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