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ninja_man's avatar

John Williams; is he the man or what?

Asked by ninja_man (1133points) August 24th, 2012

A good composer, no?

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16 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

By what standards? Most professional musicians are rather unimpressed with him as he is very much a one-note boat. The themes for Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones are largely indistinguishable to the casual listener, for instance, and can easily be arranged into a medley that sounds like a single piece. Williams’ work is basically the orchestral equivalent of a Britney Spears song.

One might counter by noting how few people can put up with the work of Anton Webern for more than a few moments. They’d have a point, but would also be missing the fact that Webern and Williams are hardly the only two options. Still, Williams’ work does what it is meant to do and is fairly decent within its own genre. So again, I suggest that it all comes down to what standards one has in mind.

ninja_man's avatar

@SavoirFaire Ha, indeed. In this case my mind was focused on the ‘prolific’ aspect of great, but perhaps prolific does not belong in that category.

Coloma's avatar

Who’s John Williams? lol

gailcalled's avatar

I link him to the guy who writes the interchangeable Broadway musicals…Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis, and another I’ve forgotten.

Lots of big noises and clashing..I come away humming nothing.

El_Cadejo's avatar

He’s good, I’ll always love him for Star Wars, but I prefer seeing a movie composed by Clint Mansell

Kardamom's avatar

He’s probably my favorite composer of all time. I can’t decide whether I like the theme for Jurassic Park or Harry Potter the best.

filmfann's avatar

@SavoirFaire is off base, in my opinion.

John Williams is a remarkable film composer. To hear the Darth Vader theme, the Arc of the Covenant theme, the original Harry Potter theme… They immediately conjure the very character you knew in the movie.
How many composers from the movies do you know offhand? This guy made a name for himself by his spot on music. He is the man!

Earthgirl's avatar

I think John Williams is so underestimated as a serious composer. I may be a tad biased about this since I just got back from Tanglewood and celebrating his 80th birthday. I don’t consider myself a musical expert by any means but I think that comparing John Williams to Andrew Lloyd Weber is not supportable and betrays a contempt common to those who seem to think that commercial success cannot be combined with real musical talent. Williams is a serious composer with a great grasp of his art. I happen to agree with @gailcalled that most of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s scores repeat and repeat like he ran out of ideas halfway through writing them. An opera shouldn’t do that or a musical. But in a film score it can lend more drama because the music is meant to be in the background.

How could you say that Jaws, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Schindler’s List scores all sound the same? I mean, how???

It was funny that at Tanglewood one of the speakers (I forget his name) said that Beethovan made history with 4 notes that are recognized everywhere. Da Da Da Dum!
John did it with only 2— Da Dum (from Jaws).
I think it’s so easy to discount what goes into creating something truly right, amazing, dramatic, and memorable. Hell, if it was easy, we’d all be doing it and not just sitting around being armchair critics.
Around the world in many cultures Williams music has struck a chord. It transcends language barriers and it serves its purpose well. It is full of emotion, drama and vigour as a movie soundtrack should be.

But he is more than a soundtrack composer. He also composes serious classical compositions that don’t get nearly the airplay that his movie work does. I would at least listen to some of this music before dismissing him so summarily.

I am quoting from a review here from Amazon about the Schindler’s List soundtrack.
“From the response that one can observe to the score from Schindler’s List, it is like no one took John Williams’ work seriously prior to its release. He had been renowned for his bombast music and his loud marches, but his subtler works might have been too easily forgotten. However, there seems to be a turnaround in the public conception of Williams after Schindler’s List. To many people, he became a composer capable of the deep emotion inherent in more somber films. To long time fans, this may have always been apparent, but for those who could not recognize his skill, Schindler’s List divulged it completely and indubitably.
Schindler’s List, even when it is depicting the greatest evil and the most visually horrifying images, never collapses and never overpowers. Its greatest gift is its ability to outline and highlight, not to overshadow and reconstruct. The multiple themes are all extraordinary and powerful, recurring where necessary, and coming to a crescendo as appropriate. Frequently intermingled are appropriate and stirring excerpts from Hebrew hymns that humanize and reconnect the images on screen with the validity of the past. Combined within are two sides of a film score that work together to create a magical whole. The dominant passages are the string pieces, led by Ithzak Pearlman, and colasceing the traditional images of the film with music that isn’t wholly inappropriate from the era depicted. Alternately, there are delightful mechanical cues that reference Hebrew music and lighten the mood as necessary. Best depicted in the track “Schindler’s Workforce”—perhaps the best an most delightful of the tracks, outside of the suites—maintains a constant beat that circles and epitomizes the interaction of the Jews and their forced occupation.

Ultimately, it is a perfect film that is complimented by a completely appropriate score. One can intensely understand and concur with the lifelong relationship between Williams and Spielberg, understanding where they are in tune, why they are so equally successful, and just how much they love filmmaking; all because they are good at what they do and share a mind in how it should be done. Listening to the score from Schindler’s List is an experience equally pleasant and disturbing; pleasant where the music relates the sanguine outlooks of the Jewish people, and disturbing as we see the atrocities that try to break their spirit. The score in the end, represents, perhaps, the pinnacle of Williams’ film scoring career, a point where he gained ubiquitous respect and appreciation. The score for Schindler’s List is an undeniable feat that should not be missed for its perfection, its depiction, and its beauty.”

Give credit where credit is due.
@ninja_man Yes! John Williams is the man!!!

DominicX's avatar

@gailcalled And one of his most famous tunes “Music of the Night” is a direct rip-off of Puccini…

I love The Phantom of the Opera by the way. But I do find that hilarious…

SavoirFaire's avatar

@filmfann The only claim I made is that it depends on what standards one uses. What about that seems off base to you?

filmfann's avatar

@SavoirFaire The themes for Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones are largely indistinguishable to the casual listener,

When George Lucas created Star Wars, he was unhappy with the acting, the special effects, and the editing. The only thing he was happy with was the Score. He said it was better than he expected, and elevated the entire movie.
I can’t imagine a casual listener confusing Star Wars for Indy or Superman or Jaws or ET or any of the other amazing things he has done. Yes, a lot of them sound like marches, but so do most of the stuff by John Philip Souza, and no one talks about how interchangeable his stuff is.

Adagio's avatar

Is that the same John Williams (guitarist) who played Cavatina, the theme to the 1978 film The Deer Hunter?

King_Pariah's avatar

To put it nicely, I find his music… consistent.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@filmfann I’m glad that George Lucas was happy with the score. Like I said above: Williams’ music does what it is meant to do. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the orchestral equivalent of Britney Spears (whose music also does what it is meant to do). Lucas’ approval in no way changes the quality of the music. And as for the indistinguishability of the themes, I did experiments on casual listeners in college. I have empirical data to back up my assertion about the themes and people’s inability to correctly identify them upon a second or third hearing.

It’s not that they don’t realize they are different pieces of music when heard one after another (though casual listeners tend to sing back the wrong theme when tested in that way). It’s that they cannot keep the pieces distinct in their mind without a concerted effort. Nor is it a matter of underlying structure. Sousa’s works almost always follow a standard march form, but the melodies of his best known pieces are quite distinct. There is also the fact that Sousa’s work was always innovative for its day. Indeed, Sousa was often criticized for expecting too much of his audience.

woodcutter's avatar

He is a man.

ucme's avatar

I mean, he banged out some cracking tunes in a few movies, but hardly worthy of “the man” status.

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