John Williams is one of the most respected and successful composers for
cinema of all time, with an incredible 49 Oscar nominations to date, among
them five wins. Born in Long Island, New York in 1932, John Towner
Williams was exposed to music early by his father who was a jazz drummer
and percussionist for CBS radio and the Raymond Scott Quintet. In 1952
he was drafted into the US air Force where he spent the next two years
conducting and arranging music for Air Force bands. He subsequently
studied piano at Julliard in New York, playing in jazz clubs to pay his way.
After moving to Los Angeles, he started playing the piano for film studios;
here, his long and fruitful relationship with the cinema began.
After receiving his first Oscar for adapting the music for Fiddler On the
Roof (1971), he met Steven Spielberg in 1974, their relationship producing
some of the most memorable film music of all time – Jaws (the ominous
two-note motif still striking terror into swimmers everywhere); ET: the
extra terrestrial; Schindler’s List; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and
the Indiana Jones films.
Having been introduced by Spielberg to George Lucas, he composed the
music for Star Wars: a New Hope in 1977. The score – played by the
London Symphony Orchestra with whom Williams had a long association –
earned him an academy award and went on to become the bestselling
score-only film soundtrack of all time. In it, he revived the concept of
leitmotif, most famously associated with Wagner and Richard Strauss –
using a phrase that immediately signifies a character or place and the
emotions and ideas associated with it. He went on to write the music for the
next six Star Wars films, including Star Wars episode VII, due out later this
year. He recently said: ‘the galaxy far, far away… I actually feel like I’m
still in it. that I never really left it.
The Main Title theme, Luke’s Theme, appears in all the films. It is associated
with Luke Skywalker, and represents good and hope. Princess Leia’s theme
is linked to her, the strong heroine of the first film, representing as well the
broader themes of love and romance. The Imperial March appeared for the
first time in The Empire Strikes Back and, with its obvious references to
Holst’s Mars, powerfully conjures up the war with the evil empire in
general, and Darth Vader, the embodiment of the dark side, in particular.
Yoda’s Theme, with its gentle, flowing melody, denotes the wise teachings
of the diminutive Jedi master. The Throne Room is the triumphant finale,
where good overcomes evil.