Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hear the Music That Inspired ‘Star Wars’

Hear the Music That Inspired ‘Star Wars’

A scene from Jabba the Hutt's court in "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." Many of the musical themes in "Star Wars" are inspired by classical music.Creditvia Everett Collection
“Star Wars” is omnivorous in its inspiration. The saga, which continues in December with “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” nods to classical mythology, Arthurian legend and even Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.
John Williams’s music for the series — which the New York Philharmonic will perform live, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 7, alongside screenings of the original trilogy and “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” — contain some of the most memorable themes in film history.
And like the movies themselves, the score is rooted in the classics.
Mr. Williams conducting during a recording session for "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" in 2005.CreditScott Myers/Lucasfilm
That inspiration crosses centuries: Stravinsky, Mozart and, in one instance, a quotation from the Gregorian “Dies irae” chant used repeatedly by composers. Mr. Williams also associates brief themes with certain characters and ideas, a strategy Wagner developed with the leitmotifs of the “Ring.”
“There are dozens of leitmotifs that are used in these films,” David Newman, who will conduct the Philharmonic concerts, said in a recent interview. “You can definitely find references in there.”
Comparisons to the “Ring” don’t end there, Mr. Newman said. In both music and plot, the closing moments of “The Force Awakens,” in which Luke Skywalker is handed his long-lost lightsaber, has the feel of Siegmund pulling the sword Nothung from the tree in “Die Walküre.”
Listen to five comparisons between works from the classical canon and moments from the “Star Wars” soundtracks — which, with the addition of “The Last Jedi,” will run longer than the “Ring” cycle.

‘The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)’

In the movies: In the original trilogy, this theme follows the villainous Darth Vader; in the prequels, it presages the dark fate of Anakin Skywalker. (Spoiler for the few strangers to “Star Wars”: Anakin and Vader are the same person.) The music is always a cue to the audience that evil is afoot.
In classical music: The march’s underlying rhythm recalls another celestial score: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” The subjects of Holst’s suite, however, are more mythological than astronomical. “Mars,” which resembles Darth Vader’s march, is subtitled “The Bringer of War.” This wouldn’t be the only time “Mars” inspired a film composer; Hans Zimmer nearly quoted it directly in “Gladiator.”

‘The Desert’

In the movies: This eerie music appears briefly in “Episode IV: A New Hope,” when the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 find themselves stranded on the desert planet Tatooine. The sinister sound evokes the desolate landscape and sets the stage for what happens next: The droids are captured by Jawas.
In classical music: Mr. Williams’s music here sounds like Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” specifically the opening of Part II, “The Sacrifice.” While this sequence in the “Star Wars” soundtrack may signal peril for the droids, it pales in comparison with this moment in “Rite,” when the “Chosen One” — a virgin — is doomed to a sacrificial dance.

‘Han Solo and the Princess’

In the movies: Mr. Williams’s love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia recurs throughout “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” inching to the fore as their relationship evolves from teasing flirtation to a full-on declaration of love — complete with a passionate swell in the music.
In classical music: Han and Leia’s theme is both romantic and Romantic, seemingly inspired by the lyrical melodies of Tchaikovsky, in particular his fantasy ballet scores. A direct comparison is tough to pin down, though it does resemble the recurring theme of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D.

‘Parade of the Ewoks’

In the movies: The endearing, bear-like ewoks add playful moments to the score for “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” Mr. Williams, who tends to favor mighty brass and passionate strings throughout “Star Wars,” here features woodwinds and percussion to reflect these primitive creatures.
In classical music: As with Han and Leia’s theme, a direct comparison in the canon isn’t easily apparent. But Mr. Williams’s score here does recall the music of Prokofiev. Listen, for example, to this moment from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet”; it is the leitmotif for Romeo and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio. The music, like Mr. Williams’s theme for the ewoks, reflects the boys’ playful behavior and lightness.

‘Jabba’s Baroque Recital’

In the movies: Mr. Williams’s homages to classical and popular music truly shine in the “Star Wars” scenes with diegetic music, music that is visibly performed onscreen, such as in the famous cantina band scene in “A New Hope,” and at Jabba the Hutt’s court in “Return of the Jedi.” For the cantina, Mr. Williams wrote an uncanny approximation of big-band music; for the court, he did the same with a Baroque and Classical pastiche.
In classical music: Stripped of its synthesized sound, Jabba the Hutt’s palace music could pass as Mozart. But Mr. Williams is far from the first composer to echo Mozart’s style. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” for example, contains a nod to Mozart in the song “Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh,” a pseudo-aria from an imaginary comic opera.

The “Star Wars” Film Concert Series will be performed Sept. 15 through Oct. 7 at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center;

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