Jump to content

John Williams Plagiarizing Himself


Recommended Posts

Now, I'm not accusing him of anything because I haven't heard a vast majority of his scores. But this came up during a conversation with my friends. I was telling them how Hans Zimmer does "steal" from himself a lot (He's a Pirate from Drop Zone, Man Of Steel Them from Pirates ascending 3-chord motif, etc). Now they told me Williams steals from himself a lot because his scores sound so similar (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman).

I know composers do this all the time (I believe a thread on Horner was one before) but are there specific examples where Williams's motifs sound like another? Or anything by williams that sounds familiar to each other.

Time stamps please!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 130
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

Just the tip of the iceberg, @Alex       

I can picture the christening ceremony: Priest: "I christen you John Towner... (turning to John Williams Sr.) Isn't this a tad too much Mr. Williams? John Williams Sr.:"No, I don't think so. Just go

Theft is the highest form of art, engineering, science, math, and every other human endeavor. Theft is how nature itself operates. Our very existence is thanks to DNA plagiarized from two parents. Th

Similarity in tone, orchestration, and sound does not qualify as self-plagiarism. Taking all eleven movies in the series you just mentioned (obviously, they may have mentioned others), there isn't a single instance I can think of that could be called self-plagiarism. Some pieces may have a similar feel and sound, but that's a function of style, something that all artists reflect--writers, painters, sculptors, etc. Artists create their work according to a specific style that evolves as they practice their craft. This is not self-plagiarism.

Some folks have such a limited understanding of musical form that they consider the reuse of a motif as self-plagiarism. This viewpoint doesn't even deserve the privilege of a response.

Now, this isn't to say Williams has never, ever repeated himself in completely separate scores through the course of his career. For instance, the bridge to the main theme from The Cowboys comes through very clearly in the "Leaving Home" motif in Superman. That's not just a motif being reused; the one film has no connection whatsoever to the other.

Williams' range is so astonishing, however, that he's certainly one of the least guilty of modern composers. (Unlike the aforementioned James Horner--who literally pulled an entire section of "The Genesis Countdown" from Star Trek II and used it again, note-for-note, in "The Chase" from Cocoon. Now that man is a certified master of self-plagiarism.)

- Uni

Link to post
Share on other sites

"The Wedding ..." from The Terminal along with "Come Phil" from Heartbeeps. The beginnings of both tracks!



Those Spiders from Harry Potter 2 always reminds me of The Train from Amazing Stories.

Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter 2 sounds like No Ticket, but a little bit different.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Williams did fall in love with the action piece he used in the cue Ludlow's Demise from TLW starting at 3:27 of the cue.

It appears in Qudditch Match from HP:SS @ the 4:00 min mark (COS too), at the begining of Anderton's Great Escape form Minority Report and Grievious and the Droids from ROTS starting around 1:20.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure there is a single composer whose oeuvre is completely free of what we might call self-plagiarism. Horner and Zimmer are definitely the most prolific high-profile examples of this in the film score industry, but Williams occasionally has his moments, too. It's human nature, and it only becomes a problem if it happens blatantly, frequently, and indiscriminately, IMO.

The "Ludlow's Demise" motif is definitely a good example. Off the top of my head, I would also cite these:

* Indy pulling himself out of the chasm near the beginning of Raiders VS a few passages in the Battle of Yavin

* E.T.'s ship taking off without him VS leaving Tatooine in ROTJ

Then there's COS, which is just full of material lifted from other Williams scores. I mean, obviously a lot of it is from the first film, which is rather different, but then there are passages from AOTC, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and so forth. I generally count this score as being in a category all its own, since there were extraordinary limitations on the creative process, and it stands in such stark contrast to how Williams' scores (even sequel scores) generally turn out.

Generally, what's MUCH more common in Williams scores is stylistic trends. The man certainly has a "sound", and it's possible for listeners to mistake that for self-plagiarism even if the actual similarities between the passages are pretty limited.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I really wouldn't use plagerism either because he does alter them as opposed to Horner who just barges in note for note with very little attempt to change the music.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A few that come to mind:

- Intersection Scene from WotW and "Hidden Treasures and the City of Gold" from KotCS

- American Journey is full of stuff from Far and Away, The Patriot and Saving Private Ryan

- The Conspirators from JFK and "Dennis Steals the Embryo" from Jurassic Park

- the percussion section of "Spyders" and "Chase Through Coruscant"

- a section of "Catch Me If You Can" and "Across the stars" from AtoC

- a motif from War Horse is similar to Window to the Past and a motif rom Dance of the Witches

Link to post
Share on other sites

Williams has written so much music, how is it not possible to repeat a little? I still think it its quite rare for williams to do that, but the "flight to never land" from hook and "across the stars" are strikingly similar. Otherwise, he has a lot of repeating "sounds" but thats just style.

The melody perhaps, but they don't sound the same.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Obviously, every single artist (in any field) develops a language in which they communicate their ideas and over age, as it becomes more and more firm, these ideas tend to stick around even more. It happens a lot in literature, certainly in painting. And yet it is music that seems to bother people for some strange reason. Williams does it, unintentionally or not, as much as any other composer (some are more extreme). I can hear countless different connections between his works (and the works of others as well), but I like to think of it in terms of language. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just how human brain works, really.

Karol

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some folks have such a limited understanding of musical form that they consider the reuse of a motif as self-plagiarism. This viewpoint doesn't even deserve the privilege of a response.

That's a very condescending viewpoint. I have a very limited understanding of music theory, but when Horner lifts the Braveheart love theme and uses it note for note somewhere else, that's self plagiarism.

That's debatable of course, but not deserving any sort of a response? That's a bit rude really.

The Intersection Scene/City of Gold is something I'd consider plagiarism - there's hardly any difference between them.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Out of curiosity where did Horner reuse his love theme from Braveheart? I can't recall any score.

Karol

Wasn't it used in Bicentennial Man?

Undoubtedly there are moments of self-reference in Williams' work as there is in any artist's work. It is very difficult to pinpoint the reasons for it though as there can be numerous factors in why a composer repeats something he has done before. Temp tracks, hectic work schedule with multiple scores that might even have similar subject matter, some connection in the composer's mind with similar concepts, a favourite musical device or idea that keeps popping up in the composer's writing just because he likes it etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Intersection Scene/City of Gold is something I'd consider plagiarism - there's hardly any difference between them.

Indeed that one is VERY obvious. But as Datameister said: "he obviously takes the passage in different directions".

I wonder if Williams just had the inspiration to take his music from War of the Worlds and do something different for it and figured this was as good a place as any to do it.

Of course KotCS contained further plagiarizing, consisting of the "Escape from Peru" version of the Raiders March being used TWICE,

the action music from "Ah, Rats!!!" showing up in "Warehouse Escape" and the Grail/Henry's Theme being copied almost the same from Last Crusade as well.

And "The Spell of the Skull" reusing music from Raiders of the Lost Ark too. In fact, WHY is there so much reused music in this score???

To be fair, some of them are quite nice variations, but it is a LOT more than any of the other Indiana Jones scores.

Temple of Doom and Last Crusade only had the "Basket Game" and "Ark" themes quoted very shortly as a deliberate joke and those were quite different from their original versions.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Intersection Scene/City of Gold is something I'd consider plagiarism - there's hardly any difference between them.

Indeed that one is VERY obvious. But as Datameister said: "he obviously takes the passage in different directions".

I wonder if Williams just had the inspiration to take his music from War of the Worlds and do something different for it and figured this was as good a place as any to do it.

Of course KotCS contained further plagiarizing, consisting of the "Escape from Peru" version of the Raiders March being used TWICE,

the action music from "Ah, Rats!!!" showing up in "Warehouse Escape" and the Grail/Henry's Theme being copied almost the same from Last Crusade as well.

And "The Spell of the Skull" reusing music from Raiders of the Lost Ark too. In fact, WHY is there so much reused music in this score???

To be fair, some of them are quite nice variations, but it is a LOT more than any of the other Indiana Jones scores.

Temple of Doom and Last Crusade only had the "Basket Game" and "Ark" themes quoted very shortly as a deliberate joke and those were quite different from their original versions.

To be fair re-using older themes in a new sequel is not a big surprise, perhaps more the very similar (near note-for-note) variations that Williams and Spielberg chose to use. But I guess it was an urgent need to tie the film to the Indy saga born perhaps from insecurity that the nostalgia of the character alone would not suffice and that the music would have to do some very obvious nods to the past films.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some folks have such a limited understanding of musical form that they consider the reuse of a motif as self-plagiarism. This viewpoint doesn't even deserve the privilege of a response.

That's a very condescending viewpoint. I have a very limited understanding of music theory, but when Horner lifts the Braveheart love theme and uses it note for note somewhere else, that's self plagiarism.

No. You misunderstand. I'm not saying that if you have a limited understanding of music theory, you're not qualified to spot self-plagiarism. That would be a very condescending viewpoint. Most people on this board don't have formal music education—myself included! You don't have to have a degree from Juliard to know when two pieces sound the same, or are exactly alike.

I'm talking about people who know neither music theory nor film music, to the point that they can't grasp the common use of leitmotif. People who would say that the appearance of Yoda's theme during the Halloween scene in E.T. is an example of self-plagiarism, as though Williams couldn't come up with anything more original on the spot. They miss the point of the technique entirely. (And yes, I've actually met folks like this. One thought the obvious reuse of Darth Vader's theme in Return of the Jedi was entirely due to Williams being incapable of rendering a new theme for the villain . . . as though he should've retired the Imperial March after Empire.)

- Uni

Link to post
Share on other sites

In addition to the other things mentioned already, there are also many people out there in the world of music - typically musical academics - who have an underlying lack of respect for Williams and his colleagues, simply because they are considered film composers. That's not a finger point at musical academics in general (I am one myself), but at a small "faction" who seem to do nothing but criticize anything that is enjoyed by mass audiences.

I've had several run-ins with these people throughout my career (especially during degree work), and their argument always seems to stop at just saying "John Williams is such a plagiarist." It doesn't go much further. They may be able to spot a few places where things DO sound similar, or even places where it's obvious that the temp-track was a huge influence on the director's wishes ("Star Wars" bits, "Face of Pan," etc), but it's obvious they are totally ignorant of the enormous amount of music written by the guy over the last 60 years. Play them an excerpt from the Flute Concerto, and they'll have no idea it's Williams. Why? Because they are making a blanket statement without having all the facts necessary for the statement.

Also, these people are often just repeating something they've heard someone else say, because they feel it makes them sound educated. They haven't spent time and effort examining Williams' entire oeuvre, they just know a few isolated spots, and in order to make themselves feel important, they criticize someone else's work. It's a lazy way to build your own ego, but musicians are often the worst when it comes to petty trash-talking.

The other aspect (mentioned already) is that sometimes these critics are educated enough (whether formally or just because they love music), but they aren't educated enough to know that what they are hearing isn't actual plagiarism, it's musical style. When Bernstein's Mass premiered, it was highly criticized for (among other things) sounding too much like everything else he'd written - especially West Side Story. Now, it's considered a masterpiece, although it still generates controversy for completely different reasons. On the same note, nobody ever criticized Beethoven for sounding like Beethoven, or Mahler for sounding like Mahler. I'm not comparing Williams to any other composer, but the fact is that every composer in history had his/her own bag of compositional "tricks," which they would dip into frequently. This board is FULL of examples of Williams' tricks. Want to see the ones J.S. Bach used? Open any music theory textbook written since 1750.

And yeah, Bach sounds like Bach too...the lousy plagiarist! :lol:

Link to post
Share on other sites
To be fair re-using older themes in a new sequel is not a big surprise, perhaps more the very similar (near note-for-note) variations that Williams and Spielberg chose to use.

I'm not referring to the reuse of themes; that is perfectly fine, of course. But reusing almost the exact same version of it is a different story.

Just like Clash of the Lightsabers appearing in Revenge of the Sith. And that isn't even a theme.

But I guess it was an urgent need to tie the film to the Indy saga born perhaps from insecurity that the nostalgia of the character alone would not suffice and that the music would have to do some very obvious nods to the past films.

Sounds like a fair enough explanation. Unfortunate, but believable. I dare say Spielberg knew he didn't have another classic on his hands with Indy IV.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some folks have such a limited understanding of musical form that they consider the reuse of a motif as self-plagiarism. This viewpoint doesn't even deserve the privilege of a response.

That's a very condescending viewpoint. I have a very limited understanding of music theory, but when Horner lifts the Braveheart love theme and uses it note for note somewhere else, that's self plagiarism.

No. You misunderstand. I'm not saying that if you have a limited understanding of music theory, you're not qualified to spot self-plagiarism. That would be a very condescending viewpoint. Most people on this board don't have formal music education—myself included! You don't have to have a degree from Juliard to know when two pieces sound the same, or are exactly alike.

I'm talking about people who know neither music theory nor film music, to the point that they can't grasp the common use of leitmotif. People who would say that the appearance of Yoda's theme during the Halloween scene in E.T. is an example of self-plagiarism, as though Williams couldn't come up with anything more original on the spot. They miss the point of the technique entirely. (And yes, I've actually met folks like this. One thought the obvious reuse of Darth Vader's theme in Return of the Jedi was entirely due to Williams being incapable of rendering a new theme for the villain . . . as though he should've retired the Imperial March after Empire.)

- Uni

Ah, ok yes I completely misunderstood you.

And yeah, I've read comments from people who didn't understand the idea of themes reused in a franchise. I'd say they simply need to be educated.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh I remember when I had to explain to my class mates "Why are they playing that same thing (a theme) again?" on the Jurassic Park album. They had no idea what a theme was in musical story telling sense and since they mostly listened to heavy metal such things simply had not occured to them in music.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some folks have such a limited understanding of musical form that they consider the reuse of a motif as self-plagiarism. This viewpoint doesn't even deserve the privilege of a response.

That's a very condescending viewpoint. I have a very limited understanding of music theory, but when Horner lifts the Braveheart love theme and uses it note for note somewhere else, that's self plagiarism.

No. You misunderstand. I'm not saying that if you have a limited understanding of music theory, you're not qualified to spot self-plagiarism. That would be a very condescending viewpoint. Most people on this board don't have formal music education—myself included! You don't have to have a degree from Juliard to know when two pieces sound the same, or are exactly alike.

I'm talking about people who know neither music theory nor film music, to the point that they can't grasp the common use of leitmotif. People who would say that the appearance of Yoda's theme during the Halloween scene in E.T. is an example of self-plagiarism, as though Williams couldn't come up with anything more original on the spot. They miss the point of the technique entirely. (And yes, I've actually met folks like this. One thought the obvious reuse of Darth Vader's theme in Return of the Jedi was entirely due to Williams being incapable of rendering a new theme for the villain . . . as though he should've retired the Imperial March after Empire.)

- Uni

Ah, ok yes I completely misunderstood you.

And yeah, I've read comments from people who didn't understand the idea of themes reused in a franchise. I'd say they simply need to be educated.

I'd say they simply need to be executed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If I remember correctly both Seven Years in Tibet and Angela's Ashes contain a brief quote from the Cello Concerto. Hardly a surprise nor anything new though. E.g. good ol' Korngold and Rózsa were constantly using material from their respective concert works in film compositions and vice versa during their careers.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Williams does it subconsciously. I guess you could say that:

Witches of Eastwick, Hook, Harry Potter and the love theme from AOTC have similar intervals & /many triplets.

Or the Battle of the heroes theme is a cousin of one of the themes in Amistad.

But it is JW writing the music. I think there are only 12 notes to choose from and if you want to write a tune with some memorability you usually have to tread on ground thats been written before - at least in part. When I listen I try and find the meaning the composer is trying to convey and most of them are different.

To me, across the stars doesn't sound like Hook!

When people say superman theme sounds like star wars I what they are hearing is the melodic contour both start on tripets (GGG) and both reach a top . So I guess technically there is some similarity although Superman is a march.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

Out of curiosity where did Horner reuse his love theme from Braveheart? I can't recall any score.

Karol

Wasn't it used in Bicentennial Man?

Undoubtedly there are moments of self-reference in Williams' work as there is in any artist's work. It is very difficult to pinpoint the reasons for it though as there can be numerous factors in why a composer repeats something he has done before. Temp tracks, hectic work schedule with multiple scores that might even have similar subject matter, some connection in the composer's mind with similar concepts, a favourite musical device or idea that keeps popping up in the composer's writing just because he likes it etc.

Listen to Bicentennial Man, then listen to A Beautiful Mind. Strikingly similar.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Both those have their roots in Sneakers I think. Like so many other post 92 Horner score.

Yup. I just recently heard Sneakers for the first time and was just amazed how much of his later works have their origins in there.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think Williams every really plagiarised himself.

On occasion he's written cues that sound similar (No Ticket, Gilderoy Lockheart), but usually both cues have their own merits and I wouldn't reject one over the other

It's not like Horner where it's note for note copy from score to score

Link to post
Share on other sites

well, it's a special case

Or similar to the re-use of previous music in RotS and KotCS (to a lesser degree)

It's more like "intend use of the exact same music"

Horner's plagiarism involves cues that have no connections

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's just not really an issue with JW. There are cases like HOOK where it's damn close but that should be a more generalized criticism of using a road well-travelled again and again and again.

His 1995 - 1999 output for me always was proof that he was fed up with his old style to some degree.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...