John Towner Williams, generally known as John Williams (and sometimes credited as Johnny Williams) was born in New York City on February 8, 1932. He is an American conductor, composer and pianist who created some of the most iconic film scores of all time.
He was exposed to music from a young age and began studying piano as a child, later learning trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. He started writing music early and tried to orchestrate his own pieces as a teen.
“I developed from very early on a habit of writing something every day, good or bad.” – John Williams.
In 1948 Williams moved with his family to Los Angeles. There
he attended the University of California for a short time before he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1951. During his service, some of his assignments included playing piano and conducting the music for the U.S. Air Force Band.
After three years of service, he returned to New York City, where he worked as a jazz pianist. He also attended the Juilliard School and studied piano with Rosina Lhevinne (a famed teacher and pianist). Back then, his main goal was to become a concert pianist.
However, he eventually decided to become a composer. In 2012 Williams confessed in an interview that at Juilliard he heard “players like John Browning and Van Cliburn around the place, who were also students of Rosina’s, and I thought to myself, ‘If that’s the competition, I think I’d better be a composer!'”
Williams later returned to California, where he worked as a Hollywood studio pianist for TV shows, like “Peter Gunn”, and for films such as: “Some Like It Hot” (1959) starring Marilyn Monroe, “West Side Story” (1961) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962).
During that time (the fifties and early sixties) Williams composed the music for many television programs and was credited as “Johnny Williams”. He was credited as “Johny” because there was already a “John Williams” in the industry, he was an established actor that time.
In 1965 Williams composed the theme songs for a well-known TV show called “Lost In Space”.
And here is a video of the orchestra “Cincinnati Pops” playing the theme songs.
In 1966 Williams created the theme song for another popular TV show – “The Time Tunnel”.
While his compositions for TV shows were really good, he decided to focus on film compositions.
His first compositions were for the films: “Daddy-O” (1958), “I Passed for White” (1960) and “Because They’re Young” starring Dick Clark (1960). His first screen credit came in “Because They’re Young” and he received his first Academy Award nomination for his score for the film “Valley of the Dolls” (1967).
In 1960 Williams composed for the film “I Passed for White”.
It is about a young woman who is half black during a time when it’s considered a sin. However, she looks “purely white” and the problems begin.
In 1965, Williams wrote the music for a film called “None But The Brave”. It is a war film, starring and directed by Frank Sinatra. It is also the only film Sinatra he directed and the first Japanese-American co-production.
In 1970 Williams composed the music for a British television film called “Jane Eyre”. The film is based on the 1847 novel “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.
Williams once said that Jane Eyre’s compositions were one of his favorites.
And I definitely agree with him 🙂
In 1971 Williams received his first Academy Award for his score for a well-known film, “Fiddler on the Roof”. Williams did the Adaptation, Jerry Bock composed the music and Isaac Stern played the incredible violin solos.
Williams’s career started developing in the early seventies thanks to his work on Irwin Allen’s disaster films. He wrote the scores for 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure” and 1974’s “The Towering Inferno” and rather quickly gained a name for himself and for his talent with disaster film’s scores.
This is the opening scene of “The Poseidon Adventure”. While listening to the music, you can actually feel a disaster coming.
Williams was nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and for Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
After composing for Irwin Allen’s disaster films Williams was approached by none other than Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg asked Williams to compose for his upcoming crime drama film – “The Sugarland Express” (1974).
Spielberg and Williams teamed up again a year later for Spielberg’s next film – “JAWS”.
“JAWS” is a thriller film, about a great white shark attacking people at a New England summer resort town.
It is considered one of the greatest films ever made and was the highest grossing film until the release of “Star Wars” in 1977.
While shooting the film, Spielberg wanted to Emphasize the shark’s presence – and that’s when John Williams came into the picture; in order to create fear from the shark Williams decided to compose an ominous, minimalistic theme – made up of two notes and that’s it! Two notes, and you got a villain.
Williams described the theme as “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”
Spielberg later said that without Williams’s score the film would have been only half as successful.
Ever since “JAWS”, that contributed both to Spielberg and Williams careers (gaining Williams his second Academy Award), Williams has composed for nearly all of his films.
“I have to say, without question, John Williams has been the single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker.” – Steven Spielberg
and that was the beginning of beautiful friendship.
Two years later, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend, George Lucas, who was looking for a composer for his next film. One of the most well-known films that was ever created – “Star Wars”.
Lucas knew that the film would portray visually foreign worlds, and that is why he wants the musical score to give the audience an emotional familiarity. He wanted a grand musical sound for Star Wars, with leitmotifs (short, constantly recurring musical phrase) to provide distinction. Lucas wanted to use his favorite orchestral pieces for the soundtrack but was later convinced by Williams that an original score would be better.
Williams created a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. However, some of the pieces he created were influenced by the pieces Lucas gave him. For example, the “Main Title Theme” was inspired by the theme from the 1942 film “Kings Row”.
In March 1977, Williams conducted the London Symphony Orchestra to record the “Star Wars” soundtrack in 12 days.
Here is “Star Wars” main theme:
The “Star Wars” theme is among the most widely recognized in film history. It was ranked number 01 in The AFI’s (American Film Institute) list of best film scores (JAWS is ranked number 05) And Williams received many awards, including Academy Award and Golden Globe Award.
In 1980 Williams returned to score the second film of “Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back”. He created “The Imperial March” as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, “Yoda’s Theme” and “Han Solo and the Princess”. 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 him Academy Award nominations
Here is a video of Williams himself conducting the Imperial March:
In 1978 Williams composed the music for the superhero film – “Superman”.He conducted the London Symphony Orchestra to record the soundtrack. And again, he received awards such as
Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.
In 1981 Williams created the music for the action- adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, directed by Spielberg.
The soundtrack received an Academy Award nomination but lost out to Vangelis’ score for “Chariots of Fire”.
Here is one of the scenes:
A year later Spielberg and Williams worked together again on the science-fiction film “E.T the extra Terrestrial”.
The soundtrack for the film has been issued numerous times. And both of them described the challenge of creating music that would generate sympathy for such an odd-looking creature.
One of the known anecdotes from the recording is that Williams had problems with the timing of the music during the recording of the finale chase. Which made Spielberg shut the projector and ask Williams to record the music as he wanted it. Spielberg later edited the scenes around the recorded music.
Eventually Williams managed to create a soundtrack that made us all fall in love with E.T.
And of course, the soundtrack won the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
Here is one of the most well-known compositions Williams made for E.T. – “Flying”.
In 1990 Williams created the score of the comedy film “Home Alone” (one of the best comedy films in my opinion).
The most known piece is called “Somewhere in My Memory”. This piece is the film’s signature tune – William said that it was written “run alongside the film”; It can be heard in numerous sections of the film, either in full length or fragments, forming the backbone for the film’s soundtrack. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media. And even now, it is performed in many Christmas concerts in schools.
The score itself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Here is “Somewhere in My Memory”:
And here is a cool scene:
In 1993, there was another collaboration between Spielberg and Williams – “Schindler’s List”.
The score was composed by Williams, and played by the violinist Itzhak Perlman.
The main theme is one of the most recognized film scores, especially the violin solo. Many high-level figure skaters have used this in their programs.
The score won may awards including: the Academy Award for Best Original Score and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
Here is the theme:
In 2002, William composed the music the film – “Harry Potter.”
I know this film is considered “new” for this course, but it is one of my favorites 🙂
The main theme is called “Hedwig’s Theme” and it is the leitmotif of the film series – it can be found in all eight of the Harry Potter films even though Williams composed only the first three films of the series.
the soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score at the 74th Academy Awards.
Here is “Hedwig’s Theme” played by an orchestra:
Williams truly made the score sound magical.
I think there is no better way to explain the importance of music than to listen to a film’s score. I admire John Williams because he can make us feel better than any writer. Williams is a proof that sometimes you don’t need lyrics to understand music.
Here is a video of Spielberg explaining just how valuable Williams has been to his success:
List of some of the compositions by John Williams:
- I Passed for White
- Because They’re Young
- The Secret Ways
- None But the Brave
- John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!
- Valley o the Dolls
- Jane Eyre
- Fiddler on the Roof
- The cowboys
- The Screaming Woman
- The Poseidon Adventure
- Tom Sawyer
- The Paper Chase
- The Sugarland Express
- The Towering Inferno
- The Missouri Breaks
- Star Wars Series
- Indiana Jones series
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
- The river
- The Witches of Eastwick
- Empire of the Sun
- Home Alone
- Jurassic Park
- Schindler’s List
- Saving Private Ryan
- The patriot
- A.I: Artificial Intelligence
- Harry Potter (The first three films)
- Catch Me If You Can
- The Book Thief
Hope you enjoyed the book 🙂