Star Wars ‘Imperial March’ in the style of Beethoven sounds momentous and sad

4 May 2021, 17:33 | Updated: 4 May 2021, 17:45

Star Wars Imperial March in the style of Beethoven
Star Wars Imperial March in the style of Beethoven. Picture: 20th Century Fox/Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

If Darth Vader’s theme was a Romantic piano sonata…

How do you make the theme tune for one of the greatest movie villains sound less terrifying? Improvise on it and turn it into a stunning Beethoven-style piano sonata.

This impossibly virtuosic reworking of John Williams’ ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars comes courtesy of the late American pianist, composer and improvisor extraordinaire, Richard Grayson.

At a concert in early-2009, Grayson was accepting audience requests for a famous theme, and a composer’s style in which he would craft a piano fantasy.

“How about Darth Vader’s theme as Beethoven?” an audience member at the Crossroads School asks.

Grayson considers the melody for a moment, and almost immediately an entire piano sonata flows from his fingertips (watch below).

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Darth Vader's theme from "Star Wars" in the style of Beethoven

Beginning with the main melody in the right hand, Grayson reshapes Williams’ evocative movie theme with all the qualities that make up Beethoven’s piano works.

Suddenly, Darth Vader’s theme is transformed into a set of Romantic variations containing broken chords reminiscent of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, and all the emotional inflections and virtuosic writing that defines LVB’s timeless piano scribblings.

Just watch as Grayson completely loses himself in his entirely improvised, seven-minute piano sonata which, as it draws to a close, almost hints to Chopin’s funeral march. What a phenomenal talent.

Grayson, who learned to play by ear from his father, said of his improvisations: “My goal is to make music out of each of these improvisations, and not make it just a demonstration.

“If it’s a demonstration, it has not achieved what I would hope to achieve. And that is that there’s a certain amount of surprise that by the change of context, that what is expected to be one thing becomes transformed into something else.”

On July 2016, the world lost a genius in Richard Grayson...