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John Williams Style ( continued)


tedfud
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Hi

Just wanted to say hello and ask a couple of questions. I am studying film music and having done the scott smalley course ( wonderful BTW ) i thought i'd ask here as there was a great thread last year with lot's of information about JW's writing styles.

1. Woodwind fast runs: Datameister said that " Action music very often calls for ascending runs in the woodwinds, sometimes doubled by the strings, piano, and/or percussion. Typically, these are not chromatic - they instead follow a scale that's appropriate to the harmonic structure of the music at that moment. " Cold someone please elaborate on that. If for instance the chord progression is a series of chromatic mediants are the runs just in the key of the chord , at that specific time ? ( ie the chord becomes the tonic ) or does one use a group of the chords to create a new scale . ( this is goldsmith's approach in the opening of king Solomon's mines as detailed in the scott smalley course ).

2. Harp glisses: Unfortunately there is nothing in the course about these....and they seem so vital.

3. Mixolydian flat 6 scale : I'm not sure if that is the right term but all over hollywood scores i hear when major chords are used ( as chromatic mediants )..say...C A C Ab C E ...over the top there will be flute or string runs that pick out the flattened sixth ( sometimes sevenths ) of the chord they are playing over.....examples Star Trek TMP...Stargate John Carter ...Could someone please explain this ?

4."Quick-ish runs and figures with violin and viola tremolos are often used to add a frantic edge to action music, often just as background to other stuff. These are typically really tough to analyze because they don't follow any immediately obvious harmonic structure. (Yet they somehow sound so good...)" I have noticed this all over JW score. Also a lot in John Carter . There seems to be an almost deliberate clouding effect of the harmony by these very fast runs. They sound chromatic but maybe not. I would love to know more about this .

5. Alternative to chromatic mediants: Lesson one of the scott smalley course introduces the concept of chromatic mediants and their ability to keep movement going without resolution ( thus being very useful for film music ) I know there're are alternatives ( tritone leaps, semitone leaps ) but what else ?

6. Bitonality : Unlike Herrmann and Barry ( gods in my house ) and there're love of the minor major seventh chord JW appears to have no favourite chord. But does seem to quite often have different melodies playing in different keys at the same time. I have found a lot of this in Prokofiev but don't really get the rules .

Sorry for the rambling but this looks like the place to get answers

t

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Hi,

Welcome to this site. My thoughts on your questions:

1. Woodwind fast runs:

This technique has been in use for a very long time. It’s frequently used in Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky for example at climactic moments. It is all over Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" too. Have a listen to this furious moment at 7:47 from Rite of Spring and notice the flutes and piccolo runs.

These runs add a propulsive energy at the moment and also serve to reinforce the harmony. In loud passages, woodwinds can be covered up but they will “peak” through if they are moving. Also they are articulate instruments that can play fast passages and runs with ease (in general). I believe the point Datameister is making is that these woodwind runs are reinforcing the established harmony so the runs would likely be scales for that passage. Basically, this is an embellishment that adds a surge of energy in action music and at climactic moments so it is commonly used. The high note of the run would be something important to the scale – so for example, it might land on the root of the scale or something.

2. Harp Glisses: Not sure what the question is here but harp glisses also add a color and fill to a scale. Often, the gliss will proceed the download so the downbeat is the arrival of the harps gliss. Sometimes a harpist will need quite a range to give a nice big glissando in a loud passage (so something like five octaves).

3. Mixolydian flat 6. This is a scale based on the fifth degree of the major scale with a flat 6th. So in C major, the fifth note is G but unlike G major which has an F#, here we’ll have F natural since we are in the scale of C and then flatten the 6th so its E flat. It has an exotic color to it. The flat six does have an exotic color to it and it is used a lot for outer space. The way you spelled the chord could also be A minor maj 7 (So A – C- E- G#) which is also the chord for the Star Wars Death Star theme. The high note of G#/A flat might be doubled to emphasize its exotic color which might be what you are referring to.

4. The way I would describe this is in loud passages, notes for non-brass have to move to be heard. So you’ll get a lot of runs, arpeggios, and ostinatos in the strings and winds to add a forward momentum and energy to a passage – especially if there are loud brass such as a big climax.

5. Another common John Williams progression is to the sub-mediant. So for example, A major to F major.

6. Bitonality - I believe John Williams jazz influence is very prominent in his film music due to the “spicey” harmonies. For example, the chord at the start of Lando’s palace is an E major 7 chord which is voiced with the D# and E rubbing against each other in the melody. Though John Williams mostly needs to be triadic due to his prominent and memorable themes, he will sometimes harmonize them with a major 9 chord or maybe use a #11 (Superman theme and in the NBC Nightly News Theme). Minor 6 is very common (lots of this in the second half of Empire Strikes Back). For those unsettling moments, he might use a minor maj7. The Min Maj7 is a favorite of Jerry Goldsmith too. In a major key, he often goes to a flat 2 (such as a D flat chord in the key of C). He uses modes a lot – such as Lydian. And his bass notes tend to move in 3rd quite often (instead of 2nd, 4th, 5th). The flat 2 is often used in Herrmann and Vaughan Williams. For example in Vaughan Williams symphony No. 6 (last movement), he alternates between e flat minor and e minor throughout. I think part of what makes John Williams so great is his ability to melodically and harmonically conjure up just the right emotion the scene or drama needs at that very moment with his very skilled handling of all the musical elements (tempo, rhythm, melody, orchestration, harmony, etc.).

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hi

thanks a lot. The harp question was in response to this : "The best way to find out what pitch collection/s (this is a serial term, but appropriate for the way Williams works) he's using, is too look at those woodwind and string runs, and harp pedal markings. They are the key. Only at Williams's most dissonant writing will these be useless." I am really trying to find through all the different chord choices some clear sense of...well key i guess.

I like the idea that to be heard woodwind and strings have to be very active otherwise the brass smothers them.

all the best

ed

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tedfud - I would very much like to respond to your questions, but I am away from my JW scores at the moment and won't be reunited until the weekend. I have full scores for a number of the best known cues and would at least be able to contribute something to the conversation. Kudos to karelm for good observations already.

Just a question, though. When you ask about the "mixolydian" chord (which doesn't sound like the right term to me), do you mean a major chord with an added flat 6th as karelm suggests? I couldn't figure out why there would be an A in the chord you mentioned. From what I know, these chords are some form of C-E-G-Ab or a transposition of it.

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I like the idea that to be heard woodwind and strings have to be very active otherwise the brass smothers them.

Just one minor point - the brass and percussion will smother all else when they are getting loud. Generally speaking, fff in the trumpets is not the same as fff in the violins. fff in the trumpets might be equal to fff in violin 1 + violin 2 + viola + cello + bass + flutes. This gets a bit more complicated depending on the register and which specific woodwind is playing. Piccolo up high can certainly pierce and can be heard through blasting tuttis meanwhile clarinets in middle register not so much. This takes experience and study to balance as desired. Dynamics are relative. fff to one instrument is not the same as to another and even within a register. Skilled composers and conductors will adjust balance as needed but due note that this is a complicated topic. In Scott's class, you probably heard him say two horns at fff = one trumpet at ff, etc. Even this depends on the register. For low horns, four fff = one trumpet at f. These are not hard and fast rules but guidelines.

Ludwig, I love your profile picture...the brain power just exudes from that picture and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic.

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Hi Ludwig

thanks for your post. The scale i mean in C would be c,d,e,f,g,a flat,b flat. This doesn't appear to be a straight mode or scale. I found a description on a jazz website as Mixolydian flat 6...which does describe it quite accurately . I hear this a lot over big rousing themes...especially space music . Quite often played as an arpeggiated chord on high flutes with maybe a glock. in C this this would be A flat g,e,c, ....when the chord C changes underneath to ( as is often the case ) an E major the sequence moves to c,b, a flat, e .......This is very clear at 1 min of the Stargate Overture by David Arnold for instance ( different chords there ). Also in lots of James Horner. at 1.34 in Krull's main titles it is on very fast strings. Also in "wrath of Khan" main title when it switches to the b part in E major at 1:06 . The violins play the main theme ( b,e,f sharp g sharp c sharp b ..firmly routed in E maj ) while the celli play the e g sharp b c natural an octave below . It seems to be a big Jerry Goldsmith trick too. I guess i read some one once said " hollywood orchestration is a bag of about 100 tricks "...i'm just trying to learn as many as possible

Hi Karelm

I know orchestral dynamics can be very tricky. Especially if like me i'm doing all this with a midi orchestra. As good as the samples are i've noticed that things can get murky very quickly and rather than reach for the volume control i am trying to look at the orchestration. I think i have pretty much very book there is out there but other than lot's of talk about the individual instruments they don't seem to have a lot on actually scoring .

thanks

ed

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I see. If you mean the scale that the chord comes from then, you have two options. The one you mention, C-D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb-C, doesn't have a name in traditional music theory. It's a combination of the bottom half of a major scale (C-D-E-F-G) and the top half of a melodic minor scale (G-Ab-Bb-C), so many (outside of traditional theory texts) call this the "melodic major" scale.

But if your scale had B instead of Bb, so C-D-E-F-G-Ab-B-C, then you'd have the bottom half of a major scale combined with the top half of a harmonic minor scale, so many (again outside of traditional theory) call this the "harmonic major" scale.

You could call it a Mixolydian flat-6, like you said, but to me that defeats the purpose of calling it Mixolydian, which really describes the whole scale bottom to top. I like the harmonic and melodic names because they refer to the top half of the scale, whereas major and minor are defined more by the bottom half (the third note of the scale especially). They just seem like more accurate names to me, but I still understand what you mean.

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yes it's all a bit muddled. One of the reasons i struggled for so long learning music in the conventional way was how much debate there is about what something is ! . Still it's a lovely sound. Sort of opposite to Dorian. Happy on the bottom,Sad at the top !

e

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  • 2 weeks later...

hi ludwig

are you re united with your scores ? If so could you please let me know what is going on ( harmonically ) at the end of the Main Star Theme when it stars to go all dark. Sounds like augmented chords and then augmented scales ( tone and a half, semitone , tone and a half , semitone ,tone and a half )?.

thanks

e

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Tedfud,

Sorry for the delay in responding - I've been inundated with work for the beginning of the academic semester (argh!). Anyway, at last I am now reunited with my scores and can give you my answers to your questions.

It seems that your questions 1, 2, and 4 basically ask about the same thing, just for different instruments. The short answer to these questions is that the notes in the flourishes naturally always agree with the chord at that point. But these flourishes are usually filled in with scale-wise motion, and that's where it gets complicated - the scale is not always that of the key the music is in at that point.

Most of the time, these flourishes are just the scale of the key the music at that moment. The Superman march, for example, which starts in C major, has plenty of C major flourishes in the strings, winds, harp, and combinations of these. No surprise there.

But at other times, you may have two flourishes at the same time that have different notes! In these cases, the flourishes don't really fit with each other, so they sound more like a musical effect or gesture but one that still sounds good because it contains the notes of the chord. Again to point to the Superman march, just before the main theme gets going when you have that gradual buildup of fourths in dotted rhythms, when you hear the cymbal crash with the rising arpeggio melody in trumpet and winds (basically when you hear melody come in), there are flourishes in some other winds, harp, and piano. But while the winds and piano have a rapid arpeggio that goes Eb-Ab-Db, Eb-Ab-Db, Eb-Ab, the harp has a scale that goes G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-gliss-Ab (an Ab major scale). The chord at that point (from the bass up) is G-Ab-Db-Eb-Ab, so as you can see, the flourishes both contain most or all of these notes. This allows the flourishes to blend with the chord and makes it less important whether they are composed of a scale or arpeggio. The important thing is that they contain notes of the chord and therefore sound good.

So in short, you could say that JW's flourishes, whether in winds, harp, piano, or what have you, tend to contain notes of the sounding chord but that they can be written as a scale or broken chord (arpeggio) or even both at the same time. Cool.

Your questions 3 and 6 might best be answered as one. You mention the end of the Star Wars main theme - this is a great example for both questions. In question 6 you ask about bitonal/polytonal chords. When the tune finishes, the strings start scurrying upwards for a few bars. Right when the strings reach their high point, we hear those strange, outer-spacey sustained chords with the strings playing rapid broken chords repeatedly. This short passage, which is just as all goes dark as you mention, is made up of three different chords. All three of them maintain a C major chord in the upper parts while the lower parts change to different notes.

Basically the first chord is a combination of a Db major chord in the lower parts with a C major chord in the upper parts. But the wind parts are scored so that an Ab from the Db chord is placed higher than the rest of that chord, and it is combined with C and E from the C major chord. So it ends up sounding like there's a chord of Ab-C-E in the winds - an augmented triad that tends to sound like outer space music. But the overall harmony at this point is essentially a bitonal chord of Db and C (the G from the C major chord is strangely missing from the winds - instead it's in the rapid string arpeggios and piano, which is basically playing the same thing as the strings). The horns and lower winds are in keeping with the lower parts and sound out notes of the Db chord.

The second chord keeps the C major chord above while the lower parts change to an A major chord. So now the G and E from the C chord blend with the A major chord to sound like a dominant seventh chord. But now the C of the C chord clashes with the C# of the A major chord, so it again sounds very strange, like a combination of major and minor at the same time (actually this happens with the first chord as well, since there is both an E and F over the bass Db and so it sounds like Db major and minor at the same time). Here, the upper winds are now all sounding notes from the C chord, E and C, while the lower winds and horns again are playing the A chord of the lower parts.

The third chord again keeps the C chord major chord above but now the lower parts change to an augmented triad, from the bass up, E-C-Ab. So here I think it sounds less bitonal (since an Ab augmented chord can't really be a key, whereas C major and Db major or C major and A major certainly are). Instead, I think it blends into one of your Mixolydian flat 6 chords (or what I've called in my earlier post above a chord from the "harmonic major" scale). The upper winds are now sounding all notes of the C major chord while the Ab is heard only in the lower parts of the bass clarinet, piano, and low strings. As you've said yourself, this chord is typical of outer space music in films, this being one of the best examples I'm sure.

And actually, this third chord is kept the same as the music now softens to a hushed murmur, setting up for that beautifully mysterious piccolo melody just before all hell breaks loose with the overhead shot of the ships going by. Another thing I would point out here is that the mysterious feeling is in part created by sounding the "space" chord (C-E-G-Ab) in the vibraphone, harp (which he says to "let ring"), celeste, and very high violins, along with the soft sustained chords in the upper winds.

For what it's worth, I'm reading a great book on Bernard Herrmann right now that describes many of his own bitonal chords in scores like Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho, among others. It's by Graham Bruce and titled Bernard Herrmann: Film Music and Narrative. One of the ones that's talked about most is the "vertigo" chord from that film, a combination of an Eb minor chord in lower parts with D major in higher parts. Perhaps JW picked up something of this use of bitonal chords from Herrmann.

Finally, as for question 5, it sounds like you've pretty much covered the topic of non-resolving chromatic chords. Because in a major key, if a chord is not a flat mediant, flat submediant, flat supertonic, or tritone away, it's likely closely related to the key. The only other chromatic chord I can think of that might be useful this way is the flat leading tone chord in major, so going to a B-flat major chord from a C major chord. But that tends to sound like a C Mixolydian mode rather than a strange chord in C major. Then again, I think it can be a good way to lead to other temporary keys on the "flat side" of the major key - like all the flat chords you mentioned.

It may be more useful to think of JW's tonal writing in 3 different categories:

1) Pure triads and seventh chords - tend to be reserved for important statements of themes and main title music (virtually any of his main themes)

2) Triads and seventh chords with added dissonant notes - tend to be used in action sequences (I think there is lots of this in the final battle in Star Wars)

3) Bitonal chords - tend to be used at moments of great tension or expectation (like in the Star Wars music above, we seem to be holding our breath for something exciting to happen)

That's about all I can say at the moment. I hope this helps! :)

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Hi

Thanks so much very detailed and yes it helps a lot.....

I have that book . I'll give it another look as i know a lot more then when i bought it . It's a books on demand book. I recently bought Nicloas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales. Thats quite usefull. My father was a composer and I remember him spending a long time creating scales for his pieces.

The star wars Example is very intresting. With the first chord having an Ab as it's top note it's not surprising it sounds like an aug traid. What's in the bass ? And does the voice leading in the bass stay smooth over the three chords or is it playing the root. Are the instruments that are playing the 3rds of each chord kept far apart and of different timbres ?

This looks like a classic stravinsky chord

Also it seems to me that when he writes action cues ( the asteroid field , Which i am trying to do as a midi mockup ) he seems to avoid the basic octatonic scale writing as so much of hollywood uses. Is this correct or does he have a unique go- to action scale ? I have been studying a lot of action music recently . Goldsmith for instance loves the following fifths in trumpets.. A-E, Db-Ab, F-C....when played as a scale it becomes an augmented scale ( according to wikepedia) ...this seems like it could be very useful. Is this the sort of things williams is doing. I have the persichetti book and it's a lot of help with regard to modal harmony perhaps the same techniques could be used with created scales . That is why I bought the Slonimsky's Thesaurus

I read on a forum somewhere that JW is fond of Bartok cells ( http://www.vi-contro...ht=bartok cells ). Is this the case. as i said my father used this technique ( he hated serialism ) to generate rows of pitches that would provide the tone of the piece. In essence I suppose that's why octatonic is so popular..but i,m not sure that is what i hear in the asteroid field .

all the best and thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. It's invaluable

tedfed

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  • 2 weeks later...

Apologies again for the late reply to this - I always seem to be on the losing end of a battle against time.

Anyway, to answer your first question, the bass note in the Star Wars main theme where I mentioned the bitonal chords is Db with the first chord, A with the second, and E with the third, all of which support the bottom chord more than the top (except the third chord, where it is part of both the Ab augmented chord and C major chord, nicely blending the two into that "outer-space chord" we've talked about).

Unfortunately, I don't have the score for "The Asteroid Field", which is too bad because Williams said in an interview somewhere that he thought it was one of his best cues. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of chromatic third relations and tritone relations between chords, something you mentioned in your first post in this thread. I would like to go through this by ear and see what it going on exactly. I don't know that I would find octatonic scales per se. Williams doesn't seem to stick with one scale in a systematic way in action cues like this. He seems more interested in the construction of chords by taking triads and adding really dissonant notes to them, either singly or in groups.

For an example, have a listen to the opening of "The Battle" (in full recordings, called "The Death Star/Stormtroopers") cue from Star Wars. I do have the score to that. It starts off with just a minor 3rd between Bb and Db. From here, the upper parts move up in 3rds, but they keep going two steps forward and one step back, as though they are hesitant to move forward (much like the Rebel Alliance at this point in the film). That is, they go:

Bb-Db, C-E, then

Bb-Db, C-E, Eb-G, then

C-E, G-B

The bass goes down in contrary motion to these 3rds and form dissonant chords with all but the first 3rd, so:

Bb with Bb-Db (consonant)

Ab with C-E (dissonant, augmented triad)

E with Eb-G (dissonant)

Eb with G-B (dissonant)

After this, the upper parts sound out pretty dissonant chords that emphasize a tritone and a major 7th (ouch!):

Eb-Ab-D, then Db-Gb-C, both against an Eb in the bass.

The 3rds in the upper parts come back, but again with a dissonant bass. I could go on, but the point here is that this is a great example of how to create tension in a score without being obvious about it. What I mean is that, if you listen to this passage, it doesn't sound like a whole lot is happening onscreen (and of course there isn't), but it manages to keep the tension ratcheted up by using the dissonances of augmented triads, tritones, and semitones.

One of the wonderful things about this opening is that Williams manages to create this tension without exactly getting atonal. There are still plenty of 3rds and even whole triads to keep in in a similar style with the rest of the score (notice the dissonant version of the Rebel Fanfare in the first minute). The score is in that hard-to-classify style of "tonal" 20th-century composers that so many of the regular posters in this forum have mentioned, especially Russian composers: Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and the like.

I think this whole score will continue to reward those who study it time and again. It's an almost endless resource.

By the way, you can purchase some of JW's scores on sheetmusicplus.com. That's where I got most of mine. I have to say they are expensive for the amount of music you get, but such is the price of popularity!

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Sorry for getting involved in this rather late, but what passage(s) specifically in "The Asteroid Field" are you curious about, tedfud? It's an absolutely phenomenal cue, but quite diverse as well. Pretty difficult to generalize about what makes it work as a whole, but if there are specific passages you want to deconstruct, I'd love to look into that.

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oh ace thank you very much. Well after the opening Imperial March at about :50 secs we move from C to G. There it seems like the scale used is octatonic . At 1;00 we get a hint of this scale in a climb in the trombones.Then again at 1;10 theres a climb in the strings and winds. What is that scale , and is it the basis for the harmony at that point ?

At 1;20 it changes to a new key ( A ?) again there is a figure in the strings. Is that now the new scale being used. Is the obstinato in the cellos from this ?

At 1;36 it climbs and seems to modulate. There is a scale spelled out in the climb. Is this part of the same material ?

then we hear a figure in the trumpets ( c min scale ) that plays b,c,b,c,b,c,eb,d,c twice then drops a semitone and repeats . It then plays the previous riffs...again in the new key ( c )

at 1;46 we hear a long build up in the fast strings again hinting at scale material used then at 1;54 we get a fanfare.....is this part of the same ?

I guess what i'm trying to learn is what are the scale degrees being used in this section. Is a mixture or has he constructed a fixed set of pitches that he will draw from.

I have searched for a while this topic and found an interesting thread on a wonderful forum that talked about "bartok Cells" http://vi-control.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=18954&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0&sid=6e722d216471d355b6559cfb20e36856

Is this something akin to william's approach here ? I am really trying to find a way of writing action music that feels rich .

many thanks

tedfud

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oh ace thank you very much.

My pleasure...it's only one of the best action cues ever written! :D I just want to give the disclaimer that everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt, though...I don't always get the terminology exactly spot-on, and there may be better ways to categorize this stuff, but I'll try my best.

Well after the opening Imperial March at about :50 secs we move from C to G. There it seems like the scale used is octatonic . At 1;00 we get a hint of this scale in a climb in the trombones.

I think he's going for more of a Hungarian minor scale here, not so much octatonic. When we get to the trombones, things get pretty funky. For the first measure (the first six notes), he's working around a Gm chord, with the top note sorta following something I've seen referred to as a Ukrainian Dorian scale (Dorian with a raised fourth). In the second measure, he shifts to a Bbm chord, and then for the third and fourth, it's based around F#m.

Then again at 1;10 theres a climb in the strings and winds. What is that scale , and is it the basis for the harmony at that point ?

The melody at 1:10 is D C# D D F E F E Ab G F# E F C, and there's another line moving in parallel to it, a major third below. He's sort of doing the Ukrainian Dorian thing again. Then he's implying an Fm chord with that last note, and everything from the Ab forward is just him kind of chromatically setting that up.

At 1;20 it changes to a new key ( A ?) again there is a figure in the strings. Is that now the new scale being used. Is the obstinato in the cellos from this ?

That's a really interesting passage. A number of instruments (the trombones being the most audible) are alternating rapidly between C#m and Dm chords, providing an unusual harmonic background for the melody in the violins. (Later in the passage, some Cm chords start getting thrown in there, too.) The melody is based around sort of a C# Hungarian minor scale (although the two quick runs in that melody actually contain no accidentals, oddly enough). Once the melody hits that low, prolonged E, the trombones start alternating between Fm and F#m. In my opinion, he has sort of modulated now, and F is the new tonic.

At 1;36 it climbs and seems to modulate. There is a scale spelled out in the climb. Is this part of the same material ?

Really interesting here. It's all ascending minor triads: Am Bbm Am Bbm Cm C#m D#m Em, and then we're back to alternating between Fm and F#m, but this time in the trumpets. The roots of these chords actually follow sort of an octatonic scale, if you want to look at it that way.

at 1;46 we hear a long build up in the fast strings again hinting at scale material used

And here's where things get really tricky. This passage is a pair of moving lines separated by a third (often major, sometimes minor), both of which are doubled an octave lower. There are too many notes here to write them all out one by one, but generally speaking, we're still pretty much in F Hungarian minor, and toward the end of that passage, he's implying an Fm M7 add 9 chord (not sure what else to call it - the notes are F Ab C E G). Except then there's this random horn part repeating an Eb in there, too, which makes it even more harmonically bizarre.

then at 1;54 we get a fanfare.....is this part of the same ?

I love it when Williams puts together buildups like this one. The first chord is actually just an interval, a major second (Gb and Ab), but with a low E in the bass. Then Williams implies an F chord, followed by G Fm G#m Amadd2 Abaug. I think this passage is interesting to look at from a perspective that is more...emotional than theoretical. We start with that rather dissonant major second, which HAS to go somewhere. The next few chords are major and ascending, which is a great way of building excitement, but then we ascend into minor chords, building a sense of peril. And through much of this buildup, Williams uses a bassline in the strings that emphasizes whatever note is a semitone lower than the root of the current chord. This leads to some kind of minor major 7 chords, if you want to look at it that way. Why did Williams pick these exact chords? How do they fit into the harmonic "big picture"? Very hard to say. But somehow, we end up modulating into the next passage, which has C as its root.

I guess what i'm trying to learn is what are the scale degrees being used in this section. Is a mixture or has he constructed a fixed set of pitches that he will draw from.

Harmonically, I think the biggest two "takeaways" here are parallel motion (especially thirds and minor triads) and use of the Hungarian minor scale (and other similar minor-ish-sounding scales).

I have searched for a while this topic and found an interesting thread on a wonderful forum that talked about "bartok Cells" http://vi-control.ne...6559cfb20e36856

Is this something akin to william's approach here ? I am really trying to find a way of writing action music that feels rich .

Honestly, I'm having a lot of trouble understanding what they're talking about with cells, haha.

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Ok that's great thank you. With the minor scales you mention the second degree is always a tone above the route but I'm hearing a semitone in a few places. Maybe that's just harmony on top. The C#m Dm chords however seem to spell out the Hungarian scale you mentioned.

The Bartok cells thing is sort of explained as a gimmick in that thread. But in reality it's quite useful. I'm really just trying to get to grips with the scale degrees needed to write this sort of music . My father once described the Rite of Spring as horizontally tonal, vertically chromatic . Which is for me , a very easy way of getting to grips with the piece. It's also obviously ( the rite ) bi tonal and pentatonic. And also has a very clever trick of in many places harmonising a tonal melody with dissonant notes. So these tricks in essence give it a shape. I'm just trying to spot the same simple things in Williams music.

So far I have. Parallel triads. Chromatic Mediants . Biontonailty . Playing melodies in seemingly unrelated keys.

Your help is very useful. This an amazing time for knowledge being able to go on a website like this is invaluable . I'm very grateful

Tedfud

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1. Woodwind fast runs: Datameister said that " Action music very often calls for ascending runs in the woodwinds, sometimes doubled by the strings, piano, and/or percussion. Typically, these are not chromatic - they instead follow a scale that's appropriate to the harmonic structure of the music at that moment. " Cold someone please elaborate on that. If for instance the chord progression is a series of chromatic mediants are the runs just in the key of the chord , at that specific time ? ( ie the chord becomes the tonic ) or does one use a group of the chords to create a new scale . ( this is goldsmith's approach in the opening of king Solomon's mines as detailed in the scott smalley course ).

Yes, though what Williams will do is set minor triads against octatonic and hybrid woodwind scales. i.e. an E minor chord with an D# E F# G A Bb C D Eb shriek in the piccolos. Likewise with clusters - A# B C# D with F# G A Bb above.

2. Harp glisses: Unfortunately there is nothing in the course about these....and they seem so vital.

Usually Williams has two harps, and he'll often create a kind of antiphonal effect by having harp one's pedal markings set to one scale and told to giss ad lib, then in the second half of the bar as the harmony changes harp two with a different marking will take over. The island fanfare as we first see Isla Nublar in JURASSIC PARK is a good example.

3. Mixolydian flat 6 scale : I'm not sure if that is the right term but all over hollywood scores i hear when major chords are used ( as chromatic mediants )..say...C A C Ab C E ...over the top there will be flute or string runs that pick out the flattened sixth ( sometimes sevenths ) of the chord they are playing over.....examples Star Trek TMP...Stargate John Carter ...Could someone please explain this ?

Yep, that's just the fifth mode of the melodic minor scale. See here:

http://docs.solfege....scales/mel.html

In a romantic piece in a major key, an old trick is to replace IV with iv, and exchange between the two - the tonic and the minor subdominant. In C Major, C-Fm-C instead of C-F-C. Here, the F melodic minor scale would work (or C Mixolynain b6 - depending on how you look at it).

John Barry's Main Title from OUT OF AFRICA is a great example of this progression. Most of David Arnold's Barry pastiching is built ouf of this. Often heard in pop music too.

4."Quick-ish runs and figures with violin and viola tremolos are often used to add a frantic edge to action music, often just as background to other stuff. These are typically really tough to analyze because they don't follow any immediately obvious harmonic structure. (Yet they somehow sound so good...)" I have noticed this all over JW score. Also a lot in John Carter . There seems to be an almost deliberate clouding effect of the harmony by these very fast runs. They sound chromatic but maybe not. I would love to know more about this .

With Williams's, it's often both vertical and linear at the same time.

I'll give you a few examples:

In the opening bars of the The Mothership from CE3K, each note of the 32nd note "rumbles" is a chord. From lowest to highest (Cbs, Vcs and Vlas vertically from left to right) - A C Eb G D --> B D F A# C# E --> C Eb F# B D F --> D F G# C# E G --> Eb G A D F Ab - and back down again.

The 8th note 12/8 figures in bar 27 from 1m1 First Attack from JAWS - Ab B D E G Bb Db Eb --> B D F G Bb Db E Gb --> A# C# E F# A C Eb F --> E F# A B Db Eb Gb Ab and etc.

On the other hand, there's string runs that aren't chordal. i.e. the building triplet 32nd note figures in 1m3 Luke's Escape from ESTB - G G# A# B C B A# G# G etc. in 1st violins, C# D# E F E D# in vlas, A Bb C Db Eb Db C Db A Bb C Db in cellis, and etc. When the solo horn plays the force theme in Fm, the strings then revolve around Fm, with occasional Bs, Es and Dbs - hinting at F Hungarian minor.

As a final example, I'll use an agitato string passage from 6m1 Crow's Hotel Room, from MINORITY REPORT. First violins play tremelo 16th notes of G Bb A F# - B D C# A# - (quarter note rest) - G Bb A F#. Meanwhile, in that same pattern 2nd vlns play Eb Gb F D - G Bb A F# - (quarter rest) - Eb Gb F D - The same as the 1sts, just a major third lower. 1st vlas are col 2nd vlns, while 2nd vlas play the same as vlns 2, just another major third lower (starting on B). An octave lower, cellis start on Bb D and F#.

This is a very Bartókian effect - setting groups of thirds against each other. Very simple in construction, it's just a matter of building layers.

5. Alternative to chromatic mediants: Lesson one of the scott smalley course introduces the concept of chromatic mediants and their ability to keep movement going without resolution ( thus being very useful for film music ) I know there're are alternatives ( tritone leaps, semitone leaps ) but what else ?

Well, what are the other intervals within an octave? Major seconds, fourths and fifths, sixths and sevenths etc.

6. Bitonality : Unlike Herrmann and Barry ( gods in my house ) and there're love of the minor major seventh chord JW appears to have no favourite chord. But does seem to quite often have different melodies playing in different keys at the same time. I have found a lot of this in Prokofiev but don't really get the rules .

I don't agree. If I could describe one signature chord of John Williams's suspense music it would be this, or something similar:

D Eb F# G A Bb C Db

(hybrid scale tone cluster - the lower tetrachord - DEbF#G - is the upper tetrachord of G harmonic minor - and the upper tetrachord - ABbCDb - is from G (or Bb or E) diminished/octatonic.

Or simply reduced to

D G Bb C#

That's like an incomplete polychord. A G minor triad in second inversion with a tritone on top. This hints at both D harmonic minor, D harmonic major and G Hungarian minor.

Another would be

C Ab B (0,8,11)

Or its inversion transposed down a semitone

C Eb B (0,3,11)

In fact, 70% of R10 PT2 Saving Robin from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is based around that 0,8,11 pitch set, in various transpositions, creating tone-pyramids of dissonance.

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Aha so there IS a williams chord !! funnily enough if it's the transposed inversion that's a C Min/Maj 7th ( -5 ) which is THE james bond chord. Also a fave of Herrmann's . Used in the opening of Vertigo and Psycho as well as many more. It does however sound very different in William's music. Both John Barry and Bernard Hermann tend to exploit all they can out of their simple ideas ( The Black Hole and North by Northwest ) spring to mind. Whereas to my novice ears William's music sounds much more varied ( complicated ?) and perhaps that's why i am struggling to learn it.

Thank you very much for the examples Prometheus. I am however confused a little with the CETK section . i tried a mock up in my computer and the first set of notes is five, whereas the rest are six. Are they 2 each for the basses, celli, and Violas ? the first notes being the basses ?

this ( and a lot of the score's atonal ish bits ) really reminds me of atmospheres by Ligeti . I have the score for that somewhere. I have always wondered how critical the scales used where in creating that carpet of tones.

all the best

tedfud

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  • 6 months later...

Thought I'd add another Williams chord I seem to stumble across a lot to this great thread. The Maj 7 Sus 2 in this voicing:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/00e5u5fhao6zn5g/W%2011.png

Just screams classic Williams.

:)

We should totally get a group together and create a google doc or something of Williamsisms. Anyone up for it? I don't think anything like that has been done before.

*Edited the naming of the chord, thanks Prometheus.

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Thanks Prometheus.

Another cool one that I'm not entirely sure how to describe happens in the theme to Jurassic Park. Essentially its derived from the temporary switch to Mixolydian (b7 in major):

Here it is in C: https://www.dropbox.com/s/s26g7ekeoy2cb6w/JP.png

1:34ish in the theme song.

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Thanks Prometheus.

Another cool one that I'm not entirely sure how to describe happens in the theme to Jurassic Park. Essentially its derived from the temporary switch to Mixolydian (b7 in major):

Here it is in C: https://www.dropbox.com/s/s26g7ekeoy2cb6w/JP.png

1:34ish in the theme song.

There are a lot of ways of describing that chord and choosing the most appropriate name depends on the context. So much of the way harmony is taught emphasizes chords as structures in their own right, when that actually is not the most important factor in harmonic analysis. The two things that are most important are context and function, which go hand-in-hand.

The chord you cite above has Bb-Eb-Ab with Eb in the bass. One might call it a "quartal chord", i.e., a chord built in fourths rather than thirds, but that might be a bit misleading and not really tell us anything about how the chord is used.

The beginning of that same phrase alternates between I and IV chords, so with Eb again in the bass for this chord and having all but the G in common, it sounds a lot like IV, which of course has subdominant function. In fact, from all the IV chords at the start of the phrase, it sounds like the G has been replaced with the Ab. In that sense, the chord might best be described as an Eb chord with a 4th substituting for the 3rd. In other words, an Ebsus4 with subdominant function.

That makes the most sense to me because of the chord's context. There are also other sus chords in this theme, like at the end of the first phrase, where we get Bb-F-Eb, or a Bbsus4 chord with tonic function.

I talk more about this theme on my blog: http://www.filmmusicnotes.com/john-williams-themes-part-5-of-6-theme-from-jurassic-park/

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  • 5 months later...

yes....howard hanson's harmony book...do you know it ?

just found this at the app store.... https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/post-tonal-theory-calculator/id791334943?mt=8 most useful. I really am getting a handle on how big a thing this Set Theory is with williams ( goldsmith too ). So much of the intervalic relationships are decide by this. Really gives a flavour that's very useful. But the genius of JW is what he put's with it. He seems to use it like herbs and spices in a recipe rather than the recipe itself . I think the fact that both he and goldsmith studied with some of the same people could be very telling. There's definitely some connection with a lot of these 60/70's TV jobbing composers that's vey obvious if you know what to listen to. I just got the Irwin Allen TV soundtrack box set. Some wonderful williams stuff on there. I can also hear this discipline at work in the original Star trek TV music too !.

very interesting book i just bought http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Professional-Arranger-Composer-Book/dp/0910468060 . A whole chapter on using twelve tone in film music...very cool guy. Got fed up with the hollywood rat race and bought a boat and sailed to New Zealand with his with to start a new life !

T

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