John Williams

John Williams

John Williams (b.1932)

John Towner Williams needs no introduction. I first heard his music on the visionary sci-fi series of Irwin Allen: Lost in Space (1965), The Time Tunnel (1966) and Land of the Giants (1968). When I experienced the music for Star Wars for the first time in a Watford cinema in 1977, I was stunned and remember coming out of there thinking where have I been for the last 10 years? Cinema had stretched in time to take stock of itself again: between Korngold’s King’s Row (1942), to ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’.

To get a grip on Williams’s style I listened and listened and listened to his cues to find that he based his work on a great fluidity with key changes, spectacularly-good orchestration (see Herbert Spencer), by keeping at least four lines of counterpoint going simultaneously at most times and by changing what he was doing (and how he was doing it) at least every 4-8 bars. This is a crude description, but gives some insight into Williams’s artistic bounty. His brass harmonisations are hair-raising. In an interview, Williams said that he had to work very hard to achieve what he does in his music. Enormous care, attention and experience are involved. In an interview, André Previn commented that Williams’s scores were ‘black’ in the sense that they were crammed full of notes. I admire that detail and complexity, it gives us material to listen to in a music that rarely sounds the same twice and constantly reveals something new.

Superman (1977) is also a brilliant score. Watch how every second, the orchestra matches the action like vacuum-pack. Dazzling, classic music.

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