John Williams: You need a better composer than I am for this film.
Steven Spielberg: I know. But they're all dead!
Steven Spielberg: I know. But they're all dead!
— Regarding Schindler's List
A lifetime is just simply not long enough for the study of music.John Towner Williams (February 8, 1932) is one of the world's most famous and prolific movie composers. Professionally active for six decades, he has been nominated for a whopping 50 Academy Awards (winning five), six Emmy nominations (winning three), 22 Golden Globes (winning four) and 59 Grammys (winning twenty). Only Walt Disney has been nominated for more Oscars, and Williams currently holds the record for most nominated living individual.Before he rose as a famed composer, Williams was a studio pianist and has performed on film scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith (Studs Lonigan; City of Fear), Elmer Bernstein (Sweet Smell of Success; God's Little Acre; Staccato; The Magnificent Seven; To Kill a Mockingbird), Henry Mancini (he actually played the well-recognized opening riff to the Peter Gunn theme; Mr Lucky; Days of Wine and Roses; Charade) & Alfred Newman (South Pacific).Williams' scores make extremely liberal use of Leitmotif—practically every major character and concept has its own musical motif woven into the score. Williams is also fond of the Fanfare. Despite these stylistic preferences, he seems willing to experiment with every movie, adding different instruments and techniques with each new film. (For example, one piece of the Attack of the Clones score uses an electric guitar.) When a Williams composition is playing, you will generally be in for a good movie. If the movie's not good, well, the music certainly will be.If you are not hearing impaired and have seen a movie in the last thirty years (or even if you haven't), you'll have certainly heard one of Williams' tunes. Most of his themes have become iconic in their own right, such as the famous string sting from Jaws or the theme for Indiana Jones. Williams has long been the go-to composer for Steven Spielberg's films (he even wrote the music for the Amblin and Dreamworks logos).Interestingly, many fans of Classical Music actually hold Williams in rather low regard, as many elements of his compositions (including some of his most well-known themes and motifs) are borrowed from older pieces of music. Though even they admit he's less guilty of this than others. For most listeners this is one of his strengths; in the words of the founding editor of Film Score Monthly Lukas Kendall (whose all-time favorite score is The Empire Strikes Back): "His themes sound inevitable. They sound like they fell out of his sleeves; they sound like they've always existed. And it's extraordinary how you get just two notes for Jaws or five notes for Close Encounters [of the Third Kind] and have them feel like they've always existed."Among his most famous scores are:
- Jaws (duh-dum, duh-dum...).
- Star Wars: "Luke's Theme" from all of the films in the Prequel Trilogy and Original Trilogy, "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" and "Duel of The Fates" are the best known. He returned to score The Force Awakens, and intends to provide the score for the other two movies in the Sequel Trilogy once he has Disney's say-so.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
- Superman (he also wrote themes for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace).
- The Indiana Jones films.
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
- Home Alone (and its first sequel).
- Jurassic Park (and its first sequel).
- Schindler's List.
- The first three Harry Potter films (technically William Ross adapted the second from Williams's music, as he was busy scoring two Spielberg movies that year), although the main themes he composed are still used in the later films.
His work provides examples of:
- Bootstrapped Theme:
- Star Wars's main theme was originally intended to be purely "Luke's Theme", though it became so synonymous with the franchise as a whole, Williams forewent creating a new main theme for the prequels, and even included the theme in several places in the prequel scores. A rearranged but still recognizable version of the theme was later used for the animated Clone Wars.
- Williams originally scored the scene where Luke looks out to the double sunset with his theme but George Lucas suggested he use the theme he wrote for Obi-Wan instead. Williams complied and now it is known as "Binary Sunset" and used for any scene involving the Force. (It's also perhaps the supreme example of the power of music in film, as it turns a simple shot of a young man staring into the sunset into a powerful scene of desolation and longing.)
- "Hedwig's Theme" has ended up being the theme of the whole Harry Potter series.
- Call Back: If you listen to the Star Wars soundtracks in particular, there are so many cues in pieces that appear in ANH and TESB that get brought back in ROTJ and the Prequels to nod back to those moments.
- Cool Old Guy: He's 80 years old yet he's still composing scores for Steven Spielberg.
- Fanfare: He's so good, he's gotten raves from the directors just from watching him conduct. Richard Donner even admitted he screwed up a recording take for Superman by running into the room shouting how great it was.
- Iconic Outfit: A black turtleneck sweater.
- Old Master: Again, he's 80 years old, yet he still showed much younger composers why he's the maestro who took the world of film music by storm back in the 70's with the releases of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.
- The soundtrack of "Star Wars" strongly references Gustav Holst's The Planets. Does this remind you of anything?
- Even worse, give some of this a listen.
- As sort of a self Shout-Out, Williams uses a few notes of the music he composed for the first Harry Potter film in one of the final scenes of Revenge of the Sith. Fitting, since both scenes involve an infant with great potential being left with relatives after the death of their mother.
- Another self Shout-Out that is easy to miss but very difficult to forget is in the Jurassic Park theme - when it really kicks in, it heavily references five other famous notes.
- Yet another: Pay attention to the trombone-notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, after the mother ship lands...and you will recognize a brief, but unmistakable, "duh-DUH, duh-DUH"!