Six of the best film scores from John Williams: From ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jaws’ to ‘Schindler’s List’

February 8 marks the American composer's 89 birthday

HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Composer John Williams performs onstage during Ambassadors for Humanity Gala Benefiting USC Shoah Foundation at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on December 8, 2016 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
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Revered film composer John Williams is a “master of creating emotions," says Gianluca Marciano.

The Italian conductor will lead the UAE’s National Symphony Orchestra Movie Music Gala concerts at Dubai Opera on Saturday, February 20.

Speaking to The National on the occasion of Williams's 89th birthday on February 8, Marciano reflects on the American conductor's seven decade career that saw him compose scores for eight of the top 25 highest grossing films in the US, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.

This comes on top of other seminal scores for acclaimed Steven Spielberg films including Schindler's List, Jaws and ET.

One of Williams's works, the main theme for 1977's Star Wars, will feature in the NSO shows, which celebrate Hollywood's favourite film scores.

“There is a reason why Williams is at the top when it comes to conducting Hollywood films,” Marciano says. “And that’s because he is a master of creating emotions and this is essentially what a good film score does.”

It is also an art form that’s deceptively difficult.

"The music builds that personal connection with the viewer and it has to do that not only in each scene but also be perfectly connected to the greater story that is being told. That is difficult to do," Marciano says.

"And Williams managed to do this because he has this incredible ability to use the full palette of colours an orchestra provides, from the strings to brass. Every scene he composes is so rich with these ideas.”

Marciano provides The National with six movies that underscore  genius.

1. ‘Star Wars’ (1977)

“An iconic piece of film music. Williams creates an incredible atmosphere with the use of the brass and how they respond to each other. This includes the trumpet and trombone and this immediately sets a heroic mood that the movie demands.

“The score also has these melodies that creates a sense of wonder and discovery.”

2. ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)

“How do you compose music that captures the cry and anguish of a community?

“This is really what Williams achieves with this really beautiful score. The melodies he uses here are relatively simple and some of it traces their roots to old Yiddish folk songs. The score also has a strong sense of harmony and there are also energetic brass sequences to raise the energy when needed.

“But at the heart of the score are melodies that are intimate and solemn that allows us to feel empathy for the characters of the film. Music, sometimes, has the power to make us understand something about suffering.”

3. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)

"You know, there is something so American about the brass. A lot of the Hollywood movies are full of the mass power of the brass and the first Indiana Jones is a perfect example of that.

"The magic here is in the use of the harmonies and the rhythmical patterns to create this sense of thrilling adventure that courses throughout the film. In a way, there is a lot of similarities between Williams's work here and Star Wars in that it uses the brass to create moments of great heroism."

4. ‘Hook’ (1991)

"I am glad we can have moment to talk about Hook, because this is one of William's most underrated scores.

"The score has this amazing ability to make you wonder if this was a piece by a classical composer like Beethoven, for example. And this is because Hook is the most orchestral score, in my opinion, that Williams composed for film.

“It is a masterful work and Williams merges these different melodic lines from the woodwinds and the strings to the brass and make them work together. This is difficult to do well and to make it sound effortless.

“The best analogy I can give to explain this is like sewing together an intricate coat. Everything has to work together to create something beautiful, complex and refined.”

5. ‘Jaws’ (1975)

“It the music that gave many people, children and adults, nightmares after watching this film. If you remember the film, you don’t see the shark physically, instead, we are watching from its point of view before it attacks.

“Now, if you saw these scenes with the volume off you wouldn’t really feel anything. But Williams’s music, through a simple pattern of a few notes, created this tense atmosphere and anxiety that grows and grows.

6. 'ET' (1982)

"I was born in 1976, so this film was basically the Harry Potter (which Williams also composed) of my generation. William's tender and futuristic score made us want to touch the screen and reach out to ET's hand. It made us dream about space and making contact with what's out there."

“Another interesting thing about the score is that it was Williams’s most modern work at the time, as well as being a product of its era.

"With the Hammond organ being popular in the 1960s and 1970s, the synthesisers was the instrument of choice in the 1980s and Williams used it here for ET.

“This shows that film composers use the instruments and music technology that reflects the story's time. People like Williams serve the story and that is why he is amazing.”

Movie Music Gala by the National Symphony Orchestra is on at Dubai Opera on Saturday, February 20. Performance times are 2pm and 8pm. Tickets begin at Dh195 from dubaiopera.com

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