In this week’s Classical in Conversation blog, we’re highlighting one of the most accomplished composers of this century, and one who will undoubtedly go down in history. You don’t need to be a film buff to have heard the astonishing works of Mr John Williams.

And with a career spanning nearly seven decades, the work of John Williams unites generations of fans, friends and families.

A Cinematic Sensation

Inspired by composers that came before him like Holst, Tchaikovsky and Wagner, Williams’ signature style is neoromanticism, which uses the concept of the leitmotif, a short recurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place or idea (that’s right, we’re into the theory already guys!).

The leitmotif is one of Williams’ biggest strengths and a technique that appears again and again throughout his catalogue of works. We’ll talk more about this later…

John Williams came into the public eye in the early 1970s, and from 1974 began his partnership with the iconic director, Steven Spielberg, a partnership that would span many years. In fact, there are only 5 films of Spielberg’s that Williams didn’t write for!

The film Jaws was one of their first, and who could ever forget that two note ostinato that we’d hear whenever the shark was approaching. This ostinato is so legendary that it has become synonymous with impending danger throughout society – who hasn’t sang that little theme at some point in their life?! We certainly have! Those two notes (and the MANY more that make up the film score of Jaws) won Williams his first Academy Award for an original composition. It would be the first of many…

In fact, fast-forward some decades and Williams boasts a collection of awards including 25 Grammy’s, 7 British Academy Film Awards, 4 Golden Globes and the AFI Life Achievement Award. He is also the second most nominated individual after Walt Disney.

More Incredible Partnerships

His great working partnership with Spielberg led to another prolific director, George Lucas, who asked Williams if he would compose the score to his 1977 Star Wars film. Williams would go on to write some of his best and most highly acclaimed music for this franchise. Going back to the leitmotif, the Star Wars films are littered with them! Think the “Imperial March” which we’d hear any time Darth Vader or his Galactic Empire were approaching, the “Force Theme”, and “Yoda’s Theme” too. Williams’ talent in creating these themes that we associate so strongly with a particular character or mood or place is really something that makes his compositions so special. In 2005, the American Film Institute named the 1977 Star Wars score as the greatest film score of all time.

Of course, it wasn’t just the Star Wars franchise where John Williams would excel and produce incredible work. We all know the music of Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and Schindler’s List, films which all feature some of the best of Williams’ work.

At RSL, we felt the Classical Piano syllabus needed some of John Williams magic amongst the songlist, which is why we’ve included the “Theme from Schindler’s List” in the Grade 7 books. This hauntingly beautiful piece of music won an Oscar, a BAFTA and Williams himself won his fifth Grammy Award. He was praised for the authentic sound of the music which incorporated the rhythmic and harmonic idioms of Eastern European Jewish Music so well.

Before attempting this one yourself, we’d recommend getting yourself familiar with the original score for violin and orchestra. This will really help you get to the real emotional core of the piece which should feel intense, lyrical and expressive. We can’t wait to see what John Williams does next. Rumour has it that he’s working on writing the score for the fifth Indiana Jones film due to be released in 2022, so we’ll see you at the first screening, right?! If you enjoyed learning some more about the life and legacy of this 21st century composer, then we have plenty of his contemporaries featured on the Classical in Conversation blog. You can learn more about Ludovico Einaudi, Alexis Ffrench and Nikki Iles to name but a few.