Education: UCLA, Julliard
Total number of films scored: >100 (and counting)
In introducing contemporary film composers, John Williams must be the place to start. His influence on American culture over the past fifty years is so great that it is unlikely there is one person over the age of ten who is not familiar with his music, and his prodigious career overshadows that of every other current film composer.
John Williams was born in New York to a musical family, and moved with them to LA in 1948. He attended UCLA before going into the Air Force, and then returned to New York where he studied at Juilliard. He began his composition career writing pieces for television, but eventually moved into film composition. In the 1970s, John Williams began working with Steven Spielberg, and has scored many of Spielberg’s films since, including Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and Jurassic Park. During the 1970s and 80s he also composed the music for the Star Wars original trilogy – some of his most iconic work. In the past decade, Williams has continued collaborating with Spielberg, composing for A.I., Munich, and Lincoln, in addition to composing scores for Harry Potter.
Outside of film composition, Williams has written dozens of orchestral pieces and served as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 13 years. (I believe he also visited my elementary school assembly sometime in the mid-1990s, but I can’t verify that.)
Impressive resume, right? But I’ll continue – because to simply list John Williams’s education and accomplishments is not enough. To fully appreciate just what John Williams’s contribution has been, consider, for a moment, a world without him, or a world where he became, say, a lawyer, or a customer service representative.
In this bleak, boring place, there would not be this:
Or, even worse, there would not be this!:
Of course, other composers would have been found for each of these, but I defy you to imagine any piece other than The Imperial March accompanying Darth Vader. Such is the genius of John Williams that his music becomes more than just background for a story, but comes to signify entire franchises or, as in the case of Jaws, species. Consider all that the first nine notes of the Star Wars theme call to mind, or the excitement that a few notes of the Prologue from Harry Potter, heard in a dark theater on the night of release, can create. There’s a reason this man has won 32 awards, including 17 Grammys, from five different organizations, and it’s not just a close relationship with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. John Williams’s legacy will be the themes – his creations – that any of us can call to mind without prompting, themes that have become part of our cultural canon, themes so impactful that we can’t imagine a world without them.
So, if there is one film composer you know, let it be John Williams. We owe him so much.
The John Williams Web Pages. Web. 2 Nov. 2014. <http://www.johnwilliams.org>
John Williams Fan Network. Web. 2 Nov. 2014. <www.jwfan.com> – Check this out for the latest John Williams news, including information about upcoming performances of his music!
Featured Image: Universal Pictures