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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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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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