Q: I know it’s corny, but I’m a big fan of the original “Star Trek” series. I’ve always wondered who composed the now-famous theme music.
A: The composer of that distinctive theme is Alexander “Sandy” Courage. Born in Philadelphia, in December 1919, Courage was educated at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. After serving five years in the Army during World War II, Courage settled in Los Angeles and began work as an arranger for various radio shows, including the serial, “Sam Spade.” Beginning in 1948, he began writing film scores. His credits include “The Sun Also Rises,” “Showboat,” “Funny Face,” “Dr. Doolittle” (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1967), “My Fair Lady” and “Guys and Dolls” to name only a few. His television musical credits include scores for “Lost in Space,” “Wagon Train,” “Peyton Place” and “The Waltons.” During the mid-’60s, while working as an arranger at Twentieth Century Fox, Courage was approached by executives at Desilu Studios about composing the theme for a science fiction show they were developing called “Star Trek.” He agreed and produced the now instantly recognizable theme. What many people don’t realize is that there are lyrics to the theme, although they were never used in any of the shows or subsequent movies. The lyrics were written by the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and were never sung on-air. In fact, it has been reported that Roddenberry wrote the lyrics knowing that they would never be used simply so that he could take advantage of an option in Courage’s contract that enabled Roddenberry to claim co-authorship of the theme — and thereby claim half of the royalties, a move that left an understandably bitter taste in Courage’s mouth.
Q: My wife recently showed our beginning piano student how to play “Chopsticks,” and now I can’t get it out of my brain! Can you tell me who composed the tune and, more importantly, why?
A: Ah, “Chopsticks”! The pinnacle of achievement that every beginning pianist strives for! Its seeming simplicity belies the fact that it was actually composed — albeit by a relatively unknown 16-year old British girl named Euphemia Allen in 1877. The actual title of the tune is “The Celebrated Chopsticks Waltz, arranged as a Duet and Solo for the Pianoforte” and was published under the pseudonym of Arthur de Lulli. Allen was the younger sister of the publisher Mozart Allen and is not known to have composed anything else. She died in 1949. The instructions accompanying the score state, “This part must be played with both hands turned sideways, the little fingers lowest, so that the movements of the hands imitate the chopping from which this waltz gets its name.” Almost at the same time this tune was published, the Russian composer Aleksandr Borodin is reported to have overheard his daughter playing a tune similar to Allen’s, which isn’t too surprising since one-finger piano pieces were popular with children at this time. Borodin composed a variation and named it “The Koteletten Polka,” koteletten being German for muttonchop whiskers. Other composers wrote variations, including Cesar Cui, Anatoli Liadov, Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov and Franz Liszt. Apparently, you are not the first person who couldn’t get the tune out of his brain!