Great Composers Steal, Mediocre Composers...Well, Some of Them Steal, Too

on May 28, 2009 by Steve Simels


guise.jpgFirst of all, apologies to the great composer (and film buff) Igor Stravinsky, who may have been the guy who came up with the witticism (great composers steal, mediocre composers borrow) paraphrased in the title above, although I've heard it attributed to Camille Saint-Saëns as well. (Interesting bit of trivia: Saint-Saëns, whose music -- an excerpt from Carnival of the Animals -- turned up most recently on the soundtrack to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was the first major composer to write specifically for the cinema, to wit a score for L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise, a 1908 Pathé film that was quite the media sensation in its day.)

At any rate, I bring all this up because I was browsing YouTube the other day, and chanced across the trailer for the notorious unreleased 1994 Roger Corman-produced Roger Cormanmovie. (If that one's news to you, it was shot, for about a million bucks, solely to maintain the film rights and was never intended for theatrical release, although home video versions were apparently readied).

What struck me about the trailer, though, was not its frankly endearing cheesiness, but the fact that the music sounded awfully familiar.

Here it is -- enjoy the ridiculous F/X and unconvincing Thing suit, but see if the score rings a bell.

Give up? Well, unless my ears deceive me, it's the same orchestral background world class hack Academy Award-winning Titanic composer James Horner made his debut with -- also for Corman -- on the 1980 Battle Beyond the Stars. Which he recycled two years later and to some derision, for his first major studio score -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.


fantastic four dvd.jpg


Now to be fair, the Corman F4 movie does have its own score by the perhaps unfortunately named (but incredibly prolific) brother team of David and Eric Wurst, which is actually not terrible; presumably their work had not been completed at the time the F4 trailer was put together, and one of Corman's people just recycled Horner's music again.

That allowed, I will confess to a certain schadenfreude upon learning that Horner has a history of this kind of shenanigan, and it's not confined to lifting his own music. According to New Yorker critic Alec Ross, Horner's score for Aliens samples the opening of Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony, his score for Willow simplifies the first theme of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony, and his main title for Glory takes the "Humming Chorus" from Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible and grafts it onto Elgar's Enigma Variations. Horner was also sued by the estate of composer Raymond Scott when it turned out he appropriated large chunks of the former's familiar "Powerhouse" in the main title of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids without giving credit where credit was due.

Hey, like I said...mediocre composers steal, too. In any case, you can order a pretty good looking (and reasonably legal) DVD of the Corman Fantastic Four over here.


Tags: Igor Stravinsky, Camille Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Roger Corman, James Horner, Battle Beyond the Stars.

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