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The Music of the Stars Circa 1977

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A nice vintage little article first published in the winter 1977 issue of Science Fantasy Film Classics.

THE MUSIC OF THE STARS

JOHN WILLIAMS AND THE MUSICAL HERITAGE OF "STAR WARS"

Article by GEOFREY DARROW

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Igor Stravinsky, and Jerry Goldsmith. Together their various forms of composing and arranging have influenced John Williams into composing one of the year's most sweeping and heroic film scores to track a motion picture: "Star Wars."

Through the recommendation of friend Steven Spielberg, director of the all-time box office hit "Jaws" (which Williams also scored and for which he won the Oscar for best soundtrack of the year), "Star Wars director George Lucas consulted John Williams on scoring his recently finished film. After viewing the second cut at a private screening, Williams and Lucas settled upon the basic feeling they would try for in scoring the film. After two months Williams finished the music, and with the help of the London Symphony Orchestra cut the score. It was a return to the days of full blown symphonic themes, with the added note that each of the major characters would have their own theme - Princess Leia, Luke, Ben Kenobi, and Darth Vader each moved to a different rhythm as did the shark in "Jaws," who also had his own theme.

As the titles roll through space the score swells with a fanfare, a broad heralding of fanfaring brass. It is this element that helps to make it so reminiscent of the earlier film scores of Erich Wolgang Korngold. Korngold composed most of Errol Flynn's successful junkets in the buckling of swash.

His scores for "Robin Hood," "The Sea Hawk," and "Captain Blood," are classics and their influence is obvious in that the music has a "Royal" feeling. This is not surprising considering that Flynn's movies usually took place around the throne of England.

It might be noted that this form of film music has long been ignored by most of today's composers in favor of more atonal clashes mixed with seasoned realities more reflective of the times. This is not to say that one way is better than another but only that "Star Wars" is a throwback to another era in its music also, and exemplifies the trends which the genre has survived in search of its perspective.

The best example of this form is Jerry Goldsmith's classic score of "The Planet of the Apes." The synthetic blend of sounds was the year's most revolutionary and trend setting score. This example demonstrated that mood and musical accompaniment are determined by many moods, not just sweeping scores which overpower the screen's image and cast a shadow of pretentiousness over a director's work. Goldsmith's score and it's power therein is heard in "Star Wars" (when the Sand People make their appearance) in a mixture of primal percussion and atonal notes.

The main reason for Lucas and Williams' decision to return to the full orchestral score is based partly on this influence. Since the release and subsequent popularity of "Planet of the Apes" and several of Goldsmith's other excellent scores, several less talented composers have used his vision of the future and things fantastical to the extremes, creating unwanted themes of cold desolution and hopelessness. Lucas' desire to jell his film's visual and general tone led him and Williams to return to the old form.

As the film continues, both visually and musically, signs of the classical influence are heard. Notes reminiscent of Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" sweep down the corridors of the Deathstar, trailing the carnage, swept along by Darth Vader and his hords of starship troopers. This same musical treatment has served Williams before in "Jaws," as the primal beat used by Stravinsky also trails that film's main character and his victims throughout the ocean.

The overall sinister feel of the Deathstar is underlined by Stravinsky's beat and smoothed out in a taut wire of musical suspense, influenced by the master of this form Bernard Herrmann; who has scored such films as "Psycho" (a score frequently copied and unequalled for its skin crawling ability), "Citizen Kane," "Taxi Driver" and many more. Also, Bernard Herrmann's score for "Bride of Frankenstein," which was used as the theme for the "Flash Gordon" serials echoes throughout the opening credits. Again, Ming was Royalty, an Emperor, and the music has that "feeling" of rebel intrigue against the Empire. Brave and daring rebels that are a part of our movie heritage, and therefore our youthful experience, give us the impression that the music is actually royal, and well suited for the film.

In complete contrast, for the cantina sequence, Williams introduces the denizens of space to the swing of Benny Goodman and the big band sound of Glenn Miller's brass. Using the talents of nine jazz musicians playing a trumpet, two saxes, an elusive clarinet, steel drums, assorted percussion and a harp synthesizer, Williams creates a piece of music both hauntingly familiar and yet other-worldy as it slips from one mainstream of music to the other and back again.

During several of these sequences a number of themes appear and reappear to set the main feeling of the scene. In composing these themes Williams produced four main peices; Princess' Theme, Luke's Theme, Ben Kenobi's Theme, and Darth Vader's Theme. These musical creations slip in and out of the film, playing as much against each other as they do in physical appearance upon the screen. They come together at the film's climatic dogfight around the Deathstar; as the ships spin in and out of battle, so the music does battle with each theme appearing and reappearing to be replaced by another which seems to be pushed out by another, only to return in harmony with its brothers.

It is music which swells when it is needed, heralding the audience's reaction and flow of adrenal excitement, as if John Williams was as one with the FORCE while he was composing.

Help finish ROTJ: Revisited!

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Great, thanks for posting man! :)

 

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Cool article-though I think Franz Waxman did Bride of Frankenstein

The only concert of any kind I have been to was to see John Williams conduct the Vancouver Symphony in the summer of 84. He played all his music-great stuff.

I am torn between who I like better though-him or Goldsmith.

The latter has so many distinctive scores.

 

 

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Excellent breakdown; just what I've been looking for. Thanks!

Kitbashed
Essays, videos and thoughts on the inspiration behind Star Wars.

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Bantha Foodoo said:

Cool article-though I think Franz Waxman did Bride of Frankenstein

He certainly did.

You can also tell the author of the article is a big Jerry G fan by playing up his influence a little too much. Williams was already exploring 'primal' percussive ideas and atonality a decade earlier in his television work.

You can certainly hear some musical gestures in things like Lost In Space which are certainly reminiscent of what would eventually become SW.

 

 

 

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Did anyone else misread this as "The Music of the Stars Circus 1977?"

I didn't, but it would have been cool.

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The article is sort of interesting if inaacurate in parts.

I think i like the liner notes on the RCA special edition set of star wars better.

Hate the special edition but that CD was at least mixed properly and the liner notes were great.

“Always loved Vader’s wordless self sacrifice. Another shitty, clueless, revision like Greedo and young Anakin’s ghost. What a fucking shame.” -Simon Pegg.

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skyjedi2005 wrote:

The article is sort of interesting if inaacurate in parts.

Which part is inaccurate?

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 (Edited)

The writer claims Hermann wrote and scored Bride of Frankenstein.

 

Also makes an unsourced claim on his psycho score for star wars, i can clearly hear the influence myself, but there is no proof for this assertion.

 

The article while thematically correct did not have any fact checking done, which makes it poor journalism. 

 

“Always loved Vader’s wordless self sacrifice. Another shitty, clueless, revision like Greedo and young Anakin’s ghost. What a fucking shame.” -Simon Pegg.

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The most obvious homage to Herrman's Psycho, is the 3-note motif Williams used for the scene where our heroes emerge from the Millennium Falcon's secret compartments.

We want you to be aware that we have no plans—now or in the future—to restore the earlier versions. 

Sincerely, Lynne Hale publicity@lucasfilm.com

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Jesus H. Fucking Christ, the guy left out Dvorák's New World finale... SERIOUSLY?? 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFZcCNYF6-4

That's, like, fucking Force Theme for you right there...

 

Then, I'm sure at some point Williams must've heard the overture to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, because, well, compare:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3IIeNorhVU 3:36

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fktwPGCR7Yw 7:15

 

Not to say that chord combination is totally unique, or was invented there... but come on, tell me that ain't a clear shout-out :D

 

Then, call me crazy, but somehow the Han&Leia theme terribly reminds me of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz no.1... distantly, though.

No single famous composer from the Romantic era? Really?

Just throwing it out there...

 

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msycamore said:

The most obvious homage to Herrman's Psycho, is the 3-note motif Williams used for the scene where our heroes emerge from the Millennium Falcon's secret compartments.

Film Score Monthly Vol 8 - 1 (Williams interview)

I personally have no problem believing this as the figure in question is such an elementary musical idea which I'm sure could be traced back to a couple of hundred years before even Herrmann.

 

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I had actually read that FSM-interview before and simply forgotten that he had answered it with a No. Thanks for reminding me. ;) And I agree, there's no reason not to believe him when he said so.

We want you to be aware that we have no plans—now or in the future—to restore the earlier versions. 

Sincerely, Lynne Hale publicity@lucasfilm.com

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msycamore said:

I had actually read that FSM-interview before and simply forgotten that he had answered it with a No. Thanks for reminding me. ;) And I agree, there's no reason not to believe him when he said so.

No prob man :)

I only wish we had a real definitive (lengthy) interview with Williams about his work on the SW saga, OT + PT.

It would be wonderful for him to talk about his approach and inspirations, etc.

Cheers.