The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein

Elmer Bernstein - The Magnificent Seven soundtrack CD cover Before the Spaghetti Western came along and re-wrote the genre, Westerns were very popular in both book and cinematic form. With few exceptions, the stories tended to be very idealistic. There was no dirt or squaller anywhere, heros were heroic, women knew there place, native Americans were universally brutal, and sharp-shooters could hit their target from a mile away with a hand-gun. The music for cinematic Westerns was very grandiose, full of the pioneering spirit, and fitted perfectly into this fictional world with some wonderfully upbeat themes. Showing the universality of these ideals, The Magnificent Seven was adapted from the Japanese film "The Seven Samurai" and immediately struck a chord with audiences of the day. Elmer Bernstein also struck all the right chords on the soundtrack, producing a dynamic score full of energy which heightened all the archetypal elements of the story, going beyond the bare plot points to depict the universality of the struggle of good against evil.

This CD is the "Deluxe Edition" of the Original Movie Soundtrack, released only in 1998 but having lost none of its impact. You will find the main theme on many compilation CDs. Although this is instantly recognisable and very enjoyable on its own, it is only on the full soundtrack that you appreciate all the thematic parts of this musical jig-saw and how Bernstein expertly integrates them to construct his masterpiece. So much so, that you can follow the story completely without the benefit of the visuals at all. Main Title and Calvera introduce the main themes, good and bad, Calvera being the "baddie" played by Eli Wallach whose men are terrorising and stealing from a Mexican village. Council is the sad aftermath of his latest raid on the village, whereupon the villagers decide they need help, initiating a Quest (set to light Mexican music) to find the men they need to resist Calvera.

With Strange Funeral/After the Brawl we are introduced to Chris (played by Yul Brynner) alongside the Magnificent Seven theme, and mark the conclusion to the first stage of the search. With Vin's Luck, Steve McQueen is added to the gang of one "And then there were Two" which recalls Bernstein's debt to Aaron Copland. There follows a number of tracks as we are introduced to the other members of the team, with the musical cues developing the characters, and their relationship with the villagers who they have come to defend. The tension mounts through Training until we are thrown into the real action with Calvera's Return, Calvera Routed and Ambush.

A wonderfully longing "homesick theme" is then introduced with Petra's Declaration. Petra is one of the girls from the village who falls for the would-be gun-fighter Chico played by Horst Buchholz. Some more character development tracks cement relationships and remind the gun-slingers why they are each fighting for the villagers. The tension builds almost unbearably as the action takes on a mythological quality, and we come to the final scenes with Harry's Mistake (as Brad Dexter plays one of "The Seven" to be killed before finally we have Calvera Killed), and the Finale is a conclusion with a bittersweet quality.

The sleeve notes for this album recall Bernstein's words that the tempos in the music are all faster than the onscreen action, which is much more leisurely in pace. There are photos taken from the making of the films, showing that the stars took part in card games often than than they participated in gun fights. The album was produced by and contains some personal words by Emilie Bernstein, daughter of the composer. Though the sound quality is not as good as some restorations, this is soon forgotten as the listener becomes engrossed in the story behind the music. This is widely recognised as one of the all-time classic Western scores, and highly recommended. It is available from: in the UK, or in the US.

Track listing:

  • Main Title and Calvera
  • Council
  • Quest - a Mexican dance with castanets and other latin percussion
  • Strange Funeral/After the Brawl
  • Vin's Luck - note the humerous impact of the jangly bar room piano played against other instrument combinations
  • And Then There Were Two
  • Fiesta - a short sequence of merry-making with drums, percussion and flutes
  • Stalking
  • Worst Shot - dramatic cue, followed by more merry-making in an almost Carribean style
  • Journey - the gang of seven are complete and ready for action, with some Spanish guitar
  • Toro - Mexican trumpet and Spanish guitar build tension
  • Training
  • Calvera's Return - the baddie theme makes a re-appearance, repetitive and dark, and featuring an extended drum/percussion sequence
  • Calvera Routed
  • Ambush
  • Petra's Declaration - the homesick "why we are doing this" theme
  • Bernardo - tension building with Charles Bronson's character
  • Surprise
  • Defeat
  • Crossroads
  • Harry's Mistake
  • Calvera Killed - the climax of the story, and the quiet aftermath where several heroes have lost their lives for their ideals and found redemption in the process
  • Finale - the main theme doesn't launch right in but picks up gradually, while reminding us of the "homesick" theme