It is invariably fascinating when European composers, especially those raised in a tradition of venerated European musical idioms, come to score a film drenched in Americana. Viennese-born Max Steiner virtually invented the Cinema’s initial musical language for the American subject, whilst Hungarian Miklos Rozsa put his head above the parapet to score a western, Tribute To A Badman, with German Franz Waxman following suit via Cimarron and Red Mountain, and Russian Dimitri Tiomkin studying and then reinvigorating the legacy of American folksong for subjects as diverse Mr Smith Goes To Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, Red River and Gunfight At The OK Corral.
Originally from Poland, and then composing his way through Germany and France, Bronislau Kaper came to Hollywood and found himself commissioned to score films of every genre – from frothy comedies to domestic sagas, from period romances to war stories, and to that staple of American cinema – the Western. But if he is to remembered for one particular type of film then it must be for the epic historical drama … with The Prodigal, Mutiny On The Bounty and Lord Jim his standard bearers. Kaper’s facility for composing densely orchestrated weighty symphonic portraits made him a particularly apt choice for large-scale film.
Whilst Home From The Hill may not have employed thousands of extras and be derived from an historical milestone, the film is nevertheless large-scale and weighty in terms of dramatic scope – and not least also in terms of length, rounding out at two and a half hours – quite a cinematic tome. Here is a tale of hot and humid Texas, with personal temperatures rising unchecked as respected but womanising Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum) favours his tough illegitimate son Rafe (George Peppard) over his other but legitimate offspring Theron (George Hamilton), who refuses to live up to his father’s reputation as a hunter.
Bronislau Kaper’s opening musical gambit is infused with broad Americana – a main theme altogether embodying the feel of wide-open spaces and the essence of pioneer spirit. However, a segue to darker, bleaker timbres delivers a stark premonition that this landscape, and indeed this very pioneer spirit, will also render up heartbreak and tragedy. Thereafter the scoring expertly fluctuates between the darkly introspective, the winningly pastoral and the potently dramatic. On this last measure there are bravura chase and hunt sequences every bit as brazenly symphonic as any of the action scenes in Mutiny on The Bounty or Lord Jim. Throughout the score Kaper eagerly employs lower registers – for instance often eschewing the violin in preference for the cello – to bestow import and gravitas. This may be a tale of the American heartland, but it is also a document of infidelity, betrayal, and death. Bronislau Kaper seizes the opportunity to fashion one of his most memorable scores. In fact this music should be considered as a classic score. Few composers for film ever carried quite the substantive symphonic weight that Kaper can bring to a subject, and here his music carries a bulk, a force, and a dynamism that speaks drama in volumes even before we get to the plot and the dialogue.
This complete score is substantial enough – but the album also offers four bonus tracks featuring alternate versions of cues. Bronislau Kaper was almost alone among his Hollywood colleagues in that he did not conduct – and here the baton is held by Charles Wolcott. And for anyone who has not seen, or cannot remember the film, the sixteen pages of booklet notes by Jeff Bond, Jeff Eldridge and Lukas Kendall will enlighten about all aspects – from plot, to production, to each separate music cue. Also, the artwork for the album, composed of colour stills from the film, is particularly arresting. All in all a perfect release of a truly outstanding score.