There are few scores which exceeded my expectations as when I first heard The Big Country. I always bundle together the indelible title theme with Bernstein's Magnificent Seven and Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as being one of the three most famous western themes ever written and I never imagined that the remainder of the score would be quite so brilliant as it actually is. Moross only wrote film music for the money, although he never sacrificed his craft whereby his scores were redundent or less impressive than his concert works.
The Main Title almost certainly needs no introduction; the swirling string motif is enough to immediately identify the music with the sprawling plains of the mid west, reinforced by the horn fanfares that play in counterpoint before leading into equally memorable theme itself that sweeps confidently forward. After such a memorable opening and one that has been heard so many times before, it is hard to imagine the rest matching this quality, however anyone afraid of being disappointed need not be concerned. From the rousing bluster of the main theme, Moross pegs the tone back somewhat with the very homely opening few cues, which introduce new themes and motifs, some built on the foundations of the main theme, but all equally memorable. The main theme itself appears a handful of times; its sweeping nature makes it stand out against the other themes and motifs which are generally shorter, probably in order that they can be shaped to follow the drama closely.
After the first couple of more dynamic moments, Major Terrill's Party Dance Suite provides us with a charming collection of short dances that mirror the style of the score itself, so as to provide a perfect link between source music and underscore. As the score progresses, the more carefree atmosphere is slowly eroded away to become broader in scope and darker in texture. However, Moross is essentially a very warm composer and so even Attempted Rape, while exciting and dramatic, is still thematic and lacking in harsh dissonence that most composers might have used for such a scene. The darkness of the score continues toward the end, but resolves to a brief reprise of the main theme which nicely bookends the score.
Moross felt the film was extremely good, although critical response was somewhat mixed. However, the score is so indelible and agile that it plays more like a ballet and is certainly the equal of Aaron Copland's ballet scores. Although Silva Screen's compilations sometimes have slightly hit and miss performance quality, the performance here by the Philharmonia Orchestra is absolutely superb in every respect and this is captured in the dazzling recording. The cover pictured is the re-released version of the score which as been remastered, although the original release still sounds great. The notes in the original release contain more about the score itself (including staves with some of the tunes indicated), but this contains extracts from an interview with Moross. The original notes are more interesting when discovering the score, but the interview is still a valuable insight. A superb score that no film music fan should lack in their collection and one of the most wonderful re-recordings made to date.