Classic FM picks Red River as the Greatest Western Movie Score, April 2018

Topping the list of Classic FM’s “The greatest Western movie scores” is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for Red River. Classic FM, an independent National Radio station in the United Kingdom, broadcasts “The World’s Greatest Music” and has been a proponent of Tiomkin’s musical legacy since at least 2012, not coincidently after the October 2011 London Symphony Orchestra concert and subsequent 2012 LSO Live recording, “Dimitri Tiomkin: The Greatest Film Scores,” both of which brought greater awareness in the UK to Tiomkin’s musical legacy.

Red River one sheet poster

Red River one sheet poster

Why did Classic FM choose Red River, a 1948 United Artists Western directed by Howard Hawks, as its top pick? “Dimitri Tiomkin wrote a grand symphonic score for this John Wayne classic, which inspired composers of western soundtracks for decades to come.” Of the 12 films selected, Red River is the oldest, which helps bolster the argument that it was influential on film scores that followed.

Another factor that may account for the elevated status of Red River is the availability of the score to modern audiences. The film did not have a commercial soundtrack at the time of its release and although it may have always had a dedicated following the first release of music from the film’s soundtrack didn’t take place until 2003, more than 50 years after the film’s initial release.

RED RIVER booklet cover.

RED RIVER booklet cover.

That’s when Marco Polo’s Classic Film Score series released the first complete digital recording of the score performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by William Stromberg. John Morgan reconstructed the score from the original orchestrations by Lucien Cailliet and Paul Marquardt which are housed in the Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the Cinema-Television Library at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The following year, in 2004, “River Crossing and Finale” from Red River appeared on Dimitri Tiomkin: The Essential Film Music Collection released by Silva Screen Records and became available as a concert suite, with optional men’s chorus.

Pop culture references include the use of the Red River theme in “The Cows of October” a 1988 episode of Miami Vice, according the the Miami Vice Wiki. Although the Wiki, accessed on April 28, 2018, also incorrectly states, “Theme From Red River” is a song performed by Dimitri Tiomkin, recorded on the album Dimitri Tiomkin: Red River in 1948.

The song, “Settle Down,” heard as the film opens and in fragments throughout, continues to resonate with filmgoers.

Inquiries from our webmail abound:

“I am desperately looking for the lyrics from the main title of the motion picture Red River!”

“Is there anywhere a copy of the lyrics of the song Settle Down from Red River? I’ve been searching the web for years.”

The moviegoing public and film music aficionados have puzzled over the lyrics for “Settle Down” for a long time. In addition to being unpublished, it doesn’t help that the lyrics as heard in the film are sometimes difficult to discern, even with dedicated repeat listenings.

In 2010, Mercury News “Dear Joan” columnist Joan Morris fielded the question we are commonly asked, “Could you find the lyrics from “Red River”?” Joan’s response…

quotes1When Wayne and Howard Hawks, who made “Red River,” teamed again for “Rio Bravo,” Tiomkin reworked the theme to create “My Rifle, My Pony and Me.” It ended up a hit for Dean Martin and led him toward western music for a bit.

To tell you the truth, I thought identifying the song would be the hard part. Turns out, the tougher chore is finding the lyrics. There is some debate on who wrote them. Some sources say Tiomkin wrote both the music and the lyrics, which were minimal. Others list Frederick Herbert as the lyricist. Paul Francis Webster is credited with the words on “My Rifle.”


I couldn’t find the lyrics for “Settle Down” anywhere, and listening to the intro to “Red River” was less than helpful. The men’s choir who performed it had a wonderful sound, but they really needed to enunciate. The best I could figure out were the opening lines, “Settle down, little doggies/This is home, for tonight.”

READ: Joan’s World: Missing lyrics from ‘Red River’ classic

When the Criterion Collection released Red River on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2014, they sought out the lyrics for closed captioning, which Patrick Russ helped identify from material in the Tiomkin collection at USC (described below) for the producer of the DVD.

In the film essay, Red River: The Longest Drive, that accompanied the DVD release, Geoffrey O’Brien notes Tiomkin’s score became a template for many future Westerns.

quotes1…Dimitri Tiomkin, whose commanding score, a template for those of many future westerns, infuses the film so thoroughly that it is not surprising to see him given a title credit almost as prominent as the director’s; and second unit director Arthur Rosson (credited as codirector), a longtime friend of Hawks’s who took charge of much of the large-scale action, including the stampede that is one of the film’s most memorable sequences.

The Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the Cinematic Arts Library at the University of Southern California (USC) contains four boxes of music manuscripts related to the film, including material documenting the lyrics. There are Ozalids [ed. note: an early method of photocopying common in the music and film business] for the songs “Red River” and “Settle Down,” lyrics by Frederick Herbert, music by Dimitri Tiomkin. And a carbon copy of the lyrics, “Settle Down,” by Herb Stahlberg. Stahlberg wrote lyrics for the 1944 war documentary The Bridge of San Luis Rey scored by Tiomkin. Herbert wrote lyrics for other Tiomkin melodies in the mid-1940s, for the films Duel in the Sun and It’s a Wonderful Life.

MORE: Inventory for Red River, Dimitri Tiomkin collection at USC

Turns out Herb Stahlberg and Frederick Herbert are one and the same.

According to the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series, the entry for the song “Better Look Out,” “lyrics by Herb Stahlberg, a.k.a. Frederick Herbert.” The composer timeline lists Frederick Herbert (Frederick Herbert Stahlberg), born June 4, 1909 in New York.

As Joan Morris pointed out, Tiomkin recast “Settle Down” as “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” for the 1959 motion picture Rio Bravo. Paul Francis Webster supplied the lyrics to the tune. As scholars Yuna de Lannoy and Charles Leinberger have posited in Music in the Western: Notes from the Frontier, the Rio Bravo score inspired Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and the composer Masaru Sato in the making of Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro and Tiomkin’s “Degüello” theme made an impact on composer Ennio Morricone for the Western films of Italian director Sergio Leone.

Red River was ranked by Classic FM above perennial chart-leading film scores, including The Big Country by Jerome Moross and The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein.

See the Classic FM list of the 12 selected films, here.

“Settle Down” will be published for the first time in The Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology Volume 2, which is preparation now by the Hal Leonard Corporation. The long-awaited companion volume to The Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology published in 2009 will be available later this year as a digital download. Check back, we’ll be announcing the publication details in the coming months.

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