Jerry Goldsmith: 1929–2004

Jerry Goldsmith, the film composer who created the accompanying music to everything from radio shows to memorable films such as Patton, Planet of the Apes, In Like Flint, Chinatown, and The Omen (for which he won the Academy Award), died July 21 after an extended battle with cancer.

Born Jerrald Goldsmith on February 10, 1929 in Los Angeles, he studied classical piano with Jacob Gimpel and music with the composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He claimed he became infatuated with the art of composing music for film when he saw Spellbound in 1945. When he attended the University of California he took classes with Miklos Rozsa, who won an Oscar for his score for that film.

In 1950, Goldsmith took a clerk typist position at CBS, which got his foot in the door for writing music live radio shows, sometimes as much as a score every week. As television became more popular, Goldsmith began writing for that emerging medium, including many themes that are considered classic today: Dr. Kildare, Barnaby Jones, and Star Trek: The Next Generation among them.

It was his scoring of feature films that made Goldsmith's name one to reckon with. His signature—if a composer with such a broad range can be said to have one—was his economy, although some saw this as his weakness. Goldsmith tended to utilize leitmotifs, short, identifiable melodic fragments, that he would manipulate to indicate emotional intensity. In his audio commentary for the DVD release of Hollow Man, Goldsmith stated that all of a film's music should be unified, "part of the same architecture, everything comes out of [that]."

Possibly as a result of his years toiling in the television trenches producing uncredited stock music cues, Goldsmith avoided what he deemed "a lot of isolated music" in film scores. Some critics dubbed his style "deep scoring." Reuters quotes his widow, Carol, as saying, "He used to lecture film school students that if they were scoring a scene for a man on a horse galloping away, you don't score the gallop but you score the fear of the rider."

It was a technique that proved popular with directors and with the public. Goldsmith was said to have participated in more than 2000 recording sessions. It is obvious that he enjoyed his work (and he was apparently fun to work with as well—one rumor has it that he showed up to conduct the recording session for Planet of the Apes wearing a gorilla mask). In 2000 he told the Tokyo Daily Yomiuri that a BBC survey had found that a piece of his music was being played somewhere on the planet "every minute of every day."

"That's good for my ego," Goldsmith observed.

And for five decades, Goldsmith was good for the movies.