Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
John Williams: it’s official.
Surprised? Hey, it’s a franchise.
Here’s the how-to. The composer, 81, talks of the fun of doing ‘film after film after film’.
Great news! I am very glad that the “magpie”-maestro will continue. Especially since I don’t think there are any talented musicians out of the ordinary working in Hollywood anymore. John Williams knows how to enchant the youngsters like now one else.
Let’s hope this new project will provide firstly better stories and secondly a better opportunity for him to express the film through symphonic music. In contrast to the last three installments with it’s break neck -editing, post production mess and overbearing sound effects which really must have made it difficult for any composer to try to enhance the film through music.
” talks of the fun of doing ‘film after film after film’” yes, that, and the 7-figure fee plus royalties each time…
Which, Tim, means absolutely nothing to him. Believe it or not, JW writes music for films because that is what he is (extraordinarily) good at. He hardly needs the money anyway.
Writing music for these films really will be fun for him.
He’s used some fabulous orchestrators….. Herbert Spencer, Arthur Morton. Some of the very best.
Don’t forget them!
True, but JW’s 6-8 stave scores are astonishingly detailed (often with pedal markings for the harp!) so the sound is all Williams (which is why it always sounds like JW regardless of which orchestrator he uses).
So, technically it’ll be done by Holst and Dvořák again.
Oh how unexpected! Didn’t se that one coming. Why stop with Holst and Dvorak? I am quite sure you can find many more classical composers in the Star Wars scores. It is till John Williams for me. JW is no innovator, he is a great alchemist, as someone here on this blog so aptly put it. And yes he stands on the shoulders of music history’s great names but one hasn’t have to deny his obvious talent to make that point. He is a melodically gifted and superb craftsman and commercially successful at that. But is commercial success a reason to write him down. The derogatory comments about John Williams always seems to come from academics but I have never heard it from musicians themselves. Perhaps I am wrong here but that is my experience at least. Either JWs himself or we his fans claim that he is or will be an important figure in music history just to state the obvious. But listening to Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Debussy, Wagner & Mahler and all the rest of the big shots in music hasn’t stopped me from thoroughly enjoying what John Williams does with my ears while at the cinema or my stereo set. Well let us ignorant masses rejoice in the remaining years of his career and the pundits may scoff as they want.
I never heard much Dvorak in the Star Wars soundtrack. Can you give some examples?
Me neither. The Dvorak reference in speaking about Star Wars was a first one for me as well. So I guess Steve Foster and mpr can enlighten us. I assume you may easily think of Dvorak in Jaws however, the opening bars, but I think that is cheap point to make actually. If you take bars by bars you can find a great number of similarities between different works I thought composition was an accumulative process and should be judge as a whole not dissected just to make point about how that sounded like another one. However apart from the obvious neoromantic influences foremost another Viennese Hollywood composer EW Korngold is there for sure. I know the movie was temptracked with among others Holst and Dvorak at the first screening so maybe that is the reason why they find “Dvorakian” passages in the score. I have never noticed it. But I do only know Dvoraks later symphonies. The Holst- influence I think is easier to come by. I am sure you find many other composers there if you want. I but it is still John Williams in my book. I used to listen to John Williams earlier and think that could be Prokofiev or that could be Shostakovich or that could have been written by Vaughan Williams for example by I don’t anymore since it is quite obvious that composers are influenced by other composers probably John Williams more so than any other and that is the excuse to disregard him all togehther and wholly deny to ovbious talent and craftmanship he displays. The reason might be as Phillip Fawcett pointed out that there is all these conservatoire educated technically versed composers out there who try to make a name for themselves in the art form of music and there is this guy who simply has great success in writing in an idiom that people appreciates and love him for.
It’s easy to be envious of the man, particularly if one is a composer – a soul-destroying field in which it is next to impossible to get known in, within a soul-destroying field in which is next to impossible to get known in – but, hey, if he writes music that people actually ‘enjoy’ listening to… is that so bad? Isn’t that in fact the very definition of music? These days it is, whether the intellectual elite like it or not. As a classical trained musician, I would at one time have frowned upon the ‘trite’ and begrudged the success that came with it, but now at 45 I take a completely different perspective. I think you either develop humility, which includes the ability to enjoy ‘triteness’, or become an entrenched and marginalized old git.
Williams (and I’d include John Barry, NIno Rota, Hans Zimmer, Wojciech Kilar to name a few) are in my opinion the true successors to the great classical composers. Beethoven has stood the test of time, being one of the few classical music composers untrained folk have heard of, precisely because his material was often based on astonishingly trite ideas. Substitute ‘accessible’ for trite. Of course the afore-mentioned film composers don’t compare to Beethoven in ‘complexity’, but they do in the only way that matters – beauty – and they certainly knock the socks off the likes of Britten, Tippet, Stockhausen, Boulez in that regard.
When the first Star Wars film came out, my six-year-old son was obsessed with it. I took him to see it three times. One morning I was listening to the first movt. of Walton’s 2nd Symphony. My son said: “That’s Star Wars music.”
I don’t think Williams stole a single theme or rhythmic pattern from Walton, but he captured perfectly the same sense of adventure and excitement that Walton’s music has.
He writes music you actually remember after you leave the theater which is getting exceedingly rare in movies now. It’s a pendulum that has swung back and forth.
What baffles me is that the concert music I’ve heard of his is devoid of interest. Why is that?
He wrote a tuba concerto which I found very interesting.
Cool! I will look that up.
Tchaik 6th is in the Order 66 moment from Episode 3, with some Shostakovich thrown in. And then in Episode 2 there is a bit that feels straight out of the start of the Dies Irae from Honegger’s 3rd.
Heard Wagner ‘Tannhauser Overture’ on radio this morning and he totally cribbed Roger’s song ‘Doh a deer’ – it was blatant – the ascending scale patterns in ‘soh, a needle pulling thread’ for several bars! They are all ‘inspired’ by others!
Not just a great film composer,but a great composer in general.One of the very best.He wrote a string of fantastic concertos(Violin,cello,trumpet,bassoon,flute,viola,harp),all very imaginative,harmonically interesting,brillantly orchestrated,and really well written for the solo instruments.I have a special fondness for his orchestral piece
soundings,written for the opening of Disney Hall LA,which also incorporates electronic sounds and pre recorded
tapes.I’m so glad he’ll do this film,and not the terribly boring,amateurish Hans Zimmer,who always uses the same three triads over and over again in every film he scores.
In 1984 I met John Williams when he conducted a Pops concert with the Houston Symphony. I was the Artistic Administrator at the HSO at the time. I caught him during a rehearsal break, and asked him to autograph my 2 LP Star Wars soundtrack. As he got out his pen, I meekly said, “Mr. Williams, I know quite a lot about classical music, and I mean no offense by this, but I can ‘hear’ about a half- dozen classical composers in your music.” He looked at askance, furrowed his brow, and said, “Well, then you DON’T know that much about classical music!” Crestfallen, my jaw dropped in mute agony. Then JW winked at me, smiled and said, “There are at least a DOZEN classical composers in my music!” We both laughed and he patted me on the back as if to say, “You thought you got ME, but I got YOU!”
That told, I’ve never “heard” any Dvorak in his music. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Wagner, Shostakovich, Stravinsky (check out his score for War of the Worlds), Holst, yes, and others, but not Dvorak.
JW is “The Man!”
And Gustav Mahler,one of my favourite composers,in fact stole the second theme from the first mvt.of his 2nd
symphony from the almost unknown,tragically fated Hans Rott.And no one seems to care about this brazen theft!
And two bars from the trumpet duet in the 3rd mvt.of his first symphony come straight out of Posa’s Death in Verdi’s Don Carlo.And has anybody ever noticed that 5 bars(Chorus:”comare,mi fa piangere.Pa vera queats scena.”) near the end of “Pagliacci” are almost identical to a passage in Schumann’s Manfred Overture?Schumann and Leoncavallo are strange bedfellows,but check it out!
The list is endless:Everything new is based on what has been before!
I think Mahler thought that crazy Rott would be dead and forgotten, so why not steal his theme? No one will ever know. Ol’ Gust’l has no idea Rott would be revived in the digital age. And today, August 1, is the 155th Anniversary of the birth of Hans Rott! You missed Mahler’s cribbing of the orchestral introduction to the Quartet in Act 1 of Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” Mahler’s quotes it note for note in the opening of the slow movement of his 4th Symphony.
And he must have thought nobody would ever find out about that either since Beethoven is such an obscure composer, too. But damn! He also got revived in the digital age so now finally the full extent of Mahler’s “cribbing” has been revealed!
Right Steven,that is really amazing! Thank you for mentioning Strangely I never realized it.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
Follow him on FB: Facebook and on Twitter @NLebrecht
More Lebrecht @ normanlebrecht.com
Enter your email address:
April 13, 2014 11 Comments
April 13, 2014 4 Comments
April 13, 2014 3 Comments
April 13, 2014 Leave a Comment
April 13, 2014 5 Comments
April 12, 2014 16 Comments
April 12, 2014 5 Comments
April 11, 2014 5 Comments
an ArtsJournal blog