The Sound of Star Trek Part 12: Varese Sarabande’s Star Trek conducted by Fred Steiner


For the latest installment in this continuing series, we take a look at soundtrack specialist label Varese Sarabande’s first foray into the music of Star Trek.

Music from The Original Series was pretty hard to come by back in the 80s. In fact, it was nigh on impossible. There were a few bootlegs (do people still use that term?) on vinyl (I used to have this one many years ago and if I can get hold of a copy again, I’ll review it) and I’ve previously explored other early TOS releases here and here.

Varese Sarabande made up for the distinct lack of TOS on disc when they released two volumes (in 1985 and 1986) of music from 8 episodes. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was appointed under the watchful eye of Fred Steiner who had of course composed years before for TOS. Steiner noted that these were the first of a projected series of authoritative new recordings, representing not only one of his long-held aspirations but to satisfy the desire of many a Trek fan who simply clamored for this wonderful music.

More from Star Trek: The Original Series

There were only ever two volumes produced (on vinyl then CD in 1985 and 1986 and again for CD only in 1990) and it’s such a shame that Steiner wasn’t given the opportunity to oversee any more.

For Volume 1, we open, quite naturally, with a very competent version of Alexander Courage’s theme.  It’s not a full ‘single’ version, rather a direct transcript of the opening credits duration. As a result it is a great start to a disc that lays the foundation for a tremendous legacy of music. Four episodes are given new life here and what a selection:

‘The Corbomite Maneuver’ composed by Fred Steiner

Back to the early days of Trek and what a way to begin. So much of the motifs here really capture the feel of the show and it’s peculiar that the producers of The Next Generation didn’t want the same dynamics. It’s only 5 minutes but it makes for a great introduction to the collection.

‘Charlie X’ composed by Fred Steiner

I was never overly keen on this episode back in the day. Perhaps it was because I was occasionally an awkward young teenager so found Charlie’s frustrations and inability to socialize too close to home? Well, whatever it was, now for me it’s a very competent episode and Steiner’s music is a good approach to a difficult subject.

‘The Doomsday Machine’ composed by Sol Kaplan

Music taken from the finale of the episode and I guess the strongest that was composed for the unfolding tale of a Starfleet officer (Will Decker’s dad, no less) facing off against an all powerful giant machine-creature (obviously young Will never learnt by his old man’s mistakes). A clash of brass heralds the threat and demise of the alien doomsday weapon.

‘Mudd’s Women’ by Fred Steiner

Good ol’ Harcourt Fenton Mudd. I’m still not convinced by Discovery’s take on the rogue and with absolutely no disrespect to Rainn Wilson’s admiral performance, Roger C Carmel is utterly perfect in all three of his his appearances. The music here represents most of the entire episode and we are confronted with romantic strings and action stings. It’s a nice companion piece to the symphonic suite of ‘I, Mudd’ (released the same year by Label X) and here it caps the collection nicely. The music deftly created for whenever one of Mudd’s women appear did of course go on to represent every one of the astral ladies that Kirk would meet and usually endeavor to teach the ways of Earthlings to.

We are left with wanting more from Steiner and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

…which is handy when Volume 2 starts with a reprise of the same arrangement of Courage’s theme as heard on Volume 1. And we’re off again with four more interpretations of classic episodes.

‘By Any Other Name’ composed by Fred Steiner

Two tracks here, a nice ten minutes of good solid Trek fare. Most of it focuses on Rojan – he who was rather mean to the crew and turned most of them into perfectly formed bath bombs – but we’re treated to some fabulous action melodies that can turn even the most laid-back person into a rough’n’tumble Jame T Kirk.

‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ composed by Jerry Fielding

The famous episode that took Star Trek into the genre of comedy. It’s a fabulous little suite taking the most memorable scenes that all focus on Scotty and the fight he starts when the Klingons call the Enterprise garbage! As a light-hearted composition, its a shame that it didn’t get more exposure here.

‘Mirror, Mirror’ composed by Fred Steiner

From comedy to a very dark take on our beloved Federation. Musically, these two tracks are a great contrast and it’s therefore obvious why the tracks were placed in this order. We have seen much of the Mirror Universe in recent years but here is where it all started. The music is very familiar of course and we are treated to some delicious cues that are worthy partners to Spock’s beard.

‘The Empath’ composed by George Duning

I love this episode! It was always one that was most memorable for me when I was younger. The dark understated sets and the silent and tragic Gem. And what stood out was the music. Steiner’s arrangement is very very faithful here and I was very pleased when I bought the album back in 1986 that they’d decided to include it. There’s an element of early synthesizer that Steiner’s orchestrations perfectly emulate and the sadness of Gem’s predicament is treated to a beautiful melody – a melancholy finish to a beautiful collection of tracks.

Related Story. Sound of Star Trek Part 11: Star Trek VI. light

“Don’t give us electronic beep-beep-beep music,” Gene Roddenberry explained in the liner notes to Volume 1, when telling the TOS score composers the style the production team wanted “give us Captain Blood!” Gene got a lot of things right with his TV show. Thank goodness he loved a thumping good, spine-tingling, hair-raising movie score too or the sound of Star Trek could have been so very different.

Next time: Ron Jones’ The Best of Both Worlds