Beam me up, Scotty! Exploring the ‘Star Trek’ connection to Brahms

In the third-season "Star Trek" episode "Requiem for Methuselah," which originally aired on Feb. 14, 1969, Mr. Spock (top, Leonard Nimoy) performs a waltz written by Flint (lower left, James Daiy) who claims he was once Johannes Brahms.

The original “Star Trek” (1966-69) series boldly went where few television shows had gone before; its innovations were legion, including movie-style production, a socially progressive ethos (as evidenced by TV’s first interracial kiss) and scripts by sci-fi/fantasy legends such as Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and Richard Matheson.

But series creator Gene Roddenberry wrote one of the episodes of most interest to classical music followers. In the third-season installment “Requiem for Methuselah,” Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock beam themselves down to the planet Holberg 917, in search of a treatment for a deadly virus. They discover Flint, an apparently immortal being, who like Emilia Marty in Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, has reinvented himself through the centuries. However, unlike Emilia Marty, content to remain an opera singer over her 300-year lifespan, Flint has taken on the guises of creative geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Brahms. 

In one scene, Flint introduces what Mr. Spock calls an unknown waltz by Brahms. Though the camera pans over sheet music of Brahms’ Waltz No. 1 in B Major of the composer’s 16 waltzes, Op. 39, the music heard onscreen, as it is played by Spock, was composed by Ivan Ditmars specifically for this episode. Known by Trek fans as the “Brahms Paraphrase,” it was intended to sound like something Brahms might have written. Though Spock is shown at the keyboard, Ditmars actually performed the waltz himself. 

In another six degrees of “Star Trek” separation, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 supposedly helped to inspire the TV series’ distinctive theme song by Alexander Courage. Tom Allen, host of CBC Music, among others, has pointed out connections between Courage’s theme and Brahms’ Second, Mahler’s First and Beethoven’s Fourth.

In a happy coincidence, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Riccardo Muti, will open its 2023-24 Season with Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in concerts Sept. 21-26. Also on the program is Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird — which also has a “Star Trek” connection. When film-music giants James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith turned down the chance to score “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991), Paramount Pictures (the studio behind the original series and the spin-off films) went with the 26-year-old, mostly unknown Cliff Eidelman. He sealed the deal when he mentioned that the opening of Stravinsky’s The Firebird evoked the foreboding sound he envisioned for the movie’s theme.

So in the “Star Trek” universe, to borrow a catchphrase of Mr. Spock, classical music continues to live long — and prosper.