Fred Steiner, who wrote numerous scores for the original Star Trek series and created the memorable theme music to the Perry Mason TV series and the beloved cartoon series The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, died of natural causes in Mexico at his home in the Mexican state of Jalisco at the age of 88.
Fred Steiner – 1923 – 2011
A superb composer as well as a busy orchestrator, arranger and musicologist, Steiner contributed music to films such as Time Limit (1957), First to Fight and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (both 1967), but he was far more prolific and integral to the art of television music and provided dozens of episodic scores for shows like Have Gun – Will Travel, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Hogan’s Heroes, Lost in Space, The Wild Wild West, Mannix, Hawaii 5-0, Dynasty, Tiny Toons Adventures and many others.
Steiner was born in New York City and studied music at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. He got a job as director of an independent record company in Mexico City in 1958 after early work arranging and composing for radio, film and television. He resumed his work in Hollywood in 1960 where he racked up countless scoring assignments in episodic television, also collaborating with composer Nathan Van Cleave on some interesting science fiction films including The Colossus of New York (1960) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964).
His contributions to Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek were particularly important and influential. Steiner scored 12 episodes of the series, more than any other composer. While Alexander Courage wrote the show’s theme music and composed the underscore for Star Trek’s two pilots (“The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and scored two of the show’s first regular production episodes (“The Man Trap” and “The Naked Time,”) Steiner worked on six episodes of the series in the first year alone, scoring the first regular production episode to be filmed, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” on September 20, 1966. Prior to “Corbomite” which aired later due to its complicated optical effects) Steiner scored “Charlie X” (on August 29, 1966) and “Mudd’s Women” (on September 7th, 1966)—and he would record the “partial scores” (about 10 minutes of music) for “Balance of Terror” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” during the same September 20th
sessions in which “Corbomite” was recorded. A few months later in March of 1967 Steiner would provide another partial score for the acclaimed episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” arranging much of his music around the period tune “Good Night, Sweetheart.”
Steiner’s influence on the sound of Star Trek’s music during this first season was enormous. He established a distinctively heavy, dark and mysterious vibe for the show, and because he wrote music for so many episodes his music cues would be “tracked” into later episodes that didn’t have original music written for them. Consequently Steiner’s alarming theme for the Fesarius from “Corbomite Maneuver” became the de facto theme for space danger on the show, his Romulan theme from “Balance of Terror” underscored countless alien threats and heavies, his rumbling, menacing timpani theme for the android Ruk in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” became a signature for the show’s desolate planetary landscapes, and his lush, erotic love themes from “Mudd’s Women” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” underscored most of Captain Kirk’s romantic conquests during the first year of the show.
Steiner even influenced the sound of the music recordings themselves by working with Paramount sound engineers Dave Forest and Jay Stewart to change the recording layout at Studio F on the lot where the show’s scores were recorded. Using a device from Glen Glenn Sound, Steiner and the engineers were able to precisely control the amount of reverb in the tiny studio and between that and rearranging the microphone and orchestra placement Steiner and his engineers were able to get a spectacular sound from the small groups of 25-30 players that normally recorded the show’s scores. Listening to the blasting brass performances of “Corbomite Maneuver” and “Balance of Terror,” you would be hard pressed to know that the series used such small orchestras to record its music.
Music from Steiner’s score for "Balance of Terror"
In addition to some brief music for “Miri,” Steiner would continue to score episodes of Star Trek throughout its second and third seasons: he wrote the richly archaic elegy for the god Apollo in “Who Mourns For Adonais?,” a sultry new love theme, a spectacular fight cue and an apt variation on his Romulan music for “Mirror, Mirror,” and the agitated music for the Kelvans in “By Any Other Name” for season two. He wrote yet another memorable love theme as well as some thrilling space battle music for “Elaan of Troyius” early in season three. Steiner’s final score for the series was for the legendary “Spock’s Brian,” which featured some evocative “cave man” music for the downtrodden Morg of Sigma Draconis VI.
Steiner’s contributions to the Star Trek franchise were not over, however. At the request of series producer Robert H. Justman, Steiner scored one first season episode of the Star Trek sequel series Star Trek – The Next Generation in 1987. The episode, “Code of Honor,” was not highly regarded, but Steiner’s score, often reminiscent of his “Elaan of Troyius” work for the original series, was exciting and often filmic in its evocation of a barbaric culture on Lygon II. Steiner’s music would also be tracked into the online Star Trek fan films Star Trek: The New Voyages and Star Trek: The New Voyages Phase II.
Steiner’s proficiency as a composer and arranger caused him to be called to “ghostwrite” for other composers on occasion, leading to another important contribution to Star Trek. During the high-pressure weeks of postproduction on Star Trek – The Motion Picture in late 1979, composer Jerry Goldsmith called both Alexander Courage and Fred Steiner in to assist him in completing the massive score for the first Star Trek theatrical film. Courage provided two short “captain’s logs” arrangements of his original Star Trek theme for the movie but Steiner wrote a number of the score’s most pivotal and exciting cues (based on Goldsmith’s themes), including the warp drive cues and the powerful “Meet Vejur” cue that underscores the Enterprise’s first encounter with the enormous space entity featured in the film. In 1983 Steiner would perform a similar function for John Williams on Return of the Jedi, rewriting several cues for Williams at the
last minute. Steiner also received an Oscar nomination (along with Quincy Jones and 10 other musicians) for his work on the score to Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple in 1985.
On a personal note, I had the good fortune to speak to Fred several times when I was working on my book about Star Trek music in 1998. Fred was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, and when the book was finished he sent me a congratulatory letter praising the final product. Steiner was a musicologist of some note and in his good-natured way he acknowledged that the book had some errors in it (it had plenty!), but rather than being abrupt or condescending about this, Steiner said that this was common to just about every book about music—“all books on music should be released as a second edition first,” he joked. Steiner had a modesty that belied his great contributions to the art of film and television music, and he will be missed.
Composer Fred Steiner – rest in peace
Jeff Bond is the author of “The Music of Star Trek” and “Danse Macabre: 25 Years of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton“; he covers film music for The Hollywood Reporter.
Bummer! His songs were an essential part of the Trek legacy. he will be missed.
Wow! Didn’t know he was still with us. His stuff was crucial to the series. It was used over and over…and to such great effect. That stuff in Charlie X and The Cage. Killer, killer stuff. He really set the tone for the show. Some of my favorite stuff. He was a master.
Thanks for sharing that Jeff and TrekMovie.
Brilliant composer! RIP Fred.
An exemplary body of work. His “Trek” scores alone will live forever.
Lots of people really underestimate how important good music is during a TV show, to set tone and atmosphere. I just happen to be re-watching TOS (bought remastered), and am really getting more of a feel than I used to – how much the compelling music in those old episodes really made a difference.
Fred Steiners music is great. In a way he w a s Star Trek. May he rest in peace and may his music get the honor it deserves.
Wow and RIP Fred Steiner.
I am continued to be saddened by the increasing number of TOS vets that we are losing as the decades slip by. :(
His contributions were part of the signature sound of the show, which is part of what made Trek great.
Excellent obiturary, Jeff Bond. Fred Steiner’s music will be rememberd by all Trekkers for its dramatic contribution to the franchise. Fred Steiner will be missed.
R.I.P. old friend
TOS music was and still is, the best Star Trek music.
RIP sir. Your Music will always be rememberd with High Honor. You will be Greatly Missed.
What a talented gentleman. He wrote so many of my very favorite pieces of music for TOS, including the various Corbomite cues, and that interesting piece that plays in “Charlie X” as Charlie takes a tour of the ship early in that episode. I dearly wish the original recording of “Who Mourns for Adonais” — indeed all of the Original Series scores — would find its way into the marketplace.
I’m saddened he’s gone, but I’m grateful he was one of the geniuses whose touch elevated Star Trek above being a mere TV show.
Scott B. out.
@9 Agreed. An excellent review by, Jeff Bond.
Mr. Bond, thanks for including the clip from Balance of Terror. It was great to hear the orchestra without the dialog and sound effects.
There are so many wonderful scores written for film and television that can really stand on their own as great works – for example, the music of Howard Shore written for Lord of the Rings is just the tip of the iceberg.
But I had never realized until reading this article, how much Fred Steiner has touched my life as a Trek fan. His contribution to Star Trek is enormous. It just goes to show that without the many talents of all involved in the production of ST TOS, that we wouldn’t have the rich legacy we enjoy today.
Rest in peace, Fred Steiner. Godspeed.
Thank you Mr. Steiner, rest in peace. May your memory forever be preserved in the wonderful and thrilling music you created for Star Trek.
Nice, but disappointing that it took TrekMovie so long to mention it. Saw it on TrekWeb on Saturday afternoon.
RIP to the man who wrote music to so many of my favorties : Star trek, Wild Wild West, Hawaii 5-0, Rawide, Gunsmoke, Have Gun- Will Travel, etc. I will not forget your contributions as long as I have the DVDs to play.
Today, I remember Mr. Steiner by playing soundtracks to many of his TOS episodes. How fortunate Star Trek was to have his great talent.
And if we could only get all of Mr. Steiner’s great music from TOS officially released. Where’s that TOS boxed set?!?!?
Thanks for the article, Jeff Bond.
well it was mentioned in our scifi update yesterday, but i think one only needs to read the above article and compare it to any two sentence “he’s dead” article and see why it is worth waiting to do it justice
Most of us will be forgotten. Not Fred
“Over 5,000 meters away, and it still fills the screen.”
Bailey was talking about the Fesarius, but he could equally have said that about Steiner’s music.
It always annoyed me back in the 80’s/90’s to learn they had replaced the Goodnight Sweetheart piece heard playing on the radio, in “City on the Edge…” They had to take out Fred Steiner’s tribute to it in his score too IIRC. Better these days with at least the last two editions on DVD and now Blu ray, properly restored.
There really was no bad music for the original series. Fred Steiner was certainly one of the best. I was never one to complain about the music scores for the spinoffs, but they did not rise to what was done for the original series. Music for episodes like–The Cage, Balance of Terror, The City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, The Doomsday Machine, Elaan of Troyius and The Enterprise Incident were certainly some of the best, even though many were done with different composers. I never had issues with them reusing music either. Whoever assembled the music for the episodes always did a good job incorporating the right themes with the right scenes.
RIP, Mr. Steiner!! Fred Steiner was my absolute favorite composer for TOS. His scores even made Spock’s Brain much better than it would have been without it! In fact, it’s one of my favorite scores that he did. His work on Elaan of Troyius was also excellent.
I agree with those who said they wished the remaining TOS scores would be released on CD. I’ve been wanting this for decades now!
I wish all the legal hurdles and other concerns would be resolved so these can make their way into the hands of film score fans! It’s VERY long past due!
Thanks, Mr. Bond. A fine remembrance of a talented artist.
Not only were Fred Steiner’s musical contributions monumentally influential to the “feel” of the original series, but also to an entire generation’s resultant source memories. As children of the 1970s role-played with their Mego action figures, oversized blue walkie-talkie communicators and disk-firing phasers it was likely Steiner’s familiar music playing in their heads, forming the soundtrack for countless hours of imaginative exploration. I can hear it now.
Rest in peace, Fred.
Thanks for the Music Fred ;)
R.I.P., Fred. May your music live long and prosper, especially for the next generation of musicians.
Such a talented man; he leaves an indelible legacy. Thank you Fred Steiner.
May you rest in peace for all the musical talent you shared with the world.
Mr. Trek Music himself, I don’t know how else to put it. That music is just perfect. Wish more of it was on CD!
Thank you Fred Steiner.
Your legacy will never be forgotten.
Great article Jeff, Thanks for sharing!
I love the music on the old Star Trek, more than the later series. How interesting to learn about some of the later things he did.
We Trekkies owe him thanks for his contribution.
Jeff Bond, thank you for writing the best obituary of Fred Steiner I have seen anywhere. He is one of the major figures of Star Trek, right up there with the stars and behind the scenes forces like Bob Justman and Gene Coon.
Even more than Alexander Courage, Steiner established a wonderful musical sound for Star Trek that helped establish the uplifting spirit of the series. From childhood to today, I still hum many of his great Trek melodies. Although he had a great run to 88 years old, I’m really saddened by his passing.
Sad news indeed, but looks like he lived a long and wonderful life. What a great talent. And a fine obituary indeed! His contributions will continue to entertain and inspire for years to come.
Thank you, Mr Steiner.
Agree with #10. TOS music was and remains the best.
I will always love his music.
It fired up my childhood imagination like nothing ever did before, or since.
What a GRAND legacy and skill set. Thanks for the Fish, Fred!
That explains why “Meet V’Ger” isn’t on the official TMP soundtrack. I always loved it because it sounded so much like TOS…now I know why.
The incidental music of the original series is one highlights of the show to this day. I love listening to it. Its Brilliant. Total respect to the man and i agree entirely with #10 and 34.
Amazing work. Certainly one of the series best scores @40 seconds in. So many lovely other works that made the series so memorable. Shatner certainly benefited from this music.
Thanks for the link in the article!
Rest for now Fred. You’ve done to much already.
We’ll see you later.
My nine year old daughter watched a tape of a Star Trek TOS episode and later on, in the bath, I heard her singing some of the well known incidental music from the programme. Fred Steiner should be proud.
It also deserves noting that Fred Steiner also is responsible for arranging the main theme in the first season, featuring those lush, heavy strings (and the bongos!) — and best of all no soprano, making it by far the best version in my view.
The very first episodes had a theme as arranged by composer Alexander Courage, with high-pitched strings heavy on reverb. That theme can still be heard on the broadcast version of Where No Man Has Gone Before, although it used to be on the first five-six episodes.
I’ve always wondered why Steiner was approached to update the arrangement. Jeff Bond, do you know that back story?
I always liked that strings version. I also liked the third season version if the main title…
Besides Star Trek, “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and “Hogan’s Heroes” were two of my other favorite shows, so it’s sad to learn of Mr. Steiner’s passing.
We lost Mr. Steiner, but he’s moved on to bigger things.
He created such distinctive scores in his heyday, and I think anyone would agree deserves a large compilation CD of his scores catagorized by medium or subject (ex. a TV set..).
His Star Trek – The Original Series music alone is worth a special (complete) release, as it is wonderful, heartfelt music. A true character in the TOS.
Amen to that, CG!!
Rest in peace, Fred Steiner. His music was very much an essential part of what made me love Star Trek when I was growing up and (without wanting to bang on about it forever) the lack of his kind dramatic musical flair in much the later TV Treks diminished the shows badly, in my opinion. Interesting about his contributions to TMP: I had no idea.