John Williams is an American composer that is considered to have composed some of the most recognizable and beloved film scores in the history of cinema. His style might be characterized as an orchestral callback to classical Hollywood, with piano and trumpet at the forefront. John Williams’ music has the quality of unifying the films he has worked on through the similar stylistic features in his composition.
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Most of the films John Williams has scored music for can be classified as action films. When speaking about styles of action scoring, there are seven particular categories that can be digested: spotting, ensemble, instrumental writing, pitch, rhythm, theme and form (Buhler and Durrand, 2020). The authors of the book propose five time periods of Williams’ career to look through Williams General, Neo-Classical, the 1980s, MV/RCP and Millennial Williams. The one feature that can be seen in every era but the first one in the category of the spot is tightness of various degrees in synchronization. The ensemble is characterized by a full symphony orchestra in three eras out of five – the remaining two, situated in the middle, heavily feature synths. The instrumental writing is different: somewhere, it is “complex and idiomatic”, somewhere provides large roles for particular instruments (Buhler and Durrand, 2020, p.122). Pitch varies from “highly unstable” to “simple and limited” (Buhler and Durrand, 2020, p.122). When it comes to rhythm, at the beginning of his career, John Williams prefers syncopation, but later on, he moves to complex layers. The category of the theme is occupied by leitmotif, which is rarely employed in the middle of the composer’s career but is still present even then; other eras rely on it occasionally. The form gradually goes from disorganized at the beginning of Williams’ career to variable in the era of Millennials. And if one takes a careful look, one might see that there are just a few traits that have remained dominant through the course of a maestro’s career: the categories of spotting, ensemble and theme.
In conclusion, when looking through a number of decades in the work of an accomplished composer such as John Williams, some common motifs can be traced. These common traits are tightness of synchronization, featuring a symphonic orchestra that came back after the synth-influenced 1980s and employment of leitmotif. Consequently, these three peculiarities are the trademarks of the artist, the way all his work can be unified through just a few prominent details in his music.
Buhler, J. & Durrand. M. (Eds.) Music in Action Film: Sounds Like Action! (2020). United States: Taylor & Francis.