A Great American Composer Essay
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Born in New York, John Williams moved to the city of angels with his family in the year 1948, where he attended the UCLA and the Los Angeles City College. He also privately studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Los Angeles. After working with the Air Force for a brief period of time, Williams came back to New York to attend the Juilliard University. There he took Madame Rosina Lhevinne as a teacher to learn the piano. Also in New York, Williams began to work as a jazz pianist on recordings and in clubs.
He returned to Los Angeles afterwards to begin his career in the film industry.
After working with renowned composers such as Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, and Franz Waxman; Williams started to write music for television programs during the 1960s. He won four Emmy Awards for this work (“About: John Williams”). The highlights of Williams’ career in the entertainment industry may be briefly summarized as follows: Mr. Williams has composed the music and served as a music director for more than one hundred films, including, War of the Worlds, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Harry.
Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Minority Report, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A. I.
Artificial Intelligence, The Patriot, Angela’s Ashes, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Stepmom, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Seven Years in Tibet, The Lost World, Rosewood, Sleepers, Nixon, Sabrina, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Far and Away, JFK, Hook, Presumed Innocent, Born on the Fourth of July, the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Accidental Tourist, Empire of the Sun, The Witches of Eastwick, E. T. (the Extra-Terrestrial), Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Star Wars trilogy, Jaws, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
He has received forty-five Academy Award nominations, most recently for his scores from Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich, making him the Academy’s most nominated living person. He has been awarded five Oscars, seven British Academy Awards (BAFTA), twenty Grammys, four Golden Globes, four Emmys and numerous gold and platinum records (“About: John Williams”). Needless to say, almost everybody who is acquainted with American television programs and Hollywood films has enjoyed the music composed by Williams.
His music is based on the classical tradition. The influence of late Romantics, e. g. Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, may easily be detected in his music. At the same time, however, Williams does not desist from blending the classical with the modern traditions. His music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind clearly illustrates that Williams is a composer of the times even though he is influenced by music of the past. On the whole, however, his music is truly enjoyable because it is filled with good old tunes that are mixed with “fanfares and fun marches (“John Williams: Composer Extraordinaire”).
” Moreover, the man is highly regarded for his ability to construct tunes and sounds that flawlessly complement the mood of his films (“John Williams: Composer Extraordinaire”). Williams’ scores have been described as “invariably magnificent orchestral works, performed with force and gusto (“John Williams: Film Composer”). ” Although the composer is able to produce great music for quieter as well as slower scenes with equal appropriateness, his work is generally considered “forceful and triumphal (“John Williams: Film Composer”).
” Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why Williams’ music continues to be loved by people across the globe, who are acquainted with the famous Star Wars, if not Harry Potter. According to a BBC report: “His music always evokes a powerful sense of mood, placing the force of the entire orchestra behind an emotion and running with it. With his emphasis on orchestral energy and power, it is unsurprising that Williams is best known for his action themes (“John Williams: Film Composer”). ” As Williams adapts well-known classical music for his own scores, listeners believe that his work is, at least in part, plagiaristic.
Thus, his Oscar-winning composition for Star Wars is believed to carry echoes of a score from The Planet’s Suite; and his score for the Atlanta Olympic Games is said to borrow heavily from Fanfare for the Common Man by Copeland. Williams’s music has been understood to be derivative, which is probably the reason why there are similarities between the classical music he has been influenced by and his own compositions. On the whole, however, the man is highly regarded for his uniqueness (“John Williams: Film Composer”).
Another characteristic of Williams’ music that allows him to be remain special among composers is that his work is iconic. He gives unique themes to the villains and heroes of the films and television programs that he composes for. He also gives unique musical themes to the different plots in addition to macguffins of his films and television shows. In scenes where the different elements of the film, or the villains and heroes interact, however, he intertwines the special musical themes. As an example, Williams used Raiders March for Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark at all times that Jones appeared to be winning.
When Jones appeared to be losing, however, Williams replaced the Raiders March with the Nazi Theme (“John Williams: Film Composer”). Thus, the composer is special because he does not only produce great music but also possesses the intelligence to place different scores in appropriate scenes of the films or television programs he works for. One of the most memorable compositions of Williams is the theme from the film, Jaws. The score uses a “deep, two-note bassline,” which has managed to almost turn into a “universal code for impending shark attack (“John Williams: Film Composer”).
” As a matter of fact, many documentaries on the subject of sharks have used music similar to the theme created by Williams. According to the BBC report, the power of the theme is its simplicity. The bassline is played very slowly and it is played at pretty long intervals, after which the remaining orchestra chimes in with the bassline staying dominant and “joined by a deep brass harmony (“John Williams: Film Composer”). ” After this, the bass almost disappears while the lighter strings continue to play a panicky, almost desperate theme before the bass finally returns with full force in a mood of vengeance.
At this point, the brass and the string play “an urgent refrain (“John Williams: Film Composer”). ” Silence follows soon after (“John Williams: Film Composer”). Another truly memorable piece created by Williams is his score for Memoirs of a Geisha. Waldron describes this composition as a “marvelously textured score that defines and propels the story. ” For this score, Williams made use of the traditional musical instruments of Japan. The cellist Yo-yo Ma and the violinist Itzhak Perlman gave life to the theme.
Indeed, Williams’ theme for this film is expected to surprise many of his fans, as this theme had been created for the Japanese film setting rather than the usual Hollywood setting that the composer has been acquainted with for a long time (Waldron). What is more, this theme is truly unusual as it does not remind the listener to music of the past that the composer is known to derive his compositions from much of the time. Williams’ music for A. I. is an additional surprise for his fans. Mecha World, which is the opening track of the film, reminds the listener that, indeed, he or she is listening to Williams’ music.
This expansive piece introduces a mechanical character that one could easily associate with machinery or robotics. The piece is set against a broad musical theme that allows the viewer of the film to infer that the mechanical character must be placed in an “imposing urban” or “industrial landscape (Lace). ” Williams makes “savvy use of metrically fractured rhythmic writing” in addition to percussion instruments in A. I. (Tommasini). These features of his music allow the viewer of the film to easily enter the world of androids along with the androids themselves.
Tommasini describes how the composer – after having been mocked by critics for the sameness of his compositions – reveals his uniqueness in the theme for A. I. : “The music during the film’s ‘Hide and Seek’ sequence, when the robot boy David plays games with his adoptive mother, who at this early stage of the story is still smitten with him, is especially ingenious. Built from gentle melodic riffs, including children’s piano-practice tunes, quizzical harmonies and asymmetrical phrases, the music is at once beguiling and unsettling. ”
Indeed, Williams seems to have come a long way. His music for Catch me if you can is especially jazzy. Identified as “elusive chamber music,” the score proves to the listeners that the composer is skillful at “the less-is-more approach (Tommasini). ” Furthermore, although his fans can still recognize his distinctive brand of compositions, Williams continues to change his approach to try out new techniques to film scoring. He has not managed to bore his listeners, despite the fact that he has created music for a large number of popular films.
Most importantly, perhaps, it is essential for him to remind the listeners with his expansive themes that it is his music that they are listening to. Experimenting with new approaches while keeping his unique style that his fans have adored for many years suits Williams best. In point of fact, this is the very reason why Williams is known as one of the greatest composers in American history. After all, America is all about newness that is blended with old traditions. The old traditions cannot be given up because they keep the people grounded.
At the same time, however, newness is considered a necessity as Americans strive to achieve the American Dream – a dream of success that cannot be realized without modernity. Fortunately for Williams, he has realized the dream with a thorough comprehension of its nuances.
Works Cited “About: John Williams. ” John Williams Official Site (2007). 3 Dec 2007. <http://www. johnwilliamscomposer. com/>. “John Williams: Composer Extraordinaire. ” My Files (2007). 3 Dec 2007. <http://www. mfiles. co. uk/composers/John-Williams. htm>. “John Williams: Film Composer. ” BBC (22 May 2001). 3 Dec 2007.
<http://www. bbc. co. uk/dna/h2g2/A563942>. Lace, Ian. “A. I. Artificial Intelligence. ” April 2002 Film Music CD Reviews (Apr 2002). 3 Dec 2007. <http://www. musicweb-international. com/film/2002/Apr02/AI. html>.
Tommasini, Anthony. “John Williams’ Surprising Score for ‘Sith. ’” International Herald Tribune (25 May 2005). 3 Dec 2007. <http://www. iht. com/articles/2005/05/24/features/starwars. php#end_main>. Waldron, D’Lynn. John Williams: Composer of Music for the Movies: Biography, Photos, Filmography and Discography (2006). 3 Dec 2007. <http://www. dlwaldron. com/JohnWilliamsbio. html>.