Ever heard the name Erich Wolfgang Korngold? What about John Williams?
You probably recognize the latter as the man responsible for the Star Wars soundtrack and dozens of iconic film scores, but the former was a famous film composer in his own right, and actually influenced Williams’ work.
While Star Wars didn’t debut until 1977, the story of the film’s iconic opening theme actually began in what we now know as the Czech Republic, in the year 1897: The year that musical prodigy Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born.
A virtuoso from the start, Korngold had composed his first ballet (Der Schneemann or The Snowman) by age 11, his first orchestral score by age 14, and his first two operas by age 17. By the time his 20s rolled around, he was already one of the most popular musicians in his native Austria-Hungary, and soon Hollywood came calling. In 1938, the composer traveled to California to work on the score for Robin Hood —which would later earn him an Academy Award — but Korngold was born into a Jewish family and as Hitler’s Germany swept across Europe, the situation became too dangerous for him to return home.
Four years after Robin Hood, the composer struck gold again, this time with the score for the 1942 drama King’s Row, which starred future President Ronald Reagan. Unless you’re a big-time cinephile, it’s likely that you’ve never seen the film, but if you have — and if you’re not one of the seven people on Earth who haven’t seen Star Wars — you’ll note that there are some striking similarities between the two scores.
Apparently, Williams had to convince Lucas to go with original music for A New Hope, but before he did, the director provided him with a sampling of some of his favorite orchestral pieces to incorporate in the soundtrack, a sampling that included music from, you guessed it, King’s Row.
Since Williams is an icon of American music, and since he has admitted to admiring Korngold’s work on several occasions, we’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was merely inspired by what is an iconic soundtrack in its own right. With that said, there are times when the scores of these two films feel … uncomfortably similar. Check out the video above and you’ll see what we mean.
In any artistic endeavor, there’s a thin line between borrowing and outright copycatting, and Williams does seem to be straddling it in this case. Still, that shouldn’t lessen our appreciation for the Star Wars score, which is most definitely a masterpiece. If anything, it should heighten our appreciation for one of the most talented musicians to ever set foot in Hollywood: Erich Wolfgang Korngold.