Soundtrack Review: Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed and Conducted by Randy Edelman

Civil War buff Ted Turner took advantage of his considerable resources to produce an epic mini-series based off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg which attempts to delve into the minds of a few of the key participants. It was decided that the film was good enough to have a theatrical run prior to its more successful stint on TNT. As a Civil War buff I have to say this is one of my favorite films thanks to its general accuracy. It’s long length allows various aspects of the war, political and military, to be covered. It does have its flaws, two of which are understandably due to the budgetary limits of television. One is the use of reenactors, which ensured accurate behavior and equipment, but also meant seeing a lot of soldiers who were too old or well-fed. Another is Randy Edelman’s reliance on synthesizers for his score.

The music for Gettysburg isn’t terrible. In fact it’s pretty good. It’s just frustrating knowing that most of the tunes would have been marvelous with a full orchestra. A resultant criticism that has been leveled at Edelman’s work is the lack of period-authentic music. There are several pieces that successfully pull it off, such as the peaceful guitar in “Dawn” and the martial “Fife and Gun”. A couple actual tunes from the era are even incorporated. These are “Dixie” and “Kathleen Mavoureen”, the latter doubling as a theme for Hancock and Armistead, two friends on opposing sides. Much of the music does sound like it could fit war films from other periods, but I find the criticism overwrought. For sure, an orchestra could have done a far better job, but Edelman does a competent job considering the tools at his disposal. The use of synthesizers also makes it difficult to differentiate some of the themes and motifs from each other, though a couple listens on album can help with that. Another issue is that several cues were replaced with other ones to better convey a mood or for editing purposes, but this resulted in a loss of thematic consistency with the score as heard in the film. The most noticeable example is the replacement of “March to Mortality” with “Battle of Little Round Top”. “March to Mortality” focuses on the Pickett’s Charge theme while “Battle of Little Round Top” has the Union fanfares. Thus film viewers are greeted with an assembly of interchangeable heroic themes.

There are plenty of themes and these are the score’s strong suit. The main theme which opens and closes the album is suitably both heroic and tragic, an encapsulation of how people feel about the Battle of Gettysburg. For some reason the Union Army gets two fanfares while the Confederates don’t. Perhaps it’s because they won the battle and are often seen as the more morally justified side. Both of these themes are the highlight of “Battle of Little Round Top”, which accompanies perhaps the most thrilling moment of the entire film. Pickett’s Charge gets a specific motif that is showcased in “March to Mortality” and crops up several times during the final battle scene. There is a somber theme in “General Lee at Twilight” that might be for the Confederates. Another possible recurring motif for the Confederates appears at the 1:40 mark in “General Lee’s Solitude”.  There’s one theme at the 1:14 mark in “Main Title” that seems to have a general emotional purpose and sticks out because of its placement in a couple key scenes. One of the most noticeable pieces of music is the Battle theme (“The First Battle”) which receive a lot of attention by Edelman as well as plenty of variations.

The original album is a little under an hour long and chronologically is very out of order, though a lot of the best music is on it. “Main Title” is an immediate highlight, starting with a dramatic flourish of the main theme and then presenting several others. It ends with a tragic motif and then an ominous repeating drumbeat. “Men of Honor” is a very sad variation of the main theme. “Battle of Little Round Top” has the Union fanfares and then peters off. In an odd edit “First Battle” segues right into “Dawn”, which is annoying when trying to re order the tracks chronologically. “From History to Legend” is a more reverent cue with a brief variation of the Battle theme near its opening. “Over the Fence” is a mixture of tragic futility and heroism and one of my favorite action cues.

The album sags a little in the middle with “We Are the Flank” and Charging Up the Hill”, where the cheap synthesizers are more obvious. “Charging Up the Hill” in particular is monotonous in its rhythmic construction. “Dixie” is a neat use of the classic southern tune with one of the secondary motifs inserted. “General Lee’s Solitude” is another reverent cue and certainly reflects the lofty position the titular military figure has held in American thought. “Battle at Devil’s Den” introduces a secondary action motif as well as having part of the Battle theme. “Killer Angel” is from one of the film’s many long monologue scenes, which a lot of people hate but are fascinating to a civil war buff like me. “March to Mortality” is a great track that I wish wasn’t replaced in the film, while “Reunion and Finale” is a rousing conclusion.

The film’s score was popular enough to warrant two further releases. One is a Civil War song compilation with the Gettysburg label attached. Of more interest is the Deluxe Commemorative soundtrack, containing the original album as well as a second disc with 45 previously unreleased cues. It is unfortunate that this two-disc set was not rearranged so all 100+ minutes of score could be enjoyed in a cohesive presentation but it is good to have more highlights. “Old Friends” is built around one of the Confederate motifs. “Buford’s Decisive Determination” underscores the struggle of a general deciding on his strategy before his fateful choice is represented by the Union fanfare. “Pickett’s Complaint” is a curiously misnamed track as the music is actually from the opening scene with the Confederate scout. Another odd title is “Kilrain’s Ride”. Not only is it a version of the Battle theme from a scene where Kilrain, the wise Irish soldier, is absent, but Kilrain never rides anything! “Freemantle & Armistead” is a cue that was replaced by “Killer Angel” in the film, though it also uses the theme from that track alongside a couple Confederate motifs.

Fans of battle music will be happy to know that most of the previously missing material from Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge are present. “Close Call” is one of my favorites, showing the growing desperation of both sides in the battle. “Armistead is Hit” is the climatic action piece, being propulsive though understandably a little cheesy thanks to the synthesizers. The last track is not from the film, but is Jeff Daniels, who did a fantastic performance as Colonel Chamberlain, reciting the Gettysburg Address over part of “Killer Angel”.

Gettysburg is a little hard for me to rate. Since I grew up with the movie and love it so much the music emits a strong emotional reaction out of me. It does have a lot of rousing themes and moments. The problem is that as a TV score it does sound cheap, however well it fits into the movie, and a couple tracks don’t have much energy to them. Thus I have to rate it lower than I feel.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Main Title (4:32)
  2. Men of Honor (2:55)
  3. Battle of Little Round Top (3:56)
  4. Fife and Gun (3:01)
  5. General Lee at Twilight (1:25)
  6. The First Battle (2:41)
  7. Dawn (1:57)
  8. From History to Legend (2:56)
  9. Over the Fence (4:09)
  10. We are the Flank (2:14)
  11. Charging Up the Hill (2:24)
  12. Dixie (2:25)
  13. General Lee’s Solitude (3:39)
  14. Battle at Devil’s Den (1:45)
  15. Killer Angel (4:41)
  16. March to Mortality (Pickett’s Charge) (3:13)
  17. Kathleen Mavoureen (3:15)
  18. Reunion and Finale (5:44)

Deluxe Commemorative Edition Second Disc

  1. Gettysburg – Revisited (2:18)
  2. Old Friends (2:49)
  3. Buford’s Decisive Determination (1:47)
  4. They’re Coming Again! (3:43)
  5. To The Queen! (3:20)
  6. Pickett’s Complaint (2:34)
  7. Kilrain’s Ride (1:37)
  8. Soldier’s Irony & Close Call (6:57)
  9. Refuse The Line! (3:12)
  10. We Will Prevail! (1:51)
  11. Message From Alexander (1:42)
  12. Freemantle & Armistead (4:52)
  13. Hancock & Kemper Are Shot (2:25)
  14. Armistead Is Hit (3:13)
  15. The Gettysburg Address (2:28)

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