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No matter how much you try to summarize John Willliams’ contribution to the movie world via his music, it would always be an understatement. His scores are as iconic as the very films that are now part of Hollywood legend: “Jaws”, “Star Wars”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Superman”, “ET”, “Indiana Jones”, “Home Alone”, “Jurassic Park”, “Schindler’s List”, and the first three installments of “Harry Potter” (“Hedwig’s Theme”, anyone?). He is the second-most nominated person after Walt Disney for an Academy Award at fifty nods, and he has won five, along with twenty-three Grammys, seven BAFTAs, and four Golden Globes. Much of the magic of movies is hearing the symphonic sound track, which is that much more dramatic in the theatre. I remember the original “Star Wars” in the theatre, but for that amazing adrenaline “movie rush” reeling, the score of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” did it for me.
Another memorable film score moment was the day I saw “Schindler’s List” with my mother, who was then an active piano and music theory teacher. We saw the film, and as we struggled to compose ourselves (more like me trying to get it together; she’s more stoic than I am) we commented on the soundtrack. “You know, that violin playing was really good,” we said to each other. “This sounds like a renowned artist.” Since we both like to sit through to the very end to catch the music credits, we weren’t surprised at all to discover it was Itzhak Perlman.
Steven Spielberg, who has worked with Williams for most of his films, first approached the composer to work on “Schindler’s List” after “Jurassic Park”. Williams saw the film and said “You need a better composer than I am,” and Spielberg replied “I know, but they’re all dead.” The aching, simple melody beautifully expressed by Perlman was part of a soundtrack that earned Williams his fifth Oscar.
Williams has the same approach to composing as Michelango had to sculpting; behind the marble block was a fully-formed figure, and Michelangelo felt he had to chip away the excess. Williams said, “writing a tune is like sculpting. You get four or five notes, you take one out and move one around, and you do a bit more, and eventually, as the sculptor says, ‘in that rock there is a statue, we have to go find it.'”
John Williams was born February 8, 1932 in Floral Park, New York.