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Favorite John Williams Chord or Chord Progression

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Fave chord progression?

Those 5 chords, before it all resloves into a triumphant chord in "Hyperspace".

A marvellous passage. Leading up to these chords is a pedal point on B, which, together with the driving rhythm and general minor-key sound, lends the music a constant intensity and negative emotion appropriate to the scene.

The first four of those five chords derive from a combination of two whole tone scales (follow any single voice in the parallelism and you'll see what I mean), scales that naturally create a feeling of unease due to having no tonal center. On the other hand, all five of those chords are major chords, so they have a positive sound as well. It's as though the music is saying, "there's a chance the rebels could escape, but it could fail at any moment".

The fifth of these chords breaks the whole tone pattern and starts to sound slightly more functional - as though the rebels are about to have the upper hand (for the moment!).

Finally, as the rebels enter hyperspace, the music explodes onto that triumphant chord, (what else?) a B major chord, thus returning to the B that led up to the passage with another positive emotion and giving the music a sense of finality, stability, and even heroism with the heavy brass scoring.

As usual, Williams draws on several of music's innate qualities at once to express the emotions of the scene. And that's what's so great about his music - you don't have to know anything about music theory or composition to "get" it. By understanding music so incredibly well, he ensures that anyone will understand exactly what's going on emotionally in a scene.

Sheer brilliance.

so the " Bb, Ab , C and F# chords belong to the first whole tone scale and the Eb and B belong to the second ? is this how you are hearing this ?

x

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Fave chord progression?

Those 5 chords, before it all resloves into a triumphant chord in "Hyperspace".

A marvellous passage. Leading up to these chords is a pedal point on B, which, together with the driving rhythm and general minor-key sound, lends the music a constant intensity and negative emotion appropriate to the scene.

The first four of those five chords derive from a combination of two whole tone scales (follow any single voice in the parallelism and you'll see what I mean), scales that naturally create a feeling of unease due to having no tonal center. On the other hand, all five of those chords are major chords, so they have a positive sound as well. It's as though the music is saying, "there's a chance the rebels could escape, but it could fail at any moment".

The fifth of these chords breaks the whole tone pattern and starts to sound slightly more functional - as though the rebels are about to have the upper hand (for the moment!).

Finally, as the rebels enter hyperspace, the music explodes onto that triumphant chord, (what else?) a B major chord, thus returning to the B that led up to the passage with another positive emotion and giving the music a sense of finality, stability, and even heroism with the heavy brass scoring.

As usual, Williams draws on several of music's innate qualities at once to express the emotions of the scene. And that's what's so great about his music - you don't have to know anything about music theory or composition to "get" it. By understanding music so incredibly well, he ensures that anyone will understand exactly what's going on emotionally in a scene.

Sheer brillian

so the " Bb, Ab , C and F# chords belong to the first whole tone scale and the Eb and B belong to the second ? is this how you are hearing this ?

x

On second thought, one probably hears the passage as a whole tone bass line harmonized with parallel major chords, as shown below (but what I suggested before was that the bass and tenor lines derive from one whole tone scale and the alto from the other, which is another possible breakdown):

x4fj.jpg

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As usual, Williams draws on several of music's innate qualities at once to express the emotions of the scene.

I'd be wary of calling emotional qualities of music "innate."

Well, to most filmgoing audiences, the kinds of musical associations Williams draws on are fairly ingrained in Western culture. So, true, they're not innate from a strictly objective point of view, but I would think something like trumpets blaring out major chords the way Williams does here are awfully hard for most Western ears to hear as anything but heroic. Perhaps "cultured associations" would be more to the point, but not nearly as catchy.

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There's a number of powerful harmonic moments here - the first one is the Gm/Bb or iv6 with the word 'coming.' The second is the Ebadd9 or Neapolitan 6th (IIb) with the word 'now.' Later in the bridge for 'sorrow round' we have Dm to Bb, with the melody exploiting the Bb's Lydian 4th (E) as a source of tension, and further on there's that wonderful treatment of 'please' with the longing E-D over the Dm tonic.

Great evocation of a negro spiritual.

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It's my favorite of his concert pieces these days, along with Tree Song.

Anyone know of any writings/analyses/program notes on it, beyond Williams' own brief words? Shame the score isn't available for purchase, not even in reduced piano form like his concerti. Same with Tree Song.

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I need help with some chords. In "Leaving Home" from Superman, starting at 1:30, what voodoo magic is he using? 

Leaving Home

 

Also, could whatever Williams does be said for what Horner does in Field of Dreams. The Place Where Dreams Come True

4:46-5:05

 

I feel like there is a chord or progression that draws me in and I feel like once I figure it out, it would be like the fountain of youth. So far all I can come up with is minor going to major chords but it must be something more. 

 

Thank you for any help.

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Catch Me If You Can has to be the chord masterclass from Williams for me. It's full of so many satisfying little nuggets of chord patterns and shapes.

 

I think my favourite Williams Orchestration choices have come post-2000. Between this and The Terminal, I could spend days listening to a single piece and all its gorgeous orchestration.

 

 

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On 1/18/2017 at 11:13 PM, MovieMorty said:

I need help with some chords. In "Leaving Home" from Superman, starting at 1:30, what voodoo magic is he using? 

Leaving Home

 

Also, could whatever Williams does be said for what Horner does in Field of Dreams. The Place Where Dreams Come True

4:46-5:05

 

I feel like there is a chord or progression that draws me in and I feel like once I figure it out, it would be like the fountain of youth. So far all I can come up with is minor going to major chords but it must be something more. 

 

Thank you for any help.

 

Hi MovieMorty. After listening to the two passages you cite, I think what you might be hearing in both is an unusual progression from a form of the iii chord to the major bVII chord a tritone away. In "Leaving Home", the progression is between 1:47-1:51 and would be analyzed in E major as

 

V7 / vi - bVII    or if thought of more in relation to the home key, more like

III7 - bVII

 

In Horner's "The Place Where Dreams Come True", the progression is between 4:44-4:48 and would be analyzed in G major as:

 

iii - bVII

 

It's funny you seem to be pointing out this progression, because I've long noticed it in a couple of places in Morricone. In "The Carriage of the Spirits", from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it occurs in 1:25-1:33:

 

 

again analyzed as

 

iii - bVII (this time in Bb major)

 

And in "The Man with the Harmonica" from Once Upon a Time in the West, from 1:36-1:48:

 

 

Here, though, it's in a minor key (A minor), and the first chord is diminished rather than major or minor, so it would be analyzed as:

ii7 (no 5th) - bVI

 

This last example has a hauntingly fateful air to it, especially when that bVI chord moves to V in 1:48. The other examples, though, are all in major keys and move to a bVII chord. When combined with the root motion by a tritone, it creates for me (and I suspect for you too) a feeling of transforming something rather negative into something extremely positive, perhaps explaining the profound effect it seems to have.

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4 hours ago, lemoncurd said:

 

at 1:43

The Eb7-chord over A in the bass [or A(b9 b5) ] leading to a perfect D major. That's such a gorgeous extension of the Dominant seventh chord! 

Yes, very good.  The E flat and D flat resolve by step in contrary motion to D so it's a very satisfying resolution. 

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4 hours ago, lemoncurd said:

 

at 1:43

The Eb7-chord over A in the bass [or A(b9 b5) ] leading to a perfect D major. That's such a gorgeous extension of the Dominant seventh chord! 

 

Ah, the "lift off" chord!" In my mind I've always thought of that as Johnny doing a condensed tritone substitution, but instead of bII7 replacing the V7, he combines the two as a slash chord. A two-for-one bargain.

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not necessarily my favourite chord progression, but also often used:
 

I    II / I

 

- Yoda's Theme

- Jurassic Park (adventurous theme)

- can you read my mind

- flying theme from E.T.

 

there must be more for sure... back to the future and "Tonight" from West Side Story, e.g. ;-)

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I don't have a favourite chord or progression, but I quite like this progression from Journey to the Island:

 

 

In particular, I mean 0:44 - 0:47, where Johnny goes E - A - D with the seventh (C) at the bottom, which gives the impression the phrase isn't over and that there's more to come (had Williams simply stuck the tonic D at the bottom, it would be almost like a full stop). He does it again at 0:57. It's a method by which Williams keeps the momentum going.

(By the way, has anyone else noticed the foreshadowing of the Island theme at 1:16? :D

 

16 hours ago, Sharky said:

Ah, the "lift off" chord!" In my mind I've always thought of that as Johnny doing a condensed tritone substitution, but instead of bII7 replacing the V7, he combines the two as a slash chord. A two-for-one bargain.

 

You can also think of it as a French sixth on A, but with an added Bb to preserve that b6/natural 7 interval which Williams is so obsessed with! :lol:

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On 1/22/2017 at 0:33 AM, Ludwig said:

 

Hi MovieMorty. After listening to the two passages you cite, I think what you might be hearing in both is an unusual progression from a form of the iii chord to the major bVII chord a tritone away. In "Leaving Home", the progression is between 1:47-1:51 and would be analyzed in E major as

 

V7 / vi - bVII    or if thought of more in relation to the home key, more like

III7 - bVII

 

In Horner's "The Place Where Dreams Come True", the progression is between 4:44-4:48 and would be analyzed in G major as:

 

iii - bVII

 

It's funny you seem to be pointing out this progression, because I've long noticed it in a couple of places in Morricone. In "The Carriage of the Spirits", from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it occurs in 1:25-1:33:

 

 

again analyzed as

 

iii - bVII (this time in Bb major)

 

And in "The Man with the Harmonica" from Once Upon a Time in the West, from 1:36-1:48:

 

 

Here, though, it's in a minor key (A minor), and the first chord is diminished rather than major or minor, so it would be analyzed as:

ii7 (no 5th) - bVI

 

This last example has a hauntingly fateful air to it, especially when that bVI chord moves to V in 1:48. The other examples, though, are all in major keys and move to a bVII chord. When combined with the root motion by a tritone, it creates for me (and I suspect for you too) a feeling of transforming something rather negative into something extremely positive, perhaps explaining the profound effect it seems to have.

A couple more examples and I'll try to be done. And I thank you for what you've given me thus far. I actually realized before reading your assessment that I do enjoy the bVII chord so it could very well be the piece to the puzzle

 

Schindler's List - I Could Have Done More between 2:22 and 2:28.

 

The American President - Main Titles between 1:24 and 1:26

 

Casper - One Last Wish between 2:47 and 2:50. 

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8 minutes ago, cordax said:

speaking of phantom menace

I really like this progression

https://youtu.be/IcMk3d4M-sU?t=92

sounds like C-Db-Ab-Abmin-B-Ebdim-weird Bb resolution 

Hey @cordax! Welcome a-board!

 

That is an intriguing passage.  Great example of the kind of writing that makes Williams's music what it is.  Both resolution and anticipation there. 

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On 9/6/2018 at 7:12 PM, cordax said:

speaking of phantom menace

I really like this progression

https://youtu.be/IcMk3d4M-sU?t=92

sounds like C-Db-Ab-Abmin-B-Ebdim-weird Bb resolution 

 

That passage is a good example of some of the detail Williams puts into even "throwaway" moments like this one. The melody is a veiled but recognizable variant of Anakin's theme, not only with the opening rising 5th plus a step up (here a half step instead of a larger whole step) but also with the octave drop plus steps up that are part of the second phrase of Anakin's theme.

 

The harmony is also telling. Moving from a C major chord to a Db minor chord is a very disorienting motion called a "Slide" progression, which Lehman in his book, Hollywood Harmony, notes tends to be associated with ambivalence of all kinds in film. This is the scene where Obi-Wan apologizes to Qui-Gon for suggesting that Qui-Gon ought not to have such strong belief in Anakin as the chosen one. So there certainly is some conflict suggested between the two characters, and the music's weird harmonic shifts plays on the darkish uncertainty of Anakin's future. Notice that there's also an augmented triad (where you've marked an Abmin chord), which is a typical musical representation of uncertainty.

 

Williams has such an astonishing command of melody and harmony (and other musical elements too) that even little passages of underscore like this can be rich with meaning and help us "feel" the scene even if we're not actively listening to his score.

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@Loert Great analysis!

 

I think you're spot on that the two "hands" are working independently at the odd chord out in the third measure. Interesting, too, that Williams delays the expected chord tones around that third measure so they collide in their jarring way. Below is what the music would look like had he not used any delaying notes (the repeated notes and chromatic passing tones), and the boxes show the notes that become delayed in the actual cue.

 

Hook_-_Lost_Boys_Ballet_02_normalized.pn

And here's what it would sound like:

https://picosong.com/w2mh4/


The great thing is that the delayed notes don't occur or resolve at the same time, so we're left with this strangely off-balance part of the progression. It's not until we hit beat 2 of that third measure that the music gets back on track to close with a standard ii-V-I cadence.

 

The normalized version above isn't terrible or out of place or anything, but it's certainly not the cheeky ending Williams wrote that captures more of the playfulness of the Lost Boys.

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1 hour ago, SteveMc said:

A very "Williams" sound to be sure.

Indeed, one of the best Williams idioms in my opinion. 

 

His masterful manipulation of chords and key centers is beyond me. 

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