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Section Header
John Williams
Reviews in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Traffic Ranks:
#3.  Star Wars: A New Hope
#4.  Schindler's List
#10.  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
#11.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
#12.  Jurassic Park
#25.  Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
#30.  Superman
#34.  Saving Private Ryan
#35.  Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
#42.  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
#46.  Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
#48.  Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
#55.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
#62.  Raiders of the Lost Ark
#67.  The Lost World: Jurassic Park
#74.  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
#78.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
#80.  Seven Years in Tibet
#82.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
#90.  Jaws
(updated daily)

Scores in Filmtracks'
Top 100 Voting Ranks:
#1.  Schindler's List
#3.  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
#6.  Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
#13.  Raiders of the Lost Ark
#17.  Jaws
#18.  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
#20.  Jurassic Park
#22.  Star Wars: A New Hope
#31.  Superman
#35.  Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
#41.  Hook
#54.  The Terminal
#56.  Far and Away
#67.  Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
#70.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
#81.  Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
#97.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(updated daily)

Filmtracks Editor's Recommendations:
Star Wars: A New Hope
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Raiders of the Lost Ark
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Far and Away
Jurassic Park
Schindler's List
The Terminal

Related Pages of Interest:
Star Wars: Special Edition Theme of the Month
(February 1997 archives)
Hollywood Sound
(1997 compilation, Williams conducting)
Close Encounters: The Essential John Williams Collection
(1999, The City of Prague Philharmonic)
American Journey/Call of the Champions
(2002 Olympics recording)

John Towner Williams was born in the Flushing section of Queens, in New York City, on February 8, 1932, the oldest of Esther and Johnny Williams. His father, a jazz drummer, had been one of the original members of the Raymond Scott Quintet and later was a percussionist with the CBS Radio Orchestra and NBC's "Your Hit Parade". Music played an important part in the lives of John, his brothers Jerry and Don, and his sister Joan. From the age of seven he studied piano, and he also learned to play the trombone, the trumpet, and the clarinet. In 1948 the family moved to Los Angeles, where the father free-lanced with film studio orchestras. After graduating in 1950 from North Hollywood High School, where he played, arranged, and composed for the school band, Williams took courses in piano and composition at UCLA and studied privately with pianist-arranger Bobby Van Eps. He composed his first serious work, a piano sonata, as a nineteen-year-old student and later a wind quintet never finished or performed.

Drafted in 1952, Williams was assigned to the United States Air Force, and as a part of his tour of duty he conducted and arranged music for service bands. After his discharge in 1954, he spent a year at the Julliard School of Music as a piano student of Rosina Lhevinne. During his stay in New York he worked at various nightclubs as a jazz pianist. Later he was accompanist and conductor for singer Vic Damone, played for composer Alfred Newman at Twentieth Century-Fox, and was engaged as a pianist with Morris Stoloff's Columbia Pictures staff orchestra in Hollywood, of which his father was then a member. His talent for orchestration was soon recognized and encouraged by the studio composers. Meanwhile, he continued his serious music studies in Hollywood with Arthur Olaf Anderson and with the noted Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Beginning with his first screen credit, for Because They're Young in 1960, Williams' career as a composer of film scores gathered steady momentum. Prized for his versatility, he wrote music for jazz combos, dance bands, and symphony ensembles. Beginning on the late 1950's, Williams was also involved in television. He appeared as a jazz pianist in the detective series Johnny Staccato, and he both composed and conducted for such shows as "M-Squad", "Wagon Train", and "Chrysler Theatre". In 1974, a young Steven Spielberg came to John Williams after being moved by his score to The Reivers to score his new movie, Sugarland Express. After his string of highly popular disaster film scores for The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, Black Sunday, and The Fury, critical notice of the scores, although often perfunctory in film reviewing, at times recognized the music's important contribution of the success of the films. Recognition also came through the Academy Award nominations (over 35 to date) he garnered for music he wrote or arranged, including those for several songs in the 1960's.

Through the 1980's and 1990's, and into the 2000's, Williams has poured out more wonderful scores, none of which need mentioning by name. Williams began conducting orchestras for the soundtrack recordings of all of his own works (with the exeption of a few early scores), and over the years he has also undertaken assignments for conducting light classical music with the symphony orchestras of such cities as Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. In 1980, the Boston Symphony management announced that it had concluded a three-year contract with John Williams to become the nineteenth conductor of the Boston Pops. Although it was generally agreed that no one could totally replace the revered Arthur Fiedler, the choice of Williams was greeted with enthusiasm.

In addition to working for motion pictures and television, Williams made his mark as a composer of serious music. Whether commissioned to write them or done for other purposes, these include: Prelude and Fugue (1965), his Essay for Strings in 1966 and his Symphony No. 1 written in the same year, dedicated to his long time Hollywood associate André Previn (a second Symphony followed of which not much is known); a Sinfonietta for Wind Instruments (1968); a Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey (1972); Jubilee 350 Fanfare composed for the 350th anniversary of the city of Boston in 1980; Fanfare for a Festive Occasion (1980); Pops on the March (on the request of Arthur Fiedler; but the work was not completed until after his death in 1981); "America, the Dream Goes On" (1982 with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman); Esplanade Overture (1983); Liberty Fanfare composed for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty (1986); Hymn to New England (1987); "We're Lookin' Good!" a march dedicated to the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games; Fanfare for Michael Dukakis (1988); To Lenny! To Lenny! for Leonard Bernstein's 70th birthday (1988); Winter Games Fanfare written for the 1989 Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, Colorado; Celebrate Discovery for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America in 1990; Fanfare for Prince Philip (1992); Sound the Bells for the wedding of Crown Princess Masako of Japan (1993); and Variations on Happy Birthday in 1995 for a Tanglewood concert celebrating three birthdays (Seji Ozawa's 60th, Itzhak Perlman's 50th and Yo-Yo Ma's 40th).

His seven concerti are written for flute (1969), violin (1976, dedicated to his late wife Barbara Ruick), tuba (for the 100th anniversary season of the Boston Pops in 1985), clarinet (for Los Angeles Philharmonic principal clarinetist Michele Zukovsky in 1991), cello (1994 for Yo-Yo Ma), bassoon (inspired by the poetic works of Robert Graves and written in 1995 for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic for its principal bassoonist, Judith LeClair) and trumpet (in 1996 for the 100th Anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra). The widely known Olympic Games themes were written by Mr. Williams on three occassions. In 1984 he wrote Olympic Fanfare, and in 1988 he did Olympic Spirit and continued with Summon the Heroes for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and Call of the Champions for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He has also written four themes for NBC, most notably the NBC Nightly News theme entitled, "The Mission Theme".

Trimly bearded, tall, and sandy haired, John Williams is familiar to many as a result of his frequent appearances as an Oscar nominee at the annual televised Academy Award ceremonies. Widowed when his wife of eighteen years, Barbara, died in 1974 of a cerebral hemorrhage, Williams was married a second time, on June 9, 1980, at King's Chapel House in Boston, to Samantha Winslow, a photographer and interior decorator whom he had known in Hollywood for about five years. Once making his home in Boston, he kept his ties with southern California because of his continued interest in film music, and because his sons Joseph and Mark, who have embarked on their own musical careers, his daughter Jennifer, most definitely a doctor by now, and his retired parents live there. It's most probable that after retiring from the Boston Pops, he moved back to California to be closer to family and the industry. He is fond of golf, tennis, and of playing chamber music with his friends.

Williams in 1993
Additional Quotes:
"On the technical side, the development of a sound, solid craft, is the best advice anyone can be given. The study of the great canon of western music. A working familiarity with counterpoint of what should be part of every composer. Reading is enormously important, for inspiration and creation of music. There is more music to be found in poetry and in the quiet contemplation of nature, than in studying music itself. As to how to develop a career, one can now have one in music education, or in film, or in a community service, in vocal music, choral, all of these areas. All are rich areas, and are good ones. So a good solid basis education can lead you to a career that is joyful and enormously rewarding." -- 1999, on advice for aspiring composers

"The first time I turned around at the end of the first number, there was still some light and I could see, all the way, this multitude of people, and the only word I could think of for it was 'biblibal.' It was like a multitude crossing the sea... No way to describe the feeling of standing in from of that number of people. The Pope could maybe tell you something about it." -- 1982, on conducting live in front of 225,000 people

"The fifth time is like the first time. It's like anything else we do creatively. We sit down with a blank piece of paper and we hope that we're going to have the inspiration and the energy and the good luck that we've had in the past. So I think every time is the same challenge all over again, and we rise to meet it in the best way we can and that's the thing that keeps us vitally interested in what we do." -- 2002, on Attack of the Clones

"The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that's wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us." -- 2001, on writing Call of the Champions for the 2002 Olympics

"It was not music that might describe terra incognita but the opposite of that, music that would put us in touch with very familiar and remembered emotions, which for me as a musician translated into the use of a 19th century operatic idiom, if you like, Wagner and this sort of thing. These sorts of influences would put us in touch with remembered theatrical experiences as well, all western experiences to be sure." -- 1997, on Star Wars

John Williams conducts during recording sessions of The Fury in 1978

"So much of what we do is ephemeral and quickly forgotten, even by ourselves, so it's gratifying to have something you have done linger in people's memories."

The last decades have proven to be an unpredictable period in John Williams' career. Although maintaining his high standard of European classical music, Williams' long tenure on the throne as "the very best composer in Hollywood" has come under question. His reigning days of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones scores in the 1980's have partly faded, and Williams has moved on to a variety of heavy, dramatic film assignments. And yet, even though composers such as James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith have been commercially threatening Williams' dominance atop the world of film music, he continues to produce exceptional scores.

John Williams is the master of the long-term Hollywood relationship. He has remained loyal to directors such as Steven Spielberg (scoring all but a few of his feature films) and Oliver Stone. He is also the master of the sequel, scoring more sequels for seperate major motion picture series than any other composer in the history of Hollywood, including sequels to Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter. Because of this trend, Williams has also become the master of weaving original themes from previous films into new efforts, and interpolating the combination into a thematically impressive suite of new and old music. The most difficult task he has faced has been the continuation of the Star Wars saga into six films, for which Williams must contend with over a dozen themes to weave into each new entry.

Some people recall the "Johnny Williams" days of swinging jazz scores of the 1960's (How to Steal a Million, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, A Guide for the Married Man), or the Academy Award winning master of disaster epics in the 1970's (The Towering Inferno, Jaws, The Fury). Even though most people remember him for his classics of the late 1970's and 1980's (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.), some of Williams' best work has been for smaller, more serious, or failing movies. During all the hooplah surrounding Home Alone in 1990, Williams produced one of the most haunting and effective scores of his career, Presumed Innocent. Never before had Williams captured the feeling of frustration and dread so well. The following year, Williams fans were delighted when theatrical trailers for Steven Spielberg's Hook included original music by John Williams. This fanfare, which is included on the CD release, became part of a Williams classic. Hook has more enjoyable themes in one neat, long package than almost any other Williams score. In 1992, in a time when James Horner was stirring up the film music community with ethnic Irish music, Williams created a similar epic score for Far and Away.

Williams conducts a concert in 1994
Arguably the best single year for any composer in Hollywood's long history, Williams produced Jurassic Park and Schindler's List in 1993, and both became top commercial sellers. After the acclaim he received from these scores (including another Academy Award), he went on a drought. He took a year off from scoring, and then returned with three less popular scores for Sabrina, Nixon, and Sleepers. In 1997, though, with re-releases of his Star Wars trilogy (special edition) in theatres, he provided impressive, dramatically eclectic scores for The Lost World, Seven Years in Tibet, and Amistad. Saving Private Ryan in 1998 proved that Williams' hand at heavy drama wavers none. In between blockbuster scores for the Star Wars prequels and the start of the Harry Potter series, the maestro combined song and score for the beautiful A.I. Artificial Intelligence in 2001 and paid tribute to Bernard Herrmann in Minority Report the following year.

Williams' personality is admired by many, but intensely disliked by others. In concert, both at the Boston Pops and on tour, his sense of humor captivates the audience almost immediately. On the other hand, other professionals claim that Williams' ego has become too inflated --perhaps due to his enormous worldwide success. In a 1997 interview regarding the Academy Awards (and his nomination for Amistad), he claimed that he wasn't so much concerned with the many Oscars he's won as much as all those he's lost over the years to other composers. But regardless of his reputation and/or personality, the scores of John Williams, from the perspective of orchestral music-lovers and his fellow peers, have changed the course of film music history.

 Filmography/Reviews at Filmtracks:  

(see legend below for information on abbreviations and codes)
 Title FRVRVT CTRD TR DatesNotes
The Book Thief (AW)****3.643362||1,12212/13
Lincoln (AW)****3.4856214|||76611/12
War Horse (AW)****3.801,24920||||65011/11
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (AW)*****3.911,32810||||55611/11
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (AW)****3.511,38924||||48605/08 - 12/08all albums
Munich (AW)****3.471,43863||32301/06
Memoirs of a Geisha (AW)****3.611,54160|22011/05
War of the Worlds***3.141,853127|||14907/05 - 09/11
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (AW)****4.0420,062529|||||4604/05 - 09/11
The Terminal*****4.112,746100|||20906/04 - 09/11
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (AW)****3.968,573339||||5505/04 - 08/11
Catch Me If You Can (AW)***2.972,42563||11012/02 - 01/09
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (co-wrote) (AW)****3.7413,037338||||7411/02 - 12/08
Minority Report***3.062,875169|||16806/02 - 01/09
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones*****4.0929,119872|||||4802/02 - 12/08all albums
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (AW)*****4.0731,842456|||||1108/01 - 11/08all albums
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (AW)****3.664,669213||||10907/01 - 01/09
The Patriot (AW)****3.966,01580|||15806/00 - 06/08
Angela's Ashes (AW)****3.885,1319|||25412/99 - 04/08
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (AW)*****4.2643,961124|||||1003/99 - 07/08all albums
Stepmom***3.523,33316|16512/98 - 07/07
Saving Private Ryan (AW)***3.3512,38345|||3407/98 - 03/08
Amistad (AW)****3.772,5459||23712/97 - 02/08
Seven Years in Tibet (AW)****3.662,1033||8009/97 - 03/08
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (AW)***3.944,0535|||6705/97 - 02/08
Rosewood***3.061822|||61803/97 - 07/13all albums
Sleepers (AW)**2.992683||60410/96 - 11/11
Nixon (AW)**2.827305||39409/96 - 05/07
Sabrina (AW)**3.195148||33309/96 - 08/08
Schindler's List (AW)*****4.3724,708379|||409/96 - 08/06multiple albums
Jurassic Park (AW)*****4.2517,405114||||1209/96 - 07/13all albums
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York**3.221,13417|||25309/96 - 03/13all albums
Far and Away*****4.104,59316|||16909/96 - 01/08
Hook (AW)*****4.163,79577||||13609/96 - 08/12multiple albums
JFK (AW)**3.437943||38106/98 - 05/07
Home Alone (AW)****3.952,83219|||11309/96 - 01/11all albums
Presumed Innocent*****3.487345||46009/96 - 08/08
Stanley & Iris**2.922133||89606/98 - 11/11
Always**2.993336|75306/98 - 08/06
Born on the Fourth of July (AW)****3.923,2586||33006/98 - 07/06
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (AW)****3.944,56618|||8208/97 - 12/08all albums
The Accidental Tourist (AW)**3.062898|69206/98 - 02/10all albums
Empire of the Sun (AW)***3.552431|||1,28908/09 - 08/14all albums
The Witches of Eastwick (AW)***3.495731||1,37608/09 - 11/12multiple albums
SpaceCamp***3.153784||63007/98 - 12/14all albums
Amazing Stories (TV) (co-wrote)Varied3.637751||||36506/99 - 10/07all albums
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (AW)*****3.588024|||1,01608/09all albums
The River (AW)****3.171211||1,54708/09
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (AW)*****4.1810,66132||||2503/97 - 09/11all albums
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (AW)*****4.337,956129||||4209/96 - 08/08
Raiders of the Lost Ark (AW)*****4.296,3135|||||6209/96 - 12/08all albums
Heartbeeps**2.932906||1,13011/01 - 10/08limited
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (AW)*****4.329,38063||||3501/97 - 09/11all albums
1941**3.011912|||1,38808/09 - 10/11multiple albums
The Fury****3.555214|||73503/03 - 03/13all albums
Superman (AW)*****4.193,96841||||3011/98 - 07/09multiple albums
Jaws 2****3.224591||1,45108/09
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (AW)****3.782,1818|||7805/98 - 04/08all albums
Star Wars: A New Hope (AW)*****4.2517,26761||||301/97 - 08/11all albums
Black Sunday***3.031500|||1,58402/10limited
Midway***2.911341||1,45808/09 - 11/11multiple albums
The Missouri Breaks**3.006020||1,00806/99 - 10/07all albums
Family Plot***3.00960|||1,64112/10limited
Jaws (AW)*****4.271,72839|||9003/03 - 03/09all albums
The Eiger Sanction***
The Towering Inferno (AW)*****3.909159|||29604/01 - 10/08limited
The Sugarland Express***
Conrack***3.084922|||31809/96 - 09/10all albums
Cinderella Liberty (AW)***
The Paper Chase**3.084922|||31809/96 - 09/10all albums
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing**
The Long Goodbye**
Tom Sawyer (AW)***adaptation
Pete 'N' Tillie
The Poseidon Adventure****3.084922|||31809/96 - 09/10all albums
Images (AW)
The Screaming Woman (TV)
The Cowboys****
Fiddler on the Roof (AW)***adaptation
Jane Eyre (AW)***
Story of a Woman (Storia Di Una Donna)
The Reivers (AW)****
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (AW)***
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting
Heidi (TV) (AW)****
Sergeant Ryker
Ghostbreakers (TV)
A Guide for the Married Man
Valley of the Dolls (AW)***adaptation
Not With My Wife You Don't!**
How to Steal a Million**
The Plainsman
The Rare Breed
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home*
None But the Brave***
The Killers
Nightmare in Chicago (TV)
Gilligan's Island: Marooned (TV)
Gidget Goes to Rome
Diamond Head**
Bachelor Flat
The Secret Ways
Because They're Young
I Passed for White
(reviews listed with a "co-wrote" indicate that either the composer wrote the score with another person or that more than one composer worked separately to provide a score for the production)

- indicates a new review that has been published in the last 90 days
- indicates an older review that has been significantly revised in the last 90 days
Awards: AW - indicates that the music won or was nominated for a major award
Ratings: FR - Filmtracks Rating ("Varied" indicates a split rating with no overall designation)
VR - Viewer Rating (overall average)
VT - Vote Total (for viewer ratings)
Comments: Comment Total (the number of messages posted in the review's comment area)
Review Depth: ||||| - Massive Review (over 4,000 words)
|||| - Very Long Review (between 2,200 and 4,000 words)
||| - Long Review (between 1,200 and 2,200 words)
|| - Average Review (between 800 and 1,200 words)
| - Short Review (under 800 words)
Traffic Rank: Popularity Rank (lower numbers indicate more cumulative reads; new reviews take time to climb the ranks)
Dates: 1st - indicates the month and year during which the review was first published
2nd - indicates the month and year of the review's most recent significant revision (if any)

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