Jerry Goldsmith was a prolific and versatile composer who will be sadly missed. His name has appeared so often in film titles that one can be excused for thinking that he was the only composer on the movie scene, seemingly capable of crafting several quality scores a year. In total he created more than 200 soundtracks over his long career. As with others in his profession he started out in radio and TV, working on programmes such as "Gunsmoke" and "The Twilight Zone" (he was later to score "Twilight Zone: The Movie") and many others, before moving into the film scene learning his trade from the likes of Tedesco and Miklos Rozsa. But from about 1960 onwards he has worked steadily in the movie business with his tally of film scores now exceeding the 200 mark. Over this period he has amassed numerous awards and award nominations for his music. At the Oscar ceremonies he has frequently been unlucky as an "also ran" having only one the statuette once out of 17 Academy Award nominations. Nevertheless his music rarely fails to impress.
Unlike some composers, Goldsmith doesn't seem to have an immediately recognisable style and in fact seems capable of adopting a wide range of styles as the situation demands. This must surely be due in part to a great flexibility of approach, but it is also as a result of a willingness to experiment. That experimentation can be seen most clearly in his music for Planet of the Apes and "The Illustrated Man". He certainly seems to have set the scene for a number of younger composers following in his footsteps such as James Horner, Alan Silvestri and James Newton Howard. With familiarity, a number of Goldsmith's stylistic mannerisms become apparent though there is a greater breadth than with many composers. The percussive aspect Goldsmith brings to some of his music and his use of mixed meters (for example in Total Recall) is often likened to that of the classical composer Bela Bartok.
Goldsmith's one Oscar win was for his landmark score for The Omen, a choral score implying the dark powers awakened by the black mass incantations of devil worshippers. The lighter family moments in the film seem more poignant when the rosy picture is subverted by some subtle cues both visual and musical that the evil still lurks there ready to surface. Other notable instances where Goldsmith's music has truly enhanced a film are his haunting theme for Basic Instinct which depicts the sultry femme fatale played by Sharon Stone and the fascination she arouses, and his score for Alien which evokes the vast loneliness of space where unknown menaces may lurk just around the corner.
Another highly regarded Goldsmith score is Chinatown which is amazing when you appreciate that the composer wrote this in 10 days. Apparently, the soundtrack originally commissioned from another composer had been rejected and Goldsmith was brought in to rescue the situation. Goldsmith has recounted in interviews that he had argued against a contemporary 30s sound to match the setting of the story, and on the spur of the moment had said he imagined something with 4 pianos, 4 harps, strings and a trumpet. He then delivered on this promise with a laid back jazzy sound, which while not authentic in a period sense, matches the mood of the story perfectly. Apart from the main theme much of the movie is thinly scored and almost improvisatory in feel, though elements of the theme serve to change the mood from laid back and mysterious to threatening and sultry, and finally some action as events unfold. Goldsmith's Jazz skills also contributed much to the mood of "L. A. Confidential".
We must not neglect to mention another of Goldsmith's major contributions to Science Fiction, and that is the Star Trek franchise. The original movie (Star Trek: The Motion Picture), whose slow pacing and focus on visual effects, allowed the composer to let the music carry the sense of wonder while the new Enterprise is in dock ready for its maiden voyage. The main theme for this movie was later used for The Next Generation TV Series, and Goldsmith went on to score four more Star Trek movies in the series and also the theme for the Star Trek Voyager series. One admirable quality which Goldsmith demonstrates is that he will champion the music of others. In particular he has acted as conductor recording albums of Alex North scores including soundtracks such as "Viva Zapata" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and the lost score of 2001: A Space Odyssey which the director Stanley Kubrick abandoned in favour of the now well-known soundtrack of classical music.
If you watch the films Gremlins and "Gremlins 2, the New Batch" which he scored, you can see Goldsmith making a cameo appearance in both films. In "Gremlins" between 41 and 42 minutes into the movie, the father is at an inventors' convention. Robbie the Robot is there, Steven Spielberg drives past in an electric car and Jerry Goldsmith is wearing a cowboy hat in the telephone booth behind. In the sequel "Gremlins 2, the New Batch" at about 38 minutes when the furry mogwai gremlins have been seen messing about among the sweets/candy, Jerry Goldsmith and others arrive and he says the line "What's going on here? Did she say there are rats?". There is also an early brief cameo of Jerry as a pianist in "In Harms Way". Jerry Goldsmith was also a good friend of composer and orchestrator Alexander Courage who is most famous for composing the theme for the original Star Trek series. Sadly Courage died in May 2008. He orchestrated many of Goldsmith's films and composed the incidental music for many episodes of The Waltons, Star Trek and The Next Generation, as well as TV series such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space.
Here are a selection of videos to celebrate Jerry Goldsmith's amazing achievements: This Memoriam Sequence features music from The Wind and the Lion, Patton, Papillon, Gremlins, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Basic Instinct, Alien, The Omen, The Mummy and Rambo: First Blood. In this Jerry Goldsmith concert in the Royal Albert Hall in 2001, the composer jokes that he only has time for one encore and let's the audience choose between Star Trek & Supergirl, but plays them both anyway! A third video features a concert piece called Music for Orchestra by Goldsmith composed using 12-tone techniques, and commissioned following his atonal film music for the Planet of the Apes. This and other concert pieces by the composer are available on a CD called "Christus Apollo" from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
In 2009 there was a tribute concert for Jerry Goldsmith to mark what would have been his 80th Birthday. The concert took place at the Fimucité Festival held in Tenerife, and the conductors for the occasion were the film composers Mark Snow and Diego Navarro. The concert was recorded for posterity and it has now been released as a combination DVD/CD package (see this link at Screen Archives for details). Going back a few years here is a Jerry Goldsmith documentary by Fred Karlin which includes footage of recording sessions for The River Wild. And more recently here is an article by John Caps for mfiles which on the occasion of Jerry Goldsmith's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017 looks at 3 key features of the composer's music.
Note that the theme for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is in 5/4 time (5 beats in a bar) which is very unusual, but strangely the same as Lalo Schifrin's time signature for the theme tune for "Mission Impossible". Schifrin had worked on a couple of episodes of "The Man from Uncle" and this may have given him the idea for the "Mission Impossible" theme. In another connection with Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin also worked on the TV Series spinoff of "Planet of the Apes". Dave Grusin did the spin-off show "The Girl from Uncle" picking some ideas from Goldsmith.
See also Bernard Herrmann for other composers involved in the original Twilight Zone TV series.
Here is an interview (lasting nearly 2 hours) which Jerry Goldsmith gave with film music journalist and author Jon Burlingame, concentrating mostly on the composer's music for television. The video is on this YouTube link from the Archive of American Television, and here is another video of Goldsmith rehearsing and recording a couple of cues from The River Wild.
There are many CDs on the market of Goldsmith's music. The following reviews and recommendations are only a small selection from his vast output:
The "Frontiers" collection mentioned above was recorded with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and I am particularly pleased to note Jerry's fondness for Scotland and working with the RSNO. In 1999, Goldsmith gave a series of concerts in Scotland to mark his 70th birthday and Our Review provides a synopsis of the programme and the sprinkling of anecdotes given at the Edinburgh concert. At the time Jerry gave regular concerts, and many were lucky enough to attend these.
Many admirers of Jerry Goldsmith have kept items to remind them of brief moments in their lives where they interacted in some small way with the composer. We are pleased to publish here scans of such memorabilia. In all cases if you click on the small image, you will be able to see the full-size scan which will open in a separate window or tab. (Depending on your browser the full-size image may be scaled to fit the window space, but in most cases if you click with the magnifying-glass pointer it can be further enlarged.)
Our thanks go to Steve Vertlieb for the first set of items. Steve wrote a letter of appreciation to Jerry Goldsmith in 1980 and received the following response.
Jerry Goldsmith's letter to Steve Vertlieb.
Close-up of Jerry Goldsmith's signature on his letter to Steve Vertlieb.
The envelope from Jerry Goldsmith's letter to Steve Vertlieb.
Here are some album covers signed by Jerry Goldsmith. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed albums. Click any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.