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PCD 152

Artwork copyright (c) 2003 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Dark and dreary portrait of the west


The concept of library music for television is now outdated, though was at its peak in the late 1950s and early 60s, especially at CBS, whose musical director Lud Gluskin decided that the pressures of writing a score in such a short space of time could only stifle creativity in television music, and so instead favoured this concept: a composer would be given time to write several pieces that could be used over and over again over the course of a series.  His prior relationship with Bernard Herrmann allowed him to claim the great coup of getting Herrmann's services to provide some of this library music for CBS television series like Have Gun - Will Travel, Rawhide and Gunsmoke.

This album presents three different suites of library music - "Western Suite", "The Indian Suite" and "Western Saga" - along with actual scores to two episodes, the pilot episode of Have Gun - Will Travel and "The Tall Trapper" episode of Gunsmoke.  It opens with Herrmann's ten-minute score for the former, which is dominated by a powerful four-note horn motif.  Budget only stretched to a very small ensemble and for this particular episode, the composer used only brass and percussion, but he was always a master at getting the best out of very small ensembles and this is the case here as well.  It's arguably the highlight of the album.

"Western Suite" is written for winds, harp and percussion and is surprisingly bleak for most of its length.  Obviously Herrmann always saw the bleak side of things, but one might have expected something a little lighter - and occasionally a little happier! - than this for a weekly tv show.  Most of the cues state a very short motif and then present variations on it for a couple of minutes.  There is some occasional warmth, such as in the impressive "Tranquil Landscape", but mostly there is a never-changing, slightly funereal mood of darkness.  Even cues where you might expect something a bit more striking - "Gunfight" - the mood doesn't change.  

The suite from Gunsmoke is considerably warmer, employing a few strings for a start, and is actually the most lyrical and pleasant music on the album.  Herrmann was obviously feeling unusually conciliatory on that day!  "The Indian Suite" is a bit different; again, it's just brass and percussion, but this time Herrmann goes for a much more striking mood.  "Echo" is the closest he really comes in the whole album to creating a mood similar to that heard in the majority of western scores by everyone else, of horses galloping over sweeping landscapes.  OK, it's hardly The Magnificent Seven, but it's a start, and a welcome respite by this stage from the slightly dreary mood.  The "Western Saga" suite is, again, for brass and percussion, sharing much in common with the music from the pilot of Have Gun - Will Travel.  Fortuitously, Herrmann does include a bit of warmth this time, such as in the lovely "Street Music".  The striking, forceful "The Hunt" is another highlight.

In truth, these suites never give the impression of having been written as anything other than scores for specific movies.  Herrmann obviously took the job seriously, possibly conjuring up images in his head and then scoring those images.  The album does, however, make for a slightly strained listen, given its almost unendingly monotonous nature - Herrmann seeks the dark and dreary seemingly in everything, and you long for a big, expansive theme to crop up occasionally.  Taken in isolation, any of these suites is excellent; but listening to one after the other is almost enough to drive you to drink.


  1. Have Gun - Will Travel: Three Bells to Perdido (10:19)
  2. Western Suite: Prelude (1:26)
  3. The Ambush (2:55)
  4. Tranquil Landscape (3:28)
  5. Dark Valley (2:15)
  6. The Meadows (3:21)
  7. Bad Man (1:53)
  8. Gunfight (1:34)
  9. Rain Clouds (2:58)
  10. Sun Clouds (1:24)
  11. Gunsmoke: The Tall Trapper (9:24)
  12. Indian Ambush (3:28)
  13. Echo (1:11)
  14. Indian Signals (2:18)
  15. Indian Fight (2:10)
  16. Western Saga: Prelude (:55)
  17. Street Music (1:44)
  18. Open Spaces (3:29)
  19. The Hunt (2:08)
  20. The Watching (3:09)
  21. The Canyons (2:23)
  22. Gunsmoke (1:55)
  23. Gunfight (1:15)
  24. Victory! (:44)