Imagine loving a movie soundtrack but never having a chance to hear it all. The most-played score in my collection is Jerome Moross’ evocative, Oscar-nominated music for The Big Country (1958), William Wyler’s sprawling film starring Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. Most people would probably point to Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven or Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as the ultimate Western scores, but I have a deep, abiding affection for The Big Country which is difficult to put into words. I just love listening to it.
Moross is not one of the acknowledged giants of film music, but he made his mark all the same. Once an orchestrator for Aaron Copland, some of that composer’s ideas rubbed off on him and became part of his musical DNA. His work is so identifiable that if you listen to the score for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn you might think it a continuation of The Big Country. One evening a little while back my wife and I were watching an old episode of Have Gun, Will Travel and I said, “That’s Jerome Moross music!” I’m no expert, goodness knows, but the closing credits proved me right. His film and television music is unmistakable. (To read more about this underrated figure and a superb essay about The Big Country by Jon Burlingame, go to www.jeromemoross.com.)
Oddly enough, I don’t love The Big Country nearly as much as I do its music. I daresay that’s not a contrary opinion. Even so, its audio history has been checkered, to say the least. I bought the tinny, much-abridged UA soundtrack album ages ago and made do because it was all one could find. It was superseded in 1988 by a beautifully recorded CD of Moross’ score, faithfully recreated by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Tony Bremner. At last, I could revel in this majestic music with pristine sound.
Now, Jose M. Benitez and Chris Malone have gone one better by locating the best surviving source material for a two-disc edition commemorating the 60th anniversary of the film. Instead of an abbreviated 12-cut LP, or the 18 cues on the Silva Screen CD, this generous (one might even say obsessive) release offers 42 tracks, including cues I’ve never heard before except when watching the movie itself. For completists it even includes the 1958 mono LP and the processed stereo version. A handsome booklet with color photos and a first-rate essay by Jeff Bond complete the package from Quartet Records and MGM. You can purchase a copy (and other Moross discs) from Screen Archives Entertainment.