When the words “Star Wars” first burst onto the movie screen to the sweeping accompaniment of a symphony orchestra in 1977, the first blockbuster film, with a soundtrack to match, was born.
Composer John Williams would go on to become one of the most important film composers of modern times. One of the secrets to his success was how he drew inspiration from classical music.
The driving rhythms of Williams’ Imperial Death March in Star Wars were inspired by Gustav Holst’s symphonic suite, The Planets. Specifically, from the opening movement, “Mars, Bringer of War.”
In fact, Star Wars producer George Lucas encouraged Williams to use Holst’s seven-movement suite for inspiration while composing the score for the epic space adventure. Listen to some comparisons in this YouTube video.
Plenty of composers since then have followed suit.
“Gustav Holst can be seen as unintentionally being one of the greatest movie composers of all time, inspiring many film scores of the last 50 years,” according to blogger Nathan Spendelow on the website Inside Film.
Grand Rapids Symphony presents Holst’s The Planets on Friday and Saturday, February 2-3, in DeVos Performance Hall.
Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will lead the multimedia program featuring video of outer space courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium.
The full-length video accompanying the seven-movement suite includes images of the planets, its moons, and the spacecraft that have visited each, including photographs of Jupiter taken during the Juno mission and images of Saturn from the Cassini mission.
Animations and simulations of galaxies, nebulae, other deep space objects, and flights through the stars are part of the video, with including content and imagery from Evans and Sutherland, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Tickets for The Planets, the fifth concert of the 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series concert start at $18 adults, $5 students for the 8 p.m. concerts.
Lehninger also will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, nicknamed “Jupiter,” and Haydn’s Overture to Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon).
Members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus will be featured in The Planets.
Holst, though not a believer in astrology, was inspired by the astrological associations of the planets when he composed his seven-movement suite more than 100 years ago.
Three of the seven movements, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” and “Neptune, the Mystic,” are among the most frequently quoted compositions of all time.
Film scores for such well-known movies as Aliens, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and The Terminator all suggest inspiration from The Planets. In the original Star Wars film, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the music in the concluding act that sees Luke Skywalker firing his proton torpedo into the exhaust port of the Death Star, becoming louder as the tension builds, follows the same format as “Mars” from The Planets.
Other TV shows and movies that quote directly from The Planets include the 2010 TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and the 2008 film Hellboy II: The Golden Army with Ron Perlman and Selma Blair.”
The 1983 film The Right Stuff, the story of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn and Ed Harris, uses excerpts from “Jupiter,” “Mars” and “Neptune.”