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May the Fourth Be with You!

The author of this week’s post is Mark Schwartz, a writer-editor in the Communications and Outreach Section of the National Library Service and a Jedi Knight in training.

In a few days, many inhabitants of the third planet from the sun will celebrate “May-the-Fourth-Be-with-You” day, also known as Star Wars day (“May the force be with you”—get it?), recognizing the film series.  Like pi day (March 14, a.k.a. “3.14”), May the Fourth is a holiday-come-lately, manufactured mostly for fun and fandom, an excuse to indulge the inner nerd. Star Wars day allows us to reflect on themes that spans an entire universe. Indeed, this past September the Library of Congress hosted a panel of scholars to discuss how American politics and culture relate to themes within the Star Wars universe.

Poster for the 1977 film Star Wars.

Star Wars. Photomechanical print (poster) by Tom Jung, 1977. Motion picture poster for “Star Wars” shows Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, with the robots C-3PO and R2-D2; the image of Darth Vader looms in the background. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.



The latest Star Wars film coming out this year—ending the third trilogy of the core franchise—has science fiction fans very excited, so excited that some may feel giddy upon hearing the music of the films (not to mention the buzz of a whirling light saber or the Doppler effect of a charging star fighter). The composer of the score is none other than John Williams, with more than 50 Academy Award nominations under his belt and five wins on his mantel. In April 2005, the Library of Congress selected his soundtrack from the first Star Wars film for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.

So why is the music from the Star Wars films so powerful? Certainly, there is the action of the story itself, but the music alone—without visuals or narration—lives on its own.  The first clue is the use of musical themes, known as leitmotifs. These themes represent characters as they appear (or are about to come on screen) in the story.  Several of the Star Wars “character voice” themes by Williams are so recognizable that they are ringtones on phones or punch lines to commercials. You can’t watch a Star Wars movie without linking Darth Vader’s theme to menace on the march, the very sound of foreboding.  It has been the audio gag for the entrance of a bad boss or a scolding spouse in many media outlets for the last 40 years.  This aural narrative device of leitmotifs is most famously associated with Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf or Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Moreover, Williams nods to Wagner in his heavy use of brass for the leitmotif of the Star Wars universe’s central tragic character. Darth Vader and the machinations of the Evil Empire are reminiscent of the music Wagner composed for the Ring cycle. In Star Wars, there is also the romantic: Williams, for his love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia, tips his hat to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Then there is the space between the stars. Gustav Holst mastered the sound of space, where no one can hear you scream or HAL won’t open the space hatch, but can be scored for the passing space cruiser or starship. Holst’s The Planets has been sampled for many science fiction films, with the first movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” being the destination for star-faring composers like Williams. It has been noted that the storm troopers in Star Wars march to more than a measure of Holst, threatening freedom a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Right now in our galaxy, the NLS Music Section allows its patrons to travel down wormholes to enjoy the influences of Williams.  On May 4 and lightyears after, you can check out the following titles. And may the music of the force be with you… always.

To learn more about borrowing scores and books from the Music Section, call 1-800-424-8567, option 2, or e-mail [email protected]

Titles related to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and leitmotifs in the Ring operas


20 Top Young People’s Classics: Tunes for Two. Contains Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” arranged for piano four hands in bar over bar format. (BRM35829)

Bennett, Roy. Enjoying Music, Book 1. 2 volumes. Contains a chapter on Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” (BRM28339)

Walkürenritt aus der Oper “Die Walküre.” An arrangement of “Ride of the Valkyries” for piano in section by section format. (BRM26925)

Talking Books

Allen, Peter. Die Walküre. Talking about Wagner’s Ring. (DBM01312)

Barclay, Michael. Michael Barclay Lectures on Die Walküre. (DBM01335)

Cooke, Deryck. An Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen. (DBM03640)

Jenkins, Speight. Enjoying Wagner’s Ring. (DBM01579)

Johnson, Stephen. An Introduction to Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelung. (DBM03633)

Introduction to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (DBM01368)

Thompson, Ann. Tannhäuser. This is Wagner’s fifth opera and the first to use the leitmotif. Ann Thompson discusses chivalry in the Middle Ages and Wagner’s life. (DBM01294)

Titles related to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake


101 Classical Themes: Violin. Melodies from popular classical pieces arranged for solo violin. (BRM36690)

Bastien, James W. Classical Themes by the Masters. Includes Swan Lake theme, arranged for piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM35539)

The Classical Music Fakebook. Piano/organ edition with guitar chords. Freely adapted and simplified selections, including “Dance of the Swans” from Swan Lake. In bar over bar format. (BRM29621)

Famous Ballet Tunes, Book 1. Arranged for soprano recorder. Includes selections from Swan Lake. (BRM06428)

A Garland of Melodies, for Treble Recorder. Books 1-4. Includes “Tune” from Swan Lake. (BRM22564)

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich. “Waltz” from the Swan Lake Ballet. Arranged for solo piano by Granville Bantock in bar by bar format. (BRM06407)

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich. “Forest Glen,” Entr’acte from Swan Lake. Arranged for solo accordion by Anthony Aretta. Bar over bar format. (BRM16964)

Talking Books

Dangerfield, Marcia. The Narrated Life History of Peter Tchaikovsky. (DBM03406)

Greenberg, Robert. Great Masters: Tchaikovsky, His Life and Music. Available on cartridge only. (DBM02425)

Siepmann, Jeremy. Life and Works: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. (DBM03623)

The World’s 50 Greatest Composers: Peter Tchaikovsky. (DBM01646)

Large Print

Keyboard Cavalcade of Famous Music. Arranged for piano. Contains “Theme” from Swan Lake. (LPM00355)

Titles Related to Holst’s The Planets


Bennett, Roy. Enjoying Music, Book 2. In 2 volumes. This book’s first chapter is on “Mars,” “Venus,” and “Jupiter” from The Planets. (BRM28520)

Holst, Gustav. “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” arranged for medium voice and piano. The melody of this British patriotic hymn was adapted from Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.” (BRM01332)

Holst, Gustav. The Planets, arranged for two pianos by the composer. 3 volumes in bar over bar format. (BRM29994)

Holst, Gustav. Suite from The Planets, arranged for band by Calvin Custer. Flute part only. (BRM35821)

More Talking Books about Star Wars

Windham, Ryder. Star Wars. Episode IV, V, VI – A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back. Return of the Jedi. Based on the story and screenplay by George Lucas and the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. (DB79862)

Wrede, Patricia C. Star Wars. Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith. (DB61807)

Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful than You Can Possibly Imagine. (DB92292)

New BARD Additions–March & April 2019

Read about the braille music scores and books that we’ve added to BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) during the past two months!

From Anderson to Zaninelli: Audio Lessons for Classical Singing

Learn to sing classical art songs and arias with audio lessons available from the NLS Music Section!

Hoffman’s Tales

This blog post highlights some of the pieces in the NLS Music collection inspired by the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, who was born on this day in 1776.

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: H (Part 2 – Hibbler, Albert George “Al”)

A brief glimpse at the life of Al Hibbler and some materials relating to him in the NLS Music Collection.

A Composer for All Seasons: Benjamin Britten

This blog is a brief look at some of Benjamin Britten’s compositions and relevant materials from the NLS Music Section.

New BARD Additions: August 2018

The hot and hazy dog days of summer are here, but the NLS Music Section has been working diligently to provide digital music books and scores for our patrons to access instantly. Take a look at the audiobooks and braille scores we have made available on NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) during the […]

New BARD Additions: July 2018

Read this blog and discover new materials, recorded and braille, now available from the NLS Music Section. Audio Materials All of the following are productions of Bill Brown. Banjo American Pie.  Teaches this Don McLean song without the use of music notation.  (DBM03915) Piano Bless the Broken Road. Teaches how to play “Bless the Broken […]

Nashville Sound: Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Hargus “Pig” Robbins might be the most famous piano player you’ve never heard of, though you’ve likely heard his work. The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals will begin in a matter of days in Nashville, Tennessee, so today I want to tell you about a musician who is blind and […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: E (Part 1 – Ellington, Duke)

Continuing our series of American composers from A to Z, we come to the letter E. Personally, I can think of no better example than Duke Ellington. I consider him to be one of the first great quintessential “American” composers of his time, who wrote music in a true American idiom, rather than copying Western […]