I knew James Horner recycled his own themes, but man

Listening to Battle Beyond the Stars main theme for the first time – it’s ridiculous how much of it Horner recycled for the Star Trek 2 score. Whole measures seem to be lifted out of it unchanged.

It’s a Corman film. Re-using things is the law.

There’s also the possibility that the director for ST2 specifically requested that he get music “just like” those sections. It’s apparently one of the suckier things about a composer’s job–that, and having the director throw on a temp track of other people’s music that’s so well received in screenings they want the composer to “recreate” those tracks without actually having to pay for those tracks.

Yeah, come to think of it, I’ve heard that myself from a composer griping about his job.

It happens a lot. It pretty much sucks.

For a fun triple feature: Battle Beyond the stars, Star Trek II (or III), and Aliens. It is basically three different movies with many of the same music cues.

No, it’s just that Horner has a history of impressive laziness and self-plagiarism.

— Alan

Yeah, I doubt that Wolfgang Petersen would have said, “You know that cue you used whenever Ed Harris sniped someone in Enemy at the Gates? I always thought it sounded… Trojan!”

Sadly, Horner doesn’t just steal from himself.

Okay, I guess it’s time to put on my big, floppy Music Nerd hat so please forgive me.

There is a triumphant homecoming sequence when Legolas and that Mossad agent return to the city of Troy. The music cue is WAY too similar to the Sanctus from Britten’s “War Requiem.”

…um…just sayin’.

Now go watch Krull and try to figure out how he got paid three times for one score.

Could you compose a song for me that sounds a lot like Singularity?

Horner is the king of recycling and ripped of tons of material. There are dozens of examples. The Aliens theme (the one you hear at the beginning) is a Katchaturian piece that you can hear in 2001 and the rest is a photocopy of an older soundtrack of his (I think Wolfen). The “Honey I shrunk the kids” theme comes from a Fellini movie, Titanic is basically Bravehart plus Celine Dion, in Willow you can hear things borrowed to Mozart (I think his Requiem), etc, etc…

I’m forgetting a lot of stuff but we basically spend an afternoon with a friend trying to find things of this nature.

So yeah, he’s good at it. He’s still an influencial composer with a lot of talent, but the talent sometimes is someone else’s.

Edit : and I’m even gonna prove what I’m saying with audio
http://www.deezer.com/track/877262 : 2001 and the Katchaturian piece
http://www.deezer.com/track/56901 : The Aliens opening, the rip-off begins at 1:03

Didn’t we have this conversation regarding John Williams as well? I’ve always heard giant swipes from both Dvorak and Beethoven is his scores and someone posted up an article telling me I was not crazy.

Williams borrowed from the great composers but maybe it’s less systematic and obvious. Plus, when you have written the scores of Superman, Jaws, Star Wars or Indiana Jones, people tend to forgive you a little bit more :o

I think they all borrowed or at least were greatly influenced, but in the case of Horner it sometimes borders on pure photocopy, including of his own work.

(please do not say Goldsmith also did it, I would be crushed)

Holst’s The Planets has a big influence on film composers too… I’ve heard that Williams has lifted his share of stuff from the greats, but I don’t think – at any rate – he self-plagiarizes anywhere near as obviously as Horner does.

Plus, when you have written the scores of Superman, Jaws, Star Wars or Indiana Jones, people tend to forgive you a little bit more

Amen, that was a helluva streak.

I’ll work on it. :)

The thing about Horner is, he’s the go-to guy for getting a score done in an eleventh hour emergency. Examples of this include Troy and King Kong where the director wasn’t satisfied with the original composer and Horner was brought in to re-score the entire film in a matter of weeks. In the case of one of those films (I can’t remember which, but they’re both long films) Horner had three weeks to write the score and oversee the recording. I can forgive him a bit of self-plagiarism in circumstances like that.

Ah – But these are some of the very scores I’m talking about! The theme from Jaws is just a direct swipe from the final movement of Dvorak’s 9th symphony and large chunks of the Star Wars score seem to be ripped note for note from that same symphony as well as from Holst’s The Planets. There are other examples that have leapt out at me when listening to various pieces of classical music but I’m not an afficienado so the examples don’t spring to mind as readily as those two.

Searching the forums, I guess it wasn’t on these boards that the conversation was had in the past, which is too bad because someone linked to a great article siting very specific examples from all of Williams’ most famous scores and I can’t seem to find it.

One thing to keep in mind is that music as a discipline is going to be much more self-similar than other arts. There are a practical infinity of pictures to paint or ways to rearrange words to form stories, but music consists of a finite number of notes, harmonies, and ways to sequence them that don’t sound horrible. I think the concept of archetypes in literature is useful to consider–there are certain stories that get retold over and over again with variations, and musical themes can be seen in a similar fashion.

That said, I’m sure that some composers are consciously borrowing themes, and Horner sounds likely guilty, but if you start parsing smaller and smaller pieces of music eventually everybody is plagiarizing everybody else.

Sometimes, it’s hard not to, I think. Beethoven’s deafness allowed him to create music unlike anything of his time.

Well, Beethoven could still read scores, so he would have been able to contaminate himself with the musical currents of the time if he’d wanted to. I think he had just reached a place of following his own light, and being self-confident, and striking out on his own stylistic road, that few artists get to. Deafness may have made him less concerned about standard ideas of dissonance and aural “beauty,” I suppose, and that could have informed his late style to some degree.

I’ve listened to the Planets and although there are certain orchestration ideas, rhythmic motifs, etc., that are strongly echoed in modern film scoring, I don’t recall actual tunes that Williams cribbed from it. Haven’t listened to Dvorak’s 9th though. Unless that’s the New World Symphony, in which case, same deal. (Admittedly, Horner’s Battle Beyond the Stars theme has a slightly different melody than Star Trek 2, so it’s more the “around the edges” stuff – violin figurations, harmonies, orchestration – that seem almost identical.)

There is definitely a degree of overlap among musical styles and there’s also a tradition of conscious borrowing/recycling/homage going back to Bach and even further. Everyone would transcribe other people’s music or compose variations or quote them, and so on. Listz’s transcendental Etude in F minor, for instance, quite clearly adapts (and then slightly alters) the melody of Chopin’s etude in the same key. This was clearly meant in the spirit of homage, not theft, and he does enough new things with the musical ideas to make his Etude stand on its own two legs – indeed, I rather prefer it to Chopin’s. Schubert used the same melody for a piano quintet movement (the Trout quintet) that he’d used for one of his lieder. The slow movement to Beethoven’s 1st piano sonata also appears, more or less note-for-note, in another guise in another piece. And on and on.

Having said that, among film composers, I haven’t heard any that create the effect of obvious and persistent recycling which I get listening to Horner.