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Williams, John

Category: Musician or composer

John Williams with his wife Samantha

John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932) is an American composer, conductor and pianist.  In a career spanning over six decades, he has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in cinematic history.  A list is provided below of some of the more memorable.

He has had a long association with director Steven Spielberg, composing the music for all but one (The Color Purple) of Spielberg's major feature-length films.

Other notable works by Williams include theme music for four Olympic Games, NBC Sunday Night Football, the NBC Nightly News, the Statue of Liberty's rededication, the television series Lost in Space and Land of the Giants, and the original, not as well known calypso-based theme song to Gilligan's Island. Williams has also composed numerous classical concerti, and he served as the Boston Pops Orchestra's principal conductor from 1980 to 1993; he is now the orchestra's conductor laureate.

Williams has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, seven British Academy Film Awards and 21 Grammy Awards.

John Williams in his youth

John Towner Williams was born on February 8, 1932 in Floral Park, New York.  His father was a jazz percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet.  In 1948, the Williams family moved to Los Angeles.  He attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and studied privately with the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the U.S. Air Force, where he conducted and arranged music for The U.S. Air Force Band.

After his Air Force service ended in 1955, Williams moved to New York City and entered The Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. During this time, Williams worked as a jazz pianist in New York's many clubs and eventually studios, most notably for composer Henry Mancini.

Wikipedia from here on in has a long description of all the places he played, the films, the awards, but it leaves you hanging, because it says nothing about him – the man, where he got his inspiration, because John Williams is inspired, his music is wonderful.

John with Barbara

His first source of inspiration may have been his private life, as it very nearly always is.  Williams was married to actress Barbara Ruick from 1956 until her death on March 1, 1974. Williams and Ruick had three children: Jennifer (born 1956), Mark (born 1958), and Joseph (born 1960).  So maybe Grief and Love had a part to play. 

John Williams married his second wife, Samantha Winslow, on July 21, 1980.

But there are some interesting hints that John’s principal inspiration is art itself, the fascination of film, and the challenge of marrying music to visuals.  He appears to get inspiration by watching a story, the emotion of the moment is his driver.

Condensed excerpts from a John Williams interview by Phillip Huscher

My choice always is not to read scripts. I'd rather go into a projection room and look at a film to have that same pristine, unprepared reaction that the audience will have, however special effects (added later) complicate that process.

If I can see the film fairly close to its editorial rhythms, I'll get a sense of its kinetic ebb-and-flow; where the film may be slowing down, or where it's accelerating, and where I can pick up on the rhythms of the film. My own belief is that the first and most important issue in scoring films is tempo.

If the music is quicker than the editorial rhythm it may seem to slow the film down, and the reverse is also true. You need to get into the rhythmic "pocket." We know we've got it right when it's riding with the action in an effortless way.

 

(When composing) I'll run the scene several times and have a timing cue sheet that's been prepared for the scene, and then I'll write three or four bars and go back and look at it and then write four bars more and look at it again. And it's a constant process of writing, looking, checking, running it in my mind's ear against the film, even conducting with a stopwatch against the action of the film. It's driven almost measure by measure by the film itself.

The film (score) has to be conceived to be heard with the sound effects and the dialogue; we're writing accompaniment all the time.

In the late twenties and early thirties, people would come to Hollywood and their only idea to accompany film was inspired by the art music of Europe. Now we have something of the reverse in someone like John Adams, who finds inspiration not in the art music of Europe but in the media music, the urban racket of contemporary life. The exact opposite of what we had in the thirties-a complete shift in sensibility.

The process has really only begun. What the people coming along now are going to do will astound all of us, I know that. What's happened the last five or six decades has only been setting up a preparation, and a keen interest, and an awareness of the great musical opportunity that's here. It's an art form that's in its infancy. That's what's exciting.

So it is the excitement, the emotion that is appealing.

He is also inspired by magic, by fantasy, by spirit, by the sense of other worlds. Almost all the films he has contributed music for are adventure 'fantasy' films - other worlds, dramatic worlds.

He also knows of eastern mystic movements.

In 1999, for example, George Lucas launched the first of a series of prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. Williams was asked to score all three films, starting with The Phantom Menace.  Williams created new themes to be used as leitmotifs in 2002's Attack of the Clones and 2005's Revenge of the Sith. Most notable of these was "Duel of the Fates," an aggressive choral movement utilizing harsh Sanskrit lyrics.

 

Williams is to all intents and purposes a spiritual man.  Another example.  He has written many concert pieces, including a symphony; a Concerto for Horn, a Concerto for Clarinet, a sinfonietta for wind ensemble; a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma; concertos for the flute and violin; and a trumpet concerto.   His bassoon concerto  is called  "The Five Sacred Trees".

He would deny it of course, because the industry he is in has little time for spiritual pursuits, it is somewhat ruthless, as are most large scale American industries.  But he has 'kept the faith', where the faith is not religious, it is almost faith in the worlds created by film makers that he has found just the right  matching theme for.

In 2014, at 82, he was still creating, part of the Great Work.

References

This LINK takes you to a site that contains an absolute storehouse of information about John Williams by a clearly devoted fan.  It has photos, a full biography, a photo gallery and various downloads.

The list below shows his main works in date order:

  • 1967   Valley of the Dolls
  • 1969   Goodbye, Mr Chips, The Reivers
  • 1971   Fiddler on the Roof, Jane Eyre
  • 1972   Images, The Poseidon Adventure
  • 1973   Cinderella Liberty, "Tom Sawyer
  • 1974   The Towering Inferno, Earthquake
  • 1975   Jaws
  • 1977   Star Wars; Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • 1978   Superman
  • 1980   The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981   Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982   E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, "If We Were in Love" (from Yes, Giorgio)
  • 1983   Return of the Jedi
  • 1984   Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; The River
  • 1987   Empire of the Sun; The Witches of Eastwick
  • 1988   The Accidental Tourist
  • 1989   Born on the Fourth of July; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • 1990   Home Alone;
  • 1991   JFK; "When You're Alone" (from Hook)
  • 1993   Schindler's List
  • 1995   Nixon, Sabrina, "Moonlight" (from Sabrina)
  • 1996   Sleepers
  • 1997   Amistad, Seven years in Tibet
  • 1998   Saving Private Ryan
  • 1999   Angela's Ashes
  • 2000   The Patriot
  • 2001   A.I. Artificial Intelligence; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • 2002   Catch Me If You Can
  • 2004   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • 2005   Memoirs of a Geisha; Munich
  • 2011   The Adventures of Tintin; War Horse
  • 2012   Lincoln
  • 2013   The Book Thief

 

 

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