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Comments about the soundtrack for The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams)

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Re: Better than Episode IV
• Posted by: Rolan   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Friday, June 30, 2006, at 7:16 p.m.
• IP Address:
• In Response to: Re: Better than Episode IV (Dave)

> It's obvious to everyone that Star Wars borrows heavily from Holst and
> Wagner. Nobody will argue against that (if they're being serious).

> But what the hell is this: "John Williams just writes good themes,
> nothing more."

> Are you out of your f***ing mind?

> Williams is (in most people's opinions, including mine) the best composer
> alive at composing themes, but he's also one of the top 2 or 3 at
> underscoring the mundane moments in a movie. Star Wars is not a good
> example of this, since just about every moment in the movie features a
> character or concept he has written a brand spanking new theme for.
> His incorporation of leitmotivs is what defines Star Wars, practically.

> Many of Williams' other scores feature excellent underscoring without the
> use of leitmotivs: if you can buy the Hook bootleg, this is probably the
> best example available. There are a total of 35 cues on it (with a good
> array of thematic ingenuity and great underscoring), and maybe 3 of them
> aren't great.

> Compare that with an average movie score which has one hastily penned main
> theme, a dozen cues of discordant atonal whining on brass and
> overly-simplistic string writing, and then a finale cue which sums up all
> the cues into one horrific ending.

> As much as I think Horner is a derivative hack (whose scores hurt movies
> more than they enhance them), he is very accomplished at writing simple,
> string-dominated underscoring. Occasionally he'll throw in a four-note
> "evil motif." He should just stick to what he does best
> (producing best-selling songs with crappy singers who stretch an octave
> too high to simulate emotion) and leave brass-writing and thematic
> excellence to someone who can handle it. John Debney, John Williams, Danny
> Elfman, John Ottman, Michael Giacchino, Alan Silvestri, James Newton
> Howard... to name a few.

That's very true. I agree that Williams is brilliant with underscoring. If you listen carefully to the "bridging" sections you really gain an understanding of just how great the quality of music is. You really feel that he put the time into thinking of every note, dynamic, color, etc. As for brass writing, I'd say Williams is brilliant at that. I own a conductor's score of the Star Wars suite (which I managed to "acquire" from the Georgia Tech Music Department archives)and I carefully looked at it. You can see that Williams style of brass writing is very similar to both Holst and Shostakovich, but lacks the depth of the latter for obvious reasons (film scores have a tendency to be inferior in depth to say great works like Shostakovich 8th symphony). Regardless, I'd say that the greatest brass writer of all time would be Gustav Mahler. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Mahler is the greatest composer of large-scale orchestral music, in terms of color, dynamics, tone, timbre, etc. due to the fact that he probably knew the orchestra better than anyone else. Richard Strauss and Anton Bruckner came close. But that's a discussion for another day.

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