The Sound of Star Trek Part 1: The Original Pilots


In this series of articles, we look at the commercial releases of Star Trek’s TV and movie soundtracks and what better place to start that with the two original pilot episodes, ‘The Cage’ and ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’.

In 1964, during pre-production and when Jeffrey Hunter was the star, Gene Roddenberry approached Jerry Goldsmith to score the adventure, including the title theme.  Other commitments meant Goldsmith declined the offer, instead recommending his friend and colleague Alexander Courage as a replacement. Goldsmith’s own association with Star Trek would be fully ignited in 1979, lasting until 2002, with Star Trek: Nemesis becoming his penultimate score (out of hundreds) before he died in 2004.

Alexander Courage’s influence on the series, however, is indisputable.  While ‘The Cage‘ was rejected by TV execs for its apparently ‘cerebral’ nature, the music Courage scored for it would live on for the entire three-year run of the original series. It was common practice (and still is in some cases) for music composed specifically for one episode to be reused for others, even where those episodes are standalone and not connected. While it allows for an economic scoring of the show’s soundtrack, it does give a sense of identity to what is on screen.

For example, motifs composed for Vena and her interactions with Pike reappear quite often for Kirk whenever he romances the female guest star of the week. The most famous re-use of Courage’s music is the ten-note opening fanfare of the Star Trek theme itself, jumping from the TV series into movie theaters for every single motion picture and back onto TV into every single sequel (or prequel) series. The full theme was used in all its glory for all three JJ Abrams entries and as the closing music to the final episode of Discovery‘s first season. It was also re-arranged and re-recorded for use in the opening titles for The Voyage Home but was rejected in favor of Leonard Rosenman’s original composition.

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It has been suggested that Gene Roddenberry wrote (unused) lyrics to the theme in order to gain co-credit and, therefore, royalties. Whether this was his intention or not is for debate but, certainly, on some CD releases you’ll find his name next to Courage’s as composer.

The original soundtrack to ‘The Cage’ was released for the first time in 1985 by GNP Crescendo Records. Running at just shy of 25 minutes, it was coupled, logically, with ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’. Initial formats included CD, tape cassette and two versions on 12″ vinyl (one standard, one picture disc). It was the first time that music from the original Star Trek series was made commercially available, and what a delight it still is, too.

Fans of the original series will find much familiar here (because of the aforementioned re-use of some motifs) but in context as it was intended, it’s a great selection of pieces for a small orchestra. Much of the music is quite something: ‘Doctor Bartender’ scores the great scene between a weary, disillusioned starship captain and his chief medical officer, underpining with its subtle use of strings the experiences of two seasoned men. The action sequences find a voice with tracks such as ‘Monster Fight’ and are short and snappy, minor-key wind instruments giving an otherworldly aura to proceedings. In fact, the 22 tracks are all relatively brief, giving an economical feel to the score and before we know it, we’re back in space as Alexander Courage’s famous theme builds to end.

Alexander Courage himself had been in the industry since the late 1940s, primarily as orchestrator of other composers’ work (including Jerry Goldsmith’s). As a result, he remains formally uncredited for much of his output, which includes Hollywood heavyweights such as Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Oklahoma! and Ben-Hur. He also supported composers by scoring additional music for film such as Escape From the Planet of the Apes (for his old friend Jerry) and Superman IV – The Quest For Peace (also adapting much of John Williams’ original 1978 music).  He died in 2008 and Star Trek remains his most famous and recognized work.

Following the closing theme to ‘The Cage’, the album trips boldly to ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ and the music changes tack straight away. Only coming in at roughly 20 minutes, this second selection of tracks is not necessarily superior to ‘The Cage’ but there is an urgency to things and it fully embraces the tighter plotting and quicker cuts of the second pilot. We have passion and drive which emulates the change in lead, too. From a thoughtful, strained Pike to a tough and action-oriented Kirk, Courage uses the marked differences to try something new: swift, bite-size melodies with a melancholy feel.  Again, some pieces become stock  for future episodes, in the main, ‘Force Field’ (one of the longer tracks on the album).

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These two pilots represent the very genesis of the franchise and while the subsequent episodes, series and movies went on to develop and grow beyond the original format, these fledgling  attempts contain music that still remains wholly representative of classic Star Trek.

Next time: a look at James Horner’s Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan