The Rest of the (Musical) Story

Music and the movies go together like butter and popcorn.  I have to admit I was first inspired to learn the trumpet after hearing the soundtrack in the movie Star Wars.  

I have a grandson who is currently obsessed with the Indiana Jones movie series.  Well, at least two minutes at a time of the movie.  He is 3 years old and only sits still for about two minutes.  Not long enough to get to any of the scary parts, but long enough to have learned the theme to the Indiana Jones movies.

Here is a picture of the young lad in his Indiana Jones fedora hat, belt, and a Spiderman shirt.


Notice his Indiana Jones “whip” tucked in his belt that one of his grandmothers made him from a lint roller and strip of fabric.  He runs around the house asking me to sing the “Indy” song.

Many movies use pieces of existing music for part of their soundtrack.  Sometimes those parts in the movies become more famous than the original whole.  Let me share a couple of examples.  The 1986 movie Platoon used a famous piece by Samuel Barber, his Adagio for Strings.  The Adagio was originally the slow movement to Barber’s String Quartet, Opus 11.  Sam had sent a string orchestra arrangement of the slow movement to Arturo Toscanini, the famous conductor.  That orchestra version has been one of Barber’s most played pieces, and it is this version that is included in Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  Here is a string quartet performance of the whole work.

One of the most famous bits of movie music is in the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This theme is two minutes from the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, a 30 minute long orchestral tone poem.  The work was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel, and is in nine sections.  It is the first section entitled Einletung, oder Sonnenafgang (Introduction, or Sunrise) that is used in the movie.  Here is the whole work in a performance by the Gustav Mahler youth orchestra.

A great recent movie for string quartet  and classical music fans is A Late Quartet from 2012.

It stars Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots and the recently deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman in the story of members of a string quartet in preparation for a final concert together.  The movie has plenty of drama, lust, betrayal and personal tensions between a group of people that have played together in a chamber group for 25 years.  The music centers around one of Beethoven’s String Quartets, the number 14 in C sharp minor opus 131.  This is one of the all time greatest pieces of chamber music, and sadly at 40 minutes in length is not played in its entirety in the movie.  It is a wonderful quartet in seven parts played without pause.  Here is the whole quartet played by the American String Quartet.

Now you have some of the rest of the (musical) story!





4 thoughts on “The Rest of the (Musical) Story

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  1. Great stuff, Rich. I’ve always been a fan of film music, especially when it’s inspired by pre-existing Music (I’m sure you’ve noticed that some of the Star Wars Music is reminiscent of Holst’s “Mars” from The Planets). I also especially enjoy when pre-existing music is used in films. One of my favorite examples of late is in The King’s Speech during the Christmas address near the end of the film, the Allegretto from Beethoven 7 is used. To be honest, I always thought Beethoven 7 was kind of a snooze-fest but since I saw the film, my personal interpretation has changed.

    1. Thanks for reading! It might make a good party game to try to trace all the places John Williams found “inspiration” for music in the soundtracks of Jaws, Superman, Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones, more Star Wars etc. I bet one could fill more than one dinner party finding examples!

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