Printer-friendly version
Laurie Niles

Imitation Can Be Art

April 12, 2007 at 3:57 PM

I'm going to lose snob points by making this confession, but... I really enjoy playing "Star Wars" music.

Then again, I don't play the violin for snob points; I just love music.

We're playing it this week in the New West Symphony, along with the premiere of a work by composer Robert Kyr, Yosemite: Journey of Light, set to the photography of Lawrence Janss.

The chief complaint about Star Wars, particularly John Williams' original 1970s score, is that the music is derivative, not original.

And indeed it largely is: I had a friend in music school whose primary preoccupation in life seemed to be to mine the Star Wars score for references to classical music. He'd queue up "Rite of Spring" or "The Planets" to some nearly-identical passage in Star Wars, then excitedly call a group of people into his room, "See! See!," he'd say with outrage mixed with admiration, "Do you hear that?"

He was a composition major. His favorite movie? Star Wars.

I think that for this score, Williams was an absolute rip-off artist, and I say that with admiration and with the true meaning of "artist" in mind. The "Star Wars" score makes the movie, and it's because Williams knew good music and how to make it work in context. It's also well-crafted and fun to play.

My only disappointment is that this week we are playing only from the original trilogy; I think my favorite Star Wars composition now is Anakin's Theme, from Episode I. (Here's the soundtrack.) With its soaring and sentimental lines yet mournful forecast (the promising boy, destined for the Dark Side), it fits the character almost better than the actor did.

If you are in Southern California, I invite you to join us for the concert.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 12, 2007 at 4:59 PM
Somebody said genius is the ability to conceal sources well enough.

My favorite J.W. is the Gettysburg Theme. It has some passing references to some American music of that period, combined with some J.W.-sounding heroic themes. Great! The orchestration in it is sort of mind-blowing too.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 12, 2007 at 5:38 PM
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 12, 2007 at 6:14 PM
My favorite is still the part in episode IV where Luke looks up at the two moons of Tatooine and dreams of the academy. Massed violins play Luke's theme in the background. The City in the Clouds theme is pretty good too.

I think Williams has reached more people with his score than most of the composers he "ripped off" combined. And in a way, I think the popularity of Williams shows that the general public does thirst for and appreciate good orchestral music. It's just that they want that music to have pleasing melodies and human drama.

From Patricia Baser
Posted on April 12, 2007 at 8:51 PM
The Star Wars soundtracks were the first LPs I bought with my own money. I remember going with my sisters to the opening night for The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite) and then staying up until 2 a.m. to finish my chemistry homework. I was convinced that Darth Vader was lying when he said he was Luke's father. I would rather play Star Wars any day over the Ein Heldenleben part I am currently practicing!
From Andrew Bergevin
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 12:31 AM
Also, take a listen to the Cloud City Theme from the Empire Strikes Back. It's totally a rip-off of the opening violin solo line in the Sibelius Violin Concerto. :O
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 5:33 AM
Thanks, Laurie. I love this music, too. One of my students (age 10) wants to learn to play the main theme. He figured out the first few bars by ear, but, after that, we're both stumped. Is there an easy version of sheet music for the main theme?
From Darcy Lewis
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 2:13 PM
Laurie, this is quite a coincidence as I sit here now watching The Empire Strikes Back with 7 yo Adam, who is home sick today! Han just went into the carbonite...
From Dessie Arnold
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 5:31 PM
I like to play his music, too. My favorite music of his is the score to Witches of Eastwick.
From Man Wong
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 6:05 PM
My 7-yo son thinks it's pretty cool that the Star Wars music are played by a symphony orchestra -- and that he can eventually learn to play it on the violin. We mentioned it at a recent private lesson, and his teacher played a little bit of it for him. It's one more incentive for him to practice and learn to play well since he loves those movies (and various others w/ music by JW). ;-)


From Peter Kent
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 6:49 PM
As I recall a critic suggested to Brahms that the 4th mov of his 1st Symph bore striking resemblance to the 9th of you-know-who, he replied, "Any fool knows that" much for derivative...Thematic variations on a them of Anon, needn't be labeled as such...different levels of cognizance n' appreciation. And then, if it's derived from a theme by the same composer or a relative, is it OK ?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 13, 2007 at 8:32 PM
If you think about it, ALL music is derivative! All music that makes sense to anyone, at least. It's like language.
From Bernard Wong
Posted on April 15, 2007 at 2:56 AM
My son loves the music for Harry
Potter & Lord of the Rings. When he was 7, we watched the first HP movie on TV, when the movie finished, he quietly sat throught the whole ending credits for 3 to 4 minutes. I was wondering why he would be interested in the boring credits. He told me later that he like the ending theme & was trying to memorize it so he could figure out how to play it with his violin, & he did.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine