The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
On Golden Pond

Stars:  Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon, Dabney Coleman

Director:  Mark Rydell
Producer:  Bruce Gilbert
Released:  Marble Arch/IPC 1980

Story:   A long-married couple return to their lakeside cottage for a traditional summer stay, this one complicated by the visit of their daughter's 13-year-old son-to-be, a boy who turns out to be a match for the irascible husband.

Complimenting and completing the other creative contributions which establish this picture as an outstanding example of the cinematic art, Dave Grusin's sensitive score to “On Golden Pond” heightens all the colors and Brings out every nuance of imagery and drama in the film.

The composer modestly attributes some of the success of the score to the fact that, as he puts it, “there was space in the picture for music, and there was space for it to breathe In the sense of having a comfortable home for a score.”

Playing under exquisite scenes of the lake and its wildlife, the simple but moving melody of the “On Golden Pond” theme
acts as a gentle prologue to the arrival of the cast at the lake.

Variations on this theme occur within the body of the picture, some cues quite short, others using it in lengths long enough to be recognizable.  In most cases, their interjection is subtle but expressive, weaving the piece into the fabric of the film so that it becomes a part of the tapestry, and not just a frame for it.

Over closing credits the melody is more dramatic than intimate, being primarily orchestral, but ending with piano, having the effect of closing a book after a most satisfying reading experience.

Its evoking of New England, culturally and geographically, is mixed with an infinite tenderness which is the true heart of this picture - married love which is eternally springtime, regardless of how testy the couple's conversation may sometimes appear.

sheet music

Lyricist Marilyn Bergman recalls Dave Grusin playing the theme for her while he was working on the score.  Referring to the cultural ethic he was aiming for in this film, he feared that it `might not be right for the picture or might be too simple or sound too churchy.'  All the while, declares Marilyn Bergman, referring to the poignancy of the piece, “tears were streaming down my face.”

The composer himself describes the main theme as an “impressionistic comment on the visual geography of the story,” explaining that the harmonic roots derive from the “indigenous Protestant hymns historically associated with New England.”

This statement was made nearly a decade after the score was completed, and he reiterates it today.  However, the straight-laced WASP element he sought to capture has been greatly overwhelmed by its heart-touching qualities for most of those who love this piece and whose reaction tends more to mirror Mrs. Bergman's.

During intervening years, the melody has been given lyrics by Morgan Ames, and these are featured on the album “Prarie Jazz.”  There have also been a number of instrumental cover versions of the theme, and both the Main Title and New Hampshire Hornpipe appear on Dave Grusin's album “Cinemagic.”

Lake-oriented themes provide the secondary underscoring.  Much of it is light and gentle, while the invigorating “New Hampshire Hornpipe,” played when Billy takes the motor boat full throttle out on the water, is the essence of youthful freedom and exuberance.  Indeed, this is a turning point for him, and it is not just the throttle which has been opened up, but the boy's mind as well, a fact clearly stated in the piece.  However, the dark and atmospheric music which accompanies even the daylight arrival at Purgatory Cove represents another side of the Golden Pond environment, being ominous and threatening.

About the score, Dave Grusin states, “it wasn't planned to be an important part of the film. It's just that the nature of the story dictated the areas where music could help, and it was the breathing room in the picture that allowed the score to have some kind of life.”

He adds that “On Golden Pond” represented a departure and change of direction for him, not as a composer, but as a musician.  “In terms of using that amount of piano on a score” this film was for him as a pianist the beginning of a new era.  Previously, he had usually only played extensively on soundtracks involving a rhythm section, and had preferred to conduct orchestral scores from the podium rather than the keyboard.

Unquestionably one of his most effective and beautiful (possibly best of all) scores, it is not a lengthy one.  In fact, to put together enough material to release a soundtrack LP, it was necessary to add dialogue from the motion picture.  Dave Grusin dedicated this album to Henry Fonda (who won an Oscar for “On Golden Pond” and passed away shortly afterwards) “with love and respect for his performance in this film, and for all the joy he has given us throughout his career.”

Supervising Music Editor:  Else Blangsted
Music Recorded by:  Dennis Sands

MCA 6106


"On Golden Pond"-Main Theme
First Call (Norman)
Career Opportunities/Back porch
    Confessional (Norman and Ethel)
Illicit sex question (Norman and Bill Ray)
New Hampshire Hornpipe

Lake song
Early bird (Ethel & Chelsea)
Purgatory Cove (Norman and Billy)
Father-Daughter Relationship (Chelsea & Norman)
Season's End (Ethel & Norman)
"On Golden Pond" -Epilogue

soundtrack album

Dave Grusin
Feature Films


Sheet Music for
New Hampshire Hornpipe
arranged for concert band