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  1. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/interview-john-williams-at-89-the-man-behind-the-best-and-most-hummable-film-scores-6z32zqz3h Interview: John Williams at 89, the man behind the best (and most hummable) film scores The composer tells Richard Morrison about his decades-long career — including the time he helped out a struggling LSO with ‘some sci‑fi film’ He left it late, but in January this year John Williams added another achievement to a body of work that includes more than 100 film scores, dozens of symphonic works and 52 Academy award nominations. Just a few weeks shy of his 88th birthday he made his conducting debut with the Vienna Philharmonic in the ornately gilded Golden Hall of the Musikverein. The concert, filmed and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and released next week, was remarkable for several reasons. According to Williams, this venerable orchestra had never played a note of his music before. It certainly made up for lost time, delivering extracts from more than a dozen of Williams’s greatest scores, including Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Harry Potter films, Jurassic Park, ET, Jaws and Schindler’s List. And the Viennese musicians weren’t the only ones venturing into unfamiliar territory. “Although I’ve done a lot of concert work in America, I had never conducted publicly in Europe before,” Williams admits, speaking down the phone from his Los Angeles home. “And I never really intended to. It always seemed a long way from California. When this invitation came, however, I thought, ‘Well, if I’m ever to conduct a concert in Europe in this lifetime, I’d better get on with it.’ And there’s no greater honour than being invited to conduct in the Musikverein.” Was Williams aware of the history of the hall as he walked out on to that famous platform? After all, in his remarks from the conductor’s podium he referred to his soundtracks for the Star Wars films — all nine of them — as “a nice round number”, a remark clearly picked up by the Viennese audience as an allusion to the number of symphonies written by Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler and Bruckner. “Absolutely,” he replies. “For any composer, to visit Vienna is a spiritual journey. It’s as much of a Mecca as we musicians have. Especially if, like me, you revere Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler. Just the chance to breathe the same air as Haydn — one of the purest, most instinctive talents in the history of music — was more than I could resist.” Which of those composers would Williams most liked to have met? “Oh, Beethoven of course,” Williams says. “I still read through his scores for the pleasure of what I hear in my head, and for the beauty I find in their craftsmanship. And I think he might have been interested in film if he’d lived 200 years later, though he probably would have been horrified by having his music drowned out by the noise of spaceships flying past.” And how did the Vienna Philharmonic take to Williams’s epic film scores? “They rose to the challenge brilliantly,” the composer says. “To be honest, I was a bit concerned before I got there. I know they have this fabulous romantic sound, and they can seem to turn on 19th-century style more genuinely than any other orchestra — but I had worries about the rotary valve trumpets [a more old-fashioned form of trumpet, still favoured in German and Austrian orchestras]. I was concerned about so much upper-register work being played by trumpets without the sort of pistons we use in Britain and America. I need not have worried, though: the trumpets were fabulous. Their pitching and power blew me away.” Hearing music from so many films and decades collected together on one recording makes one appreciate the protean nature of Williams’s genius. There is no single “Williams style”. Yes, the swaggering imperial marches of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark might be regarded as a hallmark, but so might the spooky, bitonal shifts of the Harry Potter score, or the relentless Prokofiev-like ostinatos of Jaws, or the uneasy Vaughan Williams-like pastoralism of War Horse, or the Yiddish melancholy of Schindler’s List. Does Williams recognise this aspect of his craft, the ability to use the past 200 years of orchestral composition in the way that a painter might use a palette, selecting the colours and textures appropriate to the mood of each movie? “Yes, that’s the essence of being a film composer,” he says. “We are asked to conjure all sorts of moods. I remember in my early days being asked to write burlesque and vaudeville-type music for comedies simultaneously with supplying big romantic scores for dramas. If you are going to write music for cinema, or at least for more than one or two films, you have to accept all varieties of challenge. It goes with the territory.” And although few people think of Williams as an avant-garde composer, there are many moments in his films when he displays a remarkable grasp of what were, at the time, very avant-garde techniques. The nebulous string clusters that open Close Encounters, for instance, could have come straight out of a score by Ligeti or Penderecki. “Yes, it’s true,” Williams acknowledges. “In film there’s often the need for a composer to change gear even in the space of a few minutes. So in Close Encounters, yes, you get those Penderecki-like clusters, but they are then combined with a romantic tune, all in the course of a six-minute sequence.” Does his inspiration ever dry up? Down the phone there is a sardonic chuckle. “There can be no such thing as writer’s block in film composition,” he says. “You are closer to being a journalist than a novelist. You have a certain number of days to write a certain number of minutes of music, and you have to get on with it. It’s a job of carpentry, of manufacturing musical things.” So he never hits a blank? “Oh sometimes, but if there’s a section of a scene I can’t think how to treat I will just move on to another bit, then come back to it. It usually solves itself.” How much do film directors help or hinder the process? Another knowing chuckle down the line. “Directors will always talk about what they think they want musically,” Williams replies. “And I always listen to them. But usually when I get to the piano and start to work, those ideas are pretty much gone. It’s always better for me to respond to the visual material — the film that’s actually being shot — than to verbal instructions. “And of course there’s huge variety in that species of humanity called film directors. Some are very musical. Others are suspicious of using music at all.” Where does Steven Spielberg, the director with whom Williams has collaborated for 46 years, sit in that spectrum? “Oh, with Steven there can’t be enough music,” Williams exclaims. “He always wants more and more. It’s rather touching in its way. He will come to a recording session that ends at a certain hour, the musicians will be packing up, and Steven will say, ‘Where are they going? Why are you stopping? Haven’t you got anything else you can play?’ He just loves the process so much.” Williams admits to being a “child of Hollywood” — his father, a jazz drummer, moved the family there in 1948, and Williams began his career playing piano in Hollywood orchestras throughout the 1950s. Yet some of his most famous scores for Spielberg were recorded not in Hollywood, but in Britain, with the London Symphony Orchestra at Denham or Shepperton studios. “I was introduced to the LSO by my dear friend André Previn, when he was the orchestra’s principal conductor, and of course the LSO players were whizz kids at sight-reading, so we made many recordings together,” Williams recalls. In fact, the story is more dramatic than that. In 1976 the LSO — in desperate financial difficulties — asked Previn if he could write another film score so the orchestra could make some money by recording it. Previn said he was too busy, but offered to phone a friend who was writing a score for “some sci-fi film”. The friend was Williams, who said he would hire the LSO as long as the orchestra could squeeze in 18 sessions in the next month. The orchestra agreed, as long as some sessions could begin at 11pm, after its regular concerts were over. And thus was the soundtrack to Star Wars recorded. Even more extraordinary, the LSO had just recruited a new principal trumpet — the soon-to-be-legendary Maurice Murphy. So on his first day in his new job Murphy’s first task was to blast the opening notes of one of the 20th century’s greatest movie melodies. “Yes, Maurice came out to Denham and we started with the fanfare from Star Wars,” Williams recalls. “And of course he shocked the world by hitting that top C with that extrovert, heroic, raw timbre he had — the perfect sound for the kind of action film that Star Wars was. I loved him from that moment! We always said that we would have a round of golf together, but of course we never found the time, and then he died way too soon.” With most work in Hollywood suspended during the pandemic, Williams might be forgiven for taking a well-earned break from composition. Not a bit of it. He’s spending his time finishing a violin concerto for Anne-Sophie Mutter, who also features in the Vienna concert playing virtuoso arrangements of his soundtracks (“Harry Potter meets Paganini,” Williams quips). Astonishingly, it will be the 19th concerto or quasi-concerto he has written for the concert hall. “I think of my work outside film as being part of my own musical self-education,” he says. “And believe me, the road to being harp-savvy enough to write a harp concerto is a long one. But it’s also nice to write something that doesn’t require the approval of a studio boss. And, you know, even if I wasn’t being paid I would always want to write music. The greatest thrill of my life has been hearing my music played, almost immediately, by wonderful orchestras. It’s something I wish every composer could experience.” He’s not so far away from his tenth decade. Does he ever contemplate hanging up his quill? “Never,” he says. “I will press on. Music isn’t a profession. It’s my oxygen. Take that away and I’d really be in trouble.”
  2. I am more surprised how Alex Ross have seemingly turned around his opinion about John Williams - he dismissed Williams as an "accomplished pasticheur" in the late 1990s I believe. I don't see why Ross stating that Herrmann is the greatest American film composer is a problem. There are also other American film composers other than Herrmann who are also more imaginative/progressive than Williams and therefore for some better composers. Sure, that is Ross opinion, but Herrmann was a true original and was often innovative in terms of how he treated the orchestra. Many thoughtful listeners would agree with him. Ross has said that he is a "big fan" of Herrmann in the past and even wrote the liner notes to a Herrmann anthology back in the 1990s, where he stated that Herrmann was "certainly the greatest Hollywood film composer", then a decade or so later when he reviewed a concert of film music, he wrote that Herrmann was "probably the greatest American film composer", now it is apparently "perhaps the greatest American film composer" that he choose to use in the article. I wonder what changed in 20-some years from "certainly" to "perhaps" in regards to Herrmann being the greatest American film composer. In 2007, Ross listed his top 10 Hollywood film scores on his blog: Vertigo - Bernard Herrmann Chinatown - Jerry Goldsmith The Adventures of Robin Hood - Erich Wolfgang Korngold Laura - David Raksin On the Waterfront - Leonard Bernstein Of Mice and Men - Aaron Copland Anatomy of a Murder - Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn Touch of Evil - Henry Mancini The Lord of the Rings - Howard Shore Star Wars - John Williams And out of those 10, Vertigo was considered a great musical work of the 20th century. At another occasion, Ross has said that "Vertigo may be the greatest of all film scores". Ross also stated that he would be tempted to include 3 or 4 more Herrmann scores if he hadn't limited himself to one film per composer. Ross considers Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be Williams' best score, even if he picked Star Wars back in 2007 when he made the list. Personally, I totally understand why Herrmann is singled out, because he was such an original pathbreaker for American film music.
  3. Alberto Iglesias on Ennio Morricone (a new article by Iglesias): Ennio Morricone: repetition and glory in five steps Composer Alberto Iglesias analyzes the work of the Italian musician through his best scores for film Perhaps the most valuable thing in the vast work of Ennio Morricone, a composer of extraordinary and intimidating fertility, is how he always knew how to combine his classical training and taste for melody with a decidedly experimental desire. Being so prolific, being able to work so fast, and at the same time knowing how to keep the guy with dignity allowed him to transfer that adventurous spirit to smaller productions, especially to those Italian genre films of the sixties and seventies. With his band Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (a group in which he participated with other Italian composers since the 1960s, such as Franco Evangelisti or Egisto Macchi) he also gave free rein to his avant-garde instincts. Although this combination is a very distinctive feature of his work, he never forgot that predilection for melody and the taste for popular song that is inevitable in the profession of film composer. Morricone knew how to collect the legacy of Nino Rota, and, together with composers of his generation such as Georges Delerue, he defined the music of the great European cinema, whose influence transcended the continent. He also knew how to introduce concepts of music such as India or Indonesian gamelan, at the same time he picked up the witness of great authors such as Antonio Vivaldi. He composed hundreds of soundtracks. This selection of five allows a review of some of the essential aspects of his work: ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) It has a very impressive start. It is a film with little music and, nevertheless, it has an exceptional protagonism, which draws powerfully the attention of the viewer. ‘Until his time came’ (Sergio Leone, 1968) His work in the western genre is one of the most recognizable parts of his career. Here, his mastery of the synthesis and repetition of musical motifs as aesthetics is verified, allowing the viewer to focus more on the image. It uses very simple elements that end up building a very emotional set. 'Days of Heaven' (Terrence Malick, 1978) In this work his mastery in the use of slow times stands out. He said that he did not know how to direct adages, but this score, a sample of the mastery of the art of calming musical times, contradicts him. ‘The mission’ (Roland Joffé, 1986) This score shows that influence in his music of the geniuses of the Italian Seicento. There are also traces of a taste for choral, quasi-mystical music. I don't know if he was a believing man, but these notes give off great spirituality. On one occasion I heard him relate this soundtrack to Igor Stravinski's Symphony of Psalms, although I think they are not so similar. ‘The Hateful Eight’ (Quentin Tarantino, 2015) This piece, which earned him his first and only Oscar, I really liked; Morricone's work has a great influence on the editing of the film. I don't know if he composed it before or after the images, but I think there is no doubt that Tarantino very much believed in music. This late work is a waste of imagination and a lesson in the dramatic use of serious instruments such as the bassoon and the bassoon.
  4. John Zorn in The New York Times on Ennio Morricone: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/arts/music/ennio-morricone-john-zorn.html Ennio Morricone Was More Than Just a Great Film Composer He was one of the great composers, period. Ennio Morricone was more than one of the world’s great soundtrack composers — he was one of the world’s great composers, period. For me, his work stands with Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Ellington and Stravinsky in achieving that rare fusion of heart and mind. Dare we compare the five notes of his famous “coyote call” in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with the four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Morricone’s music is just as timeless. Morricone, who died on Monday at 91, has been an influence and an inspiration since I first encountered his work as a teenager in 1967. “The Ecstasy of Gold” from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” hit me with the same power as modernist masterpieces like “The Rite of Spring,” Ives’s Fourth Symphony and Varèse’s “Arcana”; it shares their complex rhythmic invention, unique sound world and lush romantic sweep. Embracing the soaring lyricism of his Italian heritage, Morricone’s gift for song was extraordinary. He was one of those musicians who could make an unforgettable melody with just a small fistful of notes. His meticulous craftsmanship and ear for orchestration, harmony, melody and rhythm resulted in music that was perfectly balanced; as with all master composers, every note was there for a reason. Change one note, one rhythm, one rest, and there is diminishment. Having roots in both popular music and the avant-garde, Morricone was an innovator, and he overcame each new challenge with a fresh approach, retaining a curiosity and childlike sense of wonder. He was always open to trying new sounds, new instruments, new combinations — rarely drawing from the same well twice. He was a man of integrity who did not suffer fools gladly. Stories of his responses to inane directorial suggestions are legend, including one of my favorites: “In the history of music, nothing like that has ever happened — nor will it ever happen.” He lived a relatively simple life in a beautiful apartment in Rome, waking as early as 4:30 in the morning, taking walks and composing at his desk for hours on end. He traveled little. What needs to be understood is that Morricone was a magician of sound. He had an uncanny ability to combine instruments in original ways. Ocarina, slapstick, whistling, electric guitar noises, grunts, electronics and howls in the night: Anything was welcome if it had dramatic effect. By the 1960s, the electric guitar had become central to his palette and he was able to blend it into a variety of unusual contexts with dramatic flair. In “Svegliati e Uccidi,” he has the guitarist imitate the “rat-a-tat-tat” of a machine gun through the amplifier’s spring reverb, and his instruction to the musician to “sound like a spear” resulted in one of the most intense guitar tones ever recorded, in “Once Upon a Time in the West.” His mastery of a wide range of genres and instruments made him a musician ahead of his time. He could explore extended techniques on a trumpet mouthpiece in a free-improvisational context in the morning; write a seductive big-band arrangement for a pop singer in the afternoon; and score a searing orchestral film soundtrack at night. This kind of openness remains the way of the future — and was a formative model for me. Morricone is best known for his film work, but we must never forget his large catalog of “absolute” music — his classical compositions. There the music comes straight from his heart. And yet what he accomplished in the challenging and restrictive world of film music is nothing short of miraculous. There, his immense imagination, sharp ear for drama, profound lyricism, puckish sense of humor and huge heart find voice through a magnificent and masterly musicianship. Artistic freedom was his credo, and his impeccable taste and innate sense of energy, space and time was palpable. His work elevated every film he scored. One of my dearest memories is visiting him at a recording session in New York, around 1986. He was, as always, a gentleman: elegant, gracious and more than kind to a young fan who stood humbled in front of his hero. We spoke through a translator for much of our conversation, but he took me aside for a few moments and shared some composerly advice on working in movies. I will always remember his words to me that day: “Forget the film. Think of the soundtrack record.” Many composers wonder, and may even worry, if their work will live on after they are gone — if their contribution will be remembered and their music treasured. Morricone need have had no such fears. His work has been embraced; he achieved that rare balance of being profoundly influential to both the inner world of musicians and to society as a whole. His sonic adventures stand on their own merits both in the context of the films he scored and on their own terms as pure music. This was his magic. He was more than a musical figure. He was a cultural icon. He was the maestro — and I loved him dearly.
  5. Michael Nyman wrote "Goodbye, Ennio." on Facebook.
  6. The reactions have been pretty remarkable so far. Hard to follow, really. No doubt there will be more condolences coming from more notables. Daniel Pemberton wrote that for him, Morricone is the greatest film composer ever: Both Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke retweeted the news of his death. Ryuichi Sakamoto wrote "Thank you, maestro! Rest In Peace". on Facebook.
  7. R.I.P. I was just listening to his music. Easily the greatest living film composer (when he was alive). Hans Zimmer chimes in and there will be more words from notable people coming:
  8. Max Richter has also named The Long Goodbye one of his favourite film scores in the past.
  9. Alberto Iglesias penned an article writing about John Williams and Ennio Morricone (that Spanish award): https://www.abc.es/cultura/musica/abci-alberto-iglesias-genios-no-parecen-nada-202006060134_noticia.html Iglesias favourite JW score is The Long Goodbye, and from Morricone Cinema Paradiso. He also writes that he feels closer to Morricone. He also believes both Morricone and Williams would have liked to receive the award alone. I used Google translate: Two geniuses who are not alike at all by Alberto Iglesias The Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts to Ennio Morricone and John Williams recognizes two creators who have made film music an art, each expressing their talent, their style I imagine that by awarding this award to two such important musicians, to two geniuses, they wanted to reward the genre, film music. And that is very valuable. But I think each of them deserves it for themselves, any one of them could be the sole recipient of the award. Both Morricone and Williams seem extraordinary to me. They have made film music into an art, each one expressing his talent, his style and his way of conceiving music. They do not look alike. That is also the greatness of music in the cinema, which can house completely different styles. Williams inherits the Hollywood tradition, but also develops it and takes it to a very new place in many moments. He is the king of the great American audiovisual show. Morricone, which I feel closer to, probably, is in the measure of European cinema and has a very artisanal style, very own. I think he is the one who has thought the most about music in Europe. Film music is highly regarded and part of popular culture. Maybe these awards want to open to that popular music as the Parnassus of great art. In the same way that Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, although in that case there was a greater leap. To think that the music of popular tradition, so implanted, can also be the music of the high intellectual spheres. It is a splendid recognition, which I imagine will have made both of them very excited. Although I also think they would have liked to receive it alone. I don't know if they know the importance that these awards have in Spanish culture. If I had to choose a soundtrack for each of them, I would cite two, released by Quartet Records. From John Williams, "The Long Goodbye," a Robert Altman movie. It's less of Williams's big, imposing style. It has a more jazzy root, a connection to jazz. He was a jazz pianist early in his career. From Morricone, he would quote "Cinema Paradiso" or "Tie Me", which he made for Almodóvar. They are all great scores.
  10. From today's New York Times. Asked about Indiana Jones being mentioned in one of his new songs ("I Contain Multitudes"): But Indiana Jones was a fictional character? Dylan: Yeah, but the John Williams score brought him to life. Without that music it wouldn’t have been much of a movie. It’s the music which makes Indy come alive. So that maybe is one of the reasons he is in the song. Full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/arts/music/bob-dylan-rough-and-rowdy-ways.html
  11. Bob Dylan on John Williams: From today's New York Times. Asked about Indiana Jones being mentioned in one of his new songs ("I Contain Multitudes"): But Indiana Jones was a fictional character? Dylan: Yeah, but the John Williams score brought him to life. Without that music it wouldn’t have been much of a movie. It’s the music which makes Indy come alive. So that maybe is one of the reasons he is in the song. Full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/arts/music/bob-dylan-rough-and-rowdy-ways.html
  12. Oscar Winner Hildur Guðnadóttir Reveals Her 5 Favorite Film Scores https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/awards/9373666/oscar-winner-hildur-gudnadottir-favorite-film-scores The Shining: Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind created the music for Stanley Kubrick's psychological horror classic from 1980. "It’s probably one of my all-time favorite film scores, with music that really, really gets under your skin," Hildur told Oscar.com. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me: Angelo Badalamenti created the music for David Lynch's psychological horror film from 1992. The soundtrack reached No. 173 on the Billboard 200. "I think that score is fantastic," Hildur said. "I love the simplicity of it." Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Antonio Sánchez created the music for Alejandro G. Iñárritu's black comedy/drama from 2014. “I absolutely adored that score…," Hildur said. "It was great to see how drums could carry the whole emotional spectrum. It's exciting to see innovative scores like that." The Revenant: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto created the music for Iñárritu's follow-up film, released in 2015. Hildur's cello playing is prominently featured on this score, which was nominated for best original score at the Golden Globes and best film music at the BAFTAs but was ruled ineligible for the Oscar for best original score because it was "assembled from the music of more than one composer." When Harry Met Sally…: Marc Shaiman and Harry Connick Jr. collaborated on the music for Rob Reiner's beloved 1989 rom-com. Connick's album of the same name reached No. 42 on the Billboard 200 and was a chart fixture for more than two years. Connick, then just 21, sings such standards as "Our Love Is Here to Stay," "But Not for Me," "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." "That's the film I’ve probably seen the most often with my mom," Hildur said. "We love it. We basically know every single word. That one is more just for the fun of watching the film.”
  13. Looks like Jerry Goldsmith (the guy with the white hair) on the right of that photo behind him. No clue who the two ladies are between Williams and what looks like Goldsmith.
  14. I just found this. Ryuichi Sakamoto said that his top 7 favourite film composers of all time are (in no order): Alex North, Toru Takemitsu, Bernard Herrmann, Leonard Rosenman, Ennio Morricone, Georges Delerue and Nino Rota. That is his film music pantheon in terms of which composers. He said that he idolizes these 7 film composers. He included most of his top 7 favourite film composers in his top 10 soundtracks of all time, the only two which he didn't include are Bernard Herrmann and Georges Delerue, all of the others of his favourite film composers of all time are included. Ryuichi Sakamoto's top 10 soundtracks of all time (in no order): Stalker, Solaris, Mirror - Eduard Artemyev Nostalghia (a concert work inspired by the Tarkovsky film) - Toru Takemitsu Shochiku 120th Anniversary Soundtrack Collection (compilation) - Numerous composers ranging from Toru Takemitsu to Joe Hisaishi Yojimbo - Masaru Sato Seven Samurai - Fumio Hayasaka Fellini and Rota (compilation) - Nino Rota Once Upon a Time in the West - Ennio Morricone A Streetcar Named Desire - Alex North Beneath the Planet of the Apes - Leonard Rosenman Solaris - Cliff Martinez I agree with most of his top 10, the only two that I can't get into as much is Seven Samurai and Yojimbo (not counting the Takemitsu concert work which is technically not film music), but I will have tor reconsider them seeing how highly Sakamoto thinks of these two scores. I would have included Thomas Newman's American Beauty as well as Jerry Fielding's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia on my own list, but aside from those two, I can't say I disagree with the rest of his choices. It was a nice surprise to see Martinez's Solaris included, which isn't my favourite soundtrack of all time by any means, but it is probably my favourite film score of the 21st century so far.
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