John Williams - Film and Television Scoring

Film and Television Scoring

While skilled in a variety of 20th century compositional idioms, Williams' most familiar style may be described as a form of neoromanticism, inspired by the same large-scale orchestral music of the late 19th century—especially the compositions of Richard Wagner and its concept of leitmotif—that inspired his film music predecessors.

After his studies at Juilliard, and the Eastman School of Music, Williams returned to Los Angeles, where he began working as an orchestrator at film studios. Among other composers, Williams worked with Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman, and also with his fellow orchestrators Conrad Salinger and Bob Franklyn. Williams was also a studio pianist, performing on film scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini. Williams recorded with Henry Mancini on the film scores of Peter Gunn (1959), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and Charade (1963). (Williams actually played the well-recognized opening riff to Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.) Williams (often credited as "Johnny Williams") also composed the music for various TV programs in the 1960s: The pilot episode of Gilligan's Island, Bachelor Father (1959-1960), the Kraft Suspense Theatre, Lost in Space (1965–68), The Time Tunnel (1966–67), and Land of the Giants (the last three created by the prolific TV producer, Irwin Allen).

Working at Universal Studios, Williams shared music credit on a number of films, the most notable being Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954. Williams's first major film composition was for the B movie Daddy-O in 1958, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young. He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano, and symphonic music. Williams received his first nomination for an Academy Award for his film score for Valley of the Dolls (1967), and then was nominated again for his score for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). Williams broke through to win his first Academy Award for his adapted score for the film Fiddler on the Roof (1971). In 1972 he composed the score for the Robert Altman psychological thriller Images (recorded in collaboration with noted percussionist Stomu Yamashta) which earned him another nomination in the category 'Best Music, Original Dramatic Score' at the 1973 Academy Awards. During the early 1970s, Williams' prominence grew thanks to his work for now–film producer Irwin Allen's disaster films, composing the scores for The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). In addition, he scored Universal's Earthquake (1974) for director Mark Robson, completing a "trinity" of scores for the highest grossing "disaster films" of the decade. He also wrote a very memorable score to The Cowboys (1972), a western starring John Wayne and directed by Mark Rydell.

In 1974, Williams was approached by director Steven Spielberg to compose the music for his feature directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. The young director had been impressed with Williams's score for the movie The Reivers (1969), and Spielberg was convinced that Williams could compose the musical sound that he desired for any of his films. They teamed up again a year later for Spielberg's second film, Jaws. Widely considered to be a classic suspense film, its film score's ominous two-note motif has become synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. The score for Jaws earned Williams his second Academy Award, his first one for an original composition.

Shortly thereafter, Williams and Spielberg began a long collaboration for their next feature film together, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K, 1977). In an unusual step for a Hollywood film, Spielberg and Williams developed their script and musical concepts simultaneously, as in the film these entwine very closely together. During their two-year-long collaboration, they crafted its distinctive five-note figure that functions both in the background music and as the communications signal of the film's extraterrestrials. Williams also used a system of musical hand signals in CE3K that were based on hand signs created by John Curwen and refined by Zoltan Kodaly.

During the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious space epic, Star Wars (1977). Williams delivered a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Its main theme, "Luke's Theme" is among the most widely recognized in motion picture history, and the "Force Theme" and "Princess Leia's Theme" are well-known examples of leitmotif. Both the film and its soundtrack were immensely successful—it remains the highest grossing non-popular music recording of all-time—and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he introduced "The Imperial March" as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams's score provided most notably the "Emperor's Theme," "Parade of the Ewoks," and "Luke and Leia." Both scores earned Williams Academy Award nominations.

Williams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme, known as "Can You Read My Mind," would appear in the four sequel films. For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, created and directed by Lucas and Spielberg, Williams wrote a rousing main theme known as "The Raiders March" to accompany the film's hero, Indiana Jones. He also composed separate themes to represent the Ark of the Covenant, the character Marion, and the Nazi villains of the story. Additional themes were featured in his scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg's 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The music conveys the film's benign, childlike sense of innocence, particularly with a spirited theme for the freedom of flight, and a soft string-based, harp-featured theme for the friendship between characters E.T. and Elliott. The film's final chase and farewell sequence marks a rare instance in film history in which the on-screen action was re-edited to conform to the composer's musical interpretation. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score.

The 1985 film The Color Purple is the only theatrical feature directed by Steven Spielberg for which John Williams did not serve as composer. The film's producer, Quincy Jones, wanted to personally arrange and compose the music for the project. Williams also did not score Twilight Zone: The Movie, but Spielberg had directed only one of the four segments in that film; the lead director and producer of the film, John Landis, selected Jerry Goldsmith as composer. The Williams-Spielberg collaboration resumed with the director's 1987 film Empire of the Sun, and has continued to the present, spanning genres from science fiction thrillers (1993's Jurassic Park), to somber tragedies (1993's Schindler's List, 2005's Munich), to Eastern-tinged melodramas (2005's Memoirs of a Geisha, directed by Rob Marshall). Spielberg has said, "I call it an honorable privilege to regard John Williams as a friend."

In 1999 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. Along with themes from the previous movies, Williams created new themes to be used as leitmotifs in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). Most notable of these was "Duel of the Fates," an aggressive choral movement utilizing harsh Sanskrit lyrics that broadened the style of music used in the Star Wars films. Also of note was "Anakin's Theme," which begins as an innocent childlike melody and morphs insidiously into a quote of the sinister "Imperial March" of the prior trilogy. For Episode II, Williams composed "Across the Stars," a love theme for Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker (mirroring the love theme composed for the second film of the previous trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back). The final installment combined many of the themes created for the series' previous movies, including "The Emperor's Theme," "The Imperial March," "Across the Stars," "Duel of the Fates," "The Force Theme," "Rebel Fanfare," "Luke's Theme," and "Princess Leia's Theme," as well as new themes for General Grievous and the film's climax, entitled "Battle of the Heroes." Few composers have scored an entire series of this magnitude: The combined scores of all six Star Wars films add up to more than 14 hours of orchestral music.

In the new millennium, Williams was asked to score the film adaptations of the widely successful book series, Harry Potter. He went on to score the first three installments of the film franchise. As with his Superman theme, the most important theme from Williams's scores for the adaptations of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, dubbed Hedwig's Theme, has been used in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2), scored by Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat respectively. Like the main themes from Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, and Indiana Jones, fans have come to identify the Harry Potter films with Williams's original compositions. Williams was asked to return to the film franchise to score the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, but director David Yates stated that "their schedules simply did not align" as he would have had to provide Williams with a rough cut of the film sooner than was possible.

In 2006 Superman Returns was completed under the direction of Bryan Singer, best known for directing the first two movies in the X-Men series. Although Singer did not request Williams to compose a score for the intentionally Donner-esque film, he employed the skills of X2 composer John Ottman to incorporate Williams's original Superman theme, as well as those for Lois Lane, Krypton and Smallville. In 2011, the "Main Title Theme" and elements of "Can You Read My Mind" were notably used in the final scene of "Finale", the series finale of the WB/CW television series Smallville. Don Davis performed a similar role for Jurassic Park III, recommended to the producers by Williams himself. (Film scores by Ottman and to a lesser extent Davis are often compared to those of Williams, as both use similar styles of composition.)

In 2008 Williams returned to the Indiana Jones series to score the fourth film—The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He received a Grammy nomination for his work on the film. During 2008, he also composed music for two documentaries, Warner at War, and A Timeless Call, the latter of which was directed by Steven Spielberg.

After a three year absence from film scoring, Williams composed the scores for Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse in 2011. Both scores received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with both scores earning Oscar nominations, and the latter being nominated for a Golden Globe. The Oscar nominations are Williams' 46th and 47th, making him the most nominated musician in Academy Awards history (having previously been tied with Alfred Newman's 45 nominations), and the second most nominated overall, following Walt Disney. Williams won an Annie Award for his score for The Adventures of Tintin in 2012.

In 2012 Williams scored Spielberg's film Lincoln.

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