Jerry Goldsmith immortalised himself with his music for several Star Trek films: His career began in the early 1950s when Goldsmith took a job as a composer at CBS. His job there was to write endless film and radio scores. His fascination with film music began at the age of 16: As a teenager, he saw films whose music was composed by the Hungarian-American composer Miklós Rózsa and was fascinated by his works. This fascination motivated Goldsmith to immerse himself in the science of writing film music at a young age. He studied with Maestro Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an Italian composer and pianist with whom Henry Mancini, among others, studied.
In the fifties and sixties, composers were in demand in the American film industry as never before: Hollywood did not lack actors, but composers. The Italian maestro Ennio Morricone had set the bar high for the next generation of film composers with his work. 

Television composer

Goldsmith earned his first laurels as a film composer in 1962 for his score to the biopic Freud, which revolved around the life of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The film earned him his first Academy Award nomination, but that went to Maurice Jarre in 1962 for his score for Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole.
At that time, Jerry Goldsmith mainly composed music for television series – he was not yet able to establish himself as a film composer. It was not least thanks to the admiration of the influential film composer Alfred Newman that Goldsmith eventually received commissions for film compositions. Newman is said to have convinced the producers of the western Lonely Are The Brave (1962), starring Kirk Douglas, to hire Goldsmith to score the film. The western is considered Goldsmith’s breakthrough as a film composer. 

The Planet of the Apes score is an early example of Goldsmith’s avant-garde style.


Jerry Goldsmith received a lot of attention in 1968 for his composition for the post-apocalyptic science fiction film Planet of the Apes. The Planet of the Apes score is an early example of an avant-garde style that became increasingly prevalent in film music from the late sixties onwards: with this work, Goldsmith cemented his status as a sought-after film composer and was ready for numerous other challenges that would await him in the seventies.
At first, Goldsmith’s career faltered in the early seventies: he was forced to write more TV compositions again in addition to his film compositions. Goldsmith is considered one of the few composers who mastered the balancing act between TV and film music. 

Originally, the composer Phillip Lambro was intended for the film music for the film noir Chinatown (1974): However, producer Robert Evans decided at the last minute to replace Lambro with Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith was commissioned to write the score for the complex film noir Chinatown within ten days. Sounds impossible? Not for Jerry Goldsmith. Within ten days, Goldsmith produced a soundtrack that was nominated for the Academy Awards, but lost out to Nino Rota’s soundtrack to The Godfather – Part II

Star Trek

At the end of the 1970s, Jerry Goldsmith faced what was probably his greatest challenge as a film composer: he was entrusted with the soundtrack for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and thus practically with the reinvention of a science fiction franchise.
Goldsmith later said that writing the music for Star Trek had been one of the most difficult tasks of his career: Gene Roddenberry is said to have already asked Goldsmith for the title music for the original Star Trek series, but at that time the project was out of the question for Goldsmith because of other engagements. The music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture is undoubtedly linked to the franchise like no other soundtrack and was later used again for the series The Next Generation, among others.
For Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Jerry Goldsmith returned as composer for the Star Trek franchise: He also wrote the soundtracks for First Contact (1996) and Insurrection (1998). 

The future vision of Star Trek suited Goldsmith’s approach to film music.

The sound of science fiction

Jerry Goldsmith remained associated with the science fiction genre for the rest of his career: He described his soundtrack for Total Recall (1990) as one of his best soundtracks.
Goldsmith’s avant-garde approach to composing film music predestined him to compose scores for science fiction films: The Star Trek franchise in particular is characterised by a concrete vision of the future that sets it apart from other sci-fi series. This vision of the future suited Goldsmith’s approach to film music: it is not without reason that the two Star Trek films First Contact and Insurrection open with imposing musical interludes during which the names of the actors and film crew are faded in. The music is a big part of the fascination of these films. 

Arthur Morton 

For a large part of his career, Jerry Goldsmith worked with the orchestrator Arthur Morton: With his orchestral arrangements, Morton was partly responsible for the typical Goldsmith sound. Morton worked with Goldsmith for the films Chinatown, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and L.A. Confidential (1997), among others. The professional partnership of the two music makers lasted over three decades and encompasses much of Jerry Goldsmith’s legacy as a music composer, which includes well over one hundred soundtracks to television series and films.
Jerry Goldsmith is now considered one of the most influential film composers in history: with his compositions, he gave the emerging science fiction genre a musical sound that characterises many of the films for which he wrote the music to this day.

Simon von Ludwig

Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig

Main source: Jerry Goldsmith’s biography at

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2 Replies to “Jerry Goldsmith: The Sound of Science-Fiction”

  1. I loved the music in Thriller’s: “The Grim Reaper”. Who played in the string quartet and what is the title of the work? Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. For “The Grim Reaper”, Jerry Goldsmith composed three pieces: “The Grim Reaper – Prologue”, “The Grim Reaper – Suite” and “The Grim Reaper – End Titles”. His complete works for the Thriller TV series were published on CD in 2017. See here:

      It’s difficult to say who played in the string quartet. The only information on the personnel involved in the Thriller series soundtrack is available via the English Wikipedia article at There it says that 18 different musicians played the violin and 8 different musicians played the cello throughout the series. You can read the names in the Wikipedia article.
      If I find anything on who exactly played in the string quartet, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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