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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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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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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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