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.

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