Film scores are among my favorite kinds of music—and many of my favorite scores are from Westerns. To me, the colorful, energetic (and Copland-influenced) style that Elmer Bernstein and others developed in the early '60s is the signature Western film-score sound, even though most of my favorite Western movies come from earlier decades. It seems a shame that just as this wonderful music style was developing, Western movies were already changing, and the traditional Western would be well on the downward slide by the end of the decade. There ought to have been more movies and better movies to go with scores like this!
But anyway, to return to the subject of this post—I've done plenty of talking about Westerns, and a good deal about music, so I thought it was about time I did a post on my very favorite Western film scores. So here are my top three:
It's a classic, that's all there is to it. It's practically impossible not to get a huge grin on your face when you listen to the exuberant main theme. This is one of those scores that really 'makes' its movie—can you honestly imagine the film without it? I knew the music long before I ever saw the movie, and when I finally did see it, I was astonished that some of the most energetic cues, which sounded like they came from all-out action scenes, actually belonged to moments where not much was happening onscreen. As the CD liner notes observe, the music supplies much of the film's energy.
I wish the traditional Western movie had lasted another decade if only so John Williams could have written more scores like this. It's got everything—a lively, toe-tapping main theme with sparkling orchestrations, which reappears with a fresh twist and creative syncopation for each action scene; plus a couple of achingly beautiful slow themes. (Not to mention that utterly odd bass harmonica villain's theme.) I love practically every minute of this soundtrack.
A slightly earlier score, but with a similar sensibility. The marvelous sweeping main theme is undoubtedly the best part; it's another one of those pieces that you just can't help loving, both in the grand main title and the lovely slower renditions later on. There's other good moments throughout the score too.
It is a curious thing that my favorite scores don't come from my favorite movies. Several of these films I've never seen, haven't seen all the way through, or didn't particularly care for. Favorite films are a subject for another day. But anyway...what are your favorite Western movie scores?