The music of Star Trek is as iconic as the stories themselves. How exciting would the battle between Kirk and Spock be in “Amok Time” without the incidental music of composer Gerald Fried? Or how about the arrival of the USS Reliant and ensuing battle in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn? The music is equally as important to the legacy of Star Trek as pointed ears and tribbles.
I always found the music from the first two seasons of Star Trek to be superior to what we heard in the third season. Maybe it was the quality of the episodes or perhaps it was just a matter of inspiration. The music is still beautiful in the third season but I always gravitate more to the earlier seasons. That said, the music from “The Way to Eden” is a guilty pleasure. There, I said it. Charles Napier’s tunes still entertain me despite the absolutely dated material from the story. Yes, it’s ridiculous but that is part of the charm. Whether we’re watching an Orion slave girl dance or Kirk battle his nemesis Finnegan, the music is engrained in our memories.
When it comes to the movies, the first two stand out as classics. Jerry Goldsmith, who also gave the world the soundtrack for the original Planet of the Apes, created an amazing Academy Award winning score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His theme for the Klingon battle now instantly brings images of ridged foreheads and a Bird of Prey sweeping the stars. And his main theme, while not his original idea, is second only to Alexander Courage’s original, thanks to its’ reworked version by Dennis McCarthy as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. Goldsmith would return to the franchise several times with some amazing melodies, such as in Star Trek: Insurrection, but nothing surpassed his first venture in the Trek universe.
James Horner would give us something entirely different for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn in 1982. This was a major break though for Horner and brought him into the mainstream of Hollywood composers. I can’t imagine how Kahn’s epic battle with the Enterprise would appear without the work of Horner. Now, I’ll admit that Horner had a style that would sometimes be repeated, especially in Aliens (1986), but it’s damn good and enhances the action sequences of any film.
When I first heard Leonard Rosenman’s score in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I’ll admit that it didn’t resonate with me. But upon repeated visits and with a more mature ear, I can see now why it was nominated for an Academy Award. After the dire events of the previous two films, it offers a more lighthearted approach despite the cataclysmic events of the fourth film.
Michael Giacchino’s work in the last three films has been just as much a departure musically as the films have been from the prime universe of classic Trek. As a frequent collaborator with director J.J. Abrams, it had to have been a daunting task considering the musical legends he was following and the ever-rabid Trekkies who are ready to devour anything that tarnishes their beloved Star Trek. Thankfully, Giacchino’s score has become almost as iconic as the works before it. “Nailin’ the Kelvin” and “The Kronos Wartet” are two personal pleasures. However, I’ll admit I found his work in Star Trek Beyond (2016) less inspiring. Perhaps it’s time to once again stir things up in the next film.
If there was any doubt to the importance of music in Star Trek, the recent tour of Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage confirmed our passions. I attended the event with my sister when it stopped at the Topeka Performing Arts Center in late April. With a stunning performance by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, narration by Michael Dorn and a 40-foot screen showing clips related to the music being played, it was an absolutely amazing experience. Their rendition of “The Inner Light Suite” was especially moving. It solidified our love for the music of Star Trek and how important it is to the stories and characters, combining for a majestic tapestry.
The intergalactic orchestral music of the Star Trek universe deserves more than a moment of recognition in this 50th anniversary year. So take the time to turn off the TV, fire up the turntable or iPod and let yourself be musically transported beyond Antares.