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Recurring intervalic shape in Williams's themes and tonal underscore


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I've been thinking about this for a while and it hasn't been easy trying to articulate it.

It's a footprint of Williams that hasn't been exploited much by those who pastiche his sound (Mike Verta, Joel McNeely, Mark Grisey etc.). Don Davis and Giacchino have probably come the closest in their JP scores.

Basically it's melodies that outline a minor 6/9 chord, either through passing tones, appoggiaturas or actual chord tones. It's often associated with either military/government themes, or pensive underscore.

A prominent but early example is the main fanfaric idea from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.


I'm talking about the F-G-Ab-D-C line.

Another occurrence is in the Government Theme from CE3K.

0:28. Together with the contrapuntal, quasi-imitative bassline, a similar thing occurs.

A few more examples.

0:35 - The low horn line framed by the 1st inversion F minor triad below and a C major triad above.

1:19 - Projected vertically as a rootless m6/9 in the strings



7:31 - We have both a subdominant minor 6th plus a tonic minor 6th (Bbm--although at this point it should probably be thought of as the subdominant of the dominant--F--since it resolves to half cadence on C)

7:50 - A pyramid-like growth around Bbm on an F bass, emphases the the ninth and major sixth

8:29 - Variation on the theme from the arrival at the visitor centre--the fifth, tonic and ninth are sustained above.

1:02 and 1:19


2:22 and 2:31

I haven't been able to find it in much concert music, but one piece that stands out is Toru Takemitsu's Litany.

You'll also hear pre-echoes of PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Anyone know what I'm getting at? I know I'm not being a clear as I normally with this kind of subject matter, but it's such a vague thing.

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My point is, "isn't it bloody awesome?"

Though I'm really asking questions, not making any kind of point.

A) How would one better describe this?

B) Are there any other examples in the broader concert repertoire or Williams's own canon?

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Jerry Goldsmith uses a similar idea in Nicaragua! ;)

Nope. Sorry amigo.

Here's another one, 0:00-14, 1:54-2:07 and 2:18-27.

I think my point wasn't clear!

You're pattern hunting in someone else's music. You're gonna start seeing things that aren't necessarily related but seem related.

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It seems to me that a few different ideas are being conflated here and it's worth separating them out to understand them better.

I realise that. I should have focused the opening post on passing dissonances, since that's what I had in mind when I thought of making the thread. After that it sort of snowballed. Apologies for not being clearer.

In Peter Burt's book The Music of Toru Takemitsu he mentions the opening right hand piano line being derived from the Japanese In scale--one of the pentatonic scales.


This happens to be the same collection that Williams tends to rely upon as passing tones in melodic figures over minor harmonies. Now, I'm not suggesting Williams has actually studied Japanese folk music to any great degree, and is incorporated these scales into his own language. No. It's just that by chance, he's working with a similar collection of pitches, probably because it sounds good to his ears.

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This thread so far is getting to be a bit like observing bikes and going "this bike here has wheels with spokes on it! And so does this bike!"

"Now I'm not saying that this bike maker studied the other bike maker's bike. But it's obvious that he thought it was sensible to make a bike wheel with spokes."

I'm still hopeful something profound will emerge!

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Blume is not as dissimilar from the English twit as he would like to believe.

Anyway, seems obvious to me that you're on to something and not at all reaching. Like how a person has habits of speech, composers have these little habits too.

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Sorry. I was a bit of a dick, Sharky.

Anyways, I think this "habit" of John's simply results from the fact that he is writing film music for a Western pop audience. The melancholic nature it imparts to the underscore keeps the tension interesting and grounded in easily digestible drama.

It'd also explain why you don't hear it as frequently in concert music.

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To me it just sounds like Debussy


very nice and atmospheric :post-20830-0-81160500-1434380099.png

( ruff )

But as it is so prevalent in impressionistic music, to me it doesn't scream williams. Which is maybe why the composers you mention, might not use it much. Preferring to stay focused on the Jazz, Americana, and other titbits Johnny has on his table.....


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  • 3 weeks later...

I haven't been able to find it in much concert music, but one piece that stands out is Toru Takemitsu's Litany.

I don't mean to derail the thread, but I've heard the first 15 or so seconds of that piece quoted almost verbatim somewhere in film music on, if I'm remembering correctly, a bass clarinet, but I can't for the life of me figure out where I heard it. Any help on that?

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