Star Trek Composer, Alexander Courage, dies
Last modified on Friday, 30 May 2008 07:49
The composer of the original Star Trek title theme, who also wrote musical scores for many films and television series, Alexander Courage, has died at age 88 in Pacific Palisades, California. Courage had won Emmys and was nominated for several Oscars, and had over 90 film and TV show credits to his name.
He was best known, however, for the mysterious and haunting sounds of the theme song he wrote for the original Star Trek television series. The music was written in the mid-1960s, a peak time of musical artistry for television music.
Courage said in an interview in 1996 about the music, “What I based the whole thing on in a way was an old Hebredean tune from the outer islands of Scotland. Because I wanted something that had a long, long feel to it, and I wanted to put it over a fast-moving accompaniment to get the adventure and the speed and so forth.
So, there was an old song called ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon,’ and when I was a kid I would hear it on the radio and they used to play a double time accompaniment to it, while this thing was singing over the top, so that’s what I really wanted to do; I wanted to make all of the scales go way out, and I wanted the intervals to be long, and I wanted to have a kind of exotic feel to it.”
Courage’s melody was so exotic that it did not usually appear in the musical underscore in the series. However, it was the opening brass fanfare that was heard after William Shatner narrates the words, “Space: the final frontier…” that became the most familiar element of the music theme, and the show’s producers specifically requested that composers quote the fanfare and use variations of it during any “flyby” shot of The Enterprise in space.
It was later adapted to open the series, Star Trek - The Next Generation. Courage also did the adaptation of the full title theme on Jerry Goldsmith’s scored version of Star Trek – The Motion Picture, in 1979. After that, all of the Star Trek features, starting with The Wrath of Khan through Star Trek Nemesis, opened with Courage’s familiar fanfare.
Courage was known as a kind and friendly man with an impish sense of humor. His Star Trek cue titles contain witty puns and many inside jokes. After Courage wrote the Star Trek theme he was approach by Gene Roddenberry who offered to write lyrics to the music theme.
Although Roddenberry’s lyrics were never recorded or performed officially until recorded by Nichelle Nichols many years later, Roddenberry got half of the royalties every time the theme song was played, as part of the deal he made with Courage. Courage was so put out by this that sometimes when asked for his autograph by fans he was said to have signed Gene Roddenberry’s name instead.
After he left Star Trek Alexander Courage continued to work in the television industry and scored some of the episodes of The Waltons, a long-running favorite television series. He also orchestrated Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek movies scores for Star Trek – First Contact and Star Trek – Insurrection.
While best known for creating the Star Trek music theme, Courage also wrote musical arrangements for popular Hollywood musicals and films, including Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the musical score for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and episodes of Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
He lived long and prospered, and now may he rest in peace.