Jerry Goldsmith Built a Career Spanning 6 Decades and Hundreds of Composer Credits
February 10 would have been Jerry Goldsmith’s 90th birthday. As a die hard Trekkie, and especially one with an affinity for the music of Star Trek, this fact hits pretty close for me. Goldsmith did some phenomenal Star Trek music during his career, and I remember hearing about his passing, and it being one of the first times that I was stricken by the death of someone closely related to Star Trek whom I’d never met. I don’t know about you, but as a Trekkie, I have a tendency only to focus on the contributions that an artist makes to the lush Star Trek universe, and it’s only been in the last five years or so that I’ve attempted to break that habit. I’d like to offer a brief look at the life of a genius composer of our time. I’ll touch briefly on his Trek work, but I’d also like to shed light on some of his groundbreaking non-Star Trek work as well so that if you’ve been living in ignorance, you can explore a catalog that is as unique and diverse as it is voluminous.
Goldsmith Got His Start in Radio
Jerry Goldsmith had studied music theory and counterpoint as a youth under the tutelage of Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Up to that point, Goldsmith had been studying piano starting at age six. Around 1950, he got a job as a clerk at CBS in the music department. While he was there, CBS created a workshop where employees could work on producing radio shows. A friend knew that Jerry could do the music for these shows and so faked Goldsmith’s clerical credentials in order to get Goldsmith’s foot in the door.
Well on his way to success, Goldsmith wrote music for radio shows like Frontier Gentlemen, and Romance. It didn’t take long before Goldsmith caught the attention of CBS’s music department and he was hired to score for television. While working for CBS, he most notably did music for The Twilight Zone. In 1957, Goldsmith took his first steps into motion picture scores with his first film score Black Patch. At that point, work just kept coming in, and in at the start of the 60s, Goldsmith moved from CBS to MGM. While at MGM, his notable television work included Dr. Kildare and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Goldsmith Gets His Big Break
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The 60s marked the point when Goldsmith achieved name recognition in the industry by way of his score for the 1962 film Lonely Are the Brave. Hard work, and great results led to more high profile projects and accolades from peers. By the end of the 60s and going into the 70s Goldsmith was adding top project after top project to his catalog, and doing so across myriad different genres. In 1968, he composed the groundbreaking score for the film Planet of the Apes. This score in particular is important to his overall career because it was one of the first film compositions to be written in the, at the time, controversial Avant garde style, and to completely atonal in nature. This had the effect of emphasizing the alien nature of the setting in which the film takes place and creating confusion in the minds of the audience. Apes was really only the beginning of an evolution in Goldsmith’s style as most of his work up to that point had been pretty traditional. You can hear him using jazz influences, and classical influences before he scored Apes.
Just a couple of years later, Goldsmith would go on to compose the score for the film Patton. Then in 1976, Goldsmith tried his hand at scoring a horror film, The Omen. He would score for the two sequels to that film as well. Rounding out the 70s Goldsmith composed scores for films like Logan’s Run, and Capricorn One. It was in 1979 that Goldsmith started his tenure making great Star Trek music when he was hired to compose the score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film itself was panned pretty hard, and doesn’t typically get a lot of love from fans, but the score is universally lauded as a masterpiece of modern composition. The 70s marks a profound transitional time for Goldsmith. A lot of the work that he did during that period would have a direct influence on the type of musical compositions that were to accompany films in the decade to come.
Goldsmith Helps Define the 80s
Goldsmith did a lot of work in the 80s, and on some films that have really withstood the passage of time, and gone down as classics. A brief list includes Poltergeist, both the first and second films, Gremlins, The Secret of NIMH, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and he made his return to making great Star Trek music composing the score for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Again, this film generally gets panned, but many a Trekkie will tell you that the score is really good.
The 80s marked a change in the way films were being produced, and Goldsmith did a great job in adapting to that change. In particular, synthesizers were becoming more prevalent in the scoring of both television and motion picture. I’d like to think that Goldsmith himself had a profound influence in film scoring moving in this particular direction during the decade. You can see that influence just about everywhere in Hollywood in the 80s. Some composers even took the style further and did their entire score exclusively by synthesizer as is the case with the score for The Terminator.
Star Trek First Contact Brent Spiner, Rick Berman, Patrick Stewart and Jerry Goldsmith Copyright Paramount
The 90s: Star Trek Music and Beyond
Don’t be fooled, Goldsmith was as prolific in the 90s as he had ever been in decades gone by. However, he passed away in 2004, and his last scores were written in 2003 so his career was cut short very early in the new century. During the 90s, Goldsmith had opportunities to work with many different studios on an equally diverse amount of projects. He did scores for Mulan, Small Soldiers, Total Recall, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and he had two more outings composing Star Trek music in the 90s, scoring for both Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek: Insurrection.
As short as his time in the 2000s may have been, Goldsmith’s contributions were still sizable. He composed the score for his last Star Trek film, Star Trek Nemesis in 2002. He also did work on scores for Hollow Man, The Sum of All Fears, and his last film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Sadly, in July of 2004, Jerry Goldsmith passed away. He spent the latter years of his life honing his style, and it showed. The balance and energy that he crafted within his scores is staggering.
A Legacy of Progressive Style
Being as I’ve referenced Wikipedia in order to curate a lot of the information presented here, it would be all too easy to simply refer to that source in describing Goldsmith’s singular musical style, but my initial goal in writing this piece was to convey to you how I perceive Goldsmith as a prolific Star Trek composer, as well as from his work in non-Trek films. I’m no music theory expert, but I will attempt to muddle through and hopefully, I can present something that’s coherent, and not too hard to understand.
I feel like I kind of worked backwards through Goldsmith’s career as a composer starting with his Star Trek music. I first fell in love with his work as I watched Star Trek: First Contact. I’m sure much has been said about that score, even here on Redshirts Always Die. What grabbed me about that score was the juxtaposition of the sweeping melodic main themes, and the dark, synthesizer laden themes representing the Borg. Everything balanced incredibly well, and I immediately fell in love with that score. I got the CD for Christmas of 1996 and played it until it became too beat up to play anymore. Then I bought a second copy! At that point, I took to familiarizing myself with Goldsmith’s Star Trek work. I tracked down recordings of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek V, and the themes that he had written for both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.
I can confidently say that I’ve never been disappointed by a Jerry Goldsmith score. I loved his music in Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek Nemesis. Both were beautiful, but with a hint of mystery behind them. I thoroughly enjoy Goldsmith’s sweeping and intrepid theme for Star Trek: Voyager. I feel like it represents the backbone of what the show is trying to accomplish exceptionally well. It hasn’t been until fairly recently that I’ve started to explore Goldsmith’s work outside of Star Trek, but my original statement still stands. I’ve never been disappointed.
I think what I appreciate most about Goldsmith over other composers, at least stylistically, is that he always seemed to challenge himself somehow, and he really tried to make the score a character within the film. To that end, his music rarely ever feels generic. He gained a reputation for trying to mix foreign, and alien feeling elements into his orchestral work, whether through the use of synthesizers, or through objects that could produce a more inorganic noise. I have to commend this. It can be difficult to continually do such a thing and not loop around to something that you’ve done before. It’s a style that was has been so impactful that it’s easy to see Goldsmith’s influence on composers today. His work has inspired the likes of Marco Beltrami, Henry Mancini, and Bryan Tyler, as well as many more, I’m sure. BTW each of the aforementioned composers are great in their own rite.
Jerry Goldsmith contributed to my love of Star Trek in a huge way. I hope that through learning a bit about the man behind the music, you too can discover the rich worlds that Goldsmith created through his music. His legacy has inspired many in the past and I’m certain that it will continue to inspire many in the years to come. I highly recommend taking a listen to his catalog. You won’t be disappointed!