MohicanLand Musical Musings: The Music of The Last of the Mohicans
"Promontory" and "Top of the World" are the penultimate and ultimate scenes in the movie, two scenes in which the story is told almost exclusively by the acting, the music, the setting and the cinematography. No words are spoken, except a wild cry of "Uncas" from Hawkeye, until Chingachgook's moving soliloquy at the top of the world. The acting is amazing, but the music, too, says so much and is so important to the telling of the story. "Promontory" is basically "The Gael", with elements of other themes interwoven at key moments. "Top of the World" is what we hear following Chingachgook's prayer to the Great Spirit and through the closing credits. In the CD version, "Top of the World" appears both at the end of "Promontory", as in the movie, and on it's own. Thus, we hear it twice on the CD.
"Promontory" begins just after Hawkeye yells to the Huron Sachem, "Take me!", the first two measures consisting only of the beat of the drum as Duncan, in response to the question. "Did you tell them?", says "Yes." There is another heartbeat, as the Sachem considers his response. Then, immediately after the Sachem utters those fatal words that condemn Duncan to the fire, "The Gael" begins. (Please see The Gael and a discussion of the Life Theme in Themes and Motifs in LOTM for more on this piece.)
"Promontory" consists of 25 full times through "The Gael" (that is, 25 times through the 8-measure melody). Each time through is surprisingly well-timed to events in the movie. For instance, the first measure of the fourth time through begins the moment Duncan is hauled up in the fire, and in the last measure Hawkeye fires Killdeer and Duncan dies. Interestingly, the sixth pass through "The Gael" is missing the final measure (there are seven measures rather than eight), and this seems so natural in the music that either it was planned that way or the movie and sound editing was shockingly good (compared to other bloopers in the movie). At the end of the seventh iteration and into the eighth, the film turns to the beautiful vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains while the "Main Title" takes over, just as we heard it in the movie's opening scene.
Uncas begins his fight with the first Huron at the start of the 11th time through "The Gael",
and he engages Magua at the start of the 12th
time through. During the last two measures of the 13th iteration of "The Gael", Magua stabs Uncas' armpit and Alice
turns away and then turns back, much aware of what Uncas is going through.
During the 14th iteration, Chingachgook and Hawkeye are seen racing up the mountain, and the
fiddle melody of "The Gael" begins to fade, with a big drum roll as Uncas stands to face Magua one more time.
In the first measure of the 15th iteration, Magua stabs Uncas and "The Gael" fades dramatically, so that by the
time Magua cuts his throat in the 16th time through and Uncas dies, the melody of "The Gael" is gone,
and there is only a drumbeat as Uncas's body goes over the cliff. "The Gael" is silent for what would be
five more rounds of the full melody
(5 more sets of 8 measures) as Alice approaches the cliff and looks down, Magua gestures,
and she eventually jumps over the edge. The music just the drums and deep, sustained, earthy chords
as she takes her own life. This is one reason why "The Gael" could be considered the Life Theme, as we hear it when
Uncas fights for his life and Alice's, and we hear it again four for more iterations when Chingachgook spurs himself
forward to fight Magua and revenge his son's life.
"Top of the World"
In the movie, this piece begins at the moment Chingachgook ends his soliloquy. On the CD soundtrack, though, "Promontory" fades directly into "Top of the World" AND "Top of the World" occurs on its own elsewhere on the CD. Thus, "Top of the World" occurs twice on the CD, the latter being from "4:22-5:20 (the end) of "Promontory". However, both versions stop short of the full extent of what we hear in the movie version.
Interestingly, we first hear a portion of "Top of the World" when Cora, in the cave behind the falls, ask Hawkeye if she saw her father, and it continues while she says, "Say nothing to Alice" through to the start of the brief scene with Alice and Uncas behind the falls. Interesting, as this music, when Cora learns of her father's death, is the same music we hear later on as they bid farewell to Uncas. Also, we hear part of the extended movie version during that most famous scene when Hawkeye tells Cora to stay alive, no matter what occurs.
In the opening measures, this piece consists of a variation on the "Main Title" and them moves into the "Main
Title" as we heard almost as it appeared in the opening movie's majestic opening,
but somehow it lacks the crispness and snap of the first time we hear it. After the
A-A-B pattern of the "Main Title", "Top of the World" becomes much more quiet, sad, even reflective. This occurs
during the extended version in the movie while the full credits roll by, which is not in the CD version.
In the movie, this moves into a passage from "Stockade", with the English horns recreating that sense of
pathos of the Cora and Hawkeye Theme. Hearing this theme is ironic, though, in that during
"Stockade" that sense of pathos was because the love of Hawkeye and Cora seemed
doomed, and yet it was were who survived at the end, when those with greater hope were dead.
The remainder of the piece continues in that quiet mood, simply playing the chord progressions and quiet, fateful
harmonies around the "Main Title" and other themes of the movie, with a pervading sense of grief.
Of all the movies I've seen, I have sat through the closing credits for very few of them. But with LOTM, I consistently sit to the end, listening to the quiet sadness of the long play version of "Top of the World" as the credits roll by. I sit in stunned silence, while the quiet and very sad, respectful music reminds me of all that passed in the story, all the sadness and unnecessary death of characters I learned to care for, fictional though they may be. The music is entirely devoid of the sweeping grandeur with which it opened the movie, devoid of the excitement of battle and the play emotions we've been through. It merely hints at the themes of fate and love and war. In it's reminder of those who died, it pins me to my seat every time, hankies in hand.
Copyright �1999 - 2001 by Sarah F. Melcher - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED