Spaceships, lightsabers, and musical instruments may have more in common than you think.
Think about the sounds of outer space. What kind of music do you think of? For a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind is the main theme from Star Wars. From the Imperial March to Leia’s Theme, the songs of Star Wars have become widely known in today’s culture. However, another orchestral work may come to mind, especially for musicians, when asked about space music.
The Planets, composed by Gustav Holst, is a seven-movement suite for symphony orchestras, with each song named after a different planet. Based upon Holst’s interpretations of the planets’ characters, the songs have unique meters (patterns created by grouping beats into measures/time signatures) and key signatures. This gives each planet a sort of personality, with a different feeling to the music—some joyful and spirited like “Mercury, the Winged Messenger,” others emotional and romantic like “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.”
Though these two works have outer space-related titles, the similarities don’t just stop there. Some of John Williams’ songs from the Star Wars Suite for Orchestra echo themes in Holst’s Planets. For example, “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” starts off slowly and ominously, with the woodwind section alternating two notes. Then, the lower strings join in, followed by the upper strings. To compare, Star Wars’ “The Desert and the Robot Auction” begins faster but with the same alternating woodwind notes followed by strings playing a single note. They both are written in 4/4 time, though in different keys.
Another great song comparison is “Mars, the Bringer of War” and “The Imperial March.” If you’ve watched a Star Wars movie recently, it’s pretty obvious that when you hear “The Imperial March,” you should prepare to see Darth Vader in some show of power in their war of the Empire versus the Rebels. Based on the names alone, you might have thought they would sound similar. If so, you would be right. Both songs are in the same key signature, beginning with an ostinato (continually repeated musical motif or phrase) in the string section. The two composers incorporated creative rhythms with the use of triplets, sixteenth notes, and dotted quarter notes. Additionally, they have the addition of drum beats in the background, giving an impression of marching in a war.
Finally, some pieces don’t have quite as much musical similarity as others. Still, take a listen to some of these comparable song matches from The Planets and Star Wars.
“Princess Leia’s Theme” and “Venus, the Bringer of Peace”
“Main Title” and “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”
“The Training of a Jedi Knight” and “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”
If you’re interested in exploring this topic more, check out these videos:
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