Thursday, February 08, 2007


Today is JOHN WILLIAMS 75th birthday. What an incredible composer and what an incredible life! Can anyone name a more famous composer. With the exception of perhaps Leonard Bernstein, I would say that answer is "No". The only person who has earned more Academy Awards nominations than he was WALT DISNEY. He actually shared a nomination once with my old friends the Sherman Brothers on their movie musical TOM SAWYER back in 1973. John Williams was born in Floral Park, New York In 1948, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he attended North Hollywood High School. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles and Los Angeles City College and studied privately with composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the United States Air Force where he conducted and arranged music for the Air Force Band as part of his duties. After his service ended in 1954, Williams returned to New York City and entered Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. During this time he also worked as a jazz pianist at New York's many studios and clubs. He had played with composer Henry Mancini, and performed on the recording of the Peter Gunn theme. He was known as "Johnny" Williams in the early 1960s, and served as arranger and bandleader on a series of popular albums with the late great singer Frankie Laine. After his studies at Juilliard, Williams returned to Los Angeles and began working as an orchestrator in film studios. Among others, he had worked with composers Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman. He was also a studio pianist, performing in scores by composers such as the late Jerry Goldsmith and the late Elmer Bernstein. Williams began to compose scores for television series in the late 1950s, eventually leading to Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel-- two ofmy all time favorite television shows. Of course Bernard Herrmann was very famous for the music he created for the classic TWILIGHT ZONE show.Williams's first major film composition was for the B-movie Daddy-O in 1958, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young. He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano and symphonic music. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his score to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls and was nominated again in 1969 for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He won his first Academy Award for his adapted score to the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof. By the early 1970s, Williams had established himself as a composer for large-scale disaster films, with scores for The Poseidon Adventure Earthquake and The Towering InfernoIn 1974, Williams was approached by Steven Spielberg to write the music for his feature directoral debut, The Sugarland Express. The young director was impressed by Williams's score to the 1969 film The Reivers, and was convinced the composer could provide the sound he desired for his films. They re-teamed a year later for the director's second film, Jaws. Widely considered a classic suspense piece, the score's ominous two-note motif has become nearly synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. The score earned Williams a second Acadamy Award, his first for an original composition.Shortly afterwards, Williams and Spielberg began preparing for their next feature film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unusual for a Hollywood production, Spielberg's script and Williams's musical concepts were developed at the same time and were closely linked. During the two-year creative collaboration, they settled on a distinctive five-note motif that functioned both as background music and the communication signal of the film's alien mothership. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977.
In the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious space epic, Star Wars. Williams produced a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Erich Wolfgan Korngold and Max Steiner. Its main theme is among the most widely-recognized in motion picture history, and the Force Theme and Princess Leia's Themeare also well-known examples of leitmotif. The film and its soundtrack were both immensely successful, and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he famously introduces The Imperial March as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams's score provides the Emperor's ThemeWilliams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme (known as "Can You Read My Mind"), would appear in the four subsequent sequel films.For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark Williams wrote a rousing main theme known as The Raiders' March to accompany the film's hero, Indiana Jones. He also composed separate themes to represent the Ark of the Covenant, the character Marion and the Nazi villains of the story. Additional themes were featured in his scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg's 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The music conveys the film's benign, child-like sense of innocence, particularly with a spirited theme for the freedom of flight, and a soft string-based theme for the friendship between characters E.T. and Elliot. The film's final chase and farewell sequence marks a rare instance in film history, in which the on-screen action is edited to conform to the composer's musical interpretation. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score. Today is also the birthday of the great author JULES VERNE. How many times have I read TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS and of course MASTER OF THE WORLD. And believe it or not Gary Coleman is 39 years old today. My sister goes in for a test on Friday that has me concerned, but I am praying that all will be well with her. Perhaps it is only IBS (Irritated Bowel Syndrome) Well, that's it for today!

1 comment:

Trudy said...

Well written article.