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Defending John Williams

January 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm UTC

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Tonight on Facebook I posted the following:

Watching The Empire Strikes Back – easily the best of the six. And the score… my god, John Williams is the MASTER.

Predictably, some commenters dismissed him as a ‘hack’, someone who doesn’t write original music but instead plagiarizes the great classical composers. To this I say NO WAY. Yes, he sometimes writes in the style of Wagner, or Holst, or Elgar, or Stravinsky, etc. Sometimes he writes in completely different styles, like in “Catch Me If You Can” or “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

If that is your criticism of his music, though, I challenge you to actually try it sometime. Simply try composing – convincingly – in the style of Elgar, or Holst, or Debussy. So hard. Now write two+ hours of music in 8-12 weeks, and do it so that every gesture expertly serves the film, brings the characters to life and gives the story a flawless sense of atmosphere and architecture. Now do it over and over again, sometimes 5 or 6 times a year, for FIFTY years. Oh, and while you’re at it, write a couple dozen of the most memorable melodies in the history of western music.

To me, his complete mastery of styles should be CELEBRATED, not criticized. Not that John Williams needs me defending him; he seems to be doing fine all by himself. If he just sticks with it, I think he might have a bright future in film music…


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