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Video just in: How John Williams composed the theme for ET

Ahead of the Blue-Ray release of Stephen Spielberg’s E. T., video has been unearthed of the director and composer working together on the key musical motif for the alien character. Watch here:

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  1. oakmountain says:

    Might I mention that a lot of the music from the “bicycle chase” sounds VERY much inspired by the finale of Howard Hanson’s Second Symphony? Don’t get me wrong; I love Mr Williams’ music; I just found it strange that no-body noticed.

  2. Marcus Johansson says:

    Well I am just waiting for this to be the standard bashing thread of John Williams as is usual in classical circles. I suppose you are right that he has integrated perhaps too many musical ideas from others into his own film works (conscious or unconscious?). Still I can’t stop loving the man’s music. Film music was the road to classical music for me and the Spielberg/Williams experience during my adolescence is forever ingrained in my mind.

  3. Norman Hinton says:

    Williams music ztrikes me as a few good themes and an awful lot of filler.’

  4. This bit, along with some other interesting behind-the-scenes footage, is available in the extra features of most of the recent DVD editions of the film.

  5. Clarification: It was NOT my intention to bash Mr Williams. I just wanted to draw attention to the Howard Hanson parallels. Everyone who thinks Mr Williams is a “Magpie” or an inferior composer is very much welcome to compose something of the calible of “Raiders March” or the “Olympic Fanfare” ;-)
    And he is still the best way to convince pre-teen kids that symphony orchestras are cool!

    • Marcus Johansson says:

      Well that sounds good to me oakmount :-) I think you and Peter sum it up very good there. I am probably not sophisticated or educated enough to disregard him as a sort of classical hack or the magpie that many musicians does. I remember reading an article of Norman Lebrecht where he stated that the Harry Potter soundtrack “was an offense to the ear”. Well not to mine ear ;-) If he is a hack then he is a very gifted one for sure. I guess if you are in a more charitable disposition you would use Peter’s term: a musical chameleon. Granted when listening to his film music you can also hear Debussy, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, RVW, Copland, EW Korngold just to mention some of them. And it is obvious that he stands on the shoulders of the greats in the music history like the ones mention above. That is pretty much how Hollywood film music works when its aim is to sound “classical”.

      But for me it is simple, when harmonies are woven like they are on many of Williams’s soundtracks I simply fall in love with it. I think also it was the wedding of John Williams knowledge of how-to-do-anything- with a symphony orchestra and the spectacular virtuosic cinema that made Spielberg and Williams to a sort of modern day popcorn-version of Wagner aesthetics . That is at least how I see it.

    • Marcus Johansson says:

      Have just listened to last mov. of Hansons 2 symphony and it is not hard to deduce where Williams got his musical ideas for E.T. You are right. :)

      • Marcus Johansson says:

        I unintentionally only posted the first part of what I had written. Well the rest…

        Recently when I listened to Debussy’s La mer it was obvious that much of the score to Jaws owes its musical identity to that piece and also you can argue Stravinsky or the beginning of the last mov. to Dvorak’s “new world symphony” if you wish. That goes for very much film music. If hard pressed I would say that much of it is pastiche classical music. But they are still not the same pieces and the musical ideas are altered and implemented within a different context and with a lot of dexterity and makes out parts of a new composition. (As if not classical composers in the past have used ideas from their colleagues) Just to mention another famous example in film music circles where Hans Zimmer got in trouble for using passages form “Mars, the Bringer of War”; to his Gladiator soundtrack (by the way he borrowed unabashed from Wagner as well) and sure it wouldn’t have existed in that way if it wasn’t for Gustav Holst’s great piece. But Zimmer renders it a more waltz like triple meter feeling and twists it to more synthesized eclectic Zimmer style of work. It is great fun to listen to.

        And while the best Hollywood film composers are not great composers by any means they are still good ones in my book.

        • I agree with everything you say ;-)

          Incidentally, I use Williams a lot in school when I teach Leitmotiv technique.
          After a dose of Star Wars and Shore’s Lord of the Ring the kids even tend to ENJOY Wagner (Gasp!)

          As for Jaws, I also sense some Prokofiev (battle on the frozen lake from “Nevsky”) around the corner; but I think Jaws is a Masterpiece in its own right, no matter where the inspiration came from.

          My ear opener was “The Empire Strikes Back” to which I only listened yesterday, and I keep being overwhelmed by the riches of melodic inspiration, excellent orchestration and the amazing playing by the LSO including the much missed Maurice Murphy on trumpet ….sigh …

          I would not go as far as to put Zimmer in the same category as Williams, but that might be my personal issues with synthesizers ;-)

          • Marcus Johansson says:

            Nice to hear! No I wouldn’t put Zimmer in the same category as John Williams either. Don’t worry ;-) But that is a different story. Maurice Murphy, yes he was a great trumpeter, Raiders of the Last Ark soundtrack springs to mind. He has a field day there which I imagine he had very often (as in The Empire Strikes Back) . Here in Sweden the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra will have a film tribute to John Williams in November. A good means to flock five year old kids into a symphony hall.

            Will check out Prokofiev’s Nevsky as well. Learned some new stuff today. :)

            “The Lord of the Rings” is a good example of the educating capability of film music. While they are not my favorite pieces of film music I think they have artistic merit. And instead of exposing newcomers to near one and a half hour of a Bruckner symphony I think those scores are great bridging/introduction into vast symphonic music like Mahler or Bruckner or a Wagnerian music drama. Keep up the good work by teaching youngsters classical and film music. As I said if it weren’t for Williams and film music I wouldn’t have been lured into exploring classical music.

  6. Fascinating to see how they went about co-creating the linkage of the music and the film. Thanks for sharing.

    I find it striking what a musical chameleon Williams is (and I mean that in a good way). His non-film music is so very different, such as his Cello Concerto (for YoYo Ma), makes me think of Schostakovich – who could speak with so many different voices when he wanted to.

  7. Harry Kessler says:

    But Williams has never tried to hide his admiration — indeed, hero worship – for the great composers whose music honored the classical tradition and gave many great films immeasureably greater depth and impact. Indeed, in interview after interview, Williams has emphasized his admiration for, and debt to, Eric Korngold. I am surprised that anyone who has listened to Korngold’s music, particularly the great Quintet, could fail to hear one of its themes as it was transmuted gloriously in ET. Yes, the rhythms have been altered (Williams is most deciedly not a magpie, but an alchemist) but the harmonies and the “tinta” are usually intact.
    I have listened to Howard Hanson’s symphonies for over 40 years, but I have to say I’ve never heard a note of Hanson in Williams, although the use of Hanson’s “Romantic” symphony in the Alien films was wonderful.
    Williams has followed the lead of his great predecessors — Tiomkin, Steiner, Newman only top a long list, along with Korngold, and all of them only too happy to acknowledge their debt to Puccini, Rachmaninoff and Debussy without whom film music would have been and would be infinitely poorer.
    Not to mention John Corigliano, whose score for Altered States literally altered the landscape of music, opening a path for many people to the music of Berg and Schoenberg.
    Sadly, the music that Mr. Williams has composed on commission for traditional concert presentation has rarely reached the heights of his film scores which, in a gratifying circle, have now escaped the movie theatre and themselves established a place in the formal concert hall.

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