Across the Stars – John Williams – from Star Wars Episode III
Music has proven to be one of the most indelible and crucial elements of the entire Star Wars saga. John Williams has created memorable melodies in each of the Star Wars movies that represent characters and events. “Across the Stars” is one of the new themes from Attack of the Clones. It represents the love between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala and is heard throughout the movie.
The singular talent of maestro John Williams has helped to elevate what could have simply been window dressing to the on-screen action into one of the greatest orchestral legacies in film history. The stirring overtures and piercing leitmotifs in Star Wars endure in the minds of fans, musicians, and the general pop culture at large.
“Their love is complicated – pure yet forbidden, personal but with profound ramifications for an entire galaxy. Somehow, John has managed to convey all of that complexity in a simple, hauntingly beautiful theme.” ―George Lucas
The main theme is passed around the orchestra, sometimes in short sections and sometimes in other keys accompanied by triplet patterns and alternating with a second melody. This creates the love and the turmoil of their relationship which defines the movie. It is a glorious romance for today that will last into the future.
Sleeping Beauty Waltz – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky was asked by the Director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg about a possible ballet adaptation on the subject of the story of Undine. Since his last ballet, Swan Lake, had not been too successful, he was hesitant but accepted the commission. It was later decided that the subject of the ballet would be Sleeping Beauty.
The premiere performance took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1890. The work has become one of the most famous ballets in classical repertoire.
The ballet tells the story, based on the Grimm Fairy tale, of Princess Aurora who is cursed at birth to die on her 16th birthday by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. This curse is changed by a good fairy who says she will not die but will only sleep for 100 years, until she is awakened by love’s first kiss.
Tchaikovsky composed his music to enhance the spirit of the story more than tell it. The story was definitely secondary … Tchaikovsky commented: “Going to the Ballet for the plot is like going to the opera for the recitatives.”
The waltz, named the Garland Waltz, is introduced in the first act and has become one of the most recognized selections from the ballet, partially because it was used by Walt Disney in his iconic cartoon adaption of the story in 1959 with lyrics added by Jack Lawrence and music adapted by Sammy Fain.
“Once Upon a Dream” serves as the film’s main theme, and as the love theme of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip. It is performed in the film by a choir as an overture and third-reprise finale, as well as in a duet by Mary Costa and Bill Shirley, who voiced the roles of Aurora and Philip.
Movement #3 from Scheherazade, (The Prince & Princess) – Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov
The story of Scheherazade is one of the oldest love stories in the world. It is actually a collection of Asian and Persian folk stories. In the story, the monarch Shahryar of Persia found out that his first wife was unfaithful to him. He decided to marry a new virgin each day and behead the previous day’s wife, so she would have no chance to be unfaithful to him. He had killed 1,001 women by the time he was introduced to Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter.
One translation explains that Scheherazade had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.
Against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the king. Once in the king’s chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved sister, Dunyazade, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night. The king lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by and Scheherazade stopped in the middle. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So, the king spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. The following night, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale, which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. Again, the king spared her life for one more day so she could finish the second story.
And so the king kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of the previous night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade and their 3 children. He spared her life, and made her his queen.
One Thousand and One Nights weaves together a multi-layered tapestry of parables designed by Scheherazade to delight as well as educate, many of which cleverly and subtly elevate peasants, the persecuted, and women to heroic levels, while slyly demonizing the sultans, viziers, and thieves who pursue them.
These ancient folk tales have inspired poets and writers, artists and composers for centuries but the immediate impact of this so called ‘narrative in sound’ from Rimsky-Korsakov has the potential to transport you to a fairy tale world with such forceful emotion, it’s an exhilarating journey.
This glorious tapestry of characters and stories was composed and orchestrated in 1888 and premiered on November 3 in Saint Petersburg with the composer conducting. Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov did not intend to write a piece of program music. In his memoirs he wrote, “In composing Scheherazade, I meant these hints [themes] to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each.”
The iconic violin solo represents Scheherazade’s narration and the orchestra creates the mood that tells some of the stories. The third movement has been dubbed The Prince and Princess and tells a love story in waltz time. There is a main theme, identified with the Prince and a counter-subject with the Princess intermingled with the haunting violin solo of Scheherazade’s story.
Romeo & Juliet Overture – Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Arr. Jerry Brubaker)
Miley Balakirev, a noted Russian composer was a trained musician who had a great influence on several well-known romantic composers. He suggested that Tchaikovsky write some incidental music for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Balakirev wrote suggestions about the structure of Romeo and Juliet, giving details of the type of music required in each section, and even opinions on which keys to use. It took three versions to get the right sound, The Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasie was composed in 1869 revised in 1870 and again in 1880 and finally performed in 1886.
The Overture which is written in the sonata form, does not really outline the plot of the play so it cannot be considered program music, but there are several themes that represent various characters and episodes. The love theme is one of Tchaikovsky’s most inspired romantic melodies.
Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia – from Spartacus Suite #2 – A Khachaturian
Spartacus is a ballet by Aram Khachaturian. The story follows the exploits of Spartacus, the leader of the slave uprising against the Romans known as the Third Servile War. The ballet’s storyline does not follow the historical record exactly, but close enough to make it a great success in Leningrad when it was performed. It is one of Khachaturian’s best known works.
The love theme, the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia has been used in many contemporary settings including the animated films Ice Age: The Meltdown and again in the sequel Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
Somewhere in Time
Somewhere in Time is an American romantic science fiction-fantasy drama filmed in 1980. It is based on the novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson. In the movie Christopher Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who becomes obsessed with a photograph of a young woman at the Grand Hotel. Through self-hypnosis, he travels back in time to the year 1912 to find love with actress Elise McKenna (portrayed by Jane Seymour). However, this relationship may not last as long as the two of them think; Elise’s manager, William Fawcett Robinson (portrayed by Christopher Plummer), fears that romance will derail her career and resolves to stop him.
The music of the movie has outlived it. The musical score was composed by John Barry and the 18th variation of Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is woven into it creating an ethereal, dream-like mood that seems to sum up the love story for all those who have seen it.
John Barry was an English conductor and composer of film music. He is best known for composing the soundtracks for 11 of the James Bond movies. He wrote the scores to the award winning films Midnight Cowboy, Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa, in a career spanning over 50 years. In 1999 he received an OBE for services to music.
Pavane – Gabriel Faure
Pavane was a Renaissance court dance that probably originated in Italy. It is a sedate and dignified couple dance that originally seems to have been fast or moderately fast but like many other dances became slower over time. The same is true of Faure’s composition. His intent was that it would be faster than it is played today.
It was originally written as a piano piece. It was later orchestrated by the composer and this version is the better known one. It was written for orchestra and optional chorus. The orchestration is only for strings and woodwinds. The composer described it as “elegant but not otherwise important”. In 1891 a version was produced with both chorus and dancers. It was designed to be performed at a garden party for his patron Élisabeth de Caraman Chimay, Countess Greffulhe, “the undisputed queen of Parisian society”.
Although the Pavane is not one of Faure’s most important works, it is one of his most popular and most commonly performed.