Scoring Ford's 3 Bad Men

When approaching the scoring of Three Bad Men, it was clear from the beginning that I had to draw from two, equally strong ‘memories’: that of my own family (my Irish grandfather and his stories on the Oklahoma land rush), and that of my symphonic upbringing, shaped by quintessentially American, yet heavily European-influenced, musicians. Composers like David Diamond, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson who were first and foremost students of Nadia Boulanger.


Following their example, I approached this score trying to express a clear American voice through a European ear.

 

When we listen to Roy Harris’ Symphony no. 3 or Virgil Thomson’s The Plough that Broke the Plains, we feel like we could be listening to music scored for Western films. When film studio composers from 1930s were looking for something uniquely ‘American’ to accompany what is probably the most American of themes - immigrants claiming a new homeland – they looked to classic American symphonies, using its inherent quartal harmony and western folk songs.

 

Without attempting to upset the cinematic genre I was composing for, I tried to avoid, and hopefully succeeded, the musical clichés (I must admit, for the most violent moments of the film, this score would have most certainly been rejected by any Hollywood producer of the 1930s...).

 

Because Ford's last silent Western is a violent, dark film (counterpointed with Irish humor and an undeniable ‘human’ tenderness) which gets richer and more intense as it progresses. The magnificence of the photography and the vitality of the land rush dictated respectively the color and the expansiveness of the orchestration and the use of percussion, while some of the thematic material was inspired by the lighter yet melancholic Irish folk tunes.


Timothy Brock

 

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