Remembering movie composer Jerry Goldsmith

Remembering movie composer Jerry Goldsmith

James Horner’s Avatar soundtrack is blazing the charts like his score to Titanic, but many do not realize Goldsmith’s influence on Horner and other top film composers. According to Christian Clemmensen of Filmtracks, “Jerry Goldsmith has been an awesome inspiration for two generations…. His scores have been essential in promoting the fine art of film music composition.”

Jerrald King Goldsmith was born in Los Angeles on February 10, 1929, the son of an artist and a structural engineer. He learned to play the piano when he was six years old, he studied composition at age fourteen and he attended courses at the University of Southern California taught by Miklós Rózsa, the legendary composer of Ben-Hur.

Goldsmith’s composing career began in the 1950s when he composed music for radio and television. Notable Goldsmith scores for television included The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildare and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and he would go on to win six Emmy Awards. His first of 18 Academy Award nominations came in 1963 for his work on John Huston’s Freud.

A prolific composer, Goldsmith would write scores for a number of acclaimed motion pictures such as Patton, Chinatown and Basic Instinct. His music encompassed a variety of styles for a number of genres, including westerns (Lonely are the Brave), war movies (The Blue Max) and comedies (Mom and Dad Save the World).

The Goldsmith Voice

Despite Goldsmith’s versatility, he became known for his dark suspense music (The Omen, for which he won his only Academy Award) and for his work in science fiction. With films like Alien, Outland and Leviathan, Goldsmith excelled at both simultaneously. His scores for such genre films as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gremlins and Total Recall cemented his position as a master of scoring science fiction and fantasy alongside such luminaries as John Williams and James Horner.

While classically trained in the use of a full symphony orchestra, Goldsmith was passionate about incorporating synthesizers, electric sounds and unusual ethnic instruments into the mix. His score for Alien featured a Jewish shofar and a serpent (a 16th century bass woodwind instrument), and his score to the classic Planet of the Apes included the use of unusual percussion instruments like overturned metal mixing bowls.

Influence on a Generation of Composers

During his early composing career, Avatar composer James Horner attended scoring sessions for Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the invitation of Goldsmith. In the documentary James Horner: Composing Genesis, Horner says that it was “a big event for me to see [the score] being conducted and being put together.”

Composer John Debney, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Passion of the Christ, also cites Goldsmith as a major influence in Christian DesJardins’ book Inside Film Music: Composers Speak: “…my two absolute favourites would be the two biggies: John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.”

Goldsmith died in July 21, 2004 after a battle with colon cancer. His son Joel Goldsmith is also a film composer and the father/son team collaborated on the score to Star Trek: First Contact. Jerry Goldsmith’s legacy lives on in his immortal contribution to the art of film scoring.