John Williams

Last updated

John Williams
John Williams tux.jpg
Williams in 2007
Born
John Towner Williams

(1932-02-08) February 8, 1932 (age 92)
Occupations
  • Composer
  • conductor
  • pianist
Years active1952–present
Works List of compositions
Spouses
  • (m. 1956;died 1974)
  • Samantha Winslow
    (m. 1980)
Children3, including Joseph
Parent
Signature
John Williams Signature.png

John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932) [1] [2] [3] is an American composer and conductor. In a career that has spanned seven decades, he has composed some of the most popular, recognizable, and critically acclaimed film scores in cinema history. [4] [5] [6] He has a very distinct sound that mixes romanticism, impressionism, and atonal music with complex orchestration. [7] He is best known for his collaborations with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and has received numerous accolades including 26 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards, seven BAFTA Awards, three Emmy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards. With 54 Academy Award nominations, he is the second-most nominated person, after Walt Disney, [lower-alpha 1] and is the oldest Oscar nominee in any category, at 91 years old. [8]

Contents

Williams's early work as a film composer includes Valley of the Dolls (1967), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Images and The Cowboys (both 1972), The Long Goodbye (1973), and The Towering Inferno (1974). He has collaborated with Spielberg since The Sugarland Express (1974), composing music for all but five of his feature films. He received five Academy Awards for Best Original Score for Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), and Schindler's List (1993). Other memorable collaborations with Spielberg include Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the Indiana Jones franchise (1981–2023), Jurassic Park (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), War Horse (2011), Lincoln (2012), and The Fabelmans (2022). [9] He also scored Superman (1978), the first two Home Alone films (1990–1992), and the first three Harry Potter films (2001–2004).

Williams has also composed numerous classical concertos and other works for orchestral ensembles and solo instruments. He served as the Boston Pops' principal conductor from 1980 to 1993 and is its laureate conductor. [10] Other works by Williams include theme music for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games; NBC Sunday Night Football; "The Mission" theme (used by NBC News and Seven News in Australia); the television series Lost in Space, Amazing Stories (1985), and Land of the Giants ; and, the incidental music for the first season of Gilligan's Island . [11] [12] Williams announced but then rescinded his intention to retire from film score composing after the release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny in 2023. [13]

He has received numerous honors, including the Kennedy Center Honor in 2004, the National Medal of the Arts in 2009, and the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2016. [lower-alpha 2] He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998, the Hollywood Bowl's Hall of Fame in 2000, and the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2004. He has composed the score for nine of the top 25 highest-grossing films at the U.S. box office. [14] In 2022, Williams was appointed an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, "for services to film music". In 2005, the American Film Institute placed Williams's score to Star Wars first on its list AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores; his scores for Jaws and E.T. also made the list. The Library of Congress entered the Star Wars soundtrack into the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". [15]

Early life and family

John Towner Williams was born in Flushing, Queens, New York City, to Esther (née Towner) and Johnny Williams, [16] a jazz drummer and percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet. He has an older sister, Joan, [17] [18] and two younger brothers, Jerry and Don, who play on his film scores. [19] Williams said of his lineage: "My father was a Maine man—we were very close. My mother was from Boston. My father's parents ran a department store in Bangor, Maine, and my mother's father was a cabinetmaker." [20] Johnny Williams collaborated with Bernard Herrmann, and his son sometimes joined him in rehearsals. [21]

In 1948, the Williams family moved to Los Angeles where John attended North Hollywood High School, graduating in 1950. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and studied composition privately with the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. [22] Williams also attended Los Angeles City College for one semester, as the school had a Studio Jazz Band. [23] In 1951, Williams joined the U.S. Air Force, where he played the piano and brass and conducted and arranged music for the U.S. Air Force Band as part of his assignments. [24] [25] In a 2016 interview with the U.S. Air Force Band, he recounted having attended basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, after which he served as a pianist and brass player, with secondary duties of making arrangements for three years. [26] In March 1952, he was assigned to the Northeast Air Command 596th Air Force Band, stationed at Pepperrell Air Force Base in St. John's, Newfoundland. [27] He also attended music courses at the University of Arizona as part of his service. [28]

In 1955, following his Air Force service, Williams moved to New York City and entered Juilliard, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. [22] He was originally set on becoming a concert pianist, but after hearing contemporary pianists like John Browning and Van Cliburn perform, he switched his focus to composition. [29] "It became clear," he recalled, "that I could write better than I could play." During this time Williams worked as a pianist in many of the city's jazz clubs.

Early career

After his studies at Juilliard and the Eastman School of Music, Williams went to Los Angeles where he began working as an orchestrator at film studios. Williams worked with such composers as Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman, and with fellow orchestrators Conrad Salinger and Bob Franklyn. [30]

Williams was also a studio pianist and session musician, performing on scores by such composers as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and Henry Mancini. With Mancini, he recorded the scores of Peter Gunn (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and Charade (1963), and played the piano part of the guitar-piano ostinato in Mancini's Peter Gunn title theme. [31] [32] With Elmer Bernstein, he performed on the scores of Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Williams was also the pianist on the scores of Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) and Robert Wise's West Side Story (1961). [33]

Known as Johnny Williams during this period, he released several jazz albums under this name, including Jazz Beginnings, World on a String, and The John Towner Touch. [33] Williams also served as music arranger and bandleader for a series of popular music albums with the singers Ray Vasquez and Frankie Laine. [34] [35]

Film and television scoring

Williams at the Boston Symphony Hall after conducting the Boston Pops, May 2006 Johnwilliams2006.JPG
Williams at the Boston Symphony Hall after conducting the Boston Pops, May 2006

While fluent in many 20th-century musical languages, Williams's most familiar style is neoromanticism. [36] Williams's score for Star Wars is often described as Wagnerian as it makes use of the leitmotif, a musical phrase associated with a place, character or idea. [37] Williams downplays the influence of Wagner: "People say they hear Wagner in Star Wars, and I can only think, It's not because I put it there. Now, of course, I know that Wagner had a great influence on Korngold and all the early Hollywood composers. Wagner lives with us here—you can't escape it. I have been in the big river swimming with all of them." [38]

1954–1973: Rise to prominence

Williams wrote his first film composition in 1954 while stationed at Pepperrell Air Force Base for a promotional film titled You Are Welcome, created for the Newfoundland tourist information office. [25] Williams's first feature film composition was for Daddy-O (1958), and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young . Williams also composed music for television, including the pilot episode of Gilligan's Island , [39] Bachelor Father (1959–60), the Kraft Suspense Theatre , Lost in Space (1965–1968), The Time Tunnel (1966–67) and Land of the Giants , the last three created by the prolific producer Irwin Allen. [40] He also worked on several episodes of Checkmate (1960–1962) and M Squad . [41]

Williams called William Wyler's How to Steal a Million (1966) "the first film I ever did for a major, super-talent director". Williams received his first Oscar nomination for his score for Valley of the Dolls (1967) and was nominated again for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). His first Oscar was for Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score, for Fiddler on the Roof (1971). He scored Robert Altman's psychological thriller Images (1972) and his neo-noir The Long Goodbye (1973), based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. Pauline Kael wrote that "Altman does variations on Chandler's theme the way the John Williams score does variations the title song, which is tender in one scene, a funeral dirge in another. Williams' music is a parody of the movies' frequent overuse of a theme, and a demonstration of how adaptable a theme can be." [42] Altman, known for giving actors free rein, had a similar approach to Williams, telling him "Do whatever you want. Do something you haven't done before." [32] His prominence grew in the early 1970s thanks to his work for Irwin Allen's disaster films; he scored The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno and Earthquake (both 1974). Williams named his Images score as a favorite; he recalls "the score used all kinds of effects for piano, percussion, and strings. It had a debt to Varèse, whose music enormously interested me. If I had never written film scores, if I had proceeded writing concert music, it might have been in this vein. I think I would have enjoyed it. I might even have been fairly good at it. But my path didn't go that way." [38] As it happened, two of Williams's early scores, for The Reivers (1969) and The Cowboys (1972), would end up shaping the direction his career would go.

1974–present: Collaborations with Steven Spielberg

Williams's scores for The Reivers and The Cowboys impressed a young Steven Spielberg, who was getting ready to direct his feature debut, The Sugarland Express (1974) and requested the composer for The Reivers. Williams recalled, "I met what looked to be this seventeen-year-old kid, this very sweet boy, who knew more about film music than I did—every Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin score. We had a meeting in a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant, arranged by executives. It was very cute—you had the feeling Steven had never been in a restaurant like that before. It was like having lunch with a teen-age kid, but a brilliant one." [38] They reunited a year later for Jaws. Spielberg used Williams's theme for Images as a temp track while editing Jaws. When Williams played his main theme for Jaws, based on the alteration of two notes, Spielberg initially thought it was a joke. Williams explained that "the sophisticated approach you would like me to take isn't the approach you took with the film I just experienced." After hearing variations on the theme, Spielberg agreed: "sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones." [43] The score earned Williams his second Academy Award, his first for Best Original Score. [44] Its ominous two-note ostinato has become a shorthand for approaching danger. [45] Williams's score is more complex than the two-note theme; it contains echoes of Debussy's La Mer and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring . [46] Shortly thereafter, Spielberg and Williams began a two-year collaboration on Close Encounters of the Third Kind . They crafted the distinctive five-note motif that functions both in the score and in the story as the communications signal of the film's extraterrestrials. Darryn King writes that "One moment in that film captures some of Spielberg and Williams's alchemy: the musical dialogue between the humans and the otherworldly visitors, itself an artistic collaboration of sorts." Pauline Kael wrote of the scene: "the earthlings are ready with a console, and they greet the great craft with an oboe solo variation on the five-note theme; the craft answers in deep, tuba tones. The dialogue becomes blissfully garrulous ... there is a conversational duet: the music of the spheres." [47] Williams says the first three notes of the theme are resolved, making the next two surprising, adding "I realized that 20 years after the fact." [32]

Spielberg chose Williams to score 1941 (1979) as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the latter taken from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Williams wrote a rousing main theme for the latter film - "The Raiders March", for the film's hero, Indiana Jones - as well as separate themes to represent the eponymous Ark of the Covenant, Jones's love interest Marion Ravenwood, and the film's Nazi villains. Additional themes were featured in his scores for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). Spielberg emphasized the importance of Williams's score to the Indiana Jones pictures: "Jones did not perish, but listened carefully to the Raiders score. Its sharp rhythms told him when to run. Its slicing strings told him when to duck. Its several integrated themes told adventurer Jones when to kiss the heroine or smash the enemy. All things considered, Jones listened ... and lived." [48] Williams's soaring score for Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) won him a fourth Oscar. [44] Spielberg liked Williams's music for the climactic chase so much that he edited the film to match the music. [49]

John Williams conducting the score to Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Avery Fisher Hall in 2007 John Williams scoring Raiders.jpg
John Williams conducting the score to Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Avery Fisher Hall in 2007

The Spielberg-Williams collaboration resumed in 1987 with Empire of the Sun and continued onward with Always (1989), Jurassic Park (1993), and its sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park as well as Amistad (both 1997). Williams also contributed the theme music, and scored several episodes, of Spielberg's anthology television series Amazing Stories (1985). Schindler's List (1993) proved to be a challenge for Williams; after viewing the rough cut with Spielberg, he was so overcome with emotion that he was hesitant to score the film. He told Spielberg, "I really think you need a better composer than I am for this film." Spielberg replied, "I know, but they're all dead." [50] Williams asked classical violinist Itzhak Perlman to play the main theme for the film. Williams garnered his fourth Oscar for Best Original Score, his fifth overall.

Williams scored Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence , based on an unfinished project Stanley Kubrick asked Spielberg to direct. A. O. Scott argued that the movie represented new directions for director and composer, writing that Spielberg created "a mood as layered, dissonant and strange as John Williams's unusually restrained, modernist score". [51] Williams wrote scores inspired by jazz for Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002), which allowed him to tip his hat to Henry Mancini, as well as The Terminal (2004). [52] His 2005 score for Spielberg's War of the Worlds allowed him to tip his hat to the scores for classic monster movies. That same year, he scored Spielberg's epic historical drama film Munich.

In 2011, after a three-year hiatus from film scoring, Williams composed the scores for Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. The former was his first score for an animated film, and he employed various styles, including "1920s, 1930s European jazz" for the opening credits and "pirate music" for the maritime battles. Both scores received overwhelmingly positive reviews [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] and earned Academy Award nominations, [59] the latter also being nominated for a Golden Globe. [60] The Oscar nominations were Williams's 46th and 47th, making him the most nominated musician in Academy Award history (having previously been tied with Alfred Newman's 45 nominations), and the second most nominated overall, behind Walt Disney. Williams won an Annie Award for his score for Tintin. In 2012, he scored Spielberg's Lincoln, for which he received his 48th Academy Award nomination. [61] He was also set to write the score for Bridge of Spies that year, which would have been his 27th collaboration with Spielberg, [62] but in March 2015 it was announced that Thomas Newman would score it instead, as Williams's schedule was interrupted by a minor health issue. [63] This was the first Spielberg film since The Color Purple (1985) not scored by Williams. [64] Williams composed the scores for Spielberg's fantasy The BFG and his drama The Post (2017). [65]

In 2019, Williams served as music consultant for Spielberg's West Side Story (2021) [66] [67] and scored Spielberg's semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (2022). [68] In June 2022, Williams announced that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny , scheduled for a 2023 release, would likely be his last film score as he planned to retire from film and focus on solely composing concert music. [69] [2] However, he reversed this decision by January 2023, stating that he had at least "10 more years to go. I'll stick around for a while!". He compared the decision to Spielberg's father Arnold, who had worked in his field until he was 100. [13]

Star Wars and other franchises

Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend George Lucas, who needed a composer for his space opera Star Wars (1977). Williams delivered a grand symphonic score influenced by Gustav Holst's orchestral suite The Planets , as well as Richard Strauss, Antonín Dvořák, and Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The Star Wars theme is among the most widely recognized in film history, and the "Force Theme" and "Princess Leia's Theme" are well-known examples of leitmotif. The score was immensely successful—it remains the highest grossing non-popular music recording of all time—and won Williams a second Academy Award for Best Original Score. [70] In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back , introducing "The Imperial March" as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, "Yoda's Theme", and "Han Solo and the Princess". The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with Return of the Jedi , for which Williams provided the "Emperor's Theme", "Parade of the Ewoks", and "Luke and Leia". Both scores earned him Academy Award nominations. [44]

In 1999, Lucas launched the first of three prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. Williams was asked to score all three, starting with The Phantom Menace . Along with themes from the previous films, Williams created new themes for 2002's Attack of the Clones and 2005's Revenge of the Sith . Most notable of these was "Duel of the Fates", an aggressive choral composition in the style of Verdi's Requiem, [71] [ user-generated source? ] using harsh Sanskrit lyrics that broadened the style of music used in the Star Wars films. It used vocal melodies instead of his usual compositions using brass instruments. Also of note was "Anakin's Theme", which begins as an innocent childlike melody and morphs insidiously into a quote of the sinister "Imperial March". For Episode II Williams composed "Across the Stars", a love theme for Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker (mirroring the love theme composed for The Empire Strikes Back). [72] [73] The final installment combined many of the themes created for the series' previous films, including "The Emperor's Theme", "The Imperial March", "Across the Stars", "Duel of the Fates", "The Force Theme", "Rebel Fanfare", "Luke's Theme", and "Princess Leia's Theme", as well as new themes for General Grievous and the film's climax, titled "Battle of the Heroes". [74]

Williams scored the first three film adaptations of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. The most important theme from Williams's scores for the Harry Potter films, "Hedwig's Theme", was also used in the fourth through eighth films. Like the main themes from Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones, fans have come to identify the Harry Potter films with Williams's themes. Williams was asked to return to score the film franchise's final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 , but director David Yates said that "their schedules simply did not align", as he would have had to provide Williams with a rough cut of the film sooner than was possible. [75]

In 2013, Williams expressed interest in working on the Star Wars sequel trilogy, saying: "Now we're hearing of a new set of movies coming in 2015, 2016 ... so I need to make sure I'm still ready to go in a few years for what I hope would be continued work with George." [76] In 2015, Williams scored Star Wars: The Force Awakens , earning him his 50th Academy Award nomination. [77] [78] In 2017, he wrote the music for Star Wars: The Last Jedi , [79] the eighth episode of the saga. Williams contributed "The Adventures of Han" and several additional demos for the 2018 standalone Star Wars film Solo: A Star Wars Story , while John Powell wrote the film's original score and adapted Williams's music. [80] [81] [82]

In March 2018, Williams announced that following Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), he would retire from composing music for the Star Wars franchise: "We know J. J. Abrams is preparing one Star Wars movie now that I will hopefully do next year for him. I look forward to it. It will round out a series of nine, that will be quite enough for me." [83] Williams also makes a cameo in the film as Oma Tres, a Kijimi bartender. [84] In July 2018, Williams composed the main musical theme for Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park attraction Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge . William Ross, who conducted the symphonic recording of the theme with the London Symphony Orchestra on Williams's behalf, additionally arranged Williams's original composition in different musical contexts for use, recording nearly an hour of musical material at Abbey Road Studios in November 2018. [85] [86] Williams won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for his Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Symphonic Suite. In 2022, he contributed the theme music for the Star Wars miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, which was subsequently adapted further by William Ross. [87]

Other film and television works

Williams scored Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction (1975), John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday (1977), John Badham's Dracula (1979), and Alfred Hitchcock's final film Family Plot (1976). For the latter, Hitchcock told Williams to remember one thing: "Murder can be fun." He tipped his hat to Hitchcock's frequent composer, Bernard Herrmann, and Hitchcock was pleased with the result. Williams would follow a similar approach several years later when scoring Brian de Palma's The Fury (1978) - Kael called Williams "a major collaborator" on the film, writing that he had "composed what may be as apt and delicately varied a score as any horror movie has ever had. He scares us without banshee melodramatics. He sets the mood under the opening titles: otherworldly, seductively frightening. The music cues us in." [88] That same year, Williams scored Richard Donner's Superman. Donner reportedly interrupted the demo premiere of the opening title by running onto the soundstage, exclaiming, "The music actually says 'Superman'!" [89] King writes that "Donner had a theory that the three-note motif in the main theme—the one that makes you want to punch the air in triumph—is a musical evocation of 'SU-per-MAN!'". When asked if there was anything to that, Williams replied "There's everything to that." [32] The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme, "Can You Read My Mind?", appeared in the subsequent Salkind/Cannon film sequels as well as Superman Returns (2006).

In 1985, NBC commissioned Williams to compose a television news music package for various network news spots. The package, which Williams named "The Mission", consists of four movements, two of which are still used heavily by NBC today for Today , NBC Nightly News , and Meet the Press . [90] In 1987, Williams scored George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick. In his Oscar-nominated score for Lawrence Kasdan's The Accidental Tourist (1988), [91] Williams developed the two main theme sections in different ways, turning the mood lighter or darker through orchestration and an unexpected use of synthesizers. [92]

Other frequent collaborations with directors during this period include Martin Ritt (Pete 'n' Tillie (1972), Conrack (1974), and Stanley & Iris (1990)), Mark Rydell (The Reivers (1969), The Cowboys (1972), Cinderella Liberty (1973), and The River (1984)), Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991), and Nixon (1995)), and Chris Columbus (the first two Home Alone films (1990–1992) and Stepmom (1998)). Additional films Williams scored during this time include Alan J. Pakula's Presumed Innocent (1990), Ron Howard's Far and Away (1992), Sydney Pollack's remake of Sabrina (1995), Barry Levinson's Sleepers (1996), John Singleton's Rosewood (1997), Alan Parker's Angela's Ashes (1999), and Roland Emmerich's The Patriot (2000), and Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).

Williams scored the 2013 film The Book Thief , [93] his first collaboration with a director other than Spielberg since 2005. The score earned him an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition. It was his 44th nomination for Best Original Score (and 49th overall), setting a new record for the most nominations in that category (he tied Alfred Newman's record of 43 nominations in 2013). [44] [94] In 2017, Williams scored the animated short film Dear Basketball , directed by Glen Keane and based on a poem by Kobe Bryant. [95] [96] In 2023, he was commissioned by ESPN to write an original composition titled "Of Grit and Glory" for the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship. [97]

Classical works and conducting

Williams signing an autograph after a concert in 2006 Williamsautograph.jpg
Williams signing an autograph after a concert in 2006

Boston Pops Orchestra

From 1980 to 1993, Williams served as the Boston Pops Orchestra's principal conductor, succeeding Arthur Fiedler. Williams never met Fiedler in person but spoke to him by telephone. His arrival as the Pops' new leader in the spring of 1980 allowed him to devote part of the Pops' first PBS broadcast of the season to presenting his new compositions for The Empire Strikes Back. [98] Williams almost ended his tenure with the Pops in 1984 [99] when some players hissed while sight-reading a new Williams composition in rehearsal; Williams abruptly left the session and tendered his resignation. He initially cited mounting conflicts with his film composing schedule but later admitted a perceived lack of discipline in, and respect from, the Pops' ranks, culminating in this latest instance. After entreaties by the management and personal apologies from the musicians, Williams withdrew his resignation and continued as principal conductor for nine more years. [100] In 1995, he was succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the former associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. [101] Williams is now the Pops' laureate conductor, thus maintaining his affiliation with its parent Boston Symphony Orchestra. Williams leads the Pops on several occasions each year, particularly during their Holiday Pops season and typically for a week of concerts in May. He conducts an annual Film Night at both Boston Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, where he frequently enlists the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. [102]

Compositions

Williams conducting at Hollywood Bowl in 2009 John Williams Hollywood Bowl.jpg
Williams conducting at Hollywood Bowl in 2009

Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony; a sinfonietta for wind ensemble; a concerto for horn written for Dale Clevenger, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's principal horn; a concerto for clarinet written for Michele Zukovsky, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's principal clarinetist, in 1991; [103] a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994; concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra; and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by The Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996. [104] His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees , which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony Orchestra. His "Violin Concerto No. 2" was written for and premiered by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 2021, with Williams conducting. [105] [106]

Williams composed the Liberty Fanfare for the Statue of Liberty's rededication; "We're Lookin' Good!" for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games; and themes for the 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2002 Olympic Games. One of his concert works, Seven for Luck, for soprano and orchestra, is a seven-piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove. It had its world premiere by the Boston Symphony under Williams with soprano Cynthia Haymon. [104]

Williams in 2011, conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra John Williams with Boston Pops-1.jpg
Williams in 2011, conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra

Williams makes annual appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and took part as conductor and composer in the orchestra's opening gala concerts for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, which included the premiere of his piece Soundings. In 2004, he served as the Grand Marshal for the Rose Parade and conducted "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Rose Bowl Game. In April 2005, Williams and the Boston Pops performed the "Throne Room Finale" from Star Wars at opening day in Fenway Park as the Boston Red Sox, having won their first World Series championship since 1918, received their championship rings. For Game 1 of the 2007 World Series, Williams conducted a brass-and-drum ensemble in a new dissonant arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner". [107] He composed the quartet Air and Simple Gifts for the first inauguration of Barack Obama. The piece is based on the hymn "Simple Gifts", made famous by Aaron Copland in Appalachian Spring . Williams chose the theme because he knew Obama admired Copland. It was performed by Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill. [108]

Williams has guest conducted "The President's Own" United States Marine Band on several occasions, who commissioned him in 2013 to write "Fanfare for The President's Own" (his first concert band work since his sinfonietta for wind ensemble) in honor of their 215th anniversary. [109] In 2023, Williams was made an honorary U.S. Marine at the conclusion of his fifth concert with the Marine Band at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

In 2021, Williams conducted the world premiere of "Overture to the Oscars" at Tanglewood's 2021 "Film Night". [110] This was followed in 2022 by a "Fanfare for Solo Trumpet", written for the reopening of David Geffen Hall, [111] and "Centennial Overture", written in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Hollywood Bowl. [112] He is currently completing a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax. [113]

Conductor

In February 2004, April 2006, and September 2007, Williams conducted the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The initial program was intended to be a one-time special event, and featured Williams's medley of Oscar-winning film scores first performed at the previous year's Academy Awards. [114] Its unprecedented popularity led to two concerts in 2006, fundraising gala events featuring personal recollections by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. [115] [116] Continued demand fueled three more concerts in 2007, which all sold out. These featured a tribute to the musicals of Stanley Donen and served as the New York Philharmonic season's opening event. [117] [118] After a three-season absence, Williams conducted the Philharmonic once again in October 2011. [119]

Stanley Donen (left) and Williams at Avery Fisher Hall in 2007 John Williams & Stanley Donan.jpg
Stanley Donen (left) and Williams at Avery Fisher Hall in 2007

After over a ten year break, Williams returned to New York in 2022 to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra for a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, with special guest violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. [120] The next year, he was feted at a gala at David Geffen Hall by Spielberg, celebrating their nearly fifty-year collaboration. [121] In 2024, he returned to headline another gala at Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra, this time with Yo-Yo Ma as his special guest. [122]

Williams also conducted the National Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the Joint Armed Forces Chorus, and the Choral Arts Society of Washington in his new arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the anthem's 200th anniversary. The performance was held at A Capitol Fourth , an Independence Day celebration concert in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2014. [123] On April 13, 2017, at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Williams performed a surprise concert [124] with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra featuring "Princess Leia's Theme" (a tribute to the recently deceased Carrie Fisher), "The Imperial March", and "Main Title", followed by George Lucas saying, "The secret sauce of Star Wars, the greatest composer-conductor in the universe, John Williams".

John Williams conducting the Boston Pops in May 2018 John Williams Boston Pops 2018.jpg
John Williams conducting the Boston Pops in May 2018

Anne-Sophie Mutter, introduced to Williams by their mutual friend André Previn, collaborated with Williams on an album, Across the Stars, on which Mutter played themes and pieces from Williams's film scores in his new arrangements for violin. It was released in August 2019. [125] The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra invited Williams to lead concerts in January 2020, his first engagement with a European orchestra, [126] for an all-Williams concert featuring Mutter as soloist. The concert included many pieces from Across the Stars. The resulting concert album, John Williams in Vienna, became the bestselling orchestral album of 2020, reaching the top 10 in many countries and topping the U.S. and UK classical charts. [127] The orchestra also commissioned a new procedural from Williams for their annual Philharmonikerball, [128] replacing the 1924 fanfare by Richard Strauss.

Williams conducted the Berlin Philharmonic from October 14–16, 2021, marking his second engagement with a European orchestra and his first with the Berlin Philharmonic. [129] In 2022, in celebration of his 90th birthday, Williams conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in March, and was honored on August 20 with a tribute at Tanglewood. [130] The tribute at Tanglewood featured James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, and Branford Marsalis. The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed some of Williams' best-known music, with Williams conducting the "Raiders March" from the Indiana Jones movies at the end of the show. [131] Williams made a surprise appearance at the U.S. premiere of the Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) on June 15, where he conducted themes with a live symphony orchestra. Also present were Spielberg, Lucas, Harrison Ford, and James Mangold. [132] Later that year, he conducted the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Matsumoto and Tokyo, Japan, marking his return to the country for the first time in over thirty years. [133]

Personal life

In 1956, Williams married Barbara Ruick, an American actress and singer, and they remained married until her death in 1974. The couple had three children: Jennifer (Jenny) Williams Gruska (b. 1956), Mark Towner Williams (b. 1958), and Joseph Williams (b. 1960); the last is best known as the lead singer of Toto. [134] In 1980, Williams married Samantha Winslow, a photographer. [135]

Awards, recognition and legacy

Williams is regarded as one of the most influential film composers. His work has influenced other composers of film, popular, and contemporary classical music. Norwegian composer Marcus Paus argues that Williams' "satisfying way of embodying dissonance and avant-garde techniques within a larger tonal framework" makes him "one of the great composers of any century". [136] Similarly, his film music has clear influences from other classical and film composers, including Holst, [137] Stravinsky, Korngold, and others. But while many have specifically referenced the similarities, [138] [139] these are generally attributed to the natural influence of one composer on another. The Boston Globe named Williams as "the most successful composer of film music in the history of the medium". [140]

Williams has worked with such diverse directors as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, Chris Columbus, Oliver Stone, Richard Donner, Irvin Kershner, Clint Eastwood, Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Mark Robson, Ron Howard, Alfonso Cuarón, Jean-Jacques Annaud, J. J. Abrams, and James Mangold.

Williams has been nominated for 54 Academy Awards, winning five; six Emmy Awards, winning three; 25 Golden Globe Awards, winning four; 71 Grammy Awards, winning 26; and has received seven British Academy Film Awards. With 54 Oscar nominations, Williams currently holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person [141] [142] and is the second most nominated person in Academy Awards history behind Walt Disney's 59. Williams is the only person to be nominated for an Academy Award in seven different decades (the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s). He is also the oldest person, at age 91, ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. Forty-eight of Williams's Oscar nominations are for Best Original Score and five are for Best Original Song. He won four Oscars for Best Original Score ( Jaws , Star Wars , E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial , Schindler's List ) and one for Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score (Fiddler on the Roof).

Williams was the subject of an hour-long documentary for the BBC in 1980, and was featured in a report on 20/20 in 1983. [107] He has received several academic honors, including an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music in 1980, [143] as well as Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Boston College in 1993, [144] from Harvard University in 2017, [145] and from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021. [146] Williams was made an honorary brother of Kappa Kappa Psi at Boston University in 1993, upon his impending retirement from the Boston Pops. [147] Since 1988, Williams has been honored with 15 Sammy Film Music Awards, the longest-running awards for film music recordings. [148] In 2000, Williams received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. [149]

Williams has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. Williams was honored with the annual Richard Kirk award at the 1999 BMI Film and TV Awards, recognizing his contribution to film and television music. [150] In 2004, he received a Kennedy Center Honor. [151] He won a Classic Brit Award in 2005 for his soundtrack work of the previous year. Williams has won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for his scores for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind , Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Angela's Ashes, Munich, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Book Thief. The competition includes not only composers of film scores, but also composers of instrumental music of any genre, including composers of classical fare such as symphonies and chamber music.

In 2003, the International Olympic Committee accorded Williams its highest individual honor, the Olympic Order. [152] In 2009, Williams received the National Medal of Arts in the White House in Washington, D.C., for his achievements in symphonic music for films, and "as a pre-eminent composer and conductor [whose] scores have defined and inspired modern movie-going for decades". [153] In 2012, Williams received the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. [154] In 2013, Williams was presented with the Ken Burns Lifetime Achievement Award. [155] In 2016, Williams was made a Chevalier De L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Government of France [156] In 2018, the performing rights organization Broadcast Music, Inc. established The John Williams Award, of which Williams became the first recipient. [157] That same year, Williams received the Grammy Trustees Award, a Special Merit Award presented to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions other than performance (and some performers through 1983) to the field of recording. [158] He additionally received a President's Medal award from The Juilliard School and announced during the ceremony that he intended to bequeath his entire library of concert and film music scores, as well as his sketchbooks, to the college. [159]

In 2020, Williams won the Grammy Award for "Best Instrumental Composition" for composing Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Symphonic Suite, [160] and he received his 52nd Oscar nomination for "Best Original Score" at the 92nd Academy Awards for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. [161] In 2020, Williams received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society [162] as well as the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts (jointly with Ennio Morricone). [163] In 2022, Williams was appointed an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, "for services to film music", one of the final two honorary knighthoods awarded during the Queen's seventy-year reign. [164] [165] In 2024, Williams was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (jointly with Terence Blanchard) [166] and will be honored with the Disney Legends award at the Honda Center. [167]

Concert works

Concertos

Other orchestral works

Chamber works

Discography

Charting hit singles (U.S., Billboard)

YearTitleBillboard

Hot 100

Billboard

AC

1975Main Title (Theme from "Jaws")32 [168] 22 [169]
1977Star Wars (Main Title)10 [170] 4 [169]
1978 Theme from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"13 [168] 13 [169]

See also

Notes

  1. 59 nominations, 22 awards
  2. was the first to be awarded outside of the acting and directing fields

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Further reading

Cultural offices
Preceded by Principal Conductor, Boston Pops Orchestra
1980–1993
Succeeded by