movie scene

The music choice is the scariest decision of the whole film, because you don't have the skills yourself and you're totally dependent on another.

But I'm a symphony guy.

I like the feel of a big orchestra.

-Kevin Costner

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

For those of you who already own the soundtrack, the words below will be very familiar to you. I do not have permission to reprint the liner notes in their entirety, so I'm only going to show some excerpts from them in order to enhance this wonderful accomplishment by John Barry.

original press release / Track Listings / Liner Notes

Music composed and conducted by John Barry
release date May 18, 2004

Jon Burlingame writes about film music for the Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety. His beautiful words are in the liner:

thumbnail By the late 1980's, the Western was considered passé. Few were even being made, and composers were rarely faced with the problem of how to avoid the musical clichés that had become prevalent. Then Kevin Costner virtually reinvented the Western with Dances With Wolves... Costner knew that the large-scale images of his film would demand music of comparable size. Costner and Wilson chose John Barry, the British composer who had already won Academy Awards® for Born Free, The Lion in Winter and Out of Africa. At the time, Barry was ending a two-year forced sabbatical from films, having suffered a ruptured esophagus in 1988 and undergone four major surgeries to recover. Dances With Wolves would be his comeback score (and he ultimately dedicated this music to the three doctors who saved his life).

What John Barry would write would become the longest, most complex and in many ways the most emotional score of his entire career. Barry's central piece, the John Dunbar Theme, initially reflects an innocence and his openness to the future but eventually becomes an elegy for the passing of the American frontier.

The composer wrote more than a dozen themes, and over a hundred minutes of music, for the film. Over seven days in July and October 1990, Barry conducted an orchestra of 95 players and a 12-voice choir. Critics noticed the music, and so did the public.

The New York Times called it "the most ambitious and complicated score of his career;" Premiere magazine dubbed it, "a virtual symphony." The original soundtrack spent nearly a year and a half on the charts, cracked Billboard's top-50 and achieved Platinum status, making it not just an artistic success but a commercial one as well.

On March 25, 1991, Barry won his fifth Academy Award for the music of Dances With Wolves. He has since performed a suite from the score in concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, and its main theme has become a staple of film-music concerts everywhere.

For Dances With Wolves, he gave the Western a new voice - grandly romantic, sometimes melancholy, and undeniably dramatic - and one that is uniquely his own.

© Jon Burlingame