John Williams

In 2022, the world music community celebrated the 90th anniversary of world-renowned American composer and conductor JOHN WILLIAMS, one of the most popular contemporary musical artists. He was born on 8 February 1932 in New York City. His father, John Williams Sr., was a jazz drummer and percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet and went on to record with them soundtracks for Warner Bros cartoon movies. In 1948, the family moved to Los Angeles, where John attended UCLA, Los Angeles City College, and studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a composer and pianist of Italo-American descent (Florence-born he emigrated to America in 1939, and since 1946 taught composition at the Los Angeles Conservatory, and authored of the music for more than 200 films).

Following his service in the Air Force, John Williams returned to New York and enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School Conservatory for the Performing Arts, where he studied piano under Russian pianist Rosina Lhevinne. While in New York, he worked as a jazz pianist both in clubs and making recordings. His subsequent return to Los Angeles marked the start of his impressive career in the film industry, associated with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programs throughout the 1960s winning four Emmy Awards.

In January 1980, John Williams became the nineteenth conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since its founding in 1885 as a section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, established four years earlier. He led it for 14 successful seasons until December 1993, and was its conductor emeritus after his retirement. He has appeared as guest conductor with a number of major orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia and Chicago Philharmonics, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh, Dallas, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, and has made recordings for Hollywood with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. John Williams holds honorary degrees from twenty American universities – Juilliard School, Berklee College of Music in Boston, and others.

He has composed the themes for the 1984, 1988, 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games, various television programmes and concerts, as well as many orchestral and instrumental works including: two symphonies; Cello Concertos (premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994), for flute and violin (recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra), for clarinet and tuba, for trumpet (premiered with the Cleveland Orchestra, Michael Sachs, soloist, in September 1996), for bassoon, The Five Sacred Trees (premiered by the New York Philharmonic and its principal bassoonist Judith LeClair in 1995, and conducted by John Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony Orchestra and published by Sony Classical); the  American Journey for orchestra was written to celebrate the new millennium and accompanied the retrospective film The Unfinished Journey, directed by Steven Spielberg and  others.

John Williams has composed the music for over one hundred films. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Harry Potter, Jaws, Memoirs of a Geisha, Seven Years in Tibet, Fiddler on the Roof and many others.

The composer won 5 Academy Awards for his film scores, the first being awarded in 1971 for Fiddler on the Roof, followed by Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982) and Schindler’s List (1993).

He has received 4 Golden Globe Awards, 20 Grammy Awards, 7 BAFTA Awards and 2 Emmy Awards. He has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and Grammy Awards.

His film music and other works have been released by Sony Classical. The soundtrack album to Star Wars: Episode IV. A New Hope,” featuring the film’s main theme, has sold more than four million copies, making it one of the most successful non-album soundtracks in pop music history. John Williams’ film themes are vivid and emblematic of each title. The music for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is one of the few examples in cinema history where footage from the film (the chase and the goodbye at the end) was edited to match the composer’s arrangements.

Connected with the celebration of his 90th anniversary are an album with the Berlin Philharmonic, projects with Steven Spielberg, a concert at the Kennedy Center to mark his jubilee and other appearances.

Remarkably creatively active and at this age, John Williams will go down in history as the oldest person to be nominated for an Academy Award. His music for The Fabelman Family, a Steven Spielberg drama with autobiographical elements, has been nominated for the Best Original Score award in 2023. “The Fabelman Family” is also nominated for Best Picture, bringing the film music legend’s Oscar nominations to 53.

The fifth film in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Relic of Destiny, with the now 80-year-old Harrison Ford in the title role, produced by Spielberg but directed this time by James Langold, is scheduled to be re-released with his music on June 30, 2023.

John Williams’ music impresses with its vivid imagery, memorable themes and richness of sound. The composer wove various compositional techniques characteristic of the twentieth century into his work, but most revealing is his peculiar neo-romanticism, inspired by the large-scale orchestral expression and leitmotif technique in the music of the last decades of the nineteenth century (Richard Wagner, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, etc.). Spielberg says that he and John are “crazy” about including full orchestras and full choirs in most of their films. In a special 90th birthday interview done for Classic FM in 2022, the composer reiterates his adoration for great traditions and achievements. He shyly describes his enormous contribution to the world of cinema as “something small”: it is “nothing compared to the work of Bach or Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or any of the great colossal geniuses who developed the music” that “we hold so dearly in our hearts as one of the foundations of our culture”.

Perhaps what Sir Howard Stringer (Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute, on the occasion of the presentation of the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award to John Williams, June 9, 2016) said most accurately characterizes the composer’s enormous contribution: John Williams wrote the soundtrack to our lives. Note by note … his genius connected music and movies, elevating them to symphonic levels and inspiring generations of audiences to be enriched by the magic of cinema …

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