Lonesome Dove is a television Western. It was written and produced
against the spirit of the 1980s. The Western, while never quite dead, was
at least largely moribund so far as TV/silver screen were concerned by the
1980s when this mini-series appeared. The auguries were not good. Director
Simon Wincer produced an eight hour epic and looked to Poledouris to provide
3 hours and 45 minutes of music. Wincer had heard Poledouriss music
for Farewell to the King and considers it his most underrated score.
Poledouris did not want to use Copland style Americana preferring to evade
many of the clichés and latch onto folk music rather than build on
the distortions and patina of decades of cliché. In that aim I am
not sure that he totally succeeded. There is much here which seems to rest
with the mainstream of open air Western music. Nevertheless the score is
strong and especially in the pastoral and elegiac. As the excellent notes
by Randall Larson point out, the end result was an adaptation of the Larry
McMurtry novel which won seven Emmys and one of these was for best score.
The main theme is wide and slowly unfolding, evoking a great sluggish river
- epic and remorseless. The theme recurs extensively. Track 2 is a sleepy
vignette. In fact there the whole score has steady exhausted pace. The third
track opens with hectic chuntering from the strings and recall of concert
music by Bill Schuman. The Dallas theme seems momentarily to be about to
put in an appearance. We also get river-side idyll music alternating with
leathery epic cattle range atmosphere. There is the occasional splash of
South of the Border down Mexico Way with burnished high fiesta
trumpets and castanets.
A banjo dance  provides some variety before the threat meets elegy of
the Death of Deets . Track 6 is haunted with a shadowed downward
reflective curve epitomised by the clarinet at 1:03. Arkansas Pilgrim
introduces fiddle music from the high mountain plains and a honky-tonk
piano. Soon the reflective serenade returns. In track 7 the solo clarinet
recalls the sunny slopes of yesterday in a feast of nostalgic. Track 8s
sleepy oboe curves and falls continuing the mood of track 7. This is interrupted
by a slow blowsy polacca and recollections of Civil War or Nigger
On the Trail has slow motion romanticism and a quick-silver-smooth
string theme resolving lovingly back into main Lonesome Dove theme.
Then follows (Murderous Horse Thieves) the quiet implacable threat
of maracas and acoustic guitar and a country fiddle suggesting gentle Irishry.
The Search has yet more fiddle music melting into a grand hoe-down
heard through a myriad layers of gauze and a sense of a great uncontrollable
force. This is one of the highlight tracks of the disc.
There are more quiet elegies for Gus Dies. At track 13 (Capt
Calls Journey) the long blooming theme returns with a sense of
satisfied lassitude. Horns echo satisfyingly around the main theme like which
is taken up by supple air-borne strings and the long lines of clarinet and
oboe. This is an eloquent hymn to a bygone age and delivered with glistening
eyes. The has more of the wide open theme and a burst of dynamism in the
last few pages.
So ends a score distinguished by its curvaceous but chaste, elegiac and solitary
tone implicit in the title. Instrumental features stand out: the roles for
banjo, fiddle, bass, honky-tonk piano and acoustic guitar impart a sepia-tone
alongside references to hymns and Western trail songs.
There are fourteen tracks on this disc of which four appear on CD for the
first time. I am sure that a CD was issued when the series first came out
but this seems to be the most complete authorised edition.
Recommended then for some extremely fine music but I only wish that Poledouris
had been able to magic up some more dynamic material to match the sleepy-sad
gloriously slow elegy that this score offers.
And Ian Lace adds :-
This is film music writing of a very high standard. You are captivated from
the very start with the trumpet clarion calls, then the fine broad sweping
melody recalling the old west - its grandeur, its nobility,
its violence and its grief. Poledouris's music is rich in contrapuntal and
polytonal design, it might be likened to a beautiful plant continually sprouting
a myriad shoots all in perfect balance and harmony. All the obvious western
music clichés are avoided and the music has a ring of sincerity, and
it is in complete accord with the screenplay. Take one small example, in
the cue Arkansas Pilgrim, there is a section of quiet romantic
music, but notice its effective underpinning with gentle rocking clip-clop
I remember the television series with much affection. Clearly with so many
hours runing time and so many characters it is very difficult to remember
the details of the plot. Instead of so many pictures in the CD booklet, surely
it would have been more sensible to have reminded us what the cue titles
represent; a description of the scenes to which the music cues related, would
have added another dimension to our enjoyment. (For instance cue 2 is called
"Jake's fate", now I remember one young cowhand dying of multiple-snake bites
when the cattle drovers cross a river swollen after a storm, the opening
bars of the cue seem to suggest a malignant turbulence and the coldness of
sudden death but it would have been nice to have had that assumption confirmed
or otherwise). I understand that there has been considerable demand for this
release from presumably a discriminating public (which strenthens this argument
even more) so they need not have been fobbed off with the usual picture gallery.
Notes like those that Varèse Sarabande and Ryko offer to accompany
their classic film scores would have been much appreciated. But I must not
overstate this criticism because this score stands proud of its associated
images as very satisfying music in its own right.