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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 Midway March
First heard in: Midway (1976)

A forgotten picture, Midway is a World War II movie dramatising the key battle in the Pacific war starring what used to be called An All Star Cast (Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum). In his younger days, Williams was a conductor and arranger for the US Air Force Band and his main theme here is the film's most lasting legacy, an upbeat military fanfare that plays little part in the movie but stands on its own as the kind of bright dramatic, patriotic march beloved of High School bands on US football fields. Bizarrely, this was released as a single in Japan, a 45 that remained the only commercial recording of the theme for ages.

Listen to an excerpt:


The March from 1941
First heard in: 1941 (1979)

Or the comedic flipside of the Midway March. Williams' main theme for Spielberg's WWII home invasion comedy walks a thin tightrope between bare-faced dramatics and tongue in cheek satire and it's often hard to tell them apart. For Williams, the march "has a kind of jazzy, almost Southern swagger to it…and it's a little bit impertinent in character" and the theme, which gets regurgitated throughout the score provides much of its nutty energy and gung ho spirit — on the album it is augmented with cannon fire and John Belushi ("My name is Wild Bill Kelso and don't you forget it"). During the recording, Spielberg reputedly ran home to get his clarinet and joined in "to make sure the end result was ragged enough" and at the end of the session, Spielberg served champagne to the entire orchestra to celebrate. The movie might be low in the Spielberg canon but the March retains a special place in his affections. "Still to this day, the best march John ever wrote was 1941," Spielberg remembered. "I actually prefer that march to the march he wrote for Raiders Of The Lost Ark."

Listen to an excerpt:


Hymn To The Fallen
First heard in: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Part of the job of a composer is to "spot" the movie, work with the director and music editor to decide which scenes need musical enhancement and which moments can live without it. For Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg and Williams, not wanting to hype the action, decided that the battle scenes should play with real combat sounds, leaving the composer to add emotional gravitas to the more reflective scenes such as Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) staring out over D-Day's carnage or secretaries typing up letters of bereavement for soldiers' families. For the end credits, Williams composed Hymn To The Fallen, an elegy for those who perished in combat that is restrained and respectful, starting from a single snare drum, building through the whole orchestra and choir, then diminishing to a note of quiet dignity.

Listen to an excerpt:


Remembrances
First heard in: Schindler's List (1993)

Williams won his first Academy Award for adapting the musical Fiddler On The Roof and that familiarity with Jewish musical traditions must have come into play when the composer was working through Schindler's List. His second theme for Schindler's, Remembrances, served to commemorate the Shoah from a modern perspective and is infused with an over-riding respect for Hebraic history. While the string arrangement offers a lush borderline romantic feel, at Spielberg's suggestion, Williams enlisted violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman who, on the arrangement for solo violin, plays with a deep-felt sincerity and astonishing sensitivity. "The subject of the movie was so important to me," recalled Perlman, "and I felt that I could contribute simply by just knowing the history, and feeling the history, and indirectly actually being a victim of that history."

Listen to an excerpt:


Toy Planes, Home And Hearth
First heard in: Empire Of The Sun (1987)

For Spielberg and Williams, Empure Of The Sun represented a big stepping stone towards Schindler's List. There's a lot of dark musical material in the underrated WWII movie. Williams charts Jim Graham (Christian Bale)'s journey from a life of privilege in Shanghai to the deprivation of a WWII camp, quoting nostalgic Chopin to suggest Jim's cosseted childhood before launching into tones of panic, anxiety and abandonment. Yet Williams also comes up with a main theme for Jim that is heartbreaking in its minor gentler modes but can send the spirit soaring in its lush epic arrangement.

Listen to an excerpt:

 

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1
freaking Lapti Nek is here but no Battle of the Heroes? Can we please stop pretending that the Prequel soundtrack is no good just because RLM doesn't like the films? More

Posted by NeoBrowser on Saturday May 4, 2013, 10:57

2 RE: RE:
Thank you sir. Your kind words will keep me sane when I get locked up for libel! More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:22

3 RE: RE:
L: Rob Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all.ote]   py07.gif]py07.gif]   ert of Mirth, I salute you More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:10

4 RE: RE:
Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all. More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 10:51

5 RE:
L: howie71taylor A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? sp; rry dress up as Darth Maul ? More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 09:41

6 A true genius
Just about every film he's been involved in has been improved greatly by the soundtrack, sometimes subtle but always worthwhile. A great old fashioned genius, long may he reign as King of the soundtracks. Excellent article :) More

Posted by jamiecfc on Monday February 13, 2012, 15:13

7 Indy's Very First Adventure - The Last Crusade
Cracking cue ploughs along with the train chasing Indy all the way! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 11:10

8 Departure of Boba Fett
Fantastic cue ending in four huge blasts from the whole orchestra - gob-smacking! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:59

9 Short Round...
There's a moment in Temple of Doom's end credit music that literally has the Raiders March & Short Round's theme playing AT THE SAME TIME and perfectly complementing each other - how ingenious is that?! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:46

10 Gasps of astonishment...
I once played Temple of Doom's Mine Car Chase to a friend of mine - a grade six flautist - she ran out of the room gasping!! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:39

11 RE: We're gonna need a bigger list...
With any subjective list, the temptation is to point out anything that's missing, as opposed to what's there. So, let's get mine out of the way now: - Throne Room / Medal Ceremony from A New Hope? Lapti Nek from ROTJ is there but not this glorious piece of pomp and circumstance?! However, this article is one of the best that Empire has ever produced. Very deep research and clear evidence of passion and understanding of Williams' entire career. The temptation would be to go for the obvious, and I reckon I could come up with 80 highlights from Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones alone. Full credit for going beyond the obvious though, and here's another one - the original Lost In Space TV show had a theme tune from John Williams, although then he was still Johnny! My version of the ET soundtrack has Escape / Chase / Saying Goodbye in a beautiful 15min single track that I happened to be listening to when I started reading the Empire homepage today. I'd recommend that everyonMore

Posted by BelfastBoy on Sunday February 12, 2012, 11:19

12 We're gonna need a bigger list...
...but this is a magisterial survey. Superb work by Ian Freer and (presumably) team. I've been here hours, reliving old favourites and making a few rewarding new discoveries too. Thank you to John Williams for so many of the great tunes of my lifetime - and crucially, many happy returns! More

Posted by Dextraneous on Sunday February 12, 2012, 01:01

13 Thank You Empire
What an amazing feature, fitting tribute to someone as massively talented as John Williams More

Posted by james dean on Sunday February 12, 2012, 00:54

14 Wow
the man is amazing.....I will be testing my friends More

Posted by Paddy Kieran on Saturday February 11, 2012, 21:41

15 Thank you so much
Delighted to see The Towering Inferno titles and the Empire asteroid chase on here. Brilliant, thanks. More

Posted by Schnorbitz on Saturday February 11, 2012, 20:10

16 Amazing Feature for an Amazing Man
Ian Freer hats off to you, this is the best feature Empire's ever done, online or off, and I salute your encyclopaedic knowledge of the great man. And what a man. His music has lifted me so high, so often. Magic from start to finish. More

Posted by BondVsPredator on Saturday February 11, 2012, 14:44

17 RE: 80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
Awesome feature Empire! It is a tribute to the Maestro that you can list so many great tracks and there are still bucket loads more that immediately come to mind: the main theme from "Jane Eyre" and the "Lowood" theme; "Cadillac of the Skies" from "Empire of the Sun"; "Dorinda's First Flight" from "Always"; the Main Title from "Dracula"; the "Call of the Crystal" from the last Indiana Jones monstrosity (that we shall mention no further). I bought the double cassette of Star Wars in 1977... then the double fold out LP... then I was hooked. Thanks John Williams for a lifetime of hummable tunes that work for just about every occasion in life! More

Posted by mellowwellowmann on Saturday February 11, 2012, 11:26

18 Thank You
I really enjoyed this. so many memories, so many wonderful pieces of music! More

Posted by orazzak on Saturday February 11, 2012, 10:06

19 A Humble Genius
Having had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago, he was most humble when I thanked him for the joy he he brought to my life. He said it was his pleasure. From Star Wars to War Horse, no one has brought more to the world of film music than John Williams, and may he continue to produce masterpieces for many years to come. Thank you Empire for THE BEST FEATURE EVER!! More

Posted by ddumbell on Saturday February 11, 2012, 04:26

20
A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? More

Posted by howie71taylor on Saturday February 11, 2012, 03:32

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