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

LEFT: The ORIGINAL Soundtrack - RIGHT: 2000 Release - Redone & In Sequence!

Music is a personal thing. People are responsible for playing it as they feel it; people as directors and conductors are responsible for interpreting how others will play it; and most importantly, each person who hears it, hears it somewhat differently. Writing ABOUT music is therefore also a personal thing, as the only way one can write about music is to describe how it sounds to that person and how he or she feels about the music. Of course, a discussion on music must also include standards and basics, such as time signatures, key signatures, tempo, orchestration, but all that has little meaning without an interpretation. Here, then is one person's interpretation of the music of The Last of The Mohicans.

While these Musings are written for non-musicians, they nevertheless present technical musical terms to help explain the music. It is difficult to explain musical terms to non-musicians, but the hope is one can learn a bit more about the music from these extra details. You might find it useful to print these musings and have them to read as you listen to the CD or watch the movie.

A Personal Note from the Musical Mohican Musings Author
It was the music which brought me to LOTM in the first place and which was ultimately the cause for my being the Mohicanite I am today. I was channel-flipping one evening, and I paused when I heard the most amazing music. It was heart-stopping, and I stopped to listen. I was at the scene near the end, when Uncas races up the mountainside to rescue Alice (I didn't know that at the time, as I had not seen the movie before). The music, of course, was that particular driving orchestration based on "The Gael". Then the film panned to that amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, backed by the stirring "Main Theme", and I was HOOKED. I watched the remainder of the movie––and I was in tears by the time Alice stepped off the cliff. Not a word had been spoken. I had no background on what was going on, but because of the amazing music, intense acting, and stunning cinematography, I knew very clearly what had happened. I watched the film again the next night and taped it, and from then on I was a convert.
The rest––as they say––is history.

The music of the movie The Last of the Mohicans is a magnificent compilation of the works of many composers pieced together to help tell the story so many love so much. Listening to the CD with headphones on, you can imaging the movie in your mind, knowing just what is happening at any given moment. Would the music move us if we did NOT know what was going on in the movie, if we had no mental images prior to hearing the CD recording? The answer is a resounding YES! This music was scored to paint specific pictures and to elicit specific emotions. And it does just that––for many people, the music evokes strong emotions entirely on its own, without the aid of the film. The opening "Elk Hunt" and the "Main Theme" would still stir us, even if we knew nothing about the movie. The same can be true for the rest of the score. The music WORKS.

It is important to know three things about the LOTM soundtrack:

  • first, the bulk of the music was composed by (or adapted by) two separate (very separate) composers
  • second, not all the music in the movie is on the CD and these Musings cover more than just the CD (for this reason, they refer to ALL the music in the movie as the "soundtrack" and refer to the released music as the "CD")
  • third, the music on the CD was not recorded in the right order according to the scenes in the movie
We can attribute the second and third points directly to the first. What is not widely known is that considerable controversy surrounded the mere fact that two composers were required. To summarize the situation:
	"The short of it is that [Trevor] Jones was taking so long revising cues
	for director Mann that a separate composer, [Randy] Edelman, had to be
	hired to finish	the picture.  However, neither composer really talked
	to the other, and confusion has reigned to this day. We expect to have
	Jones's comments on the film shortly from one of his representatives..."
		(Lukas Kendall, Film Score Monthly: "This News Friday 8/8/97").
As of this writing, Film Score Monthly has not published (probably has not been able to obtain) an interview with Trevor Jones on this subject. We have only Edelman's point of view. More to the point, however, this situation ultimately had both positive and negative ramifications for us, the listeners and purchasers of the CD.

The liner notes to one CD recording of the "Main Theme" described the music and the dual composer controversy with an interesting turn of phrase:

	Two musical scores were commissioned��one from Trevor Jones, the other
	from Randy Edelman��with the vacillating producers picking tidbits [sic]
	from each.  The resulting amalgam of cues proved somewhat unholy��but
	Trevor Jones' scoring appropriately engages rhythmic native American
	elements and delivers a supremely soaring theme as lofty, as indomitable
	as the mighty Appalachians themselves.
		(David Wishart, for Silva Screen Records Ltd., 1998)

The Last of the Mohicans Theme Out and About

There is no denying that the "Main Theme" for The Last of the Mohicans has become a widely recognized artifact of our movie heritage in the same way that key pieces from ET, Star Wars, The Good, Bad & the Ugly , and now Titanic have become so widely recognized in the US and elsewhere in the world. These single representatives of complete soundtracks become de facto "main themes" for these movies, whether they are called "main themes" or not. This means "LOTM" and the "Main Theme" become synonymous: people will say "I heard LOTM on the radio" and they mean the "Main Theme" specifically, just as they will say "I heard ET on the radio" and mean the one theme from ET we know so well. Thus, one piece clearly stands out as THE Last of the Mohicans.

As an example of the global reach of LOTM's "Main Title", the following is in a "Film Score Daily" publication from a discussion on the Film Score Monthly website, October 20, 1997:
	Khalid Zahid writes:

	In Pakistan the most recognized Hollywood movie music looks like this:
	a. Superman "March" b. Theme from "Love Story" c. Theme from "Jaws"
	d. Theme from "Chariots of Fire" e. Raider's March" f. Star Wars March
	g. Baby elephant music from "Hatari" h. The Last of the Mohicans.

Notice how this writer refers to "Theme from Jaws" but just "The Last of the Mohicans" (not "Theme from..." or "'Main Theme' from"), as though that is all that is needed for readers to know exactly which musical piece he is referring to.

The LOTM theme has been heard at hockey games, figure skating championships, tennis matches at Wimbledon, jousting tournaments in Las Vegas, any number of commercials (as has other pieces from the movie, including Clannad's "I Will Find You" in a recent commercial aired globally), and innumerable orchestral and symphonic concerts. It is considered a standard in the set of "Great American Themes"––music rented to orchestras for a set program of hit movie themes. (It is interesting that one organization which rents the score can rent it ONLY to verifiable orchestras, and cannot sell the score at all, in part because of the dual composer controversy.

Film Score Monthly and others who track movie soundtracks have noted that the LOTM soundtrack was disproportionately successful compared to most other box office hits. By this they mean that hugely successful movies money-wise (and we must honestly admit that The Last of the Mohicans, as much as some of us love it, was not a smash hit) have not had nearly the success in soundtrack CD sales as that of LOTM. This speaks volumes for the soundtrack's quality and overall appeal. Given the original success in 1992 and its continued success so many years later (for example, in May '99, this writer watched someone purchase the soundtrack in a CD store on the Champs Elysee in Paris), many people ask why it wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. The answer to that question is not widely known; however, around the time of the release of LOTM, the Film Academy did change it rules to state soundtracks written by two or more composers were not eligible for an Oscar, which would have eliminated LOTM. This ruling is problematic for many quality scores which otherwise would be Oscar contenders.

One Theory on Why the Soundtrack is So Popular

One theory put forward (in an excerpt from an article in Film Score Monthly) for why the CD soundtrack is so popular, was that the movie soundtrack sells because of––sex! At the time of the in 1994 in Film Score Monthly article, and possibly today as well, women were the leading purchasers of the LOTM soundtrack, along with those for Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, and Somewhere in Time. The writer pointed out women's response to "manly" imagery such as Robert Redford striding with a big tusk, and Daniel Day-Lewis running with the long rifle, helped to support a prehistoric sense of "man the protector". He did not make the connection with the music and this manly imagery, but rather interestingly supported his position with an argument about the "back to nature" element of this and the other movies with hot-selling CD soundtracks, as though the "man in his element" appealed to women and might have prompted them to purchase the soundtrack.

The logic of this argument doesn't quite hold up, but there is some truth to the statement "we are trying to 'escape into the movies through the music.'" It does seem to do well in transporting us to the 1750s' Appalachian frontier. It excels in telling the story of the movie. And it beautifully paints musical pictures with or without the movie to support it. The soundtrack reflects so well the element of what might be called Nature, or Fate, or some Great Spirit––whatever one wants to call it, but it is bigger than we humans. And it is in the film itself as much as in the music. Many listeners––women and men––understand that same sense of something bigger than us in the music, and appreciate the music for its ability to touch the heart and soul.

The Individual Works in the Soundtrack

Themes and Motifs

Many of the works in the soundtrack are based on a number of recurring themes and motifs. These help tie the pieces together, highlight specific events, focus on characters or events, and just generally tell the story. Each listener might identify them, but you might be interested in reading a study of the Themes and Motifs in LOTM as this writer has identified them.

Extraneous Music

Some scenes in the movie are backed by music that is not recognizable, largely because the music is neither on the CD nor is long enough to identify. Chances are good that this is some of the music Edelman felt was insignificant enough to be excluded from the CD (as noted in his interview with Film Score Monthly). The scenes with this extraneous music are:
  • When we first Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas tracking the Huron war party (the war party on its way to an ambush on the George Road).
  • During the scene at the river walk, when Hawkeye asks Duncan why Magua would want to murder the girl, "Miss Cora Monro?"
  • At the burial ground, when we first see the French and Ottawa approach. This music might have been something called "The Glade Part I", since we have a piece called "The Glade Part II" on the CD and clearly heard in the movie. This nondescript snippet continues until the enemy retreat, Cora has asked why, and then responds to Hawkeye, "We're a breed apart and we make no sense...?"
  • In Monro's office when they have just arrived at the Fort, and Monro asks what happened to them. It ends when he says he is indebted to Hawkeye and the Mohicans.
  • In Montcalm's tent, when he and Magua first meet and Magua tells him that the Grey Hair's children will again be under his knife and the Grey Hair's seed will be wiped out forever.
  • At the fort when Hawkeye tells his seditious friends in the militia how to escape, and when questioned, admits his reasons for staying are a damn site better looking than Jack Winthrop.
  • During the meeting of Magua and Montcalm, in the trees on the side of the lake, when Magua explains why he hates the Grey Hair, stating the Grey Hair is the father of all that.
  • In the cave behind the waterfall, as Magua fingers Cora's hair. This is loosely based on "Top of the World."
  • While the Sachem speaks to Magua, Hawkeye and the others in the Huron village.

The Primary Musical Pieces in LOTM

The following is all the music from the score that can be clearly identified, basically in the order it appears (or is first heard) in the movie, as well as links to information about the composers.

The Composers and Contributors

Thanks to Tony Hinde for many of these images!

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Last Update: November 26, 2000
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