Jerome Moross spent just over 20 years writing music for movies in a career that encompassed music for the concert hall, the ballet stage, and the Broadway theater across 50 years. In the process, he composed one of the most beloved and popular Western movie scores of the '50s, the music for William Wyler's The Big Country. Jerome Moross was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1913, and showed a musical precocity at an early age, learning to play the piano by ear when he was four and composing at age eight.
Moross was so advanced academically that he ended up skipping four grades between elementary school and high school, and so was 14 years old when he finished high school. He attended New York University and also studied at the Juilliard School of Music, starting there while in his senior year at NYU as a conducting fellow. He was already composing in his own style at 17, a period in which he briefly embraced Serialism. By 19, Moross was working with blues and jazz as sources of inspiration and was aiming very high for the integration of music, song, and dance into a larger artistic whole. He achieved some modest success in the concert hall and on-stage, but it was in Hollywood that he had his most sustained career. Starting with the independently produced Close-Up (1948), he wrote the scores to a string of ever-bigger budgeted movies, culminating in 1958 with The Big Country, a multi-million dollar production with an all-star cast and a vast Western canvas for a setting. Moross rose to the occasion with the best score of his career and one of the finest soundtracks of its decade, getting an Academy Award nomination in the process. In 1959, Moross scored a movie called The Jayhawkers, which included a cue designated as "Two Brothers" -- it was a good score for a good movie but unexceptional. Several years after this, however, Moross was engaged to write a new theme for the hit series Wagon Train, for which he turned that cue from The Jayhawkers into the series' title theme -- his music became one of the series' most familiar attributes and totally swept aside the prior music and any memory of it. Moross continued to work on musical projects until the outset of the '60s and also wrote an opera, Sorry, Wrong Number, and a large body of chamber music, but it was his film and television work that kept him solvent and busy, on pictures such as The Cardinal, The War Lord, Rachel, Rachel, and The Valley of Gwangi. The latter, a fantasy-Western involving dinosaurs, recalled The Big Country, as did his title music for the CBS series Lancer. Moross' output slackened gradually during the '70s, and he passed away during the summer of 1983, of a heart seizure and complications from a stroke.