In the drawer of memory which dates back to the time when he went to music school, there was a popular file, which came to his mind every time he heard the Star Wars soundtrack. So, Marcello Filotei, journalist of the Osservatore Romano who is also a music expert, has decided to start a personal research. His mind went back to the piano on which he passionately practiced for hours with Puccini’s Manon Lescaut score – among many others – in front of him. Till the scoop: the well-known tunes of the soundtrack of this interstellar saga had been put down in black and white by the Italian master well before John Williams transformed it into a worldwide success. “I have checked – Marcello Filotei tells In Terris – and I have verified that in the final part of Manon Lescaut interlude, for a few seconds and with a different rhythm, are played exactly the notes which have been made famous by Darth Vader & Company.
Did John Williams get to the dark side of the Force then?
“No, I am not saying all of this to criticize the American composer 40 years later, but to show that in contemporary cinema they keep using as a soundtrack a language which finished in the cultured part of music over 50 years go; not because composers decided it around the table, but due to consumption. As long as this language continues to be used, one is either very creative, which is obviously possible, or (s)he inevitably falls into stereotypes, especially when it comes to writing very specific things, such as music for cinema”.
What has happened to the music of the saga created by George Lucas then?
“We cannot reduce the work of the American orchestra conductor and composer to obscure copying of melodies. This is not the case. He certainly had deep knowledge of music history. But even the most inveterate melomaniac can get distracted for a second. Knowing that nobody is singing, one’s attention weakens. This might be the reason why they did not signal to John Williams the strong similarity with a theme Puccini had used for a few seconds, less bellicose and with a bridging function between two scenes of the Opera”.
It is not the only case, however…
“No. The Dune Sea of Tatooine (the fourth episode of the saga) resembles the introduction of the second part of Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky, entitled “The Sacrifice”. It can happen, although rarely, when also the orchestration is similar. Le Sacreè was written in the period between 1911 and 1913, short before the first world war, like The Planets by the English composer Gustav Holst, who had finished his work in 1916. Yet his suite for a big orchestra in seven movements was performed only in 1918. It consists of pieces which describe the “character” of the different planets. Obviously Mars, the Bringer of War, the first one, has an impetuous tone, an oppressive rhythm and strong dissonances. It was defined as “the most ferocious piece of music of all time” back then. This is what Imperial Attack, still from the fourth episode of the saga” needed.
This risk of plagiarism, even if unintentional, seems inevitable. Is it not?
“No. There are magnificent examples of contemporary music, which would probably not fill concert halls, but which have been very successful as soundtracks. A representative example, 2001 Space Odyssey, in which were used pieces of contemporary music by noteworthy authors, which would have never gathered the same crowds the film attired”. And we add to it that the same concept can be applied to the sale of CD’s.
Times have changed… “The same way as the cinema is no longer filmed like in the 50’s and in extra-cinematographic composition they work in a different way now, also in composition suitable for cinema absolute originality is no longer sought. But let us say that if one wins an Oscar for a soundtrack, he needs to be at least creative, very creative”.
Do you have one last curious fact for us?
“Well, in my research, there was one that made me smile. A 1973 film whose soundtrack is by Ennio Morricone, in which at a certain point about 150 cowboys arrive on horseback; one can hear in the background the re-orchestrated The Ride of the Valkyries. In 1979 Apocalypse Now comes out. In its famous scene with the helicopters one can hear the original version of The Ride of the Valkyries. Some people have complained about the fact that the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now was copied from Morricone, without thinking about Richard Wagner at all”.