Jerry Goldsmith

Prolific film and television composer
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The Independent Online

The composer Jerry Goldsmith managed to bridge tradition with modernity whilst remaining immensely popular in a massively prolific career of film and television score writing. In a period of 40 years he wrote the music for well over 200 films, including The Omen, Chinatown, Star Trek films, LA Confidential and The Planet of the Apes.

Jerrald Goldsmith, composer: born Los Angeles 10 February 1929; married first Sharon Hennigan (one son, three daughters), second Carol Sheinkopf (one son); died Beverly Hills, California 21 July 2004.

The composer Jerry Goldsmith managed to bridge tradition with modernity whilst remaining immensely popular in a massively prolific career of film and television score writing. In a period of 40 years he wrote the music for well over 200 films, including The Omen, Chinatown, Star Trek films, LA Confidential and The Planet of the Apes.

Born in Los Angeles, Goldsmith studied piano with Jakob Gimpel and composition with the Italian impressionist Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, before attending Miklós Rózsa's film music course at the University of Southern California. Beginning as a clerk in CBS's music department in the late 1940s, he soon began writing radio and television scores such as Studio One. He often played any of a variety of keyboards as they were performed live on air. In 1952 he scored the Marilyn Monroe vehicle Don't Bother to Knock but had to wait until the forgettable western A Black Patch (1957) for his first feature credit.

His breakthrough came in 1962 when Alfred Newman recommended him for Lonely are the Brave, and Freud brought his first Oscar nomination. The television work's limited resources encouraged him to look at unusual colours and he later came to lean heavily on percussion and happily integrate electronics as a "fifth section of the orchestra". His experimental side also led him to embrace twelve-tone music.

From the early 1960s, every year brought at least one notable Goldsmith score, ranging over every genre in a dazzling variety of styles. In 1965 he worked with Alex North on the religious epic The Agony and the Ecstasy, and later paid posthumous tribute to North by recording his rejected score for 2001: a Space Odyssey. He also followed North with jazz-tinged scores including LA Confidential (1997) and Chinatown (1974), which Goldsmith wrote and recorded in 10 days.

In 1968 he scored the first of five films with Franklin J. Schaffner. Planet of the Apes is a catalogue of avant-garde effects: woodwind players tap the keys without blowing, brass instruments are played without mouthpieces, and the percussion section, sometimes jokingly called the kitchen department, becomes exactly that as they hit metal mixing bowls. Schaffner was a particularly respected regular collaborator, while Joe Dante allowed him to show more of his comic side and gave him cameos in both "Gremlins" films (1984 and 1990). Another recurring strand was the Star Trek franchise, which he described as operatic, reinventing its style and reusing themes to help bind the series together.

One of the scores of which he was proudest was Basic Instinct (1992), perhaps because of the difficulty he had in finding the snakily seductive theme for Sharon Stone's intense yet dispassionate heroine. In the same year he scored Medicine Man, whose star, Sean Connery began to sport Goldsmith's trademark white ponytail.

Goldsmith was nominated for 17 Oscars but won only one, for The Omen (1976), remembered for its Orff-like choral sequences, but which also featured his wife Carol singing her own lyrics. His son Joel collaborated on Runaway (1985), one of his few wholly electronic scores, and his daughter Ellen sang on Wild Rovers (1971). As well as over 200 films, his concert pieces include Christus Apollo (1969) which sets Ray Bradbury's text.

Goldsmith regularly conducted concerts of his own and others' work, introducing them from the podium in a relaxed style. Personal favourites were leavened with tasters of recent work and regular groupings: Patton (1969) and Small Soldiers (1998, which jokily quotes the earlier score) and television themes including Dr Kildare and The Waltons.

Though a vociferous supporter of quality film music Goldsmith was under no illusions about its power. "No music ever saved a bad picture," he said, "but a lot of pictures have saved a lot of bad music."

John Riley



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