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The influence of Herrmann on John Williams


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Although I would not say Williams is a Herrmann enthusiast by the sound of his music, I do hear some similar approaches to orchestrating and the sense of harmony (closed 7th chords). I was listening to Psycho the other day and that quick ascending figure played by tremolo strings was a technique used by Williams in JAWS quite nicely. And of course The Fury was one big ode to Herrmann (I think I read somewhere that De Palma was a total Hitchcock/Herrmann fan and even had the maestro score SISTERS towards the end of his career).

Just wondering if anyone else hears some stylistic similarities especially in Williams' thriller film scores. Even parts of Dracula (1979) recall the sonorities exploited by Herrmann in his music.

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I bet that's merely backlash for his symphony.

Well, strictly speaking it's Dvorak's idea.

No need for Amazon. I pulled out my disc of North by Northwest and listened to the cue. Furthermore, I pulled up my pdf scores of "Car Crash" from North by Northwest, the "Main Titles" from Jaws, an

It is well known that J.W. agreed to score "The Fury" because both he and Brian de Palma were such Herrmann fans. I remember reading an interview with J.W. in 1978 in, I think, Films and Filming magazine, and how he said "every note of Benny's music runs through me", or something like that. Make no mistake; J.W. ADORES the music of Herrmann (and so do I).

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And of course The Fury was one big ode to Herrmann (I think I read somewhere that De Palma was a total Hitchcock/Herrmann fan and even had the maestro score SISTERS towards the end of his career).

Herrmann wrote at least one more score for De Palma.

I guess most serious film composers in the years after Herrmann's time were Herrmann fans to some extent at least. Of course, Herrmann himself was a Britophile (he tried to talk Ralph Vaughan Williams out of shortening his London Symphony), and I think he had a passion for Sibelius as well. You can hear a clear Sibelius influence in parts of Psycho.

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I think it's safe to say Herrmann was a Herrmann enthusiast.

Well that is undeniably true. Everybody should listen to the Unvarnished Chat with Bernard Herrmann. It gives a pretty clear picture of what the man was like. They don't make composer like that anymore. :(

But Williams does have Herrmannesque traits in his scores. Minority Report, The Fury (Brian De Palma had directed the Obsession prior to this film and it had a Herrmann score which JW admired), parts of Dracula, the darker music of SW Prequels, parts of Nixon to name a few. Herrmann's influence is usually in the brooding darkness, suspence or the quirky bits of dark humour like Eye-Dentiscan from MR.

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I don't know if anyone has noticed it before (probably you have), but I always found "Escape from the City" particulary similar to the main theme from "Psycho". Those descending and quick notes are similar (helped by the xylophone in WOTW), but not the same. It's just an inspiration, in my opinion.

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As I have said before, Williams' Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest.

I disagree. While both have an alternating half-step and some similarities in orchestration, the music is not "lifted directly." Also, the Jaws motif is so simple (and incredibly effective) that it can be found in MANY places; Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (4th movement), Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", and several of Herrmann scores have all been cited as the 'original' source of the Jaws motif and yet NONE of them are identical. I'll concede some similarities between all of these pieces (oh look! an alternating half-step!), but claiming that the Jaws theme is plagiarism or was "lifted directly" has always felt like someone trying to find where John Williams 'stole' that idea from. I think there are WAY more similarities between Holst's "The Planets" and the score to "A New Hope" (not that these similarities detract my enjoyment of both).

Also, I can't think of many film composers who have worked since Herrmann that have NOT been influenced by his work.

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As I have said before, Williams' Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest.

I disagree. While both have an alternating half-step and some similarities in orchestration, the music is not "lifted directly." Also, the Jaws motif is so simple (and incredibly effective) that it can be found in MANY places; Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (4th movement), Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", and several of Herrmann scores have all been cited as the 'original' source of the Jaws motif and yet NONE of them are identical.

Howard Hanson also used it in his second symphony. But the "Adventures on Earth" similarity in the very same movement is more striking.

I seem to remember Williams was in good terms with Herrmann is his final days. I read that he had dinner at Herrmann's house on an almost weekly basis.

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As I have said before, Williams' Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest.

I disagree. While both have an alternating half-step and some similarities in orchestration, the music is not "lifted directly." Also, the Jaws motif is so simple (and incredibly effective) that it can be found in MANY places; Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (4th movement), Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", and several of Herrmann scores have all been cited as the 'original' source of the Jaws motif and yet NONE of them are identical. I'll concede some similarities between all of these pieces (oh look! an alternating half-step!), but claiming that the Jaws theme is plagiarism or was "lifted directly" has always felt like someone trying to find where John Williams 'stole' that idea from. I think there are WAY more similarities between Holst's "The Planets" and the score to "A New Hope" (not that these similarities detract my enjoyment of both).

Also, I can't think of many film composers who have worked since Herrmann that have NOT been influenced by his work.

I don't hear too much herrmann in from our friends at remote control/media ventures. I'm sure if they did try to lift herrmann he would get up from his grave and smite them all however :P

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As I have said before, Williams' Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest.

I disagree. While both have an alternating half-step and some similarities in orchestration, the music is not "lifted directly." Also, the Jaws motif is so simple (and incredibly effective) that it can be found in MANY places; Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (4th movement), Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", and several of Herrmann scores have all been cited as the 'original' source of the Jaws motif and yet NONE of them are identical. I'll concede some similarities between all of these pieces (oh look! an alternating half-step!), but claiming that the Jaws theme is plagiarism or was "lifted directly" has always felt like someone trying to find where John Williams 'stole' that idea from. I think there are WAY more similarities between Holst's "The Planets" and the score to "A New Hope" (not that these similarities detract my enjoyment of both).

Also, I can't think of many film composers who have worked since Herrmann that have NOT been influenced by his work.

I know of course all the pieces you list (see also my separate thread on this very subject). The North By Northwest cue has by far the closest resemblance. This is the only example of an alternating E-F semitone and also the track with the orchestration most similar to the Jaws theme. Moreover, the track has been written in a time that JW was generally influenced by Herrmann's music.

So I stand by my comment, and advise you to give it another listen. I think there are free audio samples on Amazon etc.

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I know of course all the pieces you list (see also my separate thread on this very subject). The North By Northwest cue has by far the closest resemblance. This is the only example of an alternating E-F semitone and also the track with the orchestration most similar to the Jaws theme. Moreover, the track has been written in a time that JW was generally influenced by Herrmann's music.

So I stand by my comment, and advise you to give it another listen. I think there are free audio samples on Amazon etc.

No need for Amazon. I pulled out my disc of North by Northwest and listened to the cue. Furthermore, I pulled up my pdf scores of "Car Crash" from North by Northwest, the "Main Titles" from Jaws, and the "End Titles" from Jaws. In addition to the punctuations in "Car Crash", Herrmman's orchestration (all the woodwinds, violas, celli, and contrabasses) of the E-F is thicker than Williams (bassoons, celli, and contrabasses). Although a bit more subtle, Herrmann's cue is in 3/4 whereas Williams is in a duple meter (technically 4/4, but since the rhythm of the motif changes from quarter notes to eighths, duple meter describes it better). Finally, I think Williams treats the motif in a totally different way (e.g. the diminution of rhythm and addition of a lower D to the motif).

You've the right to your opinion, but I think saying the "Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest" is not true. To each their own.

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I know of course all the pieces you list (see also my separate thread on this very subject). The North By Northwest cue has by far the closest resemblance. This is the only example of an alternating E-F semitone and also the track with the orchestration most similar to the Jaws theme. Moreover, the track has been written in a time that JW was generally influenced by Herrmann's music.

So I stand by my comment, and advise you to give it another listen. I think there are free audio samples on Amazon etc.

No need for Amazon. I pulled out my disc of North by Northwest and listened to the cue. Furthermore, I pulled up my pdf scores of "Car Crash" from North by Northwest, the "Main Titles" from Jaws, and the "End Titles" from Jaws. In addition to the punctuations in "Car Crash", Herrmman's orchestration (all the woodwinds, violas, celli, and contrabasses) of the E-F is thicker than Williams (bassoons, celli, and contrabasses). Although a bit more subtle, Herrmann's cue is in 3/4 whereas Williams is in a duple meter (technically 4/4, but since the rhythm of the motif changes from quarter notes to eighths, duple meter describes it better). Finally, I think Williams treats the motif in a totally different way (e.g. the diminution of rhythm and addition of a lower D to the motif).

You've the right to your opinion, but I think saying the "Jaws motiv in it's complete form (orchestration, tonality) has been lifted directly from Herrmann's 'Car Crash' from North By Northwest" is not true. To each their own.

Lifted is maybe saying too much. But agree that the cue resembles the Jaws theme better than the other examples, which are often called by people as 'source' of the jaws Theme?

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Lifted is maybe saying too much. But agree that the cue resembles the Jaws theme better than the other examples, which are often called by people as 'source' of the jaws Theme?

To that I will agree. ;)

I have always felt that all the examples mentioned earlier were simply too different to really be a 'source' for the Jaws Theme.

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Lifted is maybe saying too much. But agree that the cue resembles the Jaws theme better than the other examples, which are often called by people as 'source' of the jaws Theme?

To that I will agree. :happybday:

I have always felt that all the examples mentioned earlier were simply too different to really be a 'source' for the Jaws Theme.

Exactly. I think this is actually the point I wanted to make :D

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  • 10 years later...
On 11/7/2009 at 12:30 AM, Nick Parker said:

He did love Sibelius, and he also loved Elgar, too.

Also, I have stated this before, but it was Bernard Herrmann who prompted John Williams to write his first symphony.

 

He was also the one who made JW feel insecure about it.

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If Herrmann had an influence in Williams then probably to come up with something archaic like the main theme for Jaws. 

To me that is rather a Herrmann type of musical idea, than typical Williams. But very well anticipated. And of course it is still Williams' own idea, but might be influenced by Herrmann's way of scoring.

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Okay, maybe Dvorak for the opening, but then the bassline piano from the second movement of the Scythian Suite:

 

And the tuba / later clarinet line from the main motif in Herrmann's cantata "Moby Dick"

 

And voila: Dvorak, Prokofiev, Herrmann + Williams:

 

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