Jerry Goldsmith

Fall 2004


A Bridge for Tomorrow

Since my last writing, we have lost two of our dear colleagues. Fred Karlin, who left us in March, fortunately also left us with many wonderful scores and such beautiful melodies as For All We Know and Come Saturday Morning. Ironically, my friend and fellow Amherst alumni also created a definitive documentary on Jerry Goldsmith, our brilliant advisory board member, who passed away on July 21st. The Goldsmith family unselfishly invited to his service, not only those who knew him personally, but those friends he never met, but whose lives were touched by his genius as well. I saw many of you there and we mourn the passing of this giant talent who inspired us all. The family’s willingness to share this difficult moment speaks not only to their generosity, but also to an inherent understanding of the dramatic impact that Jerry’s life and his music had on so many people.

Much more has been written about Jerry’s accomplishments than I am qualified to document, in fact I would direct you to the Film Music Society website where our friend Jon Burlingame has written wonderful pieces on Jerry and Fred Karlin as well. What I would like to touch on here is the legacy that Jerry has left to our profession. I would hope that we as a community could carry this legacy forward as a testimonial to his place in time and in music.

Jerry’s first film was Black Patch in 1957. It wasn’t long before Hollywood discovered his uncanny ability to find innovative approaches to enhance the films and television works that he scored. He was a composer’s composer in every way. From his haunting approach to the Twilight Zone series, to the lyrical folk imbued score to The River Wild to his early experimentation with electronics in such movies as The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, his technique was always novel, while masterful on every level.

Jerry’s agent, Richard Kraft remarked that each person had his or her own favorite Jerry Goldsmith score and they were rarely the same. I would submit that there was good reason for this; each was totally unique. The film noir sensibilities of China Town were 180 degrees removed from the chilling textures he employed in Poltergeist, which were far removed from the psychological dramatic underpinnings of Basic Instinct. But isn’t this versatility at the root of what we should be about as composers? Far too often we are inclined to take the safe way out. I know from my own career that if something has worked in the past, I am inclined to re-visit that same approach again when dealing with similar subject matter. Of course the temp tracks haven’t made our lives any easier in this regard, but Jerry refused to be drawn in to the easy path and this is part of the reason that his scores will forever be one of a kind gems in cinematic history.

In the last issue of The Score I wrote about such luminaries as Max Steiner and Bernard Hermann. Jerry Goldsmith has taken his rightful place as a prominent member of this royalty and it wasn’t by mere accident. He studied with Miklos Rozsa, himself one of the first generation of gifted composers for cinema. Jerry’s love for his craft was not only all encompassing, it was uncompromising as well. It was essential that he be the very best that he could be and not settle for less. It was important for him to keep up the high standards that were passed to him; it was important for him to be the standard bearer for our profession.

I found it fitting to be brought into a conversation with a young composer who was participating in a film music workshop. It was the evening following Jerry’s service and the composer was anxiously awaiting the first performance of his work by a professional orchestra. It was apparent that he took great pride in his composition and was excited about embarking on this great career path.

Jerry Goldsmith never lost his love for his profession. He was interested, even during his final bought with cancer, in continuing his life’s work. I believe it was not only as an act of self fulfillment that he refused to give up, I believe that it was equally important for him to pass this respect for his craft and his profession on to the future. He taught his son, Joel the art of composition, and he is ably carrying-on in his father’s footsteps. However, Jerry has become such a pillar of creativity and professionalism in our filed that it is beholden on us to carry on this legacy as well. Let us all be caretakers of the pride and excellence that he passed to us.

Growing up around my household, it was a tradition to gather from time to time to read poetry. We would pass the books of verse around the room and eventually, over the years, one or two would become favorites. I believe that my mother, Mary Lou’s choice, entitled A Bridge for Tomorrow by Will Allen Dromgoole is appropriate to share with you, as it sums up to me the love that Jerry Goldsmith had for his profession and so unselfishly shared with all of us.

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—
Why build you the bridge at eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth, whose feet must pass this way
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be—
He, too, must cross, in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building a bridge for him.”

Jerry, you built it well.

Published in The Score quarterly newsletter [Vol. XIX, Number Three, Fall 2004]