The Magnificent Seven

Elmer Bernstein

The Magnificent Seven

About this work

Elmer Bernstein recast the sound of the American Western movie with this score. The film by John Sturges was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese film Seven Samurai. In the American version, a Mexican town is helpless before the recurrent depredations of Calvera and his band of outlaws. In desperation, the people pooled their cash and sent a delegation to hire a group of Yanqui gunfighters to defend them. The film tells the story of the gathering of the gunfighters (played by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughan, Horst Buchholz, and Brad Dexter, their developing relationship with the townspeople they are to protect, and their confrontations with Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his men.

Elmer Bernstein was a young film composer who nevertheless had one of Hollywood's greatest epics on his credits: Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. In this film, Bernstein applied a lesson he had learned from DeMille while scoring the Exodus scene, which cinematically is a ponderous series of slow-moving images. He had written music to fit the film's tempo, but DeMille rejected it, telling Bernstein that in such cases the music could provide the missing motion and excitement and fill in the narrative drive. Bernstein saw that the film Seven was also slow moving. Western film scores to that time usually had sweeping, majestic themes, or folk-music style melodies, usually in slow tempo. Bernstein rejected this cliche in favor of brisk action music for his theme. For the rhythm, he echoed the Mexican setting of the story with a brassy version of a flamenco guitar pattern over an instantly memorable main theme. It was an instant sensation and became one of the most recognizable themes in movie history. The theme song has been recorded countless times. Since the film was made for United Artists, which did not have a central studio or library, the original score got lost. In 1993 he great British film score conductor Christopher Palmer was given access to Bernstein's original sketches and recreated the orchestration, deriving a fifteen-movement selection of all the main music of the film.