CD Review: Gone With the Wind – Max Steiner’s Classic Film Score
In his Classic Film Scores series LPs devoted to Golden Age film music, Charles Gerhardt only produced one album devoted to a single score–Max Steiner‘s classic GONE WITH THE WIND, released in 1974. Of all the scores from the period, the choice of GWTW probably seems overly obvious today, but it was a smart business move. With its enduring popularity among the general public and film score fans, GWTW was destined to appeal to the widest group of listeners. And having the score heard in stereo for the first time was an added bonus.
Gerhardt worked closely with Steiner on this extended 43-minute suite. Steiner had already prepared a 30-minute concert suite of the score that he conducted on RCA in 1954 and which Muir Mathieson conducted in 1961 for Warner Bros. But that suite was for reduced orchestra and some popular music was missing, leaving room for a brand new suite incorporating a full orchestra. About half of the current material was recorded in 1966 to fill one LP side of an album of film music for Reader’s Digest. New material was recorded to supplement the existing cues, but with a seamless blending of the two, I defy you to be able to tell the difference between the old and the new.
Forget STAR WARS, Indiana Jones, TITANIC or any number of other popular film music themes. Nothing still beats the popularity of Steiner’s iconic “Tara Theme,” if for no other reason than it has been around the longest. The soaring melody seems borne aloft on the winds of change as the Civil War blows into town.
Steiner composed 11 primary themes for the four lead characters and supporting players. Though most of the major musical set pieces are included, Gerhardt uses these character themes to tell the story. The track titles list the themes names when appropriate so that newcomers can easily navigate their way through Steiner’s complex, character-driven musical tapestry.
One surprising inclusion on the album is the “Dance Montage.” While I would have loved to hear Gerhardt’s rendition of the burning of Atlanta instead, it’s hard to argue with such a sparkling track. I particularly like the tender theme for hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold “Belle Watling.”
Anyone who knows the film even slightly should be able to easily follow the outline of the story through the music. When you hear the beautiful “Scarlett and Rhett” theme in the final “Apotheosis,” there is no question about the state of their relationship. The music shifts seamlessly between the numerous themes and Steiner’s consistent use of period patriotic tunes to give a sense of time and place.
This is one of the few Gerhardt albums I never purchased as I always preferred my copy of the original soundtrack. So even though I’d heard this recording before, it was a discovery for me. If you like the score but the thought of listening to music in mono makes your ears bleed, then this is the recording for you. GONE WITH THE WIND should be an essential part of every film score fan’s collection and for those who don’t want to commit to the 2-1/2 hours of Rhino’s massive 2-CD original soundtrack, then Gehardt’s recording is an excellent substitute.