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Ludwig

Favorite John Williams Chord or Chord Progression

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At 1.17 the theme is played on Horns in A-Minor then at 1.33 it moves up a semitone to Bb-Minor, it has a great impact when it happens. 

Then at 1.49 we return to the march ostinato in B-Minor (up a semitone again), then 2 bars later (1.54) we move up another semitone to C Minor, then ultimate chord resolve back to G-Minor (1.59). Gets me every time :)

 

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I'll start things off. The chord in the Superman March at 2:51 below has always blown me away, especially when it resolves to the more normal chord at 2:56 and of course then onto the cadence at 3:00 for a really satisfying resolution. The initial chord is just so "supernaturally" grandiose, as is so appropriate for the film and character:

That very moment has ALWAYS been one of my all-time favorite as well in terms of chord progressions/modulations.

JW's oeuvre is full of moments like that. I was listening to A.I. a few days ago and once again I got misty-eyed during the moment in "The Search for the Blue Fairy", specifically the B-section of the theme. The way it kicks in (at 3:42) and goes upward (at 3:57), how it modulates again (at 4:01) and finally how it melts into pure sublimation (at 4:10) and then releases the tension (at 4:29), going back to the A-section.

This moment is one of the highest peak in Williams career imho. You can almost see a divine inspiration guiding his brain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMJQbfKvT4U

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I could never pick just one favorite, of course, but I'd like to give a shoutout to all the weird jazzy chords Williams tends to use across all his different styles. They play a huge role in making his music more complex and interesting...but they're not just there as a gimmick. He uses them in a way that resonates emotionally in all the right ways.

And of course, big classic Williams buildups (e.g., going into "The Bicycle Chase", the end of "The Idol's Temple", etc.) are always a pleasure. That's one thing he hasn't done so much of in recent decades, sadly. There's something so cathartic about these passages.

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JW's oeuvre is full of moments like that. I was listening to A.I. a few days ago and once again I got misty-eyed during the moment in "The Search for the Blue Fairy", specifically the B-section of the theme. The way it kicks in (at 3:42) and goes upward (at 3:57), how it modulates again (at 4:01) and finally how it melts into pure sublimation (at 4:10) and then releases the tension (at 4:29), going back to the A-section.

This moment is one of the highest peak in Williams career imho. You can almost see a divine inspiration guiding his brain.

Wow, that really is gorgeous, Maurizio, for just the reasons you said. It makes me wonder what other wonderful things Williams would do with the voice if he used it more regularly. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he express some trepidation in working with the voice, or some such thing?

Datameister - those weird jazzy chords are exactly what I'm talking about. Could you please give us one or two specific examples, even if they're familiar (or not!). I'm curious to know what sorts of things others hear in Williams.

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They're all over the place, in the most wonderfully unpredictable ways. One interesting instance I was studying the other day was HP:SS's "The Library Scene." That cue is filled with eerie synths, and it's really interesting the way Williams stacks various triads on top of each other (and moves them in opposite directions) to create constantly shifting dissonances. (EDIT: And the effect is intensified by the specific sound chosen by Williams and/or Kerber for the synths. It has a peculiar way of obscuring what's going on harmonically.)

I was also listening to the action music for Indy's escape from the temple at the beginning of Raiders the other day. There are some really bizarre and wonderful chords in there, right up to the very last crescendo.

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This may have less to do with the actual makeup of the chord and more to do with the context and instrumentation, but I love the chord at 3:20, it really hits the listeners like a jolt through the heart.

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This may have less to do with the actual makeup of the chord and more to do with the context and instrumentation, but I love the chord at 3:20, it really hits the listeners like a jolt through the heart.

I'd love to see exactly what that chord is. Very effective - dissonant as hell!

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This is not necessarily a music theory thread, I just want to know what chords or chord progressions are some of your favorites in JW's scores. They can be completely normal chords but maybe used in a powerful or emotive way. Or they can be unusual chords that through their strangeness give the music its power.

I'll start things off. The chord in the Superman March at 2:51 below has always blown me away, especially when it resolves to the more normal chord at 2:56 and of course then onto the cadence at 3:00 for a really satisfying resolution. The initial chord is just so "supernaturally" grandiose, as is so appropriate for the film and character:

What is among your favorites?

Great tunes. One thing is that interesting chord, D flat major/G flat clashes quite a bit and he repeats it several times before resolving to C major and the big repeat of the theme making it feel like such a release of tension by repeating that G flat against D flat maj. The D flat maj wants to resolve by step to C major but JW resists by holding off for a few bars so when it does go to C maj sounds like a major achievement. I realize the same technique at the end of India Jones theme before the repeat. 1:34 of this video:

No one does this thing as well as JW.

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Great tunes. One thing is that interesting chord, D flat major/G flat clashes quite a bit and he repeats it several times before resolving to C major and the big repeat of the theme making it feel like such a release of tension by repeating that G flat against D flat maj. The D flat maj wants to resolve by step to C major but JW resists by holding off for a few bars so when it does go to C maj sounds like a major achievement. I realize the same technique at the end of India Jones theme before the repeat. 1:34 of this video:

No one does this thing as well as JW.

Another great chord, Karelm! The one you point out at 1:34 in the video above occurs in the opening phrase of the Superman March. It's in exactly the same chord in the same key and scored in very much the same way. To me it sounds like an alternative to the old "cadential 6/4" chord, which in C major (the key of both Indy and Superman) would go G-C-E to G-B-D. Williams instead adds an F to the chord, but resolves the chord slightly differently in each case. In Indy, it goes to a Gsus4 chord, whereas in Superman it goes to the pure G chord (over a tonic pedal of course).

I'm curious if anyone knows any common label for this chord, F-G-C-E resolving to a G of some kind. It's easy enough to give it some name like G13sus4, but it seems a bit cumbersome. Any other ideas?

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Great tunes. One thing is that interesting chord, D flat major/G flat clashes quite a bit and he repeats it several times before resolving to C major and the big repeat of the theme making it feel like such a release of tension by repeating that G flat against D flat maj. The D flat maj wants to resolve by step to C major but JW resists by holding off for a few bars so when it does go to C maj sounds like a major achievement. I realize the same technique at the end of India Jones theme before the repeat. 1:34 of this video:

No one does this thing as well as JW.

Another great chord, Karelm! The one you point out at 1:34 in the video above occurs in the opening phrase of the Superman March. It's in exactly the same chord in the same key and scored in very much the same way. To me it sounds like an alternative to the old "cadential 6/4" chord, which in C major (the key of both Indy and Superman) would go G-C-E to G-B-D. Williams instead adds an F to the chord, but resolves the chord slightly differently in each case. In Indy, it goes to a Gsus4 chord, whereas in Superman it goes to the pure G chord (over a tonic pedal of course).

I'm curious if anyone knows any common label for this chord, F-G-C-E resolving to a G of some kind. It's easy enough to give it some name like G13sus4, but it seems a bit cumbersome. Any other ideas?

It seems like F-G-C-E could be F maj 7sus2 or why not Cmaj/F?

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I would say it's mainly G7sus4 (add13) (functioning as the dominant resolving to C).

I guess that's really my question is whether it's a dominant or a predominant (subdominant) in function. I rather hear it as a dominant, but Karelm, does calling it some kind of F chord mean you hear it as basically predominant? I'm just curious.

Just so everyone's clear what we're talking about, here's a comparison of the two passages.

Superman - 1st chord of bar 4:

supermanchordsending1st.jpg

Indy - 1st chord of bar 7 (and on strong beats thereafter):

indythemewithharmonybar.jpg

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In those passages I hear it as an appogiatura chord of the dominant. (i hope I used the right term, since English is not my native language, there's always a mix-up with the terminology)

In the wider region of the theme, yes, i would say this can be part of the dominant function.

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In those passages I hear it as an appogiatura chord of the dominant. (i hope I used the right term, since English is not my native language, there's always a mix-up with the terminology)

In the wider region of the theme, yes, i would say this can be part of the dominant function.

I would agree. It's funny how rhythmic placement can mean so much to harmonic function. What I mean is, if the same chord had been an upbeat to the bar instead of a downbeat, I think it may well be heard as subdominant in function rather than dominant.

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In those passages I hear it as an appogiatura chord of the dominant. (i hope I used the right term, since English is not my native language, there's always a mix-up with the terminology)

In the wider region of the theme, yes, i would say this can be part of the dominant function.

I would agree. It's funny how rhythmic placement can mean so much to harmonic function. What I mean is, if the same chord had been an upbeat to the bar instead of a downbeat, I think it may well be heard as subdominant in function rather than dominant.

I dont know, regarding the Indy sample I think the G in the bass mainly stresses the dominant function. The Supeman example is actually more like I-V progression (half cadence). Except for the F it's actually just a C maj chord (with F as add9); there's no A in the chord, it just doesnt sound like a IV to me.

Btw talking about Williams progressions, I think his typical substitutions of diatonic chords by chromatic ones is nicely illustrated in bar 6, where he substitutes an ordinary IV with a chromatic bII. Really refreshing.

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I dont know, regarding the Indy sample I think the G in the bass mainly stresses the dominant function. The Supeman example is actually more like I-V progression (half cadence). Except for the F it's actually just a C maj chord; there's no A in the chord, it just doesnt sound like a IV to me.

Fair enough. But I wondered why I hear such a strong subdominant sound to the Superman chord (bar 4, beat 1), and I thought I was losing my mind until I realized that the Signature Edition has been deceiving me. The trombones sound an F as the lowest note of the chord (besides the pedal of course), which then rises up a step to G. The Signature Edition only shows G in the trombones all the way through the bar. The original sketch has F. That gives it such a strong IV-V-like sound that the first chord still carries something of a subdominant feel to me, even though I think it is dominant in function. In other words, had the chord been an upbeat to the bar, I would probably call it Fmaj7sus2 rather than G13sus4, which oddly enough has the same notes.

And all performances of this march where Williams conducts, we hear this low F in the trombone.

Like here:

Here:

And even here:

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Yes I see what you mean, I hear it too in these examples. Fmaj7sus2 it would be then, functioning as IV... I wonder what others think.

On second thought, I also wonder what others think of the Db chord in bar 6. It can be regarded a bIV chord resolving to V, but it's not really used for modulation purposes.

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Bar 6 of the Indy theme?

Didn't you say yourself that it's a bII? where is the bIV?

Ah I m sorry of course it's no bIV...

Just i was thinking how one could place tho chord into a functional context, but yes it's just bII-V-I.

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Guys, just wanted to come back to the Db chord in bar 6 (Indy theme). I dont want to over analyze it but just for the sake of reasoning: it could also be seen as a V/V-V-I progression, in which the V/V (which would diatonically be D7) is replaced by an altered dominant (tritone substitution). What do you think?

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well, I'd say that you're overcomplicating your life.. ;)

A phrygian II is common thing in Williams..

maybe it would be a double dominant as you say, if it was linked in a phrase with the dominant. (Now at bar 7, it seems that a new thing is started, a new idea)

But since the chord at bar 6 ends the phrase that has started with the tonic at bar 5, i hear it as a bII.

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well, I'd say that you're overcomplicating your life.. ;)

A phrygian II is common thing in Williams..

maybe it would be a double dominant as you say, if it was linked in a phrase with the dominant. (Now at bar 7, it seems that a new thing is started, a new idea)

But since the chord at bar 6 ends the phrase that has started with the tonic at bar 5, i hear it as a bII.

Well, I do have a tendency to do that ;) It makes life more interesting :)

The context is all C major. Seeing just one chord as borrowed from a different mode does not have my preference if there is a functional explanation within the current mode.

Like you, I first heard it as a (chromatic) bII, but I am not sure any more, I actually do tend to see it as one phrase. I like how in the end analysis is a great deal about personal preferences.

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well, when i say a phrygian II, i mean a chord that occurs naturally in that mode. Yes, borrowed from that mode.

So, if you see a fa-lab-do in C major, you will say that it's just a chromatic IV, and not a IV borrowed from the minor mode?

By the way, i just read this in a hamrony book that Ludwig had suggested to me:

-bII (Phrygian II) in minor is a major triad built on lowered 2ˆ.

-bI(6) sometimes occurs in major, though it is less frequent than in minor and more difficult to use convincingly. It is most easily
approached through bVI and through I6. For convenience in reading, bII is sometimes notated enharmonically, especially in keys
with four or more flats.

I would be interested to hear others' opinion on this too.

If we encounter such a chord in major, we can't say that it's a phrygian II, or II borrowed from phrygian?

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well, when i say a phrygian II, i mean a chord that occurs naturally in that mode. Yes, borrowed from that mode.

So, if you see a fa-lab-do in C major, you will say that it's just a chromatic IV, and not a IV borrowed from the minor mode?

By the way, i just read this in a hamrony book that Ludwig had suggested to me:

-bII (Phrygian II) in minor is a major triad built on lowered 2ˆ.

-bI(6) sometimes occurs in major, though it is less frequent than in minor and more difficult to use convincingly. It is most easily

approached through bVI and through I6. For convenience in reading, bII is sometimes notated enharmonically, especially in keys

with four or more flats.

I would be interested to hear others' opinion on this too.

If we encounter such a chord in major, we can't say that it's a phrygian II, or II borrowed from phrygian?

What I am just saying is that it depends on the context. If the chord you give is part of a progression leading to modulation it might be more insightful to see it in the ccontext of the chromaticism. But it could of course be part of mode mixture, even as one borrowed chord. Just when thinking in modes, I would regard the entire passage to have a tendency to a certain mode, not one chord. However, if one regards the chord as borrowed of course you are right it's from phrygian, but the context is not phrygian that's what I meant (I adjusted my post).

Anyway I certainly dont want to claim to be an expert, I am certainly not, it's just my two cents. I am interested in what others have to say too. Prometheus?

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well, even more then here, since the chord doesn't lead to any modulation. ;)

the piece stays in C major.

(maybe you wanted to say "leading to a cadence"?)

My remark was a reply to your proposal of the fa-lab-do chord in C major, but yes either a cadence or a modulation.

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well, when i say a phrygian II, i mean a chord that occurs naturally in that mode. Yes, borrowed from that mode.

So, if you see a fa-lab-do in C major, you will say that it's just a chromatic IV, and not a IV borrowed from the minor mode?

By the way, i just read this in a hamrony book that Ludwig had suggested to me:

-bII (Phrygian II) in minor is a major triad built on lowered 2ˆ.

-bI(6) sometimes occurs in major, though it is less frequent than in minor and more difficult to use convincingly. It is most easily

approached through bVI and through I6. For convenience in reading, bII is sometimes notated enharmonically, especially in keys

with four or more flats.

I would be interested to hear others' opinion on this too.

If we encounter such a chord in major, we can't say that it's a phrygian II, or II borrowed from phrygian?

You will see it called Phrygian II, bII, or the Neapolitan (though usually only when in first inversion as "Neapolitan 6th"). Any of these mean the same thing.

Probably the reason why this chord sounds so natural in the Raiders march is that we hear a form of the regular ii chord in bar 2 (the root D is heard in the pickup to the bar and still contributes to the harmony there; and the G there can be heard as either a pedal point or as part of a Dsus chord - this is confirmed with later statements of the theme, where we actually get the sixth degree of the scale to flesh out that ii chord as re-fa-la). When he begins to repeat the first four bars in bar 5, it starts off the same but then diverges into the bII chord as a chromatic variant of what we heard before.

This kind of preparation prevents the chord from sounding jarring, insincere, or worse, even tacky. It's probably the most natural use of bII I've ever heard in a major key.

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So, Ludwig, do we label as a "phrygian" II a bII chord which is in a minor environment only, or we can do this in major too?

I'm not sure, that's why I ask..

Seeing it as Neapolitan sixth it does make enough sense to me now. It's actually a quite common prgression...

I looked it up and filmmusic you are right that it this is used interchangeable with phrygian II, so regardless of the modality.

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So, Ludwig, do we label as a "phrygian" II a bII chord which is in a minor environment only, or we can do this in major too?

I'm not sure, that's why I ask..

In either mode, Phrygian II is fine. But like Prometheus, I prefer Neapolitan as well - it's certainly the most common name both in literature and in the way musicians discuss it orally.

If you're thinking of why I'm so flexible with this, whereas with Lydian II I'm not, it's because a II# chord can sound like V/V, so needs to resolve to tonic to sound like a borrowed Lydian chord. If the seventh is added, the sense of a dominant seventh is so strong, it's hard to call it Lydian rather than V7/V.

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A new great chord to add to the list from The Book Thief - at 1:05 (but listen to the whole segment from 0:55).

http://youtu.be/Au8iyNFhLX8

It's the good, old Neapolitan or "flat II" chord, which is a major ("hopeful") chord in a minor ("hopeless") key. Not only that, but a flat scale degree is generally a sign of something tragic, so building a major chord on it is an ironic twist on the untainted "happy" sound of major. The perfect choice for a film about finding something positive in a dire situation.

So simple, but extremely effective.

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I'll start things off. The chord in the Superman March at 2:51 below has always blown me away, especially when it resolves to the more normal chord at 2:56 and of course then onto the cadence at 3:00 for a really satisfying resolution. The initial chord is just so "supernaturally" grandiose, as is so appropriate for the film and character:

That very moment has ALWAYS been one of my all-time favorite as well in terms of chord progressions/modulations.

JW's oeuvre is full of moments like that. I was listening to A.I. a few days ago and once again I got misty-eyed during the moment in "The Search for the Blue Fairy", specifically the B-section of the theme. The way it kicks in (at 3:42) and goes upward (at 3:57), how it modulates again (at 4:01) and finally how it melts into pure sublimation (at 4:10) and then releases the tension (at 4:29), going back to the A-section.

This moment is one of the highest peak in Williams career imho. You can almost see a divine inspiration guiding his brain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMJQbfKvT4U

I was going to reference this exact cue, but a different moment. The chord that the theme lands on at 2:48, with the celesta dancing around chromatically, has always deeply moved me.

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I love the progressions in the first 35 seconds or so of "Flight to Neverland." 0:12-0:21 and 0:30-0:31 especially get my blood going and really establish that constant sense of uplift and momentum that runs through the piece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8sclghGE7Q

The sheer variety of little tricks he's found throughout his career to musically simulate flight never stops amazing me!

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I love the progressions in the first 35 seconds or so of "Flight to Neverland." 0:12-0:21 and 0:30-0:31 especially get my blood going and really establish that constant sense of uplift and momentum that runs through the piece.

Funny you mention the uplifting feeling - the keys of this opening literally rise up in a series of 5ths (B minor, F# minor, C major [diminished 5th], then G major), ratcheting up the energy with each step.

This is a perfect example of what I love about Williams' music - you don't have to struggle to feel what he's getting at. The musical devices are used so adeptly that the feeling and imagery of the music jump out at you fully formed.

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Ah, thanks for that! I was trying to pick out the exact number of key changes but lost my way :lol:. It's definitely some of his most blatant, in-your-face modulating, but it totally works because of the clarity of his intentions, as you say.

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I've become quite obsessed with this particular progression. Although it has a distinct JW trademark all the way, he goes beyond his own limits in this piece. Any guesses?

attachicon.gifjw_progression.jpg

Isn't that one of the string orchestra interludes from Williams' Oboe Concerto? I can see why you're obsessed with this progression.

Exactly! Unfortunately there's no video on Youtube to illustrate this passage. If you take the original BSO recording as reference, it starts at 3:46 from the 1st movement.

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I've become quite obsessed with this particular progression. Although it has a distinct JW trademark all the way, he goes beyond his own limits in this piece. Any guesses?

attachicon.gifjw_progression.jpg

Isn't that one of the string orchestra interludes from Williams' Oboe Concerto? I can see why you're obsessed with this progression.

Exactly! Unfortunately there's no video on Youtube to illustrate this passage. If you take the original BSO recording as reference, it starts at 3:46 from the 1st movement.

That's a great one. It's almost like an expansion of some of his material from War Horse.

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I've become quite obsessed with this particular progression. Although it has a distinct JW trademark all the way, he goes beyond his own limits in this piece. Any guesses?

attachicon.gifjw_progression.jpg

Isn't that one of the string orchestra interludes from Williams' Oboe Concerto? I can see why you're obsessed with this progression.

Exactly! Unfortunately there's no video on Youtube to illustrate this passage. If you take the original BSO recording as reference, it starts at 3:46 from the 1st movement.

Great find! You've got the Williams trademark that me and Ludwig have been going on about for ages - the [0,1,4] pitch set - the E-C-Db in bars 5 and 6. Here almost serving as a quasi-dominant.

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One of my favorites got the most extensive treatment in "Death of Tophorn" from War Horse. The descending figure (that repeats a note before each fall) is a perfect embodiement of a vein struggle for survival. It's been used in quite a few JW scores.

at 0:54

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7Ol8it2Fcs

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