Eventually, we may find out where notes eight through twelve came from

CBC Radio's Tom Allen investigates the origin of the opening four notes of the classic Star Trek theme. He traces it to the opening of Mahler's First Symphony, then further back to Brahms's Second Symphony and Beethoven's Fourth Symphony.

In college, one of my classmates (the same one that is now the conductor of an orchestra) identified the source of the trumpet fanfare in the Star Trek theme, also known as notes five through seven: Mahler's Seventh Symphony. Skip to timecode 11:05.

Eventually, we may find out where notes eight through twelve came from. If the trend keeps up, we may discover that it came from yet another Mahler symphony.

Comments (16)
  1. Booming Voice says:

    > we may discover that it came from yet another Mahler symphony

    NO!! It Came From Outer Space!! http://www.youtube.com/watch

  2. Daniel says:

    Well, make the sample small enough and use a database that's big enough: You can find everything (if we separate notes eight to twelve into single notes, I'm pretty sure we can find a match in almost every symphony)

  3. Muzer_ says:

    Only the first two notes are actually the same (which he does hint to in that video)… a bit of a cop-out :P

    [I agree. But it was my excuse to share my classmate's discovery. -Raymond]
  4. Five through nine are the same as the opening to the popular song "When I Fall in Love (It Will Be Forever)"


  5. alegr1 says:

    You mean whatever the voice sings?

    I suspect, if you reverse and flip some bars of Bruckner 6th (that'll will also turn it from minor to major), that'll be it.

  6. alegr1 says:

    …and basing the theme off Mahler and Bruckner makes total sense. Mahler and Bruckner are part of the same tradition in the history of music. Mahler was well aware of Bruckner's music. He quoted Bruckner's 4th in the finale of 6th, and also re-orchestrated Bruckner's 6th. Opening of Adagio from Bruckner's 9th might have given Mahler the idea about the beginning of Finale of his 9th.

    Mahler is to Bruckner what Kirk is to Spock. One is without all restraints, and another is very logical and almost asexual, but not totally devoid of all feelings.

  7. Evan says:

    Two other correspondences:

    1) Compare the opening to the 3rd mvmt of Howard Hanson's 2nd Symphony [1, at start] with one of the main ET themes [2, at start]

    2) One of the main guitar themes from Dire Strait's Romeo and Juilet [3, very near start] is straight out of Bruce Springsteen's Jungleland [4, at 0:32]

    The other funny related thing I've seen is a YouTube comment on (I think a now-taken-down) copy of Bruckner's 8th saying "how low of Bruckner to steal Hans Zimmer's two note Batman motif" [5, at 1:22:04 in that recording] :-)

    [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch [Hanson]

    [2] http://www.youtube.com/watch [Williams]

    [3] http://www.youtube.com/watch [Dire Straits]

    [4] http://www.youtube.com/watch [Springsteen]

    [5] http://www.youtube.com/watch [Bruckner]

  8. The beginning of the second act of Die Zauberflote reminds me very strongly of Oh Canada.

    Die Zauberflote, Act II: http://www.youtube.com/watch

    Oh Canada: http://www.youtube.com/watch

  9. JM says:

    This is amazing. I mean, what are the odds that a small number of notes in a melodic relationship turn up *almost* the same in other compositions?

    OK, OK, the opening notes *are* a bit special, of course. At least it's not a four chord song, I suppose. (http://www.youtube.com/watch, just in case you've never seen it.)

  10. smf says:

    Is finding two and three notes in another piece of music actually that impressive though? (I thought I was imagining the four notes not actually being correct).

    I found note 8, it's used everywhere.

  11. Steve says:

    I was playing my flute in a pub session on Wednesday and I'm sure I used note 8 several times and note 9 at least once.

    So sue me, because I'll probably do it again this coming Sunday.

  12. Engywuck says:

    @Maurits: that Oh Canada resembles the Zauberflöte is not only something you've voticed, the Wikipedia page of "Oh Canada" tells the same :-)

    @smf and Steve: you remind me of the guy in the joke who loudly complains after a famous orator held a long speech "I have a book whith his whole speech inside – word for word" and when challenged produces a dictionary. It's not the individual notes that make up the source, it's the combination. Three or four notes (quasi-)identical and in similar instrumentation and length are not as common as you maybe think, especially if you produce something distinctive. The da-da-da-daaah of Beethovens Fifth is quite recognizable, even if it's only four notes (or even two since the first three are the same). See also jingles, which are frequently only a few notes "long".

    In case of samples high courts in both the US and germany have decided, that two-second samples used in the background of a different music decades later constitute copyright infringement – even when only careful listeners can hear them.

    Btw: the beginning of "Mars" of Holsts Planets is recognizable in both in the chase scene at the beginning of Star Wars (IV) and in the first part of the fifth act of Diablo (I)

  13. Karellen says:

    @JM: My preferred telling of the "all songs have the same chords" gag is the "Pachelbel Rant"[0] – adding a personal touch adds so much more to the telling.


  14. Jav says:

    1.  There's a piece of classical music whose main theme is very similar to the bass line from Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure (AKA the bass line from Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby).  This post would be way better if I could remember which piece of classical music it is.  Does anybody know what I'm talking about?

    2.  In the Star Trek Into Darkness credits, I noticed that the original theme music was credited to Alexander Courage *and* Gene Roddenberry.  The reason is interesting:


  15. EvanED says:


    As a cellist, the Pachelbel Rant video is both very familiar and absolutely hilarious.

  16. @Engywuck says:

    Sure if it were three and four notes by the same composer then I'd go along with it. However the four notes is a cheat as only notes 1 & 2 are correct. If you A/B it then the third note is actually wrong.

    If you took all the music ever written then I think you'd be surprised how many 2 note collisions you will find. We like sounds that go together, so the number of combinations is far more limited than you think.

    [I agree that notes 3 and 4 are cheats. In the Star Trek theme, the interval between notes 2 and 3 is a minor third, not a second (minor or major). -Raymond]

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