A John Williams Score for every year of my life 7 – 1976 the Missouri Breaks

I know very little about the film which gave birth to this choice of score by John Williams. I know that it is a Western film which starred Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, but that’s only because they appear on the album artwork. Having looked at Wikipedia’s entry on the film, I see that it is the story of a regulator’s (read hired policeman) personal vendetta to destroy a gang of horse rustlers.

The score is somewhat of a departure for Williams. It is based largely on a small ensemble of guitars, mouth organ, bass and drums, piano, and occasional harpsichord.

The Theme (track 1) is sombre, but the mood is soon lifted by Logan’s Entrance, which is a wonderful jaunty melody played on harpsichord, mouth organ, piano, bass and drums. When Williams isn’t working with the huge forces of an orchestra, it’s interesting to see that even with the much thinner textures available to him, he is able to create such a rich tapestry of sound. This is partly because he understands the language of each of the instruments he is using. The guitar, which comes to the fore in the following track, “Logan and Calvin Talk”, is written for beautifully throughout, and Williams returned to this instrument in later scores such as Stepmom and The River. But it’s also for me because his command of melody is so sublime. Just listen to the little melody which begins the 2nd track.

The fourth track returns to the upbeat feel of the second track, with similar instrumentation and the addition of a banjo and even a fiddle – well, this is a western afterall. It’s enormously fun. Again, the melodies are strong, light-hearted and memorable. One gets the sense that this must have been great fun to perform as an instrumentalist.

The following track, After The Trial, I’m guessing is what we call source music – in that it’s performed live on screen – this feels like a squaredance or barndance.

Leaping on a bit, Logan and Jane is a beautifully delicate love theme, with similarities to the work Williams had done on the Reivers. There are two main melodies, one a truly lovely melody which begins with a gentle rocking between two notes. Everything is understated, and sparsely orchestrated, mainly played on the guitar, bass, harmonica, electric piano and glockenspiel. There is a child-like simplicity which is very charming.

I won’t say much more on this score, except to say that when i first heard it I must confess to having felt a little underwhelmed – it’s not John Williams as we usually hear him. But the joy of this score is it’s very simplicity and sparseness. Rather like the score to Stanley and Iris a few years later, the simple beauty of melody and texture is allowed to shine. One thing I have heard of John Williams music is that it is often so complex, so multi-layered, that it is sometimes difficult to truly understand his thought processes. That is not the case in this score. It’s a little gem. No completist should be without it.

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