It hardly seems useful to introduce John Williams and his work. He is arguably the most recognized film composer to have lived, with blockbuster scores securing his spot at the top of the list. His work on Star Wars, Harry Potter, and all but three of Spielberg’s films have meant that his discography is huge and unrivaled. Let’s take a look at how John Williams became a film-scoring legend.
He was born in 1932, and as a child played the piano. He was called into the Air Force in 1952, where he conducted and arranged music for the U.S. Air Force Band. After leaving the army, he played in several Jazz clubs, before scoring his first film in 1958 (a B Movie titled ‘Daddy-O’). He continued scoring throughout the 60’s, and in 1971 he adapted the stage music of Fiddler on the Roof for the film. This won him his first Oscar, and gave him more publicity.
He continued this success, earning several more award nominations, but in 1974, things changed. A director was making his Debut feature film, The Sugarland Express, and had asked John Williams to score for it. That director (as you obviously will have guessed, despite my best efforts to add drama) was Steven Spielberg. A year later in 1975, Williams used two notes to create one of the simplest themes ever made. His score for Jaws won him his second Oscar, and soon after he was working with another small director, George Lucas, on a bizarre space film called ‘Star Wars’ (the irony really isn’t working, is it).
John Williams’ score for Star Wars has been hailed by many film authorities as the greatest score ever made, with several of the themes being as important to pop culture as Mickey Mouse or McDonalds. Needless to say that by 1977, John Williams was a major composer, and his success only continued. Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, E.T, Superman, Home Alone and Harry Potter all received the John Williams treatment. I would argue that the reason these films are some of the biggest, most notable films ever made are due, at least in part, to Williams’ music. The themes he contributed to them all are so iconic, yet so simple, that they are able to live on way after you’ve left the cinema.
Williams’ style is very classical, and rarely uses instruments not in the classical orchestra. Instead, he creates beautifully layered themes, with complex time signatures and instrument trills. His grand symphonic sound has become synonymous with cinema, and are some of the most popular scores ever recorded; the original Star Wars score is the highest grossing special interest album of all time.
John Williams is the second most Oscar nominated individual in the history of the Academy Awards, after Walt Disney. Having been nominated 51 times, he has won 5 times for best Original Score. He has 7 BAFTAs and 4 Golden Globes. His scores are some of the most recognized film themes ever created, and despite a small health blip in 2015, he is still composing to this day. He has confirmed that after 2019’s Star Wars IX, he will retire from composing music for Star Wars, but has not said he is stopping composing altogether. We can only hope that he still has many scores still in him. Long Live the King!
If you’re interested, here are my Top 10 favourite John Williams scores (as well as a key track from each that I recommend):
- Jaws (“Main Title and First Victim”)
- Star Wars: A New Hope (“The Throne Room and End Title”)
- Jurassic Park (“Welcome to Jurassic Park”)
- E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (“Flying”)
- Indiana Jones (“Washington Ending/ Raiders March”)
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (“The Jedi Steps and Finale”)
- Schindler’s List (“Theme from Schindler’s List”)
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (“Duel of The Fates”)
- Harry Potter (“Hedwig’s Theme”)
- Close Encounters of The Third Kind (“Wild Signals”)