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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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Theme from Schindler's List
First heard in: Schindler's List (1993)

When Steven Spielberg presented John Williams with the idea of composing music for his monumental Holocaust drama, Williams suggested, "You need a better composer than I am for this." "I know," Spielberg replied, "but they are all dead." What Williams eventually delivered is debatably his greatest achievement, an emotionally devastating work that transposed the horrors of the holocaust with serene grace and delicate beauty. The film's approach is best summed up in the main theme, a simple heart-melting work that is affecting on both solo violin and piano and conveys the sense of humanity and dignity that so many tried to hold onto during the Final Solution, not to mention the tragedy of those who lost their lives. Interestingly, it also owes something to German musical traditions, perhaps suggesting Schindler himself. Academy Award number five was never in question.

"Most of our films together have required an almost operatic accompaniment, which is fitting for Indiana Jones, Close Encounters, or Jaws, recalled Spielberg. "Each of us had to depart from our characteristic styles and begin again. This is music to be attended with closed eyes and unsequestered hearts."

Listen to an excerpt:


The Map Room: Dawn
First heard in: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

There are various themes representing ancient artefacts and mystical powers during Raiders — listen out for the string motif that sees Indy approach and switch the temple headpiece— but his music for the Ark of the Covenant remains the highlight. Obviously it appears as the power of the Ark is unleashed but the theme gets its first major workout as Indy discovers the resting place of the Ark in the map room, choirs adding to the gravity, power and mystery of the motif until pretty much the entire orchestra comes in as the resting place is revealed. Such orchestral colour obviously earned Williams another Academy Award nomination — number 16 — but he lost out to Vangelis' Chariots Of Fire. The Academy were clearly digging in the wrong place.

Listen to an excerpt:


March Of The Villains
First heard in: Superman The Movie (1978)

The musical march is a much-utilised weapon in the Williams arsenal and this is one of his most famous. It not only catches the tongue in cheek quality of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, the woodwind instruments and tuba playing the tune for its comedic stylings, but as the music gets bigger and brassier, building in more and more orchestration, it seems to skewer Luther's pomposity and delusions of grandeur as well. Tons of fun.

Listen to an excerpt:


Across The Stars
First heard in: Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones (2002)

The Episode II theme is a hymn to doomed love. Like many Williams romantic theme, Across The Stars starts gentle — the theme starts on oboe with violins and harp providing a mixture of dark (violins) and airiness (harp) — before building to a large-scale string and horn arrangement full of epic sweep and huge passions. As befits the film's downbeat mood, the orchestral manoeuvres turn dark in the second half, with low-end strings and tubas expressing disquiet. As you'd expect, it flirts with ideas from The Imperial March and soundtrack boffins have suggested it is an inverted version of Luke's theme, hinting at the connection between mother, father and son. As ever with Williams, the theme is put through the manipulator, turning up as a light, flighty young love theme in the first half and something much more operatic as Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padmé (Natalie Portman) enter the arena to face certain death. Soaring one minute, breaking your heart the next, it's an example where Williams creates music far richer than the characters deserve.

Listen to an excerpt:


The Great Shark Chase
First heard in: Jaws (1975)

At a certain point around the hour mark, Jaws shifts gears from a suspense thriller cum Watergate paranoia flick to a high adventure movie. As Quint, Hooper and Brody first encounter the shark and try to stop it submerging by harpooning it with bright yellow barrels, Williams turns Jaws into a pirate movie, dissipating the mood of dread and fear with spirited strings and blazing brass that recalls the golden era of adventure scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner — Spielberg even nicknamed Williams 'Max' in honour. This is so stirring you can almost feel the sea spray on your face.

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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