The Last of the Mohicans is one of those few soundtracks that actually works outside its original source.
There are many, many shots of men running in The Last of the Mohicans, Michael Mann’s visceral 1992 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel. Filmed in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, despite taking place in upstate New York, The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, the adopted white son of Mohican chief Chingachgook (Russell Means), The Last of the Mohicans is a romantic epic filled with harrowing battle scenes and sweeping scenes of pristine forest and eye-popping waterfalls. To match the film’s melodramatic swings and grandiose notions Mann would need the perfect soundtrack to accompany it all.
Enter Trevor Jones, a South African composer who had scored films from Excalibur to The Dark Crystal to Mississippi Burning in the ‘80s. Mann hired Jones to create an electronic score to complement his film. However, it soon became obvious that an orchestral score made more sense given the sweep of the picture and Jones shifted gears. “Main Title,” the thundering track that opens the soundtrack could be the pinnacle of prestige movie themes. It’s big and melodramatic, cuing visions and emotions that tie into the film. In fact, many of the tracks on the soundtrack return to or reference “Main Title.”
Supposedly, the process of writing The Last of the Mohicans was stressful for Jones. With his limited time, he had to constantly re-write the score to keep up with Mann’s frequent edits to the film itself. To ease Jones’ burden, Mann also hired composer Randy Edelman to fill in the spots that Jones didn’t have the time to complete. Edelman’s contributions also appear on the soundtrack. Unlike Jones’ selections, Edelman’s tracks, such as “Cora” and “The Courier,” are slower and less bombastic. “Cora,” in particular, is a beautiful piece that feels bucolic and nostalgic. However, since Edelman received a co-credit on the score, The Last of the Mohicans soundtracks became ineligible for an Academy Award nomination.
Perhaps the most significant track on the album is “Promentory,” Jones’ piece that is based on Scottish songwriter Dougie MacLean’s “The Gael.” The swirling mix of fiddle and callback to “Main Title” is the soundtrack’s centerpiece. Nike would use the track 15 years later in a commercial and Aesop Rock would sample it on “No Regrets.”
Real Gone Music recently reissued The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack on vinyl, restoring the original running order that separates the work of Jones and Edelman into two halves. In 2000, a reissue of the soundtrack mixed the selections together based on when they appeared in the film. The 2000 version also removed final track “I Will Find You” by Clannad, a short but gorgeous song that features the sole vocals on the soundtrack.
Listening to a soundtrack outside the context of its companion film often pales to the experience of seeing the two pieces work in tandem. The Last of the Mohicans is one of those few soundtracks that actually works outside its original source. Just as stirring as any dynamic classical piece, The Last of Mohicans soundtrack deserves to revisited and the excellent new vinyl reissue by Real Gone allows fans the chance to do so on their turntables.