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MohicanLand Musical Musings: The Music of The Last of the Mohicans


The first scene with Montcalm and Magua, inside Montcalm's tent, begins with a small choir of Indian children singing a portion of a Catholic Mass. According to the script, "three Seneca women and five boys, led by a Jesuit, sing the Te Deum in the Iroquois language." In the movie, however, the children only are singing, they are singing the Sanctus rather than the Te Deum, they are singing it in Latin, and they are under the direction of the Jesuit. It is possible that Mann and the scriptwriters got the idea of doing a Te Deum (Te Deum Laudamus, "We praise thee, O God") from Bougainville himself, who, in his journals, wrote that on July 10th, 1757, "On the river bank we found the missionary, who recieved the Marquis de Montcalm upon his stepping ashore... They sang the Te Deum in the Iroquios tongue, after which the Marquis de Montcalm was lead to the council chamber." (From Adventure in the Wilderness, the American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760), And it is also likely that during the course of production, Michael Mann learned that the Te Deum is sung during the service of Matins (a morning service) and thus would not be appropriate for the evening scene in Montcalm's tent. The Sanctus ("Holy", as in "Holy, holy, holy"), which when followed by the Benedictus ("Blessed be thou...") are always part of a Mass, suitable for any time of the day. In this case, because the children are dismissed after just the Sanctus, it is not likely that the children were there for a full Mass and were probably there only to entertain.

The children are basically singing a Gregorian chant in a two-part harmony in fourths, a style called "Organum". Organum dates back to the ninth century or earlier, when it became common practice to double the plainsong (that is, the unadorned single melody) at an interval of a fourth or a fifth, thereby creating some of the first harmony in Gregorian chant (and in white man's music as we know it today). This would have been entirely appropriate for teaching Native (or any colonial) children in the 1750s in the frontier wilderness, as they would have had to rely almost entirely on voice alone, without many instruments to assist in harmony and accompaniment.


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