Exploring the Music of Jerry Goldsmith

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Jerry Goldsmith

Cover Photo by Frantisek Fuka

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

Jerry Goldsmith: A Maestro of Musical Innovation

Jerry Goldsmith, a name synonymous with brilliance in the world of film music, remains one of the most revered composers in Hollywood history. Over a career that spanned more than five decades, Goldsmith’s innovative compositions and unparalleled versatility left an indelible mark on the industry.

“His music has graced a vast array of films, television series, and even theme park attractions, showcasing his extraordinary ability to adapt and innovate across genres and styles. “

Early Life and Musical Beginnings

Born Jerrald King Goldsmith on February 10, 1929, in Los Angeles, California, Jerry Goldsmith showed an early aptitude for music. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father was a structural engineer, but it was his exposure to classical music at a young age that ignited his passion. At six years old, Goldsmith began studying piano, and by the time he was a teenager, he was already composing his own music.

Goldsmith’s formal music education began at the University of Southern California (USC), where he studied under the tutelage of the renowned composer and teacher, Miklós Rózsa. Rózsa, known for his film scores for epics like “Ben-Hur” and “El Cid,” recognized Goldsmith’s talent and encouraged him to pursue a career in film music. This mentorship was pivotal in shaping Goldsmith’s future, providing him with both the technical skills and the professional guidance necessary to succeed in Hollywood.

Breaking into Hollywood

Goldsmith’s entry into the Hollywood music scene came in the early 1950s, a time when television was emerging as a significant medium for entertainment. His first major break was with CBS, where he composed scores for radio and television shows, including the famous radio drama “Romance” and the television series “Climax!” and “Playhouse 90.” These early projects allowed Goldsmith to hone his craft and experiment with different musical styles and techniques.

In 1957, Goldsmith scored his first feature film, “Black Patch.” The score for this modest Western showcased his ability to enhance the narrative through music. His big break, however, came in 1962 with the score for John Huston’s “Freud: The Secret Passion.” The film, which delved into the life of Sigmund Freud, required a score that could evoke the psychological complexities of its subject matter. Goldsmith’s innovative use of dissonance and atonality earned him his first Academy Award nomination and established him as a composer capable of handling complex, challenging material.

Jerry Goldsmith - Hollywood walk of fame
Jerry Goldsmith – Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Maestro of Melody

Goldsmith’s musical foundation was firmly rooted in melody. He believed that strong, memorable themes were the cornerstone of an effective film score. This is evident in some of his most recognizable works.

Planet of the Apes: The Search and the Hunt” – This iconic theme from the 1968 science fiction classic perfectly captures the desolate atmosphere and sense of discovery of the film’s setting.
Chinatown: Love Theme from Chinatown (Main Title)” – The melancholic beauty of this theme from the 1974 neo-noir masterpiece perfectly encapsulates the film’s sense of loss and longing.

Goldsmith wasn’t afraid to experiment with melody either. He often incorporated unusual instruments and atonal harmonies to create a sense of unease or tension. For “Planet of the Apes,” he used a ram’s horn to create an otherworldly sound, while for “Alien” (1979), he employed an echoplex to create eerie, distorted echoes. His ability to think creatively and push the boundaries of what was possible in film scoring made his work stand out and contributed to his lasting influence on the industry.

Alien: Main Title” – The jarring dissonance and industrial sounds of the “Alien” theme perfectly capture the unsettling atmosphere and sense of dread of the 1979 sci-fi horror film.

Genre-Bending Genius

Goldsmith’s versatility was one of his greatest strengths. He could seamlessly navigate between genres, crafting scores that were both unique and perfectly suited to the film they accompanied.

Gremlins: Gremlin Rag” – This playful and energetic piece from the 1984 Christmas comedy “Gremlins” perfectly captures the chaotic and mischievous nature of the film’s titular creatures.

Orchestration

Jerry Goldsmith enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with orchestrator Arthur Morton, who brought Goldsmith’s musical visions to life. Morton’s masterful orchestration techniques added depth and texture to Goldsmith’s compositions.

The Omen: Ave Satani” – The chilling and ominous atmosphere of this piece from the 1976 horror classic “The Omen” is a testament to the genius of both Goldsmith’s composition and Morton’s orchestration.

The Emotional Power of Music

Beyond technical brilliance, Goldsmith understood the power of music to evoke emotions in audiences. He used his music to create suspense, build tension, and elicit empathy for the characters.

Poltergeist: Carol Anne’s Theme” – One of Goldsmith’s most iconic scores from the 1980s is for the 1982 film “Poltergeist,” directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg. The score for “Poltergeist” is a masterclass in creating tension and terror through music. Goldsmith’s use of eerie melodies, ghostly choir, and orchestral crescendos contributed significantly to the film’s horror and suspense. The “Carol Anne’s Theme,” a haunting lullaby, became one of the most recognizable pieces of music from the film and demonstrated Goldsmith’s ability to create emotional depth within a genre often defined by shock value.
First Blood: Escape from Torture” – This heart-pounding and intense music sequence from the 1982 action film “First Blood” perfectly captures the desperation and rage of John Rambo.

Enduring Legacy

Jerry Goldsmith’s impact on film music is undeniable. His scores have not only elevated films but have also become cultural touchstones in their own right.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Main Theme” – The majestic and awe-inspiring theme from the 1979 “Star Trek” film continues to define the franchise’s musical identity.

Influence and Final Years

Jerry Goldsmith’s influence on film music is immeasurable. His innovative techniques, versatility, and ability to enhance storytelling through music have inspired countless composers and musicians. Goldsmith’s work set a high standard for film scoring, and his legacy continues to be felt in the industry today.

Many contemporary composers, including Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, have cited Goldsmith as a significant influence on their work. Zimmer, in particular, has spoken about how Goldsmith’s innovative use of electronic music inspired him to explore new sonic possibilities in his own scores. The continued admiration and respect from his peers are a testament to Goldsmith’s enduring impact on the world of film music.

Despite his immense success, Jerry Goldsmith remained a humble and dedicated artist throughout his life. He was known for his work ethic and his commitment to his craft, often spending long hours in the studio perfecting his compositions. Goldsmith’s passion for music extended beyond his professional work, and he was an avid supporter of music education and the arts.

In his later years, Goldsmith continued to work on a variety of projects, showcasing his enduring passion for composing. Some of his notable late-career scores include “The Mummy” (1999), “Hollow Man” (2000), and “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002). Despite facing health challenges, he remained dedicated to his craft, delivering high-quality music that continued to captivate audiences.

“Jerry Goldsmith passed away on July 21, 2004, at the age of 75. His death marked the end of an era in film music, but his legacy lives on through his vast body of work. Goldsmith’s music continues to be celebrated and studied by fans, musicians, and scholars around the world, ensuring that his contributions to the art of film scoring will never be forgotten.”

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

View complete editions of music scores (PDF), score analysis (PDF), and HD music examples used in modern film scores.

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