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Adventure Film Scores: The Art of Music


Carlos Tinoco

STUDENT ID: 30002483

MUSI 333: Late Romantic & Modern Music

Adventure Film Scores: The Art of Music

Since the 16th century, there have been countless productions such as

operas, musicals, and films that heavily rely on music. From the first opera

that was written in 1597 to Disney’s latest installment of Star Wars, music has

not only provided something for the audience to listen to and sing along to,

but it also allows the listener to have an emotional connection to the

production. Up until the 1920’s, films were called “silent films” due to the lack

of audio. In October of 1927, The Jazz Singer, the first sound film, released

and ultimately changed the way films were produced. Music was beginning to

be incorporated in numerous ways. In today’s world, music in films is as

important if not more important than the actual film itself. Film score

composers originally began by adding in pre-existing pieces as part of their

repertoire, but eventually they began incorporating their own compositions.

In the adventure film genre, there have been countless composers who have

certainly made a name for themselves with their innovative film score ideas.

Composers such as: Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and John Williams are

amongst the few of the world-renowned film score composers who have

influenced how a lot of film scores are being produced today. In university-

level music education, we spend time analyzing the music and influences of

composers dating back to the first century and cover 2000 years of composers

of classical music, but never look at how the music created by film score

composers are different from those of past composers. We spend time

studying the works and influences of composers such as: Josquin des Prez,

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and John Cage but we never cover the influences

of film composers. Film score composers Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and

John Williams have all been influenced by many composers before them and

were so much so that they borrowed their music and compositional methods

to enhance their own music.

Composers can draw ideas from a myriad of influences. In the 20th

century alone, there are many notable composers who based their music from

foreign influences. For example, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Igor

Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed music which displayed elements of outside

influences. Debussy made use of folk songs and was able to create pieces

using cultural influences from Asia. His piece Estampes (1903) is an example

of gamelan music, which originated from Indonesian. Stravinsky, on the other

hand, relates more closely to film score composers. Firebird (1915), one of

Stravinsky’s most famous compositions, exercised a new compositional

method which is prominent in modern-day film score composers. In the finale

of Firebird, the main theme is derived from a folk tune which was found in a

private collection by Stravinsky’s old teacher, Nicholai Rimsky-Korsakov1.

Stravinsky’s manipulation of the folk song was an early example of what is

David Guion, Firebrd, by Igor Stravinsky, Musicology For Everyone, 2013.

known today as “music borrowing”. As composers did before them, Hans

Zimmer, James Horner, and John Williams borrowed music from past

composers to help fuel their own compositions for film scores.

Hans Zimmer (1957- ) has become an exceptional composer across a

variety of genres. Zimmer, like a lot of early 20th century composers, excelled

at experimenting with and implementing soundscapes and pre-existing

compositions. As he is one of the film score composers who is in extremely

high demand, Zimmer has had to produce hundreds of different compositions

for every film he’s had the opportunity to score. In the Quentin Tarantino

movie True Romance (1993), Hans Zimmer’s track entitled You’re So Cool is

based on Carl Orff’s (1895-1982) Gassenhauer nach Hans Neusiedler (1536),

written in 1973. Both of these pieces are scored for percussion ensemble.

Although You’re So Cool is presented in a different key, Zimmer maintains the

integral character of the piece and then is able to expand on it as the piece

continues. Both pieces begin with a lone marimba playing a simple rhythmic

chord progression, which continues on as more instruments start to add in.

When all of the instruments are present, both pieces then break into a quick

triplet meter to develop the initial melody. It is very apparent that Zimmer

quoted Gassenhauer nach Hans Neusiedler (1536) by the use of the same

instrumentation, the same character, and the same musical structure. Both of

these compositions present a curious case when it comes to musical

borrowing. As aforementioned, Hans Zimmer used Carl Orff’s Gassenhauer

nach Hans Neusiedler (1536) as a template for the credits theme of True

Romance, You’re So Cool. Carl Orff’s composition was also in fact another

example of music borrowing. Gassenhauer nach Hans Neusiedler (1536) is

inspired by an untitled work by German composer and lutenist Hans

Neusiedler (1508-1563) written in 15362.

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, Zimmer was beginning to compose

an exponential amount of film scores, including the one to Christopher Nolan’s

Inception (2010). Time, one of the pieces from Inception, is one of the most,

if not the most, iconic piece that came from this blockbuster. The slow piece

begins with a simple chord progression played by the piano, more and more

instruments begin to add in, a counter melody begins to emerge in the cellos

and the brass, until the piece reaches its climax. Not a lot of people know that

this iconic masterpiece presented in this exciting thriller of a movie is the

result of music borrowing. This piece was heavily influenced by the piece: The

Apartment, presented in the original soundtrack from The Bourne Identity

(2002), directed by Doug Liman3. Both of these pieces begin, progress, and

end the same. Hans Zimmer utilized the same instrumentation and the same

dynamic contrast presented in The Apartment. One interesting anecdote about

Carl Orff, Shulwerk, Volume 1: Musica Poetica, Celestial Harmonies
David Chen, The Fine Line Between (soundtrack) homage an rip-off,, 2013.

these two tracks is that they were both presented at nearly the same point in

the film. Both tracks were played near the end at a point in the movie where

the main characters were finally reaching a resolution of conflict, finally

reaching that point of “Okay, we made it”. Hans Zimmer certainly made it with

a clever borrowing of John Powell’s The Apartment. The way that Zimmer

utilized John Powell’s piece was similar to the way he used Carl Orff’s

Gassenhauer nach Hans Neusiedler (1536). In both examples, Zimmer took

the building blocks of the piece and essentially reinvented it. He took the same

chord progressions, the same instrumentation, the same tempos, and in the

case of Time, he even utilized the same dynamic contrasts presented in the

piece he borrowed from. The following example demonstrates a more direct

form of musical borrowing. (See Example 1).

Example 1: Hans Zimmer, Inception (2010), “Time”, mm. 13-20.

In the 21st century, Hans Zimmer scored the adventure film Gladiator

(2003) which was directed by Ridley Scott. Zimmer managed to accommodate

one of the most well-known pieces of the 20th century, Gustav Holst’s The

Planets, Op. 32. As previously mentioned, Hans Zimmer was very adamant in

utilizing all aspects of a piece. Mars, the Bringer of War, the first movement

in The Planets, Op. 32, has become a popular piece in which composers use

to create new compositions. In Gladiator, the track entitled “The Battle” is

greatly influenced by Mars (See Example 2). Beginning two measures after

rehearsal marking “II” in Mars, the brass begins playing a dotted-quarter

eighth note figure which then spreads throughout the entire orchestra.

Example 2: Gustav Holst, The Planets, Op. 32 (1914), “Mars, The Bringer of

War”, Four Measures After Rehearsal II.

This figure, as shown above, is exactly the same passage found in

Zimmer’s The Battle. Whereas some composers would use the pre-existing

composition to gather ideas and motives, Gladiator demonstrates the more

direct approach that Hans Zimmer took. As opposed to using Mars as a

template, Zimmer essentially “copy and pasted” Mars into his composition and

called it his own. Just as a side note, Hans Zimmer’s The Battle was so close

to Holst’s piece that Zimmer was presented with a lawsuit from the Gustav

Holst Foundation4. It was extremely apparent how much of an influence

Gustav Holst was on Hans Zimmer for his scores for the movie Gladiator, more

so than the examples from True Romance and Inception. In one of the later

films that he scored, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

(2003), the main theme is a spin-off of The Battle from Gladiator. As the

theme from Mars starts to slowly fade throughout the piece, Zimmer then

presents a very fanfare-like melody which is used to intensify the scene when

the main character of Gladiator, Maximus Decimus Meridius, fights in the

Colosseum to earn his freedom. Hans Zimmer then uses this epic and robust

theme to create the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the

Black Pearl. When Hans Zimmer is composing film scores and borrows music,

more often than not he copies from past composers. On the other hand, James

Horner (1953-2015), a fellow adventure film score composer, borrows from

his own past compositions.

Mikael Carlsson, Zimmer sued over “Gladiator” music, Film Music Magazine,, 2006.

James Horner is most known for his work in Star Trek II: The Wrath of

Khan (1982), Braveheart (1995), Field of Dreams (1989), and Titanic (1997).

His career in the 80’s and 90’s consisted of a variety of space-themed movies

including Star Trek II and III, and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). As

aforementioned, James Horner is well known as a composer who would

compose something, and the quote himself in later compositions. For example,

in the Battle Beyond the Stars, Horner’s piece entitled Shad’s Pursuit,

demonstrates a reoccurring sixteenth-note ostinato pattern which is

accompanied by a small repeating gesture in the low register by the tubas and

trombones. This particular tense “groove” that was established in this piece

actually made several appearances in later movies that Horner wrote for. In

between writing the scores for Battle Beyond the Stars and Wrath of Khan,

Horner wrote the music to the movie Wolfen (1981). Wolfen was a drama-

horror movie which was in a sense, a palate cleanser for Horner after only

composing for space-themed movies. In Wolfen, you find a very similar

ostinato pattern like the one found in Battle Beyond the Stars. This time, he

utilized tuba’s and trombone’s notes in the low register to bring a little bit

more tension and even gave it a “werewolf-like character”. This wasn’t the

only time that James Horner copied this figure, he also used it in Star Trek

III: The Search for Spock (1984). Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Trek II: Wrath

of Khan, Wolfen, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock can be considered

“sister” movies when talking about the soundtracks because of all of the

recycled material James Horner used in them. These four movies are just early

examples of Horner’s compositional technique of borrowing pre-existing


In an interview with Film Score Monthly dating back to 2004, James

Horner said: “You write a film score and you develop interesting ideas and you

think you’d love to explore that more in your next score or in a serious piece…

more recently, it’s harder and harder to be completely fresh”5. Even 20 years

before he did this interview, Horner was already building on this idea of

developing ideas from previous scores, as shown above. Sergei Sergeyevich

Prokofiev (1891-1953) is one of James Horner’s favorite composers6. With

Prokofiev being the big influence that he was on Horner’s compositional

career, Horner was sure to follow in his footsteps. Now, you may pose the

question: “How does Sergei Prokofiev influence James Horner to borrow music

for his compositions?”, and the answer is in some of Prokofiev’s works.

Symphony No.1 in D Major, Op. 25 (1916), also known as Classical Symphony,

and Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (1938) both showcase examples of music

borrowing. Both of these pieces feature a gavotte, which is a medium-paced

French dance which was popular in the 18th century. Both the Gavotte from

Christian Clemmensen, Titanic (James Horner), Film Score Monthly, Lukas Kendal, 1997.
Michael W. Harris, Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III,,

the Classical Symphony and the Gavotte from Romeo and Juliet are examples

two compositions by the same composer borrowing from themselves. In this

case, both compositions are identical to each other (See Example 3.1 and

3.2).This of course influenced Horner to use his own compositions to provide

ideas for his other scores as was evident in what he said in his interview with

Film Score Monthly. Compare the score from the Classic Symphony to that of

the score from Romeo and Juliet.

Example 3.1: Sergei Prokofiev, Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (1916),

“Gavotte”, mm. 1-6.

Example 3.2: Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (1938), “Gavotte”,

mm. 1-5. Beginning in the pickup to the third measure, you can see practically

the exact same piece. See how the same movement in the notes occur in both

pieces, they are both in the same key, and even have the buildup towards the

fourth measure.

To further emphasize James Horner’s love for Sergei Prokofiev’s music,

there is an example of Horner borrowing music from Prokofiev. In Romeo and

Juliet, the seventh movement entitled Romeo at Juliet’s Grave is a very

somber, very magisterial piece. It contains rolling minor arpeggios from the

strings and is reinforced by the brass and the percussion. In Star Trek III: The

Search for Spock, James Horner used this exact formula7. Like in Prokofiev’s

example from the Classical Symphony and Romeo and Juliet where he just

used the same music in both gavottes, James Horner used the same music in

the Destruction of the Enterprise from Star Trek III (See Example 4).


Example 4: Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (1938), “Juliet’s

Funeral”, mm. 356-363. These eight measures show the rolling arpeggios

found in Romeo and Juliet.

Unlike his more popular counterpart, John Williams, James Horner had

more of a subtle taste when it came to scoring movies. Star Wars, one of the

biggest movie franchises, is known for its big “Hollywood” fanfare-like scores

in which the main theme is an example of. On the other hand, James Horner

takes on a “Beethovenian approach” to his scores for a movie’s main theme.

In his Symphony No. 9 (1824), Ludwig van Beethoven begins the piece ever

so softly. The strings and the brass begin by holding a note, while the higher

voices start interjecting. As the piece continues, the intensity starts to grow

until the first big impact from the orchestra. In Symphony No. 7 (1812),

Beethoven begins with what is probably his most recognizable motif. This first

movement is considered organic because of the way that it starts to build off

of the motif presented in the beginning of the movement. Both Symphony No.

7 and Symphony No. 9 combined showcase the compositional technique that

Horner used to write the main themes for a lot of his movies. In contrast to

movies like Star Wars, Horner’s movies would begin very softly with nothing

but a hint of some sort of harmonic grounding, and then would begin to

introduce melodies and develop them. This idea was first found in The Battle

Beyond the Stars, then in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and was more

recently presented in Dean Wright’s Greater Glory (2012). This once again

reinforces the idea that Horner liked to build on his past compositions and use

them for other scores. Some people at first were a little skeptical about the

notion that Horner would simply copy and paste musical ideas from one score

to the next, but he clarified that in an earlier interview with Film Score Monthly

in 1997. The focus of this interview was on the film score for the blockbuster

Titanic (1997), but afterwards Film Score Monthly concluded the interview

with: “Horner was also skilled in the adaptation of existing music into films

with just enough variation to avoid legal troubles”. In the words of Igor

Stravinsky, “A good composer borrows, a great composer steals”8. James

Horner’s film score career was definitely an interesting one. His music

borrowing began quite early in his career starting in the 1980’s and continued

right up until is unfortunate death in 2015. Horner’s “borrowing career” began

with Battle Beyond the Stars where he created this ongoing ostinato pattern

which would later return in Wolfen, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star

Georg Predota, “Good composers borrow, Great ones steal!”,, 2016.

Trek III: The Search for Spock. He then emphasized his love for Sergei

Prokofiev by replicating entire sections of movements found in Prokofiev’s

Romeo and Juliet. Finally, Horner further demonstrated his use of previous

material by recycling the idea of “subtle beginnings” when it came to scoring

the main theme for a movie.

American-born film score composer, John Williams, along with Hans

Zimmer, is exceptionally well known for his adventure-film film scores. His

scores are so highly-regarded that one may say that the film score industry is

his empire. His empire of course is alluding to The Galactic Empire from the

hit movie series Star Wars by Lucas Film Ltd. John’s Williams’ first Star Wars

film, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) is older than James Horner’s film Battle

Beyond the Stars by three years, which means that music borrowing in this

genre of films can be dated back even earlier than 1980. Even in Star Wars:

A New Hope, or Episode IV, there are multiple examples of John Williams

quoting other composers. Moving back a couple of years, John Williams took

part in probably one of the most iconic movies in the 70’s, other than the

aforementioned Star Wars: A New Hope of course. Jaws, directed by Steven

Spielberg in 1975, has arguably the most well-known theme in the film

industry. Though this movie came out in 1975, the famous two-note theme

that we all know and love has interestingly enough, been around since 1893.

Antonín Dvořák, a Czech composer, wrote the famous Symphony No. 9 in E

minor “From the New World”, Op. 95, B. 178 (1893), or more commonly

known as the New World Symphony. The main theme that John Williams wrote

for Jaws was taken from the New World Symphony9. Both of these pieces

begin with an isolated ascending semitones pattern in the low strings, and

also share similar rhythm and articulations (See Example whatever number

this will end up being). Like some of the previous examples from Hans Zimmer

and James Horner, both the theme from Jaws and the New World Symphony

only share a couple of measures in common, until they both explore other

territories (See Example 5.1 and 5.2).

Example 5.1: John Williams, Jaws (1975), “Main Theme”, mm. 1-4.

Example 5.2: Antonín Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 in E minor “From the New

World”, Op. 95, B. 178 (1893), mvt. IV, mm. 1-3.

Jeremy Orosz, John Williams: Paraphraser or Plagarist?, Journal of Musicologist Research, 34:4, pg. 306, 2015.

John William’s example of music borrowing from the New World

Symphony may be a little redundant since borrowing a motif with semitones

isn’t as obvious of an example as copying entire melodies with bigger intervals

and more complex rhythms. A Better example can be found in Rebel Fanfare,

a theme that is found throughout the Star Wars saga10. Rebel Fanfare is

comprised of epic brassy major triads that are intertwined with minor triads.

This motif is also found throughout Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 in D-

flat Major Op. 30, W45 (1930). The following examples will display John

Williams’ interpretation of Hanson’s motif. In this instance, Williams uses

trumpets to present the theme, which takes after Symphony No. 2, though he

does slightly alter the rhythm towards the end (See Example 6.1, 6.2, and


Example 6.1: John Williams, Star Wars, “Rebel Fanfare”

Example 6.2: Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 2, Mvt. I, Rehearsal H.


Example 6.3: Hanson, Symphony No. 2, Mvt. III, Rehearsal K.

As the Star Wars saga is filled with a lot of different environments, it is

filled to the brim with many different compositions. In Star Wars: A New Hope

(1977) and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), John Williams first

presented the famous Imperial March which occurs whenever the Empire is

flying off to catch one of the main characters or when Darth Vader makes an

appearance. This piece has sparked a lot of interest, not only because it’s

considered one of the best pieces every to emerge from the saga, but instead

because of the amount of other compositions can be heard in this one piece.

Firstly, the Imperial March is based around the interval of a minor third, which

is then exploited throughout as the piece continues. This reoccurring minor

third interval and the manner in which it is presented has come from the

influence of in the music of Disney’s Fantasia (1940)11. Secondly, the

reoccurring ostinato pattern throughout can be linked to the aforementioned

Mars by Gustav Holst. Moreover, Mars also had an influence on the creation

of the Rebel Blockade Runner which is found in Star Wars: A New Hope. The

ending of Rebel Blockade Runner is based off of the ending from Holst’s Mars.

Wendy Parker, Composer John Williams Embodies The Art Of Musical Borrowing,, 2015.

Both pieces share the same chord structure, the same buildup with the strings

ascending in register and hitting the bridge with their bows, and also the way

the attacks happen with the dissonant chords (See Example 7.1 and 7.2). It

is no secret that John Williams had been heavily influenced by Gustav Holst,

he has admitted that in multiple interviews.

Example 7.1: Gustav Holst, The Planets, Op. 32 (1914), “Mars, The Bringer

of War”, Rehearsal XII.

Example 7.2: John Williams, Star Wars, “Rebel Blockade Runner”, mm. 81-


The Jawa Theme, presented in Star Wars: A New Hope is yet another

example of John Williams using Holst’s Mars as a foundation12. Both of these

pieces feature dotted rhythms, and chromatic triads in the high brass. In John

William’s rendition, he had the trumpets play with mutes and it is in 4/4 as

opposed to the 5/4 found in Mars (See Example 8.1 and 8.2). To paraphrase

Jeremy Orosz, the change in meter and the change in timbre with the trumpets

being muted is perhaps a way for Williams to hide the fact that he was coming

dangerously close to copying and pasting yet another piece.

Orosz, Williams: Plagiarist?, pp. 315.

Example 8.1: Gustav Holst, The Planets, Op. 32 (1914), “Mars, The Bringer

of War”, mm. 45-49

Example 8.2: Williams, Star Wars: A New Hope, “Jawa Theme”.

Williams’ musical borrowing continues with Erich Wolfgang Korngold

(1897-1957). The Binary Sunset theme was derived from the scores of The

Adventures of Robin Hood Symphonic Suite (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940).

The main title from Star Wars which is also known as Luke’s Theme, was taken

from Korngold’s score for King’s Row (1942)13. Both of these pieces share the

same the exact same rhythms and the exact same intervals between the

notes. The only thing separating these pieces is the key in which they’re

presented in (See Example 9.1 and 9.2).

Example 9.1: Erich Korngold, Kings Row (1942), Parris’ Theme.

Example 9.2: Williams, Star Wars, Main Title/Luke’s Theme.

John Williams has had a lot to do with music borrowing in his film scores.

As shown above, Williams has made good use of the music of Antonín Dvořák,

Howard Hanson, and Gustav Holst. Williams’ career of borrowing doesn’t just

stop at music. Williams took after Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and his notion

of leitmotif, which was when a composer would have a recurrent theme or

musical composition that was associated to a particular character, idea, or

situation14. Williams had a number of different themes which made its way

through all 8 films he was a part of, including the aforementioned Luke’s

Theme, Imperial March, and Binary Sunset (The Force Theme).

Orosz, Williams: Plagarist?, pp. 312.

The film industry has been a home to not only many actors and

directors, but also to composers as well. In the genre of adventure films, there

are three film score composers who stand out above the rest of them. Hans

Zimmer, James Horner, and John Williams, are amongst the “all-time greats”

when it came to the scores that they have produced. The art of music

borrowing, is one of the things that makes these composers special. Hans

Zimmer used music from the likes of Carl Orff, John Powell, and Gustav Holst.

Though when you look the general overview of Zimmer’s scores, one may

conclude that Zimmer simply copied and pasted from the original scores,

Zimmer has a healthy mix of borrowing a piece and expanding a piece by

changing instrumentation and developing the melodies in a different way.

James Horner, like Hans Zimmer, had a variety of ways he would utilize the

pre-existing compositions. While he was mainly influenced by Sergei

Prokofiev, he was also influenced by himself. Horner, more than any of the

composers listed above, would borrow from himself and explore his previous

ideas. Lastly, John Williams is as most people would say, the epitome of music

borrowing in film scores. Like Hans Zimmer, Holst was one of Williams’ main

influences throughout his early career as a composer. His scores from Star

Wars: a New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back demonstrate a

variety of ways in which Williams utilized Mars, The Bringer of War. Williams

also borrowed from Erich Korngold, Antonín Dvořák, and Richard Wagner.

Through the research done on these three composers, it has become apparent

that even though a score has one name attached to it at the top of the score,

that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an underlying message throughout the

piece. The Adventure film genre has such a variety in it that it gives composers

the opportunity to explore new ideas and to write multiple scores. Since the

1970’s, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and John Williams time and time again,

delivered a masterclass on music borrowing.


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