The Music of Star Trek

The Music of Star TrekThe musical history of Star Trek began over two years prior to its broadcast premiere, as Gene Roddenberry and Desilu production executive Herb Solow sought advice from Desilu’s in-house music director, Wilbur Hatch, on finding someone to score the original Trek pilot, The Cage. The two producers were wary that Hatch, more closely associated with the quick comedy cues that embellished Desilu co-founder Lucille Ball’s hit sitcoms, might not have a good grasp of the sound they needed. They needn’t have worried – Hatch introduced them to Alexander Courage, the man who not only scored the two pilot episodes of Star Trek, but also coined the theme tune which has been used to this day in Star Trek spinoffs and motion pictures. As it happened, however, Roddenberry horned in on Courage’s action, writing a clause into the composer’s contract that gave Roddenberry first dibs on writing lyrics to the theme – also entitling the show’s creator to 50% of all future profits from performance and publication of that theme. Courage never worked for Roddenberry again for the duration of the original series (he later arranged orchestrations for Star Trek movie maestro Jerry Goldsmith, and even ghost-wrote some adaptations of the original TV series theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture). In his stead, a rotating stable of talented composers including Gerald Fried, the late Sol Kaplan, and Jerry Fielding. The music was eventually treated as a library, with cues from various episodes being reused throughout the remainder of the show’s three-year run. When Star Trek was revived as a short-lived animated series in the early 1970s, a real generic music library was used – Courage’s theme didn’t appear in any form.

To The Movies And Back Again
In 1979, when Paramount’s plans for a second Star Trek television series transformed into a big-budget feature film, genre veteran Jerry Goldsmith (Logan’s Run, Planet Of The Apes, The Omen) was brought in to give the movie a grand sound – on short notice. With production and special effects shooting having gone vastly over budget and well past the deadline, Goldsmith never had a finished print of the film to work from, and still managed to create an epic and almost impossibly appropriate symphonic score – one which was completed mere hours before the film’s star-studded gala premiere. Goldsmith’s score was nominated for an Oscar, and the LP release containing less than half of the music that appeared in the movie became an instant best-seller.

The next two films, produced by Harve Bennett, were filmed on a lower budget, and exposed the world to a largely unknown talent, a young composer named James Horner, who generated two closely thematically-linked scores for Star Trek II and Star Trek III. In some ways, however, the similarities went beyond a revisiting of themes in Star Trek III, and savvy filmgoers began to detect a “recycling” element in Horner’s career when many cues from both of his Trek movie outings were reused wholesale in Aliens just a couple of years later. It’s a criticism that continues to follow him to this day, despite his Titanic Oscar win.

Leonard Rosenman (who, ironically scored some of the Planet Of The Apes sequels) provided a unique but short-lived sound to Star Trek IV, mixing fusion jazz with more traditional orchestral cues, befitting the movie’s 20th century setting. But the success of both Trek IV and the marketing bonanza that was Star Trek’s 20th anniversary in 1986 led Paramount back to the small screen, giving Gene Roddenberry the opportunity to revisit Star Trek in its original medium. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the result, and upon its premiere in the fall of 1987, it was clear that the show took its cue from the movies rather than the original series. Gone were the boisterous action cues of classic Trek, replaced by more sophisticated, Star Wars-inspired fare: dense orchestrations, electronics where needed, and a flair for action sequences. The influence of the films was most obvious with the new series’ theme music: a Dennis McCarthy-arranged mixture of the opening fanfare of Alexander Courage’s theme (50% of the royalties from which were still going into Roddenberry’s coffers upon every performance or usage) and Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme. Co-producer Robert Justman picked Ron Jones (already a veteran of Tiny Toons Adventures and other animated series) to alternate with McCarthy. When Rick Berman took over Justman’s show-runner slot after the first season, however, he began toning down the music drastically. When Jones refused to take the hint, he was let go toward the end of the fourth season, replaced by Jay Chattaway. Chattaway and Dennis McCarthy have now generated more Star Trek music than any other composer in the film or TV franchises.

Jerry Goldsmith himself was asked to return for the fifth Star Trek film by novice director William Shatner in 1989, and whereas many fans felt that The Motion Picture was a deeply flawed movie that was single-handedly rescued by Goldsmith’s music, the Shatner-drected/co-written/produced Trek V is generally seen as a disastrous misstep that even Goldsmith couldn’t save (not that he didn’t try, though). That film almost killed the classic Trek movie franchise, and producer Harve Bennett was in the process of reluctantly drawing up plans for a “young Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy” film when Paramount relented and asked for one last classic Trek film. Nicholas Meyer was brought back to direct, and as before, had his own very distinctive ideas on the music. Meyer hired the relatively unknown composer Cliff Eidelman to score 1991’s Star Trek VI, giving the movie a dark, apocalyptic sound heightened by the presence of an ominous choir, while also quoting from both Goldsmith’s and Horner’s previous works for the series.

New Spinoffs, New Sounds
In 1992, Paramount hatched an unthinkable plan: a second Star Trek spinoff would be launched, running alongside the Next Generation. After the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991, executive producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller were in charge of the Trek series, and created the superb Deep Space Nine, set on an outpost near the war-ravaged planet of Bajor. McCarthy and Chattaway continued to alternate scores on the new series, though other composers such as David Bell and Paul Baillargeon were brought aboard to even the load between two weekly hour-long series. Though Deep Space Nine was originally intended to have a theme tune composed by Jerry Goldsmith, incorporating none of the previous TV or film themes, his scheduling conflicts gave McCarthy – already working on the movie-length pilot episode’s score – the chance to provide the new show’s musical signature instead.

In 1994, Next Generation was brought to an end after seven years and McCarthy was given the chance to score the first Next Generation-era film, Star Trek: Generations. But as the movie marked the end of the contemplative tone that surrounded much of Next Generation’s TV reign, it also marked the end of McCarthy’s movie contributions to the franchise – Jerry Goldsmith was invited back to score the next three feature films, all of which were much more action-oriented. McCarthy returned to the small screen, scoring not only Deep Space Nine, but another new series set in the same time-frame, Star Trek: Voyager. Voyager brought Goldsmith back to TV as well, as his newly-composed theme tune opened each episode; he also received an atypical credit for his work at the beginning of each episode rather than the end.

In 2001, Voyager wrapped up its seven years on the air and work had already begun on its successor, a series set a century before the exploits of Captain Kirk, following the crew of the very first (and highly experimental) starship Enterprise. McCarthy, Chattaway, Bell and Baillargeon – with occasional contributions from former Quantum Leap composer Velton Ray Bunch – continued to alternate episodes, though the traditional orchestral theme was somewhat controversially replaced with a contemporary rock song, “Where My Heart Will Take Me (Faith Of The Heart)”, written by Diane Warren and performed by English tenor Russell Watson. While the song succeeded in establishing the show’s closer-to-contemporary setting, it also split the fan community. And it proved to be prohibitively expensive to use as well: early episodes quoted the song, and even used a gentle guitar rendition for the end credits, but by the end of the show’s first season, that practice was abandoned altogether; the end credits were tracked with a McCarthy-penned theme for Captain Archer within the first six episodes. Enterprise suffered from both a lack of promotional enthusiasm at UPN, and from repetition in the ranks of the writers and producers, many of whom had been charting the Enterprise’s voyages since the days of Next Generation. Despite a creative rally in its fourth and final season, and a massive fan outcry to keep a franchise alive that many fans were simultaneously criticizing in the harshest of terms, Enterprise came to an end, the last notes of music from the current franchise paying homage to the themes originated by Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith and Dennis McCarthy.

For much of the series’ history, Hollywood-based soundtrack specialty label GNP Crescendo released several CD soundtracks from both the television and movie adventures. Only recently has Crescendo’s license apparently vanished, as the recent Enterprise and Star Trek: Nemesis CDs have been released by other labels. Relatively few scores have been released for any of the spinoffs, with four CDs’ worth of music from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and only one CD each from Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and Voyager; Best Of Star Trek CDs from Crescendo combined previously unreleased scores from all of the series prior to Enterprise.

In 2006, it was announced that, under Paramount Pictures’ overall deal with Lost and Alias creator (and Mission: Impossible III director) J.J. Abrams, the Star Trek franchise would be revived later that decade on the big screen, with a new story and a new cast. As with almost all of his prior projects, Abrams made it clear that he would be bringing his musical collaborator Michael Giacchino (whose score for the movie The Incredibles won an Oscar nomination) to the Star Trek universe with him. The the movie currently still in the early stages of pre-production, there’s no telling what the new sound of Star Trek will be like, but one thing’s certain – the fans will be watching (and listening).