The General

The General was released in 2019, the product of a very narrow time window.

When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.

Throughout my career, I’d done a lot of genres – horror and comedy were the main two for feature films, and I’d done a bunch of dramas for short films. Something I really wanted to try, though, was an action film, or something that gave me a chance to practice that style of writing.

When an opportunity to score The General (1926) came along, I had exactly the sort of film I wanted.

Of course, with an action-heavy film came an action-heavy composition process. When I was commissioned to write this score, I was to perform it live three weeks later – the turnaround, then, was an incredibly tight one, but it’s amazing how much can be done when you’re under pressure.

I began, as always, with some themes. I composed themes for the train (‘The General Arrives’), Annabelle (‘Annabelle’), the military (‘Time to Enlist’), and two for Johnny Grey, Buster Keaton’s lead, as a romantic character and a hero (‘The General Arrives’; ‘Time to Enlist’). There are also a couple of love and action motifs that recur, and I repurposed the melody of genuine Civil War song ‘The Battle Cry of Freedom’ to mark the Southern troops. This is quite a theme-heavy score, something that is entirely explicable by the time constraints, but it hangs together well.

I’m particularly pleased with the opening ten minutes, which set a good sense of the film, and the music I composed for the Rock River battle. I came into this score hoping to compose action music, and I really like the sense of drama in ‘Battle Over Rock River’.

The score went down well, and so I packaged it for release. I made one addition, compiling some of these themes into a suite, which has since become a bit of a performance staple in itself.


  1. The Credits March (0:46)
  2. The General Arrives (1:26)
  3. Annabelle (2:47)
  4. Time to Enlist (4:35)
  5. State of the Union Plans (1:30)
  6. The General Is Stolen (2:58)
  7. Chase! (6:36)
  8. On the Wrong Tracks (5:17)
  9. The South Retreats (3:20)
  10. In Enemy Country (8:18)
  11. Escape! (4:46)
  12. Get That Spy (7:07)
  13. Water-load of Trouble (5:22)
  14. Rock River Bridge (6:28)
  15. Battle Over Rock River (6:05)
  16. The Lieutenant (4:44)
  17. The General Suite (3:57)

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