Dimitri Tiomkin: The Alamo

Dimitri Tiomkin - The Alamo soundtrack CD cover The Alamo is one of those films which cost a lot of money to make yet wasn't quite the success it should have been. Critical reception was at best lukewarm and as a result both box office receipts and awards were less than expected. However the film's reputation has increased over the years due to repeated viewing on television such that people now look back upon it as one of the great epic western films. Yet it is impossible to think about this film without the songs and the music that were created to accompany it. Russian born Dimitri Tiomkin was no stranger to western films and John Wayne turned to his great experience to put together the music for this film. The music is quite varied covering all the characters and events leading up to the final battle and reaches a peak of sustained power for those extended battle scenes themselves.

The story of the Alamo takes place before Texas became a Republic and its subsequent annexation to the United States. A large Mexican army of 7000 men under the leadership of Santa Anna had invaded the fledgling state with the intention of gaining control before Texas could amass its own army to defend its borders. In order to buy time for the Sam Houston who was recruiting volunteers into the Texas army, a group of 180 miscellaneous settlers took up a position inside an old Spanish mission called The Alamo. Among this motley band were Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, played repectively by John Wayne and Richard Widmark in the film. The small group of defenders was eventually crushed but they bought precious time for Texas. The heroic story of those man fighting for their ideals against overwelming odds was an irresistable idea to film, and it was John Wayne's vision and Tiomkin's musical skills which turned it into a reality. There are a number of themes used throughout the film. Most of them are given a complete rendition in one or more tracks, but often small snatches are heard at various points bringing a unity to the whole score. Primary among these themes is "The Green Leaves of Summer", a folk-song full of longing and homesickness. Then there is a livelier western folk song for the Tennessee group which leads into a bar-room tune "Here's to the Ladies". There is the hymn-like story telling of the Alamo which appears at the intermission and at the end of the movie. The music for the armies of Santa Anna consists of a number of short ideas which are woven into a relentless march. There are also some unique pieces heard only once, but these songs and musical ideas form the backbone of the entire score.

Dimitri Tiomkin - The Alamo soundtrack CD back cover At the time of the film's release, the original soundtrack album was intended to be twice as long over two LPs, but the film's poor reception reduced the record company's ambitions to a single LP. The inclusion of two pop song versions (not used in the film) and also the inclusion of dialogue from the movie reduced the amount of space left for Tiomkin's score and disappointed the composer's fans. The latest soundtrack release reviewed here is not intended to realise this original intention because the available recordings are not in a suitable format, but it does expand significantly on the scale of that first album. The total playing time is now more than 67 mins including those pop versions and sections of dialogue. It is essentially the best "director's cut" achievable while still using the original audio recordings.

The programme notes may only be two pages in length, but they cover much ground, listing recording dates of each track where known, describing the historical events on which the film is based and also those historical events relating to the making of the film and its critical reception. This poor standing with the film critics was more a reaction to John Wayne's prior support for blacklisting, than an objective assessment of the film's artistic merit. The soundtrack however is undoubtedly one of Tiomkin's best and highly recommended. The full track listing is below and you can find the soundtrack CD at: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US.

Track listing:

  • Overture - instumental introduction to the main themes in summary form
  • Main Title, Legend of the Alamo, Sam Houston - Mexican trumpet plus homely accordian playing the "Green Leaves" suggest the two opposing sides with the "Sam Houston" section merging these two elements
  • Davy Crockett and the Tennesseans - a few words, horses hooves and accordian music for Davy Crockett's band in the nearby town
  • Cantina Music - almost a throwaway track, but a very effective mix of accordian and guitar
  • Davy Crockett's Speech ("Republic is one of those words...") - peaceful music throughout this speech, accurate in the context of Texas' history though perhaps Wayne is simply stating his political affiliations
  • Love Scene - in places this music has a similarity to some of Tchaikovsky, a fellow Russian composer much admired by Tiomkin
  • Crockett and the Tennesseans enter the Alamo - the theme for the fun-loving Tennessee group
  • The Mexican's Arrive - the music Tiomkin put together for the Mexican army will remind classical listeners of the similar martial style used by Mahler in some of his symphonies
  • Intermission - a cannon plus bugle and Davy Crockett (Wayne) and Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) discuss the eloquence of their leader Colonel Travis (Laurence Harvey) prior to the film break
  • Entr'acte - a reverential choir sings the story of the Alamo to introduce the second half
  • Tennessee Babe - a gentle lullaby to Lisa played by Wayne's young daughter
  • Here's to the Ladies - time for some happy relaxation
  • Raid for Cattle - and now time for some daring action
  • Santa Anna - preparations for battle are well underway
  • Crossing the Line - a track mixing speech and music as some defenders decide against leaving the fort
  • The Green Leaves of Summer - this pivotal song is well-placed in the movie as the men think of the small but important things in life and the reasons for their courageous stance
  • Charge of Santa Anna, Death of Davy Crockett, The Final Assault - one of the most effective in all film music, this track is a full 7 minutes in length and consists of the Santa Anna march material intermixed with the some of the other themes, and the earlier Mexican trumpet theme seems to herald the inevitable conclusion
  • Finale - the "Tenessee Babe" Lisa and her mother, the only survivors, leave the mission
  • Exit Music - the "Alamo" story song brings the titles to a close, but note how a few bars of The Last Post are worked into the tune
  • Davy Crockett and Flaca ("I'm gonna tell you something, Flaca...") - the sleeve notes suggest this track was from the original soundtrack album, now replaced with the extended Track 6 "Love Scene" from the session recordings
  • Alternate Ending: The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You - the official song of The University of Texas at Austin and an unofficial state song, these lyrics were written in 1903 to the melody for "I've Been Working on the Railroad" whose origins are unclear
  • Ballad of the Alamo - pop version of the Alamo story song, sung by Marty Robbins
  • The Green Leaves of Summer - pop version of the main song by the Brothers Four