Alexander Courage: Composer of the 'Star Trek' theme

Alexander Courage worked in film and television through five decades, but his best-known work was the theme tune to Star Trek. The astonishingly protean orchestrator could equally be said to be the distinctive "voice" of MGM musicals, as well as of composers as various as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

In 1965 he spent a week writing and recording the main theme and scores for two pilots for a new sci-fi series. At the time he thought Star Trek was "just another show" and sci-fi is just "marvellous malarkey, so you write marvellous malarkey music". He amused himself and others by giving various parts of the score punning titles, filled with in-jokes. Courage was inspired to write the long-limbed melody by the song "Beyond the Blue Horizon", which he remembered from his youth, and also provided the "swoosh" of the Enterprise by breathing into a microphone.

He only scored a further four episodes but his music became inextricably linked to the series. The opening fanfare, striving and probing the unknown, was used for the spin-off TV series Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987-94) and woven into all the Star Trek movies. Michael Giacchino, composer of the 10th film, said: "If you were to strip away everything, bit by bit, in order of importance, the last thing you would be holding in your hands would be the sheet music for the opening fanfare."

The Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry had asked Courage not to write "space music", but he still went for a mysterious texture, though the famously controlling producer changed the sound-balance to highlight the soprano. Roddenberry then wrote words to the theme, simply to get half the music royalties. In response, Courage, when asked for an autograph, would occasionally sign Roddenberry's name.

Alexander Courage, known to his friends as Sandy, was born in 1919 in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey. After piano, he took up cornet and horn and studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, with its strong band tradition. He graduated in 1941 and the following year moved to California, enlisting in the Army Air Corps to become a bandleader at bases there and in Arizona.

After the war, he joined CBS Radio as a composer and in 1948 became an orchestrator at MGM, the pre-eminent musicals studio. Courage worked on a series of blockbusters including Showboat (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Guys and Dolls and It's Always Fair Weather (1955), Funny Face (1957) – its pasa doble was one his proudest achievements – and Gigi (1958). For the composer John Williams, Courage was "one of the architects of the MGM sound, a particular style of orchestration, which was an extension and development of what was done in the theatre in the 1920s".

The late 1950s also saw original dramatic scores, including Shake, Rattle and Rock! (1956) and The Left-handed Gun (1958), but none were big hits and he continued television work for Universal, MGM and Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball's Desilu Productions. He also worked at 20th Century-Fox, including the fantasies Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) and Lost in Space (1965-68). He later won Emmys for scoring Medical Center (1973) and arranging Liberty Weekend (1986) and Julie Andrews: the sound of Christmas (1988).

Although their heyday was over, many musicals continued to be made and Courage orchestrated My Fair Lady (1964), Hello, Dolly! (1969) and others. Alongside Lionel Newman, he was nominated for an Oscar for The Pleasure Seekers (1963) and Doctor Doolittle (1967). He gave Jerome Morros' The Big Country (1958) a thrilling outdoor quality and orchestrated Alex North's imposing Renaissance-modern The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.

After Star Trek, Courage continued his film work, forging a true collaboration with two composers, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. He met Williams as the soundtrack pianist on Funny Face, and worked on the Oscar-winning adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof (1971), through disaster movies like The Poseiden Adventure (1972) to the singing themes of Jurassic Park (1993).

When Williams stepped aside from the Superman franchise, Courage used his themes in an original score for Superman IV: the quest for peace (1987). Courage had adapted Porgy and Bess for the screen in 1959 and some years later Williams asked him to write a Fantasy on Violin Orchestra, based on themes from the opera, for Joshua Bell and the Boston Pops.

He worked with Jerry Goldsmith and the orchestrator Arthur Morton on over 100 episodes of The Waltons (1972-81), with its clip-clopping theme, as well as four television movies. After Morton's death, Courage became Goldsmith's main orchestrator. Their work includes the slinkily sinuous Basic Instinct (1992) and old-fashioned action films like The Mummy (1999).

Orchestrators are the unsung heroes of film and television scoring but Courage was one of the few who broke through that anonymity and was openly and generously acknowledged by composers. He also broke cover to appear on screen as the conductor in the Pavarotti vehicle Yes, Giorgio (1982).

John Riley

Alexander Courage, arranger, orchestrator and composer: born Philadelphia 10 December 1919; three times married; died Pacific Palisades, California 15 May 2008.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star