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How highly would you would rank John Williams's Americana writing?


Lewya
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Here are the people I would put above Williams as far as Americana writing in the film world goes: Thomas Newman, Aaron Copland (obviously),Virgil Thomson, Leonard Rosenman (at his best at least), Hugo Friedhofer (at his best, think The Best Years of Our Lives which is a score Newman likes an awful lot by the way), Elmer Bernstein and Leonard Bernstein.

 

Personally I find that it is hard to beat Thomas Newman in this category - it is probably the most individualistic and best Americana that movies have gotten since Copland.

 

I would put Williams above Goldsmith probably though.

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No other living person can do it better than Williams, IMO, although I agree Thomas Newman is up there too. That being said, I've grown a bit weary of it. It seems to be all over his scores now, no matter the topic or geography (even friggin' THE BFG, which is arch-British). I'd rather see him return more to his British/pastoral leanings, of which we got a hint in WAR HORSE. Or something else altogether.

 

By the way, I've never heard any Americana in Rosenman's work. Any particular score you have in mind?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Not that it's not a useful exercise, but how do you account for originality, reinvention, expansion of the genre in something like this, which is defined by having categorized the work of a few composers initially?  For a new work we must then look for how it is similar to the previous works, without giving too much credit for imitation.  That requires defining the style in its true essentials.  We also have to figure out how to compare the value of things on different scales like the emotional immediacy of Newman's work in something like "How To Make An American Quilt" vs. the somewhat more abstract slow-blooming complexities of JW's "Lincoln" for instance.  Come to think of it, what about Randy Newman?  Was his music for 'The Natural' too up front compared to Thomas's accessible subtleties?  But perhaps we are now getting into the differences between what one likes and what one recognizes to be great quality.

 

To illustrate the latter, I'll confess that probably my favorite bit of Americana writing, the thing I wouldn't give up if I could only keep one example of the genre, just because of the feeling of inspiration it gives me, is Goldsmith's gem in the middle of "The Mountain" in Star Trek V.  It's a small thing, rather out of context stylistically from the rest of the score, and I would be the first to admit that on some scales of quality JW's score for Lincoln is a grander project.  But I don't listen to the latter much, just because it doesn't take me somewhere I want to go.

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On 2018-05-23 at 1:09 PM, Thor said:

By the way, I've never heard any Americana in Rosenman's work. Any particular score you have in mind?

I was thinking of East of Eden in particular, it is hard to beat the main title especially as far as Americana in film goes.

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9 hours ago, Steve McQueen said:

For me, only Copland is superior to Williams in Americana writing. 

What do you guys think about Horner, though?  Legends of the Fall just might count. 

 

Mushy John Barry impersonations do not make good americana.

9 hours ago, Stefancos said:

I prefer Goldsmiths.

 

He's got some gems but to be fair, the last 'real' opportunity to write in that style in depth was in the 70's. 

 

Williams is very good but - as usual - reticient at updating his sound once in a while. So pleasant boredom galore.

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Randy Newman is also very good at Americana. I love the quote he gives in the "Montage" group interview, where he first describes Williams' Americana in LINCOLN as 'vanilla', untill a particular piece (the End Credits?) where he realizes Williams is heads and shoulders above everyone else. The sheer sophistication of his writing. Unfortunately, I can't find the video on Youtube anymore.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 6/11/2018 at 2:17 AM, Thor said:

Randy Newman is also very good at Americana. I love the quote he gives in the "Montage" group interview, where he first describes Williams' Americana in LINCOLN as 'vanilla', untill a particular piece (the End Credits?) where he realizes Williams is heads and shoulders above everyone else. The sheer sophistication of his writing. Unfortunately, I can't find the video on Youtube anymore.

 

Right here, Thor

 

The Lincoln quote is at 19 minutes, 38 seconds

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That's those trumpet solos and stuff like in American Journey, right? 

Yeah, my least favorite aspect of John Williams. Sounds awkward and unorganic at times.

 

 

 

 

PS: I don't care how "technically accomplished" it is.

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I like banjo too...especially in the action music of Quigley Down Under!

 

41 minutes ago, Brundlefly said:

Americana writing is usually quite boring in my opinion.

 

Really??? Here is probably the most quintessential Americana concert piece of all time...give it a listen please:

...would you really classify that as boring to you?

 

It’s been hugely influential on countless Americans western scores, and sometimes just used outright in films.

 

I’m having a suspicion that it might just be Williams-meandering-trumpet-line-Americana you find boring, a la Saving Private Ryan (which I gotta admit, I sometimes find boring myself...) rather that Americana as a category of music in general (I can provide many more thrilling examples.)

 

Yavar

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2 hours ago, Yavar Moradi said:

I’m having a suspicion that it might just be Williams-meandering-trumpet-line-Americana you find boring, a la Saving Private Ryan (which I gotta admit, I sometimes find boring myself...) rather that Americana as a category of music in general (I can provide many more thrilling examples.)

Yes. That's the kind of Americana I (should have) referred to.

 

The piece you posted is quite cool. It is the kind of Americana that makes me immediately think of westerns.

 

Regarding Williams: I'm not that much a fan of Saving Private Ryan and Amistad (the Americana parts, I love the Africana parts of Amistad). Lincoln is what I would consider as Americana too, but it somehow feels fresh and different. I love it.

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I find Williams's Americana distinctive to him.  For example, watch this:

In this fascinating video, we get a uniquely vivid picture of Rachmaninoff the man and the composer.  This pianist performed The Rock's Prelude Op. 32, No. 10 in b minor with the composer in attendance.  In this very personal piece, the composer reflects of a home that no longer exists.  He was now living in California but reflecting on the pre Soviet Russia of his youth that no longer existed.  It's a very unique and personal take because the composer knows his homeland is gone and he is now a wanderer.  I hear something similar in Williams with his Americana.  It can't be compared to Copeland who had a very different experience but great composers are able to transcribe their personal feelings and recollections in ways that make the most sense musically.   JW's Americana is a reflection of his thoughts, memories, and feelings of his youth from a particular time that is gone forever but tells us all we need to know to imagine it.

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