Born in Queens, NY, in 1932, John Williams is arguably the most sought-after composer in Hollywood today. Musically, John Williams greatly influences my work and I find his grandiose, sweeping scores a benchmark to which I would like to progress to in my composing career. With 47 Academy Award nominations, he is the most nominated musician in Academy Awards history and the second-most nominated person of all-time (second to Walt Disney).
However, Williams’ rise to fame has been slow and it has taken many years for him to become the household name he is today.
This encouraged me, as it showed that even a musical legend like John Williams started out small and worked his way up. During his time studying at Juilliard, he worked as a jazz pianist in New York clubs and after his studies, he moved to L.A. where he began working as a studio pianist for renowned composers, such as Henry Mancini and thus, some of his more comedic scores show Mancini’s influence.
He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano and symphonic music.
When composing a piece of music, I always look to John Williams for inspiration. One of his most famous techniques, and a technique I greatly appreciate, is the concept of leitmotif and his ability to write a fitting and recognisable piece of music to accompany a particular character; a favourite of mine being “Princess Leia’s Theme” from Stephen Spielberg’s space epic Star Wars.
Williams’ collaboration with Stephen Spielberg began when Spielberg was an all but unknown director, with the film The Sugarland Express and with the momentum of that success, they began a long collaboration together, working on films such as Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter, Jaws, Jurrasic Park and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the latter’s musical and film concepts being worked on simultaneously by Spielberg and Williams, an unusual step for a Hollywood film but typical of John Williams for pushing boundaries.
His ability to write so many different styles of music, from Schindler’s List to Indiana Jones, is a skill I which greatly inspires me, as well as his flair for conveying a particular theme; particularly in E.T, where his music depicts the childlike innocence of the film. He is a chameleon of sorts and his seemingly effortless approach to composing exquisite pieces of music for completely different genres makes him stand out amongst other notable musicians of our modern culture. He also takes a lot of inspiration from composers such as Richard Strauss and Wagner, and it is evident in the style of some of his work that he admires the grand, symphonic scores and neoromatic style of Golden Age composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
When orchestras are performing his pieces, John Williams likes to be the one to conduct, adding more passion and depth to the music that wouldn’t be there if it were another conductor. I have viewed many videos on Youtube of orchestras playing Williams’ creations and each time they have played with a fervour and respect that spawns a magical, tangible atmosphere, making the music stay with you long after the orchestra has stopped playing. The fact that his scores are not particularly technically difficult, yet still require a musician of great calibre to play them, shows how much effort Williams puts in to evoke the emotion and theme of the film.
Star Wars is perhaps Williams’ most famous and memorable scores and is the highest-grossing non-popular recording of all-time. The combined scores add up to more than 14 hours of orchestral music – a magnitude unheard of by most musicians. It is this tenacity and dedication that I admire most about John Williams and is, most likely, what gave him the remarkable career he has enjoyed for so many years.