Jerome Moross: The Big Country Main Theme


Jerome Moross (1913-1983) was a popular Hollywood movie composer in the 20th century. Moross composed the scores for sixteen films between 1948-1969. He soon became known for his scores for many country and western films, most famously for the 1958 movie The Big Country, which Moross was nominated for an Academy Award for. 

The Big Country was directed by William Wyler and starred Jean Simmons, Gregory Peck, Caroll Baker, plus others. The film was commended for its visuals, music and cast. The central plot shows two battling ranching families. 

From fight scenes to glorious Western landscapes, The Big Country shows it all. However, one of the most memorable aspects of the film was Moross’ score, namely the main theme. As the families continue their fight for the river, the film comes to its almighty climax as a brilliant showdown unfolds between the two sides. As the title suggests, everything about The Big Country is big. From the stars of the film, the music and the landscapes, the film is a quintessential Western classic.


The Music

Moross once commented on the main title saying that he composed it after thinking about a walk he took across the flatland in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He fondly remembers this as it was shortly before he made his big move to Hollywood:


“I got to the edge of town and walked out on the flat land with a marvellous feeling of being alone in the vastness with the mountains cutting off the horizon.”


Moross’ brief for the soundtrack for the film needed to be sweeping across the glorious landscapes shown in the film. Moross took inspiration from wild west ballets by the likes of Aaron Copland, which can certainly be heard in the soundtrack. The excitement built at the start of the main title adds to the anticipation of where the main title is going to go. As the brass enter with a fanfare on top, connotations of boldness, majesty and power pour out of the music. 

Soon the iconic string theme sings out, accompanied by strings and horns. The flowing melody washes over the orchestra, with tuned percussion accentuating the phrasing at the end. The natural intervallic jumps add to the easy listening aspect of the main title. The broadness of the theme is reminiscent of the vast landscapes that Moross was thinking of when he wrote the music. 

When the theme is reinstated again, the trumpets also join in, which adds another dimension to the theme. Now even richer in texture, cymbal crashes lead the orchestra back into the opening swirls of the introduction. A variation of the theme then unfolds before the epic ending as the orchestra unite for the final note. 


Final Thoughts

Jerome Moross’ main title for the Western movie The Big Country has remained his most popular work. The music has kept the movie alive, and both have stood the test of time so far. The iconic theme is well-loved by audiences, and is often included in film music concerts around the world.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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