the visual cinematic auras of time and place, and lastly the evolving narrative arc of the story. For this score he composed twelve themes, the most he ever wrote for a film. Tristan’s Theme serves as his identity and, given that the film’s impetus is the story of his life, it serves as one of the score’s primary themes, permeating the narrative from beginning to end. Shakuhachi and pan flutes imbue his theme with a mystical quality, a youthful, wild and untamed spirit, but also speak to his love of Native American culture. Yet we discern within the notes also feelings of sadness and longing, which speak to a man seeking to find his path in life. The theme is quite malleable and is rendered in a multiplicity of forms as Tristan life unfolds before our eyes.

The Legends Theme is the score’s over-arching theme, which operates on both a personal and transpersonal level. On a personal level it speaks to the brotherhood and unbreakable bond between the brothers, Alfred, Tristan and Samuel, while on a transpersonal level it conveys the wonder and pristine beauty of the Big Sky Country of Montana. It is in my judgement the score’s most beautiful theme, and perhaps the finest of Horner’s canon. It is rendered in classic A-B-A form with it’s A Phrase proud and forthright in its rustic beauty. Often declared by horns nobile, it gains emotive power when the melodic line is transferred to strings. The tender B Phrase is gentle, and offers a softer woodwind-borne statement.

The Ranch Theme speaks to the sacred hearth and safe refuge of the Ludlow family. It accompanies life on the ranch, but also the arrivals to and departures from it. Notable is that although you can take the boy from the ranch, you cannot take the ranch from the boy as we hear the theme carry Alfred in his new life in Helena. This long-lined theme also displays a classic A-B-A construct, with an A Phrase borne by gentle strings, and its comforting B Phrase carried by woodwinds delicato. I believe the theme offers one of the score’s warmest and most comforting identities. The next theme seems to be associated with scenes of happiness, family fulfillment and joy, as such I will refer to it as the Happiness Theme. It emotes with a free-flowing, slow dance like sensibility, a valzer gentile full of warmth, tenderness and happiness. The Ludlows Theme serves as a theme for the family, which harkens back to their ancestral Cornish roots. It has a folksy quality to it and is warm and comforting in its sensibilities, usually articulated by fiddle, piano or flute. The Reconciliation Theme supports scenes in which the characters are reconciled to their surroundings, new life circumstances or each other. The theme is string born with transfers to solo flute, and speaks to the powerful emotions created when reconciliation occurs.

The next theme appears in emotional scenes of farewells, and reunions, as such I will refer to it as the Reunion Theme. This intimate theme pulls at our heartstrings for these film moments so difficult to bear and is emoted by strings so full of heartache. The Death Theme is dichotomous in that it emotes as a grievous threnody, yet also with cold threatening resolve when supporting retributive vengeance. Of all the themes this one lacks lyricism, instead relying on textures and an array of sounds, which include Boyle’s haunting wordless vocals joined with metallic strikes, drums of doom, and an eerie ostinato by panpipes. The Regret Theme offers one of the score’s most evocative themes, which attends moments of sadness born of regret. It is expressed poignantly by kindred woodwinds with outstanding solos and interplay by oboe, clarinet and flute.

The Grief Theme writhes with pain and speaks of the unbearable pathos of losing a loved one. Commencing with dark six note phrases, it blossoms atop aching strings affanato as a mournful testament of vanquished love. The theme supports Tristan’s most grievous moments in the film; when his brother Samuel dies in his arms, and when his wife Isabel Too joins him. The Lost Love Theme speaks to the unabiding sadness, the regrets, and all that remains intensely felt, yet unspoken between Susannah and Tristan. Horner creates heartache with strings doloroso, woodwinds and harp, which pine for what could have been. Lastly, we have the Memories Theme, which offers music of reflection and the passage of time. Wistful, repeating eight note phrases by strings doloroso speak of longing for loved ones too long separated.

“Legends of the Fall” opens the film as Horner introduces four of his themes and perfectly captures the film’s narrative. As the film title displays, we hear One Stab speaking Cree as a warm solo trumpet sounds the Legend Theme to begin our tale. One Stab’s narration switches to English as we view a shimmering river through the golden autumnal foliage. At 0:35 we see a young Tristan running through the forest as One Stab describes his difficult birth. Shakuhachi flute and panpipes introduce his theme, creating a mysterioso, which carries his progress. His theme reprises as he celebrates and partakes of the meat of a kill in the fading light of nightfall. At 1:36 we change scenes atop the Death Theme to see a distraught Colonel William Ludlow throw down his sword and abandon the army, unable to be party to its brutal inhumanity. As his wagons carry his wife and possessions he sets out to homestead in the isolated and pristine wilderness of Montana. A splendid exposition of the Legends Theme carries their progress and supports stunning vistas of the ranch and the imposing Teton mountains. We see the young boys playing and hunting as Horner graces us with the sumptuous lyricism of the Legends Theme. At 3:00 the Ranch Theme enters on woodwinds as Isabel Ludlow says her goodbyes, as she is unwilling to bear the isolation and another terrible winter. As the boys silently watch her departure at 3:20, the Legends Theme returns, full of heartache, sustained in a scene change where we close on a diminuendo as One Stab paints Tristan’s face and introduces him to Indian culture. At 4:18 the album cue ends. In the film we see a young Tristan foolishly visit a bear’s lair and wake it after petting it. He is clawed and narrowly survives by slicing off one of its claws. Wailing shakuhachi flute and panpipes emote his theme and supports the encounter and rescue by his father.

“The Letters” is not contained on the album. The Memories Theme emotes with flute mysterioso as One Stab reveals letters from all the members of the family, which relates all that happened to the Ludlows. We transition at 0:33 atop a bridge of tremolo strings and woodwinds gentile into a tender rendering of the Legends and Ranch Themes as William and Isabel exchange letters and she relates good news, that Samuel is engaged and will be visiting them in the summer. “Susannah Arrives” is not contained on the album. It reveals her and Samuel’s arrival by train. A languorous rendering of the Ranch Theme supports her arrival. At 0:33 as they travel to the ranch, we see in the distance Tristan riding towards them. A warm trumpet sounds and we are graced with a beautiful rendering of the Legends Theme, which supports his arrival, the boys playfully wrestling, and the journey to the ranch. At 2:03 we transition tenderly atop strings and woodwinds delicato emoting the Reconciliation Theme as Susannah is shown to her bedroom. We shift to fiddle as Samuel explains to Susannah the names of the flowers in her bedroom, and then offers a tender kiss. We close atop the theme with several vista shots of the ranch and countryside.

“Twilight and Mist” is a diegetic cue not contained on the album, and original song written by Horner with lyrics Brock Turner. The family has finished dinner and retired to the parlor where Samuel sings the song “Twilight and Mist”, a sad song of unobtainable love as Susannah accompanies him on the piano. The Ludlows Theme supports the scene and William relates in a voice over in a letter to Isabel of how happy he is having his sons back and a woman in the house. At 0:40 we segue into “The Ludlows”, a complex multi-scenic cue atop the wonderful rendering of the Happiness Theme as Samuel and Susannah ride and he teaches her the art of roping. At 1:37 we see William and Samuel teaching her the skill of shooting a rifle supported, which is warmly supported by the Legends Theme. At 2:20 Tristan resolves to tame a wild horse supported by woodwinds tenero and the Reconciliation Theme. The album cue from 2:36 – 4:27, which features the Legends, Regrets and Reconciliation Themes was excised from the film. At 4:27 we shift to Samuel and Susannah playing tennis at the ranch supported warmly by the Reconciliation Theme on woodwinds. We close at 4:42 on fiddle and the Ludlows Theme as Tristan rides in on the wild horse he tamed. I believe that Horner’s music masterfully supports a family enjoying life in an idyllic existence – the calm before the storm.

“Off To War” offers a score highlight, which supports powerful emotions as Samuel and the Alfred declare their intention to enlist in Canada to fight in the Great war against William’s angry objections. The argument is unscored with music entering later as Susannah and Tristan embrace as she cries, begging him to change Samuel’s mind. His theme enters softly on woodwinds delicato and tremolo violins as we see love born in their eyes. The music darkens on a plaintive oboe and twinkling piano as Alfred walks in on them and they react with guilt. As a voice over relates William’s sad letter to Isabel, an ethereal piano and oboe doloroso supports and flows into a beautiful extended rendering of the B Phrase of the Legends Theme, which then blossoms atop the A Phrase as the boys, Susannah and the extended family hug and say their goodbyes. At 3:18 a plaintive rendering of the Ranch Theme supports William’s hug and sad farewell to his boys. An incongruous Happiness Theme 4:04 – 4:41 was excised from the film. Bold horn declarations bring quivers and usher in a final grand reprise of the Legends Theme as the boys ride out to their destiny against the backdrop of the grand Teton mountains. “To The Boys” offers what I believe is the most emotional rendering of Tristan’s Theme, a powerful score highlight, which abounds with regret and the pathos of war with We open in the trenches propelled by bold horns militare declarations and thundering timpani as flare missiles fly across the sky. At 0:51 Tristan’s Theme, now rendered by strings doloroso and trumpets carries the men forward as they storm the German lines with Tristan fiercely protecting Samuel from harm. At 1:46 we bear witness to a very moving and tear evoking statement of the Regret Theme by French horns with trumpet counters that join with strings doloroso as a voice over carries Samuel’s letter of regret to Susannah.

“Letters From The Front” is not contained on the album. Susannah receives Samuel’s letter, which speaks of his regrets, the horrors of war and how much he misses her. Horner supports the scene with an array of woodwind tenderness, which provide perhaps the most moving exposition of the Regret Theme. “Samuel’s Death” brings us to the score’s most powerful and heart-wrenching cue, one of the finest of Horner’s canon. Tristan is visiting Alfred who is wounded and being sent home when news comes that Samuel had volunteered for a dangerous reconnaissance mission. Tristan rides off to find him propelled by a heroic galloping rendering of his theme. As Tristan rides forth unstoppable Horner supports with a torrent of power by his theme, which we discern also informs us of a growing desperation as he is blasted off his horse and fights for his life. At 3:06 snare drums carry him to Samuel who has been blinded by mustard gas and stumbled into barbed wire, an exposed target for nearby Germans. As they machine gun him to death wailing woodwinds at 3:27 carry his demise. Tristan kills the Germans and we bear witness to a terrible pathos of loss, of unbearable pain as strings affanato emote the Grief Theme as Samuel dies in Tristan’s arms. At 4:51 Tristan in agony honors Indian custom and cuts out Samuel’s heart so his spirit may be interned in his homeland. His theme builds upon a tear evoking crescendo of pain as he performs the act and curses God. At 5:41 panpipes reveal him interning Samuel’s heart in a metal case and his nativist theme carries him forth with vengeance as he savagely kills two Germans and then scalps them. His theme supported by snare drum carry his ride through camp, with the men horrified by the bloody scalps hanging around his neck. We close the scene in France on an eerie woodwind diminuendo as Alfred comes to Tristan’s tent. We change scenes to the ranch as Alfred brings home Samuel’s heart. During the burial the Death Theme carried as a lamentation by flute doloroso and Boyle’s chilling vocals carry the family’s grief as a vacant Susannah looks on.

“Susannah Alone” is not contained on the album. A fateful snowstorm prevents Susannah’s departure to Boston, forcing her to remain until Spring. Woodwinds doloroso and violins emote her mourning and desolation atop the repeating four notes of the Death Theme. “Tristan’s Return” is not contained on the album. An anticipatory prelude by strings support Tristan ride home. The Legends Theme supports his arrival, but it is not celebratory, but instead subdued and lacking vitality. At 1:47 tremolo strings, a warm flute and then oboe emote the Ludlows Theme as William hugs his son. At 2:28 we segue into Tristan crying at Samuel’s grave and flow into the Regret Theme on oboe doloroso as Susannah joins him. As they hug and she comforts him, a subdued Happiness Theme unfolds gently on flute, informing us that she is happy for his return. We conclude on the Ludlows Theme on fiddle as they walk back to the ranch hand in hand. “Passion Consummated” is not contained on the album. After dinner Susannah joins Tristan and the embrace and make love. Horner supports the intimacy with a romantic rendering of his theme by oboe and kindred woodwinds with harp adornment. “Alfred Moves To Helena” offers one of the score’s most melodic cues, which showcases the Ranch and Happiness Themes. Alfred knows he cannot win Susannah’s affections and departs for a new life in Helena. As he says goodbye to his father, the Ranch Theme supports his departure and new life in Helena as a voice over emotes his satisfaction to his mother. We see him successful as he opens up a grain and livestock company. At 2:00 we segue to the ranch atop a wondrous rendering of the Happiness Theme as we see Tristan and Susannah herding cattle. “Trapped Calf” is not contained on the album. The cue supports a pivotal scene, which unravels Tristan and Susannah’s relationship. Tristan comes across a calf entangled by barbed wire, as he tries to free him, we see in his eyes a mental flashback to his futile efforts to save Samuel. Horner supports this with the same music and a crescendo of pain crests at 0:39 as he shoots the calf. We shift scenes carried by strings doloroso to the two bathing outdoors and realize in his vacant stare that the trauma of Samuel’s death has returned.

“The Grizzly” is not contained on the album. News of a grizzly leads the men to pursue the hunt. Grim bass, clarinet and snare drums emote Tristan’s Theme as they find the bear, yet as Tristan takes aim, a solo elegiac trumpet sounds and he hesitates unable to bring himself to kill it. In “Farewell, Descent Into Madness” Tristan is plagued by Samuel’s death and we build slowly to a crescendo on his theme as he and tries to commit suicide by riding off the cliff by his grave, yet the horse pulls back. Strings doloroso twinkling piano and rumbling bass chords carry his tortured soul as he resolves to leave the ranch. At 2:14 a solo flute and kindred woodwinds emote his theme as he prepares his horse. As Susannah tries to forestall his departure a plaintive rendering of his theme informs us of the futility. Hope enters at 3:23 as she professes that she will wait for him, no matter how long. At 4:02 his theme resounds and carries his departure while the family watches and wonders if he will ever return as Isabel II runs after him. We segue atop a lyrical rendering of his theme to a sailing ship, which Tristan pilots. The theme continues to support him as he negotiates with aboriginals on New Guinea. At 5:16 we shift to the ranch atop the Reunion Theme as Susannah relates in a voice over, she has not heard from him for months, save a native bracelet. At 5:32 she continues to relate news from home and Helena. A tender extended rendering of the Happiness Theme supports her commentary and reunion with Alfred in Helena. Back at the ranch a reprise of the theme supports her walk in the woods, yet we begin to hear from her words a growing belief that he will never return. At 6:50 we segue harshly atop a wailing shakuhachi flute, and drum strikes emoting a nativist rendering of Tristan’s Theme as we see him hunting. We end the cue darkly with a voiceover where he reveals that he had slaughtered countless beast. As he lays naked with several women, he writes Susannah that their love is dead, as he is dead. We end with sadness and elegiac trumpets as Susannah reads the letter.

A political confrontation between Alfred and his father fractures their familial bond. Later as William reads Tristan’s letter, he is overwhelmed with grief and suffers a stroke. “The Changing Seasons” graces us with an extended rendering of the Memories Theme by strings tenero as One Stab relates how the Colonel had deteriorated and aged over the ever-changing cycle of seasons, never able to recover from the loss of Tristan. At 2:04 we segue into “Wild Horses” as nativist drums resound and usher in a bold statement of Tristan’s Theme as he brings a herd of horses back to the ranch. At 3:28 we segue into “Tristan’s Return” a very moving score highlight where Horner’s music empowers Zwick’s story. As his father comes out to greet him Tristan sees how he has aged and been weakened by a stroke. He opens his arms and they reunite with a heartfelt embrace. A warm rendering of the Reconciliation Theme supports the embrace. At 4:13 the now mute Colonel signals for drinks supported warmly with an emotional rendering of the Reunion Theme, which crests as he writes on his chalk board that he is happy and they embrace a second time. In a subsequent scene not found on the album, as Tristan bestows gifts upon the family. A warm familial rendering of the Happiness Theme supports the scene, yet the moment is shattered when he is told that Alfred and Susannah married several years ago. “Goodbyes” offers a cue of poignant emotive power, which speaks of great heartache and regret as Tristan comes to Helena and observes Susannah in her garden. His theme on flute carries his progress. As their eyes lock at 0:22 the Lost Love Theme joins with a flute doloroso and swells with strings full of heartache as she relates that forever turned out to be too long. At 1:07 the Reunion Theme joins on flute as she tries to give back the bracelet, he gave her. Aching tremolo strings inform us that he is full of regret, and that she is devastated with the realization that she has lost him. At 2:20 we change scenes atop Tristan’s Theme with woodwinds gentile and harp as he meditates by Samuel grave and we are graced by beautiful vistas of the ranch. We see that he has healed and no longer plagued by the guilt of Samuel’s death.

“The Quiet Heart” is not contained on the album. Tristan by chance comes upon Isabel II in the stables, now grown up and beautiful. He gives her a ring as a gift and we see in their eyes the birth of love. Later we see William struggling to assemble the rifle Tristan gifted him. Horner supports the two scenes with a rendering of Tristan’s Theme by strings romantico and panpipes. “The Wedding” offers a beautiful score highlight, which supports a multi-scenic cue that spans more than a year. A prelude of tremolo strings ushers in a warm rendering of the Ranch Theme abounding in love as William welcomes back Isabel. She gifts the bride her wedding dress and an intimate ceremony over-looking the river takes place at the ranch. We see our lovers caressing in bed and spending time together at the ranch. At 1:36 we segue joyously atop the Happiness Theme, which supports the birth of their first child. At 2:15 we change scenes to a voice over of Susannah writing a letter congratulating them on the birth of their son. A tender yet sad rendering of the Ranch Theme supports the letter and her admission that she has been unable to bear children. “Recollections Of Samuel” is not contained on the album. After many years apart Tristan, Isabel II, Alfred and Susannah reunite in town. The meeting is bittersweet as we see that Susannah is devastated that Tristan has two kids, which reminds her that she has none. Horner supports the meeting with interplay of the Ludlows Theme as Susannah speaks to Samuel of his uncle Samuel, and the Ranch Theme as the brothers shake hands, reconcile, and speak of their father at the ranch. Horner masterfully fleshes out the emotions of this scene, both overt and unspoken.

Tristan had been threatened by the O’Banion brothers to stop running booze on their turf. In “Isabel’s Murder” Tristan in defiance has made another delivery and the O’Banion’s setup an ambush. A policeman on the take stops them in a rocky canyon and fires a machine gun into the rocks above with one bullet ricocheting and killing Isabel II. Tristan in a rage brutally beats the cop and is knocked out. When he wakes his pain is unbearable as he picks up Isabel II’s body. Horner supports the pathos with aching strings of the Grief Theme. We crescendo at 0:42 as Tristan buries Isabel supported by the searing notes of the Death Theme. We conclude as we began on the Grief Theme born by strings affanato as Tristan joins Alfred who offers his condolences. “You Have To Let Go” is not contained on the album. Alfred informs Tristan that he has to go to jail for 30 days for almost killing the officer, and that the officer would only receive a reprimand. Horner supports the pain and injustice of the moment with Tristan’s Theme, which swells with anguish and anger as he retreats to his bedroom. “Prison Visitor” is not contained on the album. Twinkling piano and a violin sustain usher in the pathos of the Lost Love Theme as Susannah visits Tristan in his cell. They both weep at their circumstances and as she kisses him through the bars the Horner weaves a tapestry of regret and heartache. We conclude darkly on the Death Theme as Susannah makes a horrible confession, that she had wished for the deaths of both Samuel and Isabel II. He assuages her guilt and tells her to go home to Alfred.

In “Revenge” Horner unleashes a cue of dissonant primal barbarity, which supports multiple scenes. Tristan plots his revenge as he leaves jail and we see Susannah weeping in her bed. His theme has reverted to its nativist origins and supports the preparation to ambush of O’Banion and his crooked cops. At 1:02 the Death Theme resounds empowered by dire drums metallic strikes, Boyle’s wailing, panpipes and harsh dissonance. Textural writing with metallic strikes and a shifting panpipe ostinato, wailing shakuhachi flute raise tension as the multiple ambushes are set. At 2:50 the tension rhythms intensify, initiating a grotesque accelerando at 3:27 as Decker shoots the bad cop, Tristan kills one of the O’Banion brothers, and we see a distraught Susannah cutting off her hair. We conclude on the Death Theme as Susannah puts a gun to her head and kills herself and O’Banion comes upon his brothers corpse. “A Moment Alone” is not contained on the album. Alfred has brought Susannah home to be buried. He is heart-broken and he relates that “It is hard to tell of happiness. Time goes by and we feel safe too soon.” Horner supports the pathos with a bittersweet rendering of the Happiness Theme. Alfred then asks Tristan to permit him some private time to grieve. We conclude with heartfelt rendering of the Ludlows Theme on fiddle as Tristan reminisces over a photo taken by Susannah of the three brothers.

“Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend…” is a monumental cue where the score achieves its emotional apogee. Tristan walks out of the house to discover to his horror O’Banion, the Sheriff and a machinegun totting policeman. His kids are vulnerable and he whisks them to safety with Isabel and Pet taking them inside. O’Banion tells Tristan that they have not come to arrest him and he pleads to be taken to the woods so his kids do not see him gunned down. Horner supports the dire situation with a full, extended rendering of the Death Theme, which portends doom. William walks out of the house and joins Tristan, demanding to know what is going on. At 1:20 Horner raises tension with an ascent by strings and snare drum percussion as a horse rears distracting the men. The string ascent supports William lifting up from his coat a shotgun, which he uses to take down O’Banion and then the policeman. At 2:22 as the Sheriff draws to kill William, Tristan leaps in front to take the bullet and horns eroico resound to support a rifle blast, which takes down the Sherriff. A celebratory Legends Theme joins as William and Tristan turn to discover that it was Alfred who saved their lives. Tristan thanks Alfred without words and the theme crests gloriously as William welcomes Alfred unto his warm embrace as we see father and son reconciled. At 4:10 the Legends Theme, so full of warmth supports Tristan’s request that Alfred raise his kids as he would now be a hunted fugitive. As One Stab relates in a voice over the remarkable longevity of Tristan, we see years later the Ludlow grave yard full of tombstones as the Legends Theme fades upon the wind. At 5:44 we shift to 1963 carried by Tristan’s Theme as we see him now old and grey meet his end fighting a bear. As he fights for his life his theme soars proud, defiant, and unconquered, bringing our tale to a stirring conclusion. At 7:08 the End Credits, a magnificent score highlight begins, and Horner graces us with a wondrous suite of his themes, which includes the Ludlows Theme on fiddle, the Reconciliation Theme on strings, the Regret Theme on oboe tenero, a proud rendering of the Legends Theme, the flute born Ranch Theme, the aching pathos of the Lost Love Theme by flute doloroso, finally concluding as we began with Tristan’s Theme, which fades to nothingness.

For the purpose of reviewing in totality Horner’s music in film context, in addition to the thirteen album cues, I also referenced additional cues from a bootleg (which will remain nameless) of the complete score. Of all the film scores that demand a complete score release, this ranks number one for me. There is an additional 20 minutes of music, which needs to see the light of day and I sincerely hope a record label will soon address this. Zwick provided Horner with an epic tale, a grand tapestry, and cinematography of wondrous beauty. I must say that Horner rose to the task, and composed a film score for the ages, one that ensures his immortality. He understood that his music needed to flesh out the film’s melodrama of love, desire, guilt, betrayal and vengeance, and that it also needed to speak to the old – the Ludlow’s Cornish ancestry, as well as the new, found in the pristine breath-taking beauty of the Montana wilderness with its native American auras and rhythms. He provided a multiplicity of exceptional themes, rendered in a multiplicity of expressions and interplay. The Legends Theme captured the film’s emotional core and takes its place in the hallowed halls of the Pantheon of great cinematic themes. In scene after scene his music perfectly expressed the powerful emotional drivers of the characters, both overt and unspoken, achieving a sublime confluence between film narrative and music rarely achieved. I consider this score to be Horner’s Magnum Opus, perhaps the finest of the Bronze Age and essential to your collection. Let us hope for the release of the complete score so you may gain a full appreciation of this masterpiece.

I have embedded a YouTube link for the score’s epic cue, “Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSbHtJwHBps

Buy the Legends of the Fall soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Legends of the Fall (4:17)
  • The Ludlows (5:40)
  • Off to War (5:55)
  • To the Boys (2:48)
  • Samuel’s Death (8:24)
  • Alfred Moves to Helena (3:00)
  • Farewell/Descent Into Madness (8:13)
  • The Changing Seasons, Wild Horses, Tristan’s Return (5:11)
  • The Wedding (3:06)
  • Isabel’s Murder, Recollections of Samuel (3:58)
  • Revenge (6:20)
  • Goodbyes (3:11)
  • Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel, the Legend (15:09)

Running Time: 75 minutes 12 seconds

Epic Soundtrax 478511-2 (1994)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri and Don Davis. Featured musical soloists Jay Ungar, Kazu Matsui, Tony Hinnigan, Kike Taylor and Dermot Crehan. Special vocal performances by Maggie Boyle. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Album produced by James Horner.

  1. Scott Weber
    March 20, 2019 at 11:40 am

    I had only really begun exploring movie scores when this came out (it was probably my 5th or 6th actual score purchase – and my 3rd Horner purchase). It is in no small part responsible for my falling totally in love with movie scores (along with Braveheart and Apollo 13), all of which I purchased during the same summer. I was absolutely drunk on the music and listened to it constantly that summer and all through college. It still stands as one of my faves…and has one of the greatest long-form themes ever (IMHO). I agree…would love to see this get the expanded treatment…every note deserves to be released.

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