02 August 2008

Music From Star Wars (1977) - John Rose, organist

This is perhaps one of the first recordings covering Star Wars music, a 1977 organ transcription of John Williams' score for what is now known as A New Hope. Recorded in the Cathedral of St Joseph, Hartford, Connecticut in late 1977, just months following the release of the film, it features organist John Rose, just 20 years old and serving in his first position as organist for Trinity College. He has since gone on to record 16 albums, but is apparently remembered in organ circles - sometimes favorably, sometimes not - for this Star Wars recording.

Much like synthesizers today can mimic any number of band instruments and arrangements, organs with a large number of pipes can mimic the sounds of an orchestra. In the nineteenth century orchestral scores rewritten for the organ were an inexpensive alternative at a time when there was no recorded music.

You'll have to use a bit of imagination to conjure up an orchestra from this recording. The sound is rather distant and flat and Rose's playing is herky jerky, sounding rather like an under-rehearsed novice. According to the liner notes, Rose was learning and recording parts as they arrived by courier from the transcriptionist.

There's not a single track here worth recommending for a compilation of Star Wars covers, though Leia's Theme might do in a pinch. The Cantina song could be used, with a little volume tweaking, on any carnival merry-go-round, sounding more like polka than swing. The rest is historical curiosity. Buy this because you are a collector of Star Wars or pop culture kitsch. You'll be sorely disappointed if you buy it for any other reason.

Click here to download a compilation of clips from eight of the album's ten tracks.

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CoherentAxe said...

Hmm. Very messy (although the Main Theme bridge works okay) and it really sounds like a transcript. Perhaps it would work slightly better on its own, but considering we know the original score well enough for comparison, it feels decidedly weird and often off-key. Plus, while the organ is a bit of a novelty, it really doesn't do justice to the complexity and detail of the score. I'm listening to a clip of "Imperial Attack" right now, and it's far slower and more jagged than the original -- doesn't make for good listening; they're not different enough to be interesting as reworkings or variants. They're simply badly played.

A shame, but it's just a curiosity piece, really.

CoherentAxe said...

An addendum: Just listened to the "Cantina Band". Very weird and quirky, with a bit of a vaudeville flavour. Still far too weak and slow to actually /work/ as a cue, but... unusual, at least.