Star Trek debuted its journey on September 8, 1966 as its first episode aired in the United States on NBC. For five decades, through television, movies, books, comics and many more mediums it has boldly gone where no man has gone before. Along the way, some of television and film’s brightest composers created a musical tapestry that is as much part of the Star Trek universe as its alien worlds, dastardly villains and heroic characters.
Music is a powerful tool to create worlds and evoke a state of mind, and the many composers who wrote for the franchise all put their own stamp on the world created by Gene Roddenberry. The music reflected the mood of its time throughout those 50 years but always remained faithful to the ideals he presented for the future of humanity.
Much like the touring show that celebrated the franchise’s music (reviewed here), here is my tribute to the brightest musical moments Star Trek has provided us. May it live long and prosper for fifty more years.
Star Trek Theme
Written by Alexander Courage, this piece is full of hope for the future of mankind. Captain Kirk’s narration (played by William Shatner, with that, shall we say, unique delivery) is the icing on the cake. A classic TV theme.
Star Trek The Original Series: Amok Time
The original show had plenty of great musical moments, but the “Amok Time” episode stands tall. The story explores Spock’s Vulcan heritage and ends up with Spock having a fight to the death with Captain Kirk because of an ancient tradition. The music’s percussions and bright brass accents are classic 60’s epic scoring. Written by Gerald Fried (with a healthy heap of inspiration from Igor Starvinsky’s “Rite of Spring”), the music would end up tracked in many more episodes of the series.
Star Trek: The Original Series – The Corbomite Maneuver
I could have used any number of scores from the original series but this one stands out as a great example of the role the music played in making the series so effective. In “The Corbomite Maneuver”, the Enterprise encounters a strange cube in space that blocks its way. For most of the episode, the crew tries to contact the alien entity and figure out a way to escape its blockade. When they do manage to do it, the quickly find themselves blocked again, but by a gigantic sphere this time…
The episode features many closeups of the Enterprise crew intensely staring at the screen, looking worried or perplexed. It’s well written and well acted, but without composer Fred Steiner’s music, we’ll there’s just so many ways you can tilt a camera to make a closeup interesting. Steiner’s score keeps the tension level where it needs to be and drives the emotions throughout.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Theme
When Star Trek headed to the big screen, its musical theme got a major upgrade courtesy of composer Jerry Goldsmith. In the post Star Wars world, Star Trek’s music needed to be bold and bombastic and Goldsmith delivered a classic score that has almost supplanted the original series’ theme as THE Star Trek music track.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Main Title
For the sequel, James Horner replaced Jerry Goldsmith at the orchestra’s helm and he came up with his own main theme for the movie. Drawing inspiration from both versions that came before, he wrote one of the best pieces of music of his career. The rest of the movie isn’t too shabby either.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Best of Both Worlds
The classic two-part story had Trek fans on edge all summer long as the first part ended the third season on a whopper of a cliffhanger. Both episodes feature stellar music by Ron Jones who scored many episodes of the series.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Inner Light
Another classic episode with fantastic introspective music by Jay Chattaway. Its use of flute (that ties in with the story) makes it standout among all the amazing music written for the show.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Main Title
The third television series would be the first one not set on a spaceship, and its theme (by Dennis McCarthy who’d scored countless episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation) is understandably more static, but so immensely majestic. This is one of my favourite pieces of Star Trek music.
Star Trek: Voyager Main Title
Another majestic piece of music, this time by Jerry Goldsmith. It seems to encapsulate the best elements of all the previous themes.
Star Trek (2009) Main Theme
For the series reboot, composer Michael Giacchino created a decidedly modern theme that seems at first listen to break from tradition. But the theme’s melodic elements are definitely in line with the works of his predecessors. This is one that definitely grows on you.