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Feature
80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
We mark the movie maestro's 80th birthday with a celebration of his classic pieces

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The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)
First heard in: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Imperial March is so ingrained in pop culture in general and film music in particular that it is easy to forget that Darth Vader's barnstorming theme didn't arrive until the second (fifth) Star Wars movie. Williams composed a stomping imperial theme for A New Hope — it accompanies the Falcon entering the Death Star— yet it became the only major motif that didn't recur for the sequel. Instead, given the Empire's return with a vengeance, Williams composed a brand new bellicose piece of controlled aggression driven by brass, percussion and an unrelenting triplet figure that doesn't let up, even in the quiet middle bit. It stands not only for evil incarnate, it has a grandiose, self important bombast that makes it a favourite in sports stadia, political addresses and Navy recruiting ads. It has been covered by heavy metal legends, disco funksters, dogs and memorably remixed for Spaced. For the prequels Williams cleverly performed a remix of his own, inserting the March's musical ideas into both Anakin's Theme (check out the last four notes) and Episode II's Love Theme, subtly reminding us of the boy's destiny.

Listen to an excerpt:


Presenting The Hook
First heard in: Hook (1991)

If you listen to Hook, there are certain passages, full of high drama and touching poignancy that sound anything but a family adventure movie. Happily, there are also moments of pure pantomime. When sidekick Smee parades the captain's Hook on a cushion through pirate town towards its owner, Williams delivers colourful cartoonish accompaniment almost leading the bumbling pirate on a merry dance.

Listen to an excerpt:


  The Olympic Fanfare And Theme
First heard in: The Los Angeles Olympics (1984)

Williams has scored much music for fictional sporting events — a whimsical tennis match in The Witches Of Eastwick, the pomp of Podracing in The Phantom Menace and Quidditch in Harry Potter, an impromptu football match in Stepmom — but he also composed the world's biggest sporting spectacle, the Olympic Games, this time in Los Angeles in 1984. Before starting Williams had restrictions imposed on him; it had to include an opening fanfare to be played by herald trumpets and it needed to cut into bite-sized pieces that could work as stings to bookend ad breaks. Williams solution is the great Olympic theme, starting with a trumpeted fanfare, then segueing into a broad noble theme that for Williams represents "the spirit of cooperation, of heroic achievement, all the striving and preparation that go before the events and all the applause that comes after them." The BBC agrees: it invariably wheels the theme out as they round up the nominees for Sports Personality Of The Year.

Listen to an excerpt:


Sayuri's Theme
First heard in: Memoirs Of A Geisha (2006)

Steven Spielberg had circled Arthur Golden's novel about a young girl sold into the life of a geisha for years so John Williams' attachment to the project — even when Rob Marshall stepped in as director — was no surprise. Employing an intelligent and tactful use of Japanese instrumentation within the context of a Western orchestra, Williams' score is gentle and intimate. Williams brought in two virtuoso performers he'd worked with before: violinst Itzhak Perlman who played on Schindler's List and cellist Yo Yo Ma who appeared on Williams' underrated score for Seven Years In Tibet, It is Ma who shines on the film's central piece, Sayuri's Theme, a slow, solemn, simple haunting theme reflecting the grace and sadness inherent in the character's life.

Listen to an excerpt:


Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra
First heard in: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

Even more so than Temple of Doom, Williams kept the Indiana Jones march under the character's battered fedora for the third installment, creating a wide range of themes for the 110 minutes that still feel part of the Indyverse. This chase music is perhaps the best of the bunch, perfectly capturing the series' sense of danger and comedy in the same piece and also skillfully weaving in character motifs — the derring do of Indy, the fussiness of Henry and the evil of the Nazis — into a thrilling ride. Spielberg calls it 'a wild fox hunt'. He's not wrong.

Listen to an excerpt:

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Your Comments

21 RE: At no point...
Best on line feature you have ever done Empire, please ensure this is always available to listen too, A true master at work. More

Posted by JIm R on Friday February 10, 2012, 21:06

22 At no point...
...in my life have i come so close to orgasm just from an Empire feature. More

Posted by Swedle on Friday February 10, 2012, 18:27

23 Final Duel mistake.......
When Luke comes out of hiding, after accidentally revealing Leia's paternity to Vader, he doesn't say "Nooooooo!", he defiantly yells "NEVER!!!" before ending the climactic duel... Interestingly enough, that bit of music was also used in the final duel in the Lucasarts game Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. More

Posted by jws1272 on Thursday February 9, 2012, 17:56

24 Missed one!
You should've added 'A Window to the Past' from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' More

Posted by dimitrifiani on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:40

25 The Greatest
Undoubtedly the greatest movie composer of all time. My only gripe with this list is the exclusion of The Lost World's main theme. I believe this is actually Spielberg's favourite piece from all the Jurassic Park music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb6Xk5p9MpQ& feature=related More

Posted by Ballschin on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:17

26 FLASHMAN
He simply has no equal; nobody else has ever treated every-single film as though it was a first assignment that needed special attention, (unless you knew, how would you know that the guy who did Heartbeeps also did Jane Eyre and, his masterpiece, Superman?) and when he is inspired by what he sees, (most recently by War Horse) we are elated. More

Posted by Frank Comiskey on Thursday February 9, 2012, 10:52

27 The force is with him...
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term 'genius' as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability". Although used far too often these days, John Williams REALLY is a genius and I thank him for the many years of great music he has given me (man and boy). Happy Birthday John ...and many more of them. More

Posted by melverley on Thursday February 9, 2012, 09:15

28 Favorite tunes that dont appear here
Visitor in San Diego (from Jurassic Park The Lost World): Pure adrenaline!!!! Dartmoor 1912 (From War Horse) The Battle of Hoth (do I need to tell you???) Dinner With Amelia (The Terminal) Sabrina's Theme (just BEAUTIFUL) Anakin's Dark Deeds (Episode III) EPIC of epic epicness!!!!!! Where Dreams Are Born (A.I) maybe the most BEAUTIFUL track he's ever written!!! i cant helpto cry EVERYTIME) Confluence (MEmoirs of a Geisha) perfect... just perfect in allthe extent of the word THE ENTIRE MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, for me his best album EVER!!! Exsultate Justi (Empire Of The Sun) aleluyah!!!! Homesickness (The Terminal) Am I Beautiful? (Far& Away) Aunt Marge's Waltz (Azkaban) A Window To The Past (Azkaban) Dennis Steals The Embryo (Jurassic Park) The Trek (JP: The Lost World) Rescuing Sarah (JP: The Lost World) Ludlow's Demise (JP: The Lost World) Jango's Escape (Episode II) Princess Leia's Theme Luke And Leia Battle Of The Heroes (Episode III) The Battle Of Endor SaiMore

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:36

29 RE: The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
It's been a long time since I posted here. but this feature is so good!!! I can't start to describe how much I love and admire John Williams, how grateful I am to live in his era (although he is 50 years older than me!!) For me it all began when i was 11 and watched Jurassic Park, now i have more than 40 albums and he never fails to surprise and move me. I owe him SO much! and this year he gave us War Horse, a magnificent and perfect album that is 100% Williams, god how I love that soundtrack!!!! I just can't pick a favorite of his, everything he's done is so close to perfection. man, to think of everything he's done and everything i haven't heard.... I posted a link to this feature on facebook, and i recommended it to everyone, let's all do the same so the whole world knows how lucky we are to have him!!!!!!! finally: OU VERY MUCH, MAESTRO, FOR YOUR ENDLESS AND RESTLESS TALENT, I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!!!!!!!!!! More

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:02

30 The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
Kudos Empire - this truly is a fitting feature for one of Cinema's most important figures. A film is nothing without it's music and it's Williams who fills that void so beautifully, so emotionally and so wonderfully. Rarely do pictures move me to tears, but a Williams score can have me sobbing like a 15 year-old girl watching The Notebook. More

Posted by haydonsmovies on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:10

31 Floods of Tears
Having sat and listened to all the excerpts and read this whole blog I am a total mess tears of joy and emotion on my face. The word genius is vastly overused about people with little more than mediocre talent at best, but in John William's case I think it doesn't even come close to describing him. He simply is the one of the greatest musicians and composers alive. More

Posted by mcmikeyboy on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:00

32 Great selection
The Witches of Eastwick, The Fury, Amazing Stories AND The Mission ? Dear Empire ... I'm impressed ! More

Posted by Dropje on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:58

33 Hook
One of my favorites must be "The Face of Pan", from the Hook soundtrack. Not very famous but still, simply beautiful. More

Posted by buffy_1008 on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:28

34 Great Feature
This has to be one of the best features you have ever done Empire, congratulations! Although justifiably, it could just be Williams' music that makes it so great! Happy birthday to one of the greatest composers we'll ever know. More

Posted by magikdethmonkey on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:24

35 A true poet and a genius
John WIlliams means more to me than any figure in either movies or music. Good feature Empire! More

Posted by mattpbrown on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:17

36 Wonderful Piece Empire
Written with real heart and knowledge. Big salute to Sir John! More

Posted by Blyman on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:10

37 Brings tear to the eye
What wonderful nostalgia. Skipping through decades of my emotional development through movies and Williams' music! So glad you mentioned the importance of Home Alone (it's our family's staple Xmas album). By the time we got to War Horse, that's it - I'm in pieces! Only snag is the general oversight of AI. Stored Memories/Monica's Theme is the most beautiful piece he wrote IMO (the slow beginning builds up to hauntingly beautiful & understated climax). And Catch Me If You Can, which has many great cues. But thanks Empire fo collating this for us. Made my day :-) More

Posted by oliraceking on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:04

38 Soundtrack of us
The importance of Williams as a greatest composer of our times - and I mean OUR - is confirmed simply by the grounds of those tracks. Just close your eyes and listen to them. And you can see the movies right there in your head. It's all you need. More

Posted by Pelle on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 09:24

39
that was amazing. thank you empire More

Posted by artaylor on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 05:43

40 Here's to another 80 years
Two disappointments were omissions of the last twenty minutes worth of empire strikes back. The reason that film is regarded as the best in the star wars franchise is its finale. The other is the prisoner of Azkaban there are at least twelve tracks worth mentioning. If you ever buy a Williams soundtrack buy these two I promise you its the best things he's done as an entire soundtrack since the first star wars a new hope 35 years ago. More

Posted by GrassyNol on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 00:49

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