Who May Be Remembered as the Greatest Composer of the 20th Century? The Head of One of America’s Leading Music Conservatories Said…. John Williams Who??? Think: Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, Superman, Schindler's List, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter These famous movie scores were all composed by John Williams Probably more people in the world have heard the music of John Williams than any other 20th Century composer. (Sorry Stravinsky & Prokofiev) So…. Who is he???
Click here to see a list of all of John Williams' compositions
John Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist, and is considered the greatest film composer of all time, composing some of the most recognizable and critically acclaimed film scores in cinematic history. Williams was born in Long Island, New York in 1932. In 1948 his family moved to Los Angeles; in 1951
Williams was drafted into the U.S. Air Force as a musician; and in 1955, he moved back to New York and attended the Juilliard School, where he studied piano. After returning again to Los Angeles, he began working as a session musician and started composing for many television shows and films.
After being nominated for several Academy Awards and winning one for his music for the Fiddler on the Roof film, director Steven Spielberg asked Williams to compose the music for The Sugarland Express. A year later, Williams composed the music for Spielberg's second film, Jaws. They teamed up again for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
At this time, Spielberg recommended Williams to director George Lucas, who needed a composer for Star Wars.
Williams went on to compose for many more critically acclaimed and popular movies, including Schindler's List, Superman, E.T., Indiana Jones, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter, among others.
John Williams' Style of Composing
Williams' style can be described as neo-romanticism, inspired by late 19th century orchestral music in the style of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, Antonín Dvořák, and Richard Wagner. Williams also utilizes Wagner's concept of the leitmotif - a theme that recurs throughout a musical composition that is associated with a particular person, idea, or situation. Leitmotif is able to hook the viewer through repetition of a theme, which makes the viewer feel certain emotions when hearing that theme. John Williams uses leitmotif when the character is both on screen and off screen. For example, in Jaws, the shark does not appear until late in the film, but because of the leitmotif, the listener is able to feel its presence, providing suspense and associating the theme with the shark attack without needing it to appear on screen.
So many of John Williams' film score themes have become absolutely iconic. Listen to some of them below.
The two-note ostinato (a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm) in the Jaws music has become synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. Watch John Williams conduct the Jaws theme live here.
The Star Wars theme is among the most recognized music in film. Listen to the main theme here.
Listen to the "flying theme" from E.T. conducted by John Williams here.
Listen to the Indiana Jones theme here.
Listen to the Superman theme here.
Listen to the theme from Schindler's List here.
Listen to the theme from Jurassic Park here.
Listen to "Hedwig's theme" from the Harry Potter series here.
Listen to the theme music from Home Alone here.