Goldsmith started composing scores for television and film in the 1960s and kept right on working until his death in 2004. He's created a score for nearly any genre you can imagine. He could adapt his style to create disturbing atonal works, wonderful melodious romance themes, bombastic action music and even jazzy noire styles. He is one of the most prolific American film composers and his body of work is impressive. And for all that his name is not mentioned very often by the general public. Certainly John Williams and Hans Zimmer are more recognized names than Goldsmith. But his music and styles live on, and will continue to do so, because he did provide some wonderful scores to movies with enduring legacies.
One of his earliest triumphs was the disturbing and atonal score to Planet of the Apes. Goldsmith relies on rhythm and percussion to drive the action. He uses unique instrumentation to create an alien atmosphere to the film. One of his best and most impressive action cues comes from this film during The Hunt. But maybe his best choice was to leave the final minutes of the film unscored, as the final revelation unfolds. The silence is more devastating than anything that could be written for that moment.
In the 1970s Goldsmith scored several films that would leave an impact. His march for the film Patton has been imitated countless times, and is recognizable to anyone who has seen the film. His use of choir in nearly every track of The Omen created it's own musical cliche. He used dissonance in human voices to add unease to the film, and horror film composers have followed suit ever since. For Chinatown he created a jazzy noir score that fits the film like a glove. It also influenced neo-noire soundtracks to many movies that followed (and even video games like L.A. Noire). Finally he wrote the score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I've already written an entire blog about that work, so check it out for my thoughts on what I consider his masterpiece.
Goldsmith embraced electronic music. As early as the 1960s he found ways to use synthesizers in his scores to maximum effect. Goldsmith rarely replaced the orchestra with electronics, instead he treated the electronics as a separate piece of the orchestra, used to create sounds that normal instruments could not achieve. His amazing score to Logan's Run uses pure electronic music for scenes in the futuristic city, and then shifts to orchestral as the protagonist gets further and further from the computer control. The use of the harsh synthesizers fits perfectly for the oppressive society, and contrasts with the beauty of the full orchestra when the protagonists leave the bubble and see the world outside. This rhythmic piece is used when the Sandmen hunt and kill a runner. It's an exciting cue, but cold, efficient and sterile.
In the 1980s as synths become more common in film music (with folks like Vangelis winning Oscars for their pure electronic scores) Goldsmith experimented with a wide variety of electronic sounds and styles. Sometimes they would create other worlds, like in his score to Legend (which got replaced by a full electronic score by Tangerine Dream). Other times he would fuse the electronics in an unexpected but completely workable way, like in his surprisingly entertaining score for the Latin American thriller Under Fire.
Of course I've got to be honest here and say that when it comes to action music, few composers handled it as effectively as Jerry Goldsmith. His style evolved over time, but he always knew how to keep everything moving in a musical way and yet drive and accent the action. These days, action music often sounds like a bunch of loud noise, rarely feeling connected or fluid in a musical way. Goldsmith rarely let that happen. He would often use percussion as his focal point, and then layered two themes working in counterpoint to each other. This would create a drama in the cue that would rise, fall and tell a story musically. One of my favorite examples of this action style is from the Disney film Mulan, Avalanche is one of his best action cues of the 1990s.
The sad thing is, as good as Goldsmith was, he often got saddled with scoring horrible films. In many cases his music is the best thing about the movie and often elevates the weak or silly visuals much higher than you thought possible. So even if he scored duds like Congo, The Shadow, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, King Solomon's Mines, and Supergirl, you get the feeling that he put his best foot forward. Some of these scores turned out to be a lot of fun. And in some cases they are some of his best and most entertaining works.
If I had to recommend a Goldsmith score to start with, hands down it would be Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It has nearly all the elements I love about his work in one package and done with amazing skill. But if sci-fi isn't your thing, than I can also recommend his score to the 1990s wanna-be Arthurian epic First Knight. The theme for Arthur and Camelot is one of his best, the love theme for Guinevere is beautiful, the action music is top notch and the finale has one hell of a choral powerhouse to it.
Well that concludes my series on my favorite composers. There are some other composers I'm quite fond of, but I didn't have enough of their work to feel comfortable writing a entire blog about them (Christopher Young, Joe Hisaishi, Miklos Rosza and Patrick Doyle all spring to mind). But I'll continue to spotlight some of my favorite tracks and even tackle an complete score in future blogs. Thanks for reading and listening!