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John Williams Darker Moments


tedfud

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Hi

i'm trying to get my head around the organisation behind JW's darker underscores. Not the stuff that is more obviously tonal...like the map room ...but more the sort of music he writes for the beginning of the film "in the jungle" for instance. Is this serialism ? does he use that technique ?

all the best

Tedfud

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That's more like regular dissonance with a touch of impressionism. Schönberg, Boulez and Stockhausen have employed it. Williams very rarely dips into this kind of stuff (serialism doesn't mean some dissonant bars), your best bet filmmusic-wise is something like Rosenman's FANTASTIC VOYAGE or Goldsmith's PLANET OF THE APES.

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have a listen to his flute concerto. although, i would say the style of the piece is much more in the "contemporary" music vain, the rest of this kind of music i would really classify in the same genre of the last viennese school, meaning schoenberg, berg and webern. In the piece your asking about, i often hear a lot of bartok in this style, as well as stravinsky. very hard to classify it as exactly something because its more of a mixing of many things.

In regards so serialism, John writes music " without a key" meaning ( incases like these) that he can basically modulate or do anything he wants willy nilly without having to respect any of the traditional rules of harmony.

To save time, i might suggest this video.





keep in mind, the video is really referring to the work of these three composers, but the explanation is the foundation of this style of music. So i cannot speak for John, but im pretty sure he does not plan out his works (at least for film) in the way, as the most famous works by Boulez and Stockhausen are not either. So to conclude i guess, the piece you are asking about would not be classified under serialism.


I think the best example of serialism would be to listen to this.


I would say thats the best example ( being of course written by the creator of this style)
I'm not sure if its under copyright, but have a look at the score too. A fascinating piece.
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And not unlistenable.

It's what you'd call sonorist, in the vein of Toru Takemitsu's concert works from the 60s.

BTW, FANTASTIC VOYAGE isn't serial. Try Rosenman's earlier THE COBWEB, Benjamin Frankel's THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, Jerry Goldsmith's FREUD, Paul Glass's LADY IN A CAGE, Johnny Mandel's POINT BLANK, or David Shire's THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE.

Williams's darker film music is best described as either free atonality, sonorism (the more textural, aleatoric writing) or a kind of clustral polytonality.

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thank you for all the replies

My father who was a composer begged me to take off "fantastic voyage" when i was playing it in the car once. He thought it sounded fake !...i quite like it but there you go.

I don't really like serialism . Although i like BERG....so maybe there's hope for me .

I have been studying a variety of William's cues to get a handle on how he approaches particular moods. I've learned a lot from the action music cues, and the more impressionistic stuff like Hook and bit's of Potter. So now i'm moving toward the darker stuff. I played a friend the opening of raiders . "in the Jungle and the idol " and he suggested serialism as a compositional tool. But looking at the score a really can't spot anything that looks like a row. It's just trying to see the organisation that i can definitely hear. It's obvious that he has an enormous understanding off so many different ways of writing music. And my favourite scores have this in abundance Close Encounters with it's sonic mashup of Ligeti and Debussy being a particular favourite. Thanks to suggestions here, I managed to crack the action cues. Simultaneous use of particular scales . Chords built from those scales...mixed in with his old fav's of parallelism and polytonality. Are these the same devices used in the darker stuff?

many thanks

T

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My father who was a composer begged me to take off "fantastic voyage" when i was playing it in the car once. He thought it sounded fake !...i quite like it but there you go.

Fake? Fake what?

Simultaneous use of particular scales . Chords built from those scales...mixed in with his old fav's of parallelism and polytonality. Are these the same devices used in the darker stuff?

Generally, yes.

One of my favourite 'dark' Williams cues. Lowest octave of the piano with pedal down, bass drum pulse, swiped gongs, dense string clusters, muted trombones/horns, string portamenti, high polytonal rolled chords on the piano/celeste etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UBN5JSAbI4

Would love to interview Williams about this material, while he's still with us.

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i think fake as in there was no order to it...random...

TBH he wasn't at his best by then ...well into Alzheimer's . But I have had quite a lot of people i like slam that score. I love it....especially in the movie the way there is no music until they are in the body...then when the come out it all goes tonal.....simple trick but very effective . I remember now it was the first four notes . C,D,B and B flat an Octave above that really reminded me of something of Dad's ...that's why i played it to him.

That BLACK SUNDAY cue is terrific. Very seventies...reminds me a lot of Micheal Small....so underrated .

T


Gah, I've been wanting to do a complete analysis of "In the Jungle" for this very reason. I don't think there's really any serialism going on here, though.

oh please

T

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Hi

i'm trying to get my head around the organisation behind JW's darker underscores. Not the stuff that is more obviously tonal...like the map room ...but more the sort of music he writes for the beginning of the film "in the jungle" for instance. Is this serialism ? does he use that technique ?

all the best

Tedfud

Generally, there seems to be several ways he writes these cues. One is by adding semitonal dissonances to a triadic structure. Like in "You Bred Raptors" from JP, he has an Eb minor chord up on top, but beneath it a whole tone G-A. It seems to me this cue is a combination of tone clusters and tonal chords either used singly (like the Eb minor chord) or with "split" thirds, so G-Bb-B-D as a G major/minor chord, or even in combination like a D major/minor chord combined with its dominant, an A7 chord, in the same arpeggio. Another way is through the use of tone clusters, which also happens in this same short cue.

This is a great topic that is really quite understudied, so I hope we might use this thread as a repository of observations on these kinds of cues.

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Hi Ludwig

Nice to see you...hope all is good. Do you think then that he uses dissonance's as a flavour on top of tonal writing ...more where required ? rather than having a deliberately different approach to it's construction.

this is a very misunderstood topic as it seems ( certainly by some of the sample libraries that I own ) to be to a lot of people just mash some fingers on the keys down there....mash a few up there....stroke a cymbal......nasty trombone slides....and we are good to go !

to my ears some of the best and most intricate writing seems to happen in these bit's I'd love to know what techniques are behind it.

T

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Yeah, I'd agree with Ludwig's excellent analysis. A lot of the time, Williams' more atonal writing does have certain tonal leanings at its heart, which allows him to hint at more conventional chord progressions and so forth, while still maintaining that dark and eerie strangeness.

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Hi Ludwig

Nice to see you...hope all is good. Do you think then that he uses dissonance's as a flavour on top of tonal writing ...more where required ? rather than having a deliberately different approach to it's construction.

this is a very misunderstood topic as it seems ( certainly by some of the sample libraries that I own ) to be to a lot of people just mash some fingers on the keys down there....mash a few up there....stroke a cymbal......nasty trombone slides....and we are good to go !

to my ears some of the best and most intricate writing seems to happen in these bit's I'd love to know what techniques are behind it.

T

Study the rite of spring. Actually, Bernstein explains it in one of his harvard lectures. Only trouble is i can't remember which one exactly.......

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As another example of JW's tense moments and harmonic skills, I've been struggling to understand this scene from War of the Worlds in its cluster dissonance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icIL46zkLpI

It is at the loud brass chords from 1:47 to 2:04. I haven't seen the film in 10 or so years but remember feeling the sense of emotion palpable mostly from the music.

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Listen to Piano concert for wind ensemble by stravinsky. unfortunately, its copyrighted so i dont think you can get the score anyplace online. The opening bars are all you need though. Just a bunch of seventh chords with the seventh on the bottom ( is a very basic description)


War of the Worlds is an unbelievable score. I think the orchestration is " out of this world" not to throw clichés around. I would love to see the score, maybe one day he will come to his senses and publish them all!

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I think to really see (or should I say, hear) the dark side of John Williams, you should dive in his concert works.

But one of JW's darkest score is probably The Fury. After listening it you're inevitably filled with deep emotions.

There is also Munich.

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As another example of JW's tense moments and harmonic skills, I've been struggling to understand this scene from War of the Worlds in its cluster dissonance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icIL46zkLpI

It is at the loud brass chords from 1:47 to 2:04. I haven't seen the film in 10 or so years but remember feeling the sense of emotion palpable mostly from the music.

Without being able to study the score, I would say that that passage is actually less cluster-based than you may think. These chords seem to be based around relatively simple minor (and, in some cases, major!) triads, but there are added semitone dissonances and so forth in just the right spots, especially around the roots or the fifths of the chords. To me, this is just another great example of Williams taking fairly simple harmonic constructs and turning them into something new by combining them and dressing them up in unusual ways.

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war of the worlds is a fantastic score. The "intersection scene " is amazing. I think it reappeared almost note for note in Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Odd recording too...timps paned left and right...wild.

i'm very familiar with the rite of spring . The opening of the second movement is close to what i mean ( it ended up on tatooine ! ) but it's not the same. Stravinsky has a neat trick of harmonising very diatonic folk melodies with dissonances ....but i'm after the trick of writing music that doesn't feel tuneful...nor atonal. There's a blurring to the tonal centre . But there is also clear sense of form ...not a load of "scary music " cliches ....does that make sense ?

t


As another example of JW's tense moments and harmonic skills, I've been struggling to understand this scene from War of the Worlds in its cluster dissonance:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icIL46zkLpI

It is at the loud brass chords from 1:47 to 2:04. I haven't seen the film in 10 or so years but remember feeling the sense of emotion palpable mostly from the music.


To me, this is just another great example of Williams taking fairly simple harmonic constructs and turning them into something new by combining them and dressing them up in unusual ways.

yup....maybe it's that simple and i'm just over thinking it.......

t

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war of the worlds is a fantastic score. The "intersection scene " is amazing. I think it reappeared almost note for note in Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Odd recording too...timps paned left and right...wild.

i'm very familiar with the rite of spring . The opening of the second movement is close to what i mean ( it ended up on tatooine ! ) but it's not the same. Stravinsky has a neat trick of harmonising very diatonic folk melodies with dissonances ....but i'm after the trick of writing music that doesn't feel tuneful...nor atonal. There's a blurring to the tonal centre . But there is also clear sense of form ...not a load of "scary music " cliches ....does that make sense ?

t

As another example of JW's tense moments and harmonic skills, I've been struggling to understand this scene from War of the Worlds in its cluster dissonance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icIL46zkLpI

It is at the loud brass chords from 1:47 to 2:04. I haven't seen the film in 10 or so years but remember feeling the sense of emotion palpable mostly from the music.

To me, this is just another great example of Williams taking fairly simple harmonic constructs and turning them into something new by combining them and dressing them up in unusual ways.

yup....maybe it's that simple and i'm just over thinking it.......

t

it's quite long, but if you really want a COMPLETE answer to your question, its there.

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oh i have those.....totally brilliant . im up to debussy. One of the worlds greatest teachers that man. But to be honest that's a little to all encompassing. I need details !!

t

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I forgot which parts are in which lectures, but there comes a point ( i think in the same lecture as the debussy) that he breaks down the harmonies in rite of spring, plays them and has visuals. It would probobly easier to watch it on there than explain through here

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I know exactly where you're coming from, tedfud. I've studied my copy of the Boosey & Hawks study score for The Rite like crazy since 17, but it hasn't provided all the answers. No single work can.

That said, Charles Ivee us a better starting point for Williams, since his approach to dissonances is very much in the American tradition. The most influential American composer on Williams other than North and Herrmann, would be Roger Sessions. Remember that name.

Sorry for being so brief. Posting from my iPhone.

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Well, I'm only going by what I hear (and sometimes see) in John's music.

Another influence I detect in Williams's more dissonant writing is Henry Mancini. Hank had a very similar approach to clusters and polytonality (especially from the early 60s onwards), and wouldn't be surprised if carried over to John through osmosis, while he was working as a studio pianist.

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I can't really add anything relevant to this topic (I'm sadly ignorant on these matters), but my favorite track from Raiders has always been The Well of the Souls. I just find it endlessly fascinanting. I seem to remember in some documentary JW mentioning Bartok as an influence on this piece

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Another subject that makes me long for the day when there will be widespread scholarly activity focusing on film music and its makers.

Film music is still a small field, especially in music theory. But I am actively involved in trying to change that and also to encourage more scholarship on JW. Hopefully we'll see more in this coming year.

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Mancini was amazing. He was so versatile. Truly summing up the character of Clouseau . But he did do dark very well. I'm intrigued by the idea that JW learned his appreciation of the dark side whilst playing piano on mancini recordings." Wait Until Dark" is a wonderful score. Just the idea of having two pianos ....a quarter tone and twenty feet apart. everything played on the first piano echoed on the second. Talk about mood setting. Deliciously creepy !!

t

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Another subject that makes me long for the day when there will be widespread scholarly activity focusing on film music and its makers.

Amen

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i think fake as in there was no order to it...random...

TBH he wasn't at his best by then ...well into Alzheimer's . But I have had quite a lot of people i like slam that score. I love it....especially in the movie the way there is no music until they are in the body...then when the come out it all goes tonal.....simple trick but very effective . I remember now it was the first four notes . C,D,B and B flat an Octave above that really reminded me of something of Dad's ...that's why i played it to him.

I love FANTASTIC VOYAGE too - probably my favourite Rosenman. Brilliant use of klangfarben.

If you'd like to hear similar concert works that influenced it (and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES), I recommend the early works of Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono, along with Robert Garhard's 60s pieces.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-N8nRask3Y

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I'm still working on my complete analysis of "In the Jungle" - it's gonna take a while - but I just wanted to say that so far, this has reinforced my belief that this is not serialism. Much of the music is built dissonantly around minor chords that move chromatically downward.

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I think he means "The Cave", the cue that "In the Jungle" segues into. I absolutely ADORE that cue, and I've been thinking about how much I want to analyze it, too. I don't know whether I'll switch gears back to Jurassic Park after "In the Jungle", but I definitely want to do "The Cave" at some point - even though it's quite hard to read.

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That's one of the titles it's used on the various soundtrack releases, but the original cue title is "The Cave." :) And yeah, when it comes to Williams in creepy suspense mode, this is about as good as it gets.

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no bother....all the originals are transposed scores right ?

also why is the piccolo always below the flute...that's not standard is it ?

t

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The originals are transposed, yep, not in concert pitch.

The piccolo's placement on the page is just a function of which flute part (or parts) are written to double it. In the concert world, I think it is indeed more standard to have piccolo at the top, but Williams often uses the 2nd and/or 3rd flute parts for piccolo. I'm not sure why this is - probably has something to do with studio musician conventions of some sort.

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Just had a look through that cue. It's nowhere near as indecipherable as I remembered it being. The only bit I had difficulty with was the cluster glissando at bars 11-14 (0:51-58). I can make out most of the pitches, but some of the accidentals are hard to read.

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It's definitely not impossible, though it's far from ideal. (I'm sad to say I don't read sheet music very quickly even when it's professionally engraved, so this is definitely a challenge for me, haha.)

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