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


"The Courier" (by Randy Edelman) is another piece we do not hear enough of in the VHS version of the movie, since aside from the CD, the only time we hear it completely (so far) is in the TV version released by ABC some years ago. The VHS version is missing the scene in which Duncan and some troops create a diversion so that the courier can escape another direction, and it is during this diversion that we hear most of "The Courier". Duncan's Diversion This piece is wonderfully complex, perhaps representative of the amount of action in this scene: the English and the French in the diversionary battle, the courier leaping and racing through the forest, the French and Indians chasing the courier, and Hawkeye and Uncas at the top of the fort rifling down the couriers' pursuers. This piece is intriguing in its playfulness during what is essentially a scene fraught with danger. But perhaps the music reflects the fun of the challenge, a sense of "thumbing their noses" at the French.

"The Courier" is one of the few pieces in an optimistic major key, E-flat major, which is odd in that the scene is about a courier running for his life while many of the enemy chase him through the forest. But the sprightly attitude makes it seem like the courier is playing with his enemy, that he's in it for the challenge. This piece consists of two sections (A and B sections), giving it an A-B-A-B-A structure (where A is the first section and B the second). The A section opens calmly on a single note of E-flat which is then joined by a low chord. Shortly after, the guitar begins picking out a jaunty melody and the strings in the orchestra pick up a counter-melody. This section contains several measures in a hard-to-distinguish 3/4 time (and possibly a more complex measure) followed by several measures of 4/4 time, leading up section B.

Section B is dramatically different and while it appears to be much faster than the A section, the beat is in fact exactly the same. The meter changes, however, from a simple 4/4 time signature to a complex quadruple time. In fact, this section consists of two separate melodies or themes, each with a separate time signature. One is played by the strings of the main body of the orchestra, playing one note to the beat. The other melody is in the guitars, which are playing in triplets (three notes to each beat). It seems easiest to count the orchestral melody in sets of 8 beats, and to count the guitar melody in sets of 12. This means for every 2 beats of the orchestral melody, there are 3 beats in the guitars. (This is known as a hemiola––the musical device of playing two notes in the time or three or three notes in the time of two.) The key signature could be 12/8, but this is a guess without seeing the actual score.

The B section is played twice. The first time through, it consists of three measures of 8 beats, followed by a repeat of the A section. After that, we hear the second occurrence of the B section––this is where we pick up with "The Courier" in the VHS version, as Uncas says, "Tight weave?" and Hawkeye responds, "Another forty yards." The B section this second time around consist of the same three measures of 8 beats plus an additional repeat of the first two sets of 8 beats. (If this is confusing, another way to think of it is to think of the first measure as B1, the second measure as B2, and the third measure as B3. The first time we hear the B section, we hear only B1-B2-B3, while the second time through we hear B1-B2-B3-B1-B2.)

The piece ends with a single chord held for a long measure, carrying us in suspense (just as with the end of the "Elk Hunt", which was by Trevor Jones) as Hawkeye aims Killdeer and prepares to shoot, and then the orchestra drops out as he fires. The jaunty melody in the guitars carries on alone as the courier dashes away through the forest.


On to "The Kiss"
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