I wrote this years ago:
I think history will remember John Williams as -by far- the greatest film music composer of all time.
Even if he wasn't, his most famous themes will endure and I think the best known composers are -for a larger public- so well known because of the familiarity with certain pieces. Like Mozart with Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik or Beethoven with Für Elise and his Fifth Symphony.
Of course Beethoven was much more than those works. But it is thát music that makes the first connection with new generations, even before they know his name or learn to speak for that matter. It's like an aural torch that passes from one generation to the next.
The six years olds in my school know Für Elise. They know the opening of the first movement from his Fifth Symphony. But when I ask them who composed those pieces they don't know. Then I tell them it's Beethoven and they all go: "I know that name! So that's Beethoven!". Perhaps some of them will discover his Missa Solemnis or his 3rd Symphony, but they heard his Fifth first, because it's so deeply imbedded in our culture. There is no way growing up and avoid hearing 'Happy Birthday' or 'Silent Night' at one point. Everyone gets exposed to it and those melodies stick, at times much longer than the memory of the composers behind them.
The children at my school know nothing however about Shostakovich or Clara Schumann. Those composers will be discovered by a much smaller percentage of the next generations and I'm afraid that without that musical torch in a couple of hundred years they will be mostly forgotten, no matter how good and profound their work is.
I fear for Goldsmith as well. One of the greatest film score composers of all time will be remembered mostly in name, because Goldsmith doesn't have significant aural torches that will find recognition with the "common man" of the future. Our generation knows Rudy is a very good score, but the next generation will only read about it. They won't hear it; only if they go looking for it. Goldsmith doesn't have melodies and compositions (not yet anyway) that have become part of our cultural heritage, not even his Star Trek Theme which is universally known by our generation, but is not being transmitted to the next I'm afraid. Nothing that I could play in class will make the children go: "Oh, so that's Goldsmith!". I think for future generations composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Frans Waxman or Bernard Herrman -no matter how insanely good they were during their careers (don't get me wrong!)- will be discovered by film music enthusiasts and modern music analysists only. They will be read about a lot, more than they will be listened to.
And now John Williams…
This man has enough torches to ensure that people will remember him for generations to come! The six year olds in my school know the themes of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Imperial March, Harry Potter, Jaws, Superman, Jurassic Park, etc. Those themes have been integrated in our culture and are frequently used in theme parks, TV commercials, etc. People will hear his music, whether they like it or not. Williams is also very lucky that his music is attached to culturally iconic and important films and characters. Darth Vader, Superman, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter will be around much longer than Jack o' the Green or Rick O'Connell.
When Williams dies, people will become more and more aware of the amazing career he has had. That one man could be responsible for so many 'famous film tunes'. That one man could so successfully create the musical equivalent of iconic imagery like the characters of Darth Vader or Superman. He will become the hallmark for all film music and the ‘Michael Jackson’, ‘Beatles’ or ‘Elvis Presley’ of the genre, perhaps the only one. People will grow up and one way or another get in touch with the Star Wars Theme or The Raiders' March. People will continue to whistle the Superman March on the streets and the Jaws Theme will be hummed at every beach. And perhaps it's the interest in the originator of those melodies that will instill in some people a desire to discover Williams' Angela’s Ashes or JFK scores.
At least I hope so.