The Sound of Star Trek Part 4: The Symphonic Suites


The fourth part of this ongoing series takes a look at the two volumes of Star Trek The Original Series music performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

These two individual discs really are something quite special. They were released on CD in 1986 by Label X Records and between them re-orchestrated a handful of scores written specially for the original Star Trek TV series. The fact that the esteemed Royal Philharmonic Orchestra re-interprets the music as concert suites gives both volumes a classy and sweeping feel. They take what are, obviously, musical compositions for a ’60s sci-fi action show and elevate them into something greater: every note is perfect and the suite format allows for an almost tone-poem approach.

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Volume 1 starts with ‘Is There In Truth No Beauty?’ from Season 3, the tale that dealt with Medusan ambassador Kollos’ offer to use his race’s technology to improve starship functionality. Composed by George Duning, he also arranged the suite and supplied a short paragraph discussing his original ideas. He noted that, at the time he was approached by producer Robert Justman, scores for sci-fi movies and shows were, more often than not, electronic or with a “far-out” feel to them. It was important to Justman to have music that was written for characters and the story rather than the setting and Duning approached the commission as he would have done for a dramatic movie score. The result, certainly here, is as beautiful as Kollos isn’t in its twenty-minute run time. It enhances the romantic stance to the story, the love and admiration Diana Muldaur’s character had for Kollos and gives a sentimentality. Season 3 was infamous for its episodes and their apparent drop in quality but ‘Is There In Truth…’ is an exception.

‘The Paradise Syndrome’ is another 3rd season episode that undergoes the suite treatment, titled on the disc as ‘Paradise Syndrome’. The episode itself came under fire in recent years due do its stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans and whether one agrees with the clumsiness of the tale or not, there can be no dispute of Kirk’s love for Miramanee (played by Sabrina Scharf) , which makes the ending heart-wrenching. Composed by Gerald Fried, the music was intended to convey the two distinct cultures we were presented with: the technologically advanced Starfleet and the so-called ‘underdeveloped’ culture of the world Kirk gets trapped on. Those (dated) dramatic and potentially clichéd trappings aside, the suite is lush and tender – fully realizing again, like ‘Is There In Truth…’ the romance of the episode and that Kirk and Miramanee clearly are in love. While we are told time and again that Kirk’s true love is the starship Enterprise, when all he knows is taken from him, including his memories, to be replaced with his alter-ego Kirok, then Fried’s surprisingly epic composition pulls at our heart strings. Rhythmic undertones build throughout the suite, with gentle flutes expressing the innocence of Miramanee. The suite too employs woodwind and brass to emphasize the tragedy. It really is a delightful piece of music on its own and away from its source material.

Volume 2 continues the impressive work, this time re-working ‘Conscience of the King’, ‘Spectre of the Gun’, ‘The Enemy Within’ and ‘I, Mudd’.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra takes great delight in performing Alexander Courage’s fanfare motif before sweeping into Joseph Mullendore’s delightful (albeit briefly represented here) score for ‘Conscience of the King’ for Season 1. Principally scored for strings, it is a shame that Mullendore didn’t compose again for the series. It is melodic in its drama and melodramatic in its execution, not unlike the episode itself.  Of particular note is the love theme for Lenore.

Moving swiftly onto a much-remembered, but perhaps not for all the right reasons, episode: ‘Spectre of the Gun’, with a Season 3 score from Jerry Fielding. Unfortunately, this concert suite doesn’t have the same gravitas as the others on these discs and that’s not because of any lack of quality on the part of the orchestra but by the music itself. The episode dealt with an ethereal version of the O.K. Corral gunfight and Fielding introduced a piano motif slightly out of tune. It’s represented here and contrasts with the full orchestra for the remainder of the piece. Now I fully get that the position Kirk and co. were put in has an alien quality and so the music reflects that, but as a concert piece, it does jar somewhat even though its intention was to parody the Wild West sounds of ’50s television. Fielding had previously scored ‘The Trouble With Tribbles‘, and his quirky style worked better for that fan-favorite than it did for ‘Spectre…’.

‘The Enemy Within’ is William Shatner at his grinning, lunatic best. Much of Sol Kaplan’s music for this Season 1 episode was used a stock pieces for the show, so there are many leit motifs here that are familiar. It’s one of the liveliest selections across the two volumes and a great counter-balance to the more tender styles we have heard so far. Courage’s theme is skillfully interwoven into the thematic variations that encompass the two halves of Kirk’s psyche.

Finally, we have ‘I, Mudd’, composed by Samuel Matlovsky for the 2nd season. Harcourt Fenton Mudd has had something of a renaissance recently with his appearances in Discovery, but we are treated here with a light-hearted, whimsical score easily reflecting the tongue-in-cheek nature of the plot itself. It was only Harry’s second time on-screen (he debuted in ‘Mudd’s Women’ and reappeared later in animated form in ‘Mudd’s Passion’) but Matlovsky obviously had fun in putting his composition together.

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These two volumes have long been deleted and while they are not exactly driven by action, they musically convey a beauty that isn’t overly obvious from the original versions and are well worth tracking down. It’s a shame that no more volumes were ever produced as they are glorious reproductions of television scores that rarely, if ever, get the symphonic treatment.

Next time:  Star Trek: Discovery  Season 1 Chapters 1 & 2 by Jeff Russo