Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer (1905-1992) (right) with John Williams

Few know Herbert W. Spencer, but they will have heard his art. He was a Hollywood orchestrator. An orchestrator is a person who takes a composer’s sketches and turns them into a form which live musicians can play.

‘Real’ composers can and do orchestrate their own music. Orchestration is as much a part of composition as choosing the notes! An orchestrator can be useful to a professional composer when there is a lot of large-scale film music to write in a very short time.

Herbert Spencer orchestrated much of John Williams’s score for Jaws (1975), for the original Star Wars trilogy (1977-83), for Superman (1978), ET (1982) and Dracula (1979) directed by John Badham. He also orchestrated Cleopatra (1963) for Alex North.

It was said he was so gifted at his craft that he was as good as Richard Strauss. The detail, power and colour of the original Star Wars music is down in large part to the contribution of Mr Spencer. I continue to learn a great deal from listening to the way he combines, balances and handles his orchestral colours.

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