Classic Film Scores: Gone With the Wind

Musical Score By: Max Steiner

Distributed by: Sony Masterworks

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Who hasn’t heard of Gone With the Wind?  Of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and the famous lines “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”, “I don’ know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”  The 1939 movie adapted from the Margaret Mitchell novel starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in one of the most tumultuous love stories set in the midst of the American Civil War and became an instant Hollywood classic.  In October 2010, Sony Masterworks released the Gone With the Wind soundtrack as a part of their re-issue of Charles Gerhardt’s Classic Film Scores series.

            The musical score of Gone With the Wind was created by Austrian composer Max Steiner.  A child prodigy when it came to music, Steiner received piano lessons from Johannes Brahms and was enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Music by the age of sixteen.  Completing the four-year program in two years, Steiner was working in London at the start of World War I and was forced to leave, heading to New York where he embarked in a lucrative career as a musical director, arranger, orchestrator and conductor on Broadway.  He began composing music for film in 1931, beginning with the movie Cimarron.  He went on to score hundreds of films before his death in 1971, including The Informer, Now Voyager, King Kong, Little Women, Casablanca and more, but he is best known for the musical score he created for Gone With the Wind.

            In the 1970s, Charles Gerhardt, a talented conductor, record producer and arranger, worked with the National Philharmonic Orchestra to create a 14 album series for RCA known as the Classic Film Scores series.  For this series, Gerhard carefully selected parts of well-known musical scores and recreated them for larger symphony orchestras, thus recreating, on a grander scale, some of the finest moments in the Golden Age of Hollywood’s musical scores.

            Classic Film Scores: Gone With the Wind begins with the Main Title: Dixie, Mammy, Tara and Rhett, the sweeping theme that is, by far, the most recognizable composition of the entire film.  The orchestral theme present in this track is a light and beautiful composition representing the wealth and artistry of the aristocratic South.  This is Dixieland at its finest - the beauty of the land, the architecturally gorgeous homes, the nice side of the South before the Civil War.  Conveniently missing is any hint of foreboding that might represent the slavery aspect of the war, but that is by design.  This movie is mostly seen through Scarlett’s eyes and Scarlett has grown up with the institution, barely noticing anything other than the niceties of flirting and finding a man to keep her for the rest of her life. 

            As the album moves forward, we are treated to more of the main theme, mixed with some themes of other characters we meet along the way.  A Dance Montage features a fun mix of a polka, a waltz and the Can Can.  All of this is a reflection of the good times just prior to the war.  Things get a bit darker by the sixth track, Civil War, Fall of the South, Scarlett Walks Among the Wounded, as Scarlett’s life takes a decided turn.  We hear the clashing of cymbals as the war finally hits Scarlett’s home and the darker, more subdued music that denote the fall of the mighty South.  Scarlett’s determination and will to endure despite the fact that the world is falling apart around her is reflected in the later tracks of the album.  By the time we reach the eleventh track, Apotheosis: Melanie's Death, Scarlett and Rhett, Tara, we know that, despite the tragedy and the hardship, Scarlett is resolute in her determination to rebuild her life from the ruins of the South.  We hear this in the original theme, this time played by brass, signifying a newfound strength and resolve.  The brass also signifies a sort of tarnishing of the original beauty of the south and a hardening of what was once a carefree nature.

            Charles Gerhardt’s rendition of Max Steiner’s classic score is nothing short of perfect.  In this shortened version, Gerhardt manages to incorporate all of the important events in the movie.  Having seen the film and read the book, I can listen to this version of the original score and know exactly what is going on.  Classic Film Scores: Gone With the Wind will make a terrific edition to the soundtrack collection of any fan of the film.


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