50 Years of Star Trek Music

  • 09:18 on 8th Sep 2016
  • By Charlie Brigden

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“Space. The final frontier.”

Four words that are etched into pop culture history, but what about the music that accompanied them? The Star Trek theme is as important as cloaking devices or the mind meld in the franchise’s iconography, but did you know there were five different versions? Or that show creator Gene Roddenberry originally wrote lyrics for the theme?

In all the ways that Star Trek was groundbreaking, the one element that gets the least attention is its music, with eight storied composers creating scores for the three seasons of the original series. The most famous of these is Alexander Courage, writer of the iconic main theme co-credited to Gene Roddenberry, who created lyrics for the theme. Following Courage was Fred Steiner, Jerry Fielding, Gerald Fried, Sol Kaplan, Samuel Matlovsky, Joseph Mullendore, and George Duning, all of who put their unique musical stamp on the show.

The theme itself is split into two parts; the fanfare, which has also found itself being used in almost all of the big screen adventures as well as The Next Generation, and the actual theme, something which was seen as something of a novelty until it was brought back in a big way for Michael Giacchino’s music for the new “Kelvin-verse” movies. But it’s a wonderful melody and gave the show a real identity that it has kept to this day.

There were actually five different versions used on the show (not even counting the re-recording for the 2006 remastered version!). The first was conducted by Courage and recorded for pilot episode ‘The Cage’, with the famous soprano voice provided by Loulie Jean Norman (who sang with Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii), while the second – also conducted by Courage – replaced her voice with a unique electric violin for the show’s early episode. The next version supplanted the violin for cello and was conducted by Fred Steiner, but despite being the overall best version of the theme was ditched again for a new arrangement that again featured Norman’s soprano, this time extended because a new title card had been added to the opening sequence for DeForest Kelley. The final recording again featured Norman and was ostensibly the same as the second version, but needed a new recording, this time conducted by Wilbur Hatch.

Beyond the theme, Star Trek‘s music laid a foundation for the seriousness of the show, and those that followed. Bold and ranging between adventure, humour, and a sense of somber reflection, the score established a style for Star Trek that was more of a film approach rather than for television. While it provided plenty of music for action sequences, such as Gerald Fried’s legendary fight music for ‘Amok Time’, there was also romance with Fred Steiner’s tragic ‘The City On The Edge Of Forever’, and even Western flavours with the suspenseful ‘Spectre of the Gun’, composed by Jerry Fielding (who the following year would score the Sam Peckinpah masterpiece The Wild Bunch).

And those scores would have a huge influence on not only other science fiction shows and movies but also the big and small screen Star Trek spin-offs, with legendary composers like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner bringing their own talents to Federation space, continuing today with Michael Giacchino. And with Bryan Fuller’s TV show Star Trek: Discovery on the horizon, the musical future of the universe and beyond looks to be as bold and exciting as it was fifty years ago. -CB

Note: this was originally written for the Star Trek 50th special issue of ScifiNow magazine – while the eventual print piece evolved into more of an interview, this represents the original feature but shares minor similarities

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