Stravinsky in space: the classic “fight music” from Star Trek. [audio]

If you’re a fan of the old Star Trek TV show, you probably know before you even click the above video what it’s going to be. If someone so much as mentions the words “fight music” or “Amok Time,” you can already hear it in your head: the harsh bass line, the savage slices of the brass, and the pounding bongos and shaking tambourines. Indeed, aside from the Star Trek theme song itself, the classic “fight music” is probably the most instantly-recognizable audio cue from the entire series.

Although many people recognize the “fight music,” not very many people know the story behind it–either historically or musically. The music, which is officially called “The Ritual/Ancient Battle/Second Kroykah,” was composed in July 1967 by veteran Hollywood composer Gerald Fried for the second-season opening episode, “Amok Time.” This is one of Star Trek’s most classic episodes, depicting the descent into madness by Vulcan scientist Mr. Spock, who ends up in vicious hand-to-hand combat with his best friend Captain Kirk as part of an ancient Vulcan mating ritual. In addition to appearing in “Amok Time,” Fried’s “fight music” was also used in various other Star Trek episodes, including “The Omega Glory” and “The Gamesters of Triskelion”–and always during a fight sequence.

Once you’ve listened to the “fight music,” take a listen to this much older piece of 20th century classical music. You may notice some interesting musical and structural similarities.

The above piece is from the 1913 symphony “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Musically and emotionally, “The Rite of Spring” comes from the same sort of place that Gerald Fried’s music for “Amok Time” does: a primal ritual, violent and dangerous, brimming with emotions incapable of being tamed. There is an obvious thematic commonality, and I’m surprised more people don’t see the parallel.

Stravinsky was enormously influential particularly on film composers. John Williams, James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith–each of whom have scored numerous space opera films, including Star Wars and Star Trek–all derive much of their musical styles from Stravinsky. In fact, you could argue that Stravinsky, breaking out of the conventions of 19th century classical music, invented the style of music without which movie scores would not be nearly the same.

Gerald Fried, the composer of “fight music,” is still alive. Not long ago he gave an interview on his illustrious career. In the video on this page (the section on “Amok Time” begins at 13:39) Fried talks a little about the Star Trek gig, but note specifically that he refers to what was happening in the episode as a “rite.” I think he may well be referring to Stravinsky!

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12 Comments

  1. Thanks! I am just discovering Stravinsky and searched for his name and Star Trek because Rite of Spring made me think “Star Trek.”

  2. “Fascinating,” as Mr Spock would say. One of the most enduring pieces of music ever written for a TV show. It’s become a meme in itself (the folks who make Futurama used it as the national anthem of Dr Zoidberg’s planet!)

    There are also very recognisable callbacks to the Rite of Spring in Wendy Carlos’s score for Disney’s original “Tron” movie.

  3. I heard it on the radio and instantly thought of Star Trek and the battle scene between Spock and Kirk. I was surprised when Star Trek wasn’t mentioned at the end of the song so I set upon an internet search which led me here.

  4. Never made this connection, though it is spot on. Another connection is the Vina/Green Orion Slave Girl scene in ‘The Cage” (and by extension “The Menagerie”) which owes a clear debt to Ravel and his mighty Bolero.

  5. I like finding resemblances of theme & feel between pieces even more than of melodies, as in “You May Think I’m Crazy” by The Cars and “Promises, Promises” by Barreracudas. Sure there’s a striking resemblance between the “Star Trek” fight music and “Rite of Spring”. The trouble is, Stravinski’s been such an influence on EVERYTHING that it’s hard to single this one out. How many Hitchcock movie sound tracks do you hear in “Rite of Spring”?

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