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John Williams' Inspirations


cordax
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Does anyone know of any composers that Williams studied or took heavy inspiration from? I know so far Stravinsky, Wagner, Howard Hanson, and probably Copland, but a lot of JW's stuff has this specific "classic" film music style that I'm having trouble pinpointing the origins of.

With exceptions to his scores that took obvious inspiration due to the film's temp music or whatnot.

 

unsure if this topic has been made before

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Definitely Stravinsky and Prokofiev, also Elgar, Walton, Bernstein, Tchaikovsky to name few others. I guess he knows the major classical composers very well and uses styles and techniques that seem appropriate to him. 

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He's mentioned Peter Maxwell Davies on a few occasions, although I'm too unfamiliar with the composer to draw any comparisons myself.

 

Williams has always had a heavy Ralph Vaughan Williams vibe for certain kinds of tracks, IMO.

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For the classic "film  music" style in Williams' writing, definitely Korngold and Herrmann were influences.

 

I also, though, hear a good deal of the spirit of Beethoven, the depth of Bach, and sometimes the economy of Haydn in his music, really giving it a distinct flavor.

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It depends what you listen to. Korngold of course (you can hear a bit of the starwars theme in the opening titles of a Korngold film, I can't remember which, a Shakespeare one I think), and there's another piece he wrote which sounds like like Herrman.

Bartok (his Essay for Strings, but generally speaking I think the 3rd movement of Bartok's "Music for Strings, Perc. & Cel., generally influenced every composer since written- maybe easiest to hear that influence in Close Encounters) and Stravinsky (in same cases the way he harmonizes and on several occasions there are nods to the Rite of Springs, on purpose in the first Star Wars, but then again when the aliens first arrive in War of the Worlds).

I think he draws a lot on composers of his own age group. I hear a lot of Pendereki in his music, as well as Dutilleux (his Tree Song sounds like Dutilleux's "L'Arbre des Songes - in english the tree of dreams), and I know he was quite friendly with Takemitsu (who's similarly in the style of Dutilleux). His first violin concert is reminiscent of Berg's (but in my opinion John's is much better).

Certainly hear a lot of Elgar in his more pastoral music, but I know also he's a big fan of Gershwin, which maybe generally contributes to his wonderful melodies (he and Korngold). A lot of his wonderful harmonies has Jazz influences, he's said before he's a big fan of Claude Thornhill (and a lot of others which can be seen in Conversations).

I think many times though he's influenced by a piece he heard someplace or some idea that came into his head. His "Duo Concertante"was inspired by the "Three Madrigals"by Martinu which he heard at Tanglewood, and the Concerto for Oboe, for example the last movement he wrote in the preface that it's "Haydn meets Rachmaninov".

Also a movie like "Images"was probable influenced by Boulez (Eclat) and Stockhausen (Gruppen, and Kontakte), but not sure he doesn't usually go that far in that direction. He also seems to be really interested in Japanese music, specifically shakuhachi which can be heard all over the place (maybe a general interest or something that came from Takemitsu)

 

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@cordax you should read this interview: http://www.musicweb-international.com/film/lacejw.htm

 

Especially this section:

Quote

When asked to identify the film and concert composers who had influenced his work, Williams answered: "There are so many. In the film world, I would have to mention again Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann but also Korngold - the great Viennese composer who went to Hollywood in the early years - he was a great hero of mine and Franz Waxman - and many, many others. In the concert field, there were, again, so many. I have to mention William Walton, a great favourite of mine - I admire his film and concert music. Walton was held in very high esteem in Hollywood. I like Elgar too, and all the Russian composers. The twentieth century Russians: Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev - all were great idols of mine as a youngster."

 

Williams has also stated that his favourite composer is Haydn, though I can't remember where. He was certainly channelling Haydn when writing his music for the Ewoks:

 

 

And I also seem to remember him saying that his favourite piece of music is Elgar's Cello Concerto.

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Yeah, Stravinsky is a huge one. Not necessarily in the sense of direct lifts (although those do occasionally happen), but Williams often "speaks" new "sentences" in similar musical "language." I'm thinking especially of the original 50-minute The Firebird, which any Williams fan should take the time to listen to in its entirety. And of course The Rite of Spring as well.

 

I'm biased when it comes to Holst, because I've been listening to The Planets for as long as I've been listening to Williams, but it absolutely must be mentioned. Many sources overstate the degree to which Williams borrowed from this work for Star Wars - I don't care what anyone says, the Imperial March really has very little to do with Mars - but the overall influence is undeniable.

 

Also seconding Ralph Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Elgar, Bartok, Tchaikovsky, and so many of the others mentioned in this thread already. That's not to mention all the one-off homages (Dave Grusin in Hook, Rossini in POA, etc.) And the jazz influence that @WilliamsStarShip2282 described cannot be overstated. Even Williams' most completely non-jazzy works have subtle but powerful roots in jazz harmonies and voicings. That's a big part of what makes Williams Williams. All of the influences that have shaped his musical voice are colored by his early experiences with jazz.

 

Personally, I hear in Williams' music a vast multitude of musical influences...but all of them are filtered through a unique musical voice that I've never been able to trace back to any one source. Like any great composer, he's deeply studied his peers and (especially) predecessors, but he's developed his own style through decades and decades of playing with the same building blocks they all used. (If I'm wrong and there IS another composer or group of composers from whom Williams borrowed his most fundamental musical perspectives, I'd love to know about it so I can listen to that, too!)

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  • 1 year later...

Didn't see this mentioned before, so I thoughtI'd share.

 

Listening to the very first few bars of Saint-Saëns' Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso I couldn't help but think of the Jedi Steps.

It might've been something of an influence. What do you think? 

 

 

 

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26 minutes ago, Madmartigan JC said:

Didn't see this mentioned before, so I thoughtI'd share.

 

Listening to the very first few bars of Saint-Saëns' Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso I couldn't help but think of the Jedi Steps.

It might've been something of an influence. What do you think? 

 

 

 

Nah, not really much. Only a few bars sound a bit similar to the beginning of Jedi Steps. Saint Saëns could be an influence for JW, though.

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Still could have been in the back of his head. Its like a seed, he takes that one little bit and goes in his own direction with it. I think that type of thing is what Stravinsky meant when he said "great composers steal"

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5 hours ago, Madmartigan JC said:

Didn't see this mentioned before, so I thoughtI'd share.

 

Listening to the very first few bars of Saint-Saëns' Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso I couldn't help but think of the Jedi Steps.

It might've been something of an influence. What do you think? 

 

 

 

 

I see what you mean, there are some similarities, but they are general.  For example, this and Rey's theme both start in the same key of A minor and have the opening harmonic progression in common so we already are in the same harmony but harmony and harmonic progressions are not that unusual.  For example rock songs commonly use the same chord progressions.

 

That is why you can't copyright a chord progression, they are part of what's called the vernacular (the common way most people use words).  Similarly, both Saint-Saens and Williams are using melodic tropes...conventions in phrasing, melodic repetition, etc. To me, JW has some French influence but it is more by way of the English.  For example, the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams studied with the great French composer, Maurice Ravel and this cosmopolitan French/English influence is more detectable in JW by way of American mid century Jazz (itself very prominent in French music) and Russian music (Prokofiev especially). 

 

 

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Resurrecting a few old posts, but I had to say something...

 

On 10/12/2018 at 1:02 PM, Thor said:

He's mentioned Peter Maxwell Davies on a few occasions, although I'm too unfamiliar with the composer to draw any comparisons myself.

 

Unless you came up with something I never read, which is obviously very much a possibility, all that I ever saw Williams say about the late Maxwell Davies was that he was one of the finest of his generation. I know a little bit of his music, that can go from the easy-folksy "Orkney Wedding with Sunrise", composed for Williams and the Boston Pops, to some rather serious, somber, "difficult" stuff like Ave Maris Stella:

 

On 10/12/2018 at 4:05 PM, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

It depends what you listen to. Korngold of course (you can hear a bit of the starwars theme in the opening titles of a Korngold film, I can't remember which, a Shakespeare one I think), and there's another piece he wrote which sounds like like Herrman.

Bartok (his Essay for Strings, but generally speaking I think the 3rd movement of Bartok's "Music for Strings, Perc. & Cel., generally influenced every composer since written- maybe easiest to hear that influence in Close Encounters) and Stravinsky (in same cases the way he harmonizes and on several occasions there are nods to the Rite of Springs, on purpose in the first Star Wars, but then again when the aliens first arrive in War of the Worlds).

I think he draws a lot on composers of his own age group. I hear a lot of Pendereki in his music, as well as Dutilleux (his Tree Song sounds like Dutilleux's "L'Arbre des Songes - in english the tree of dreams), and I know he was quite friendly with Takemitsu (who's similarly in the style of Dutilleux). His first violin concert is reminiscent of Berg's (but in my opinion John's is much better).

Certainly hear a lot of Elgar in his more pastoral music, but I know also he's a big fan of Gershwin, which maybe generally contributes to his wonderful melodies (he and Korngold). A lot of his wonderful harmonies has Jazz influences, he's said before he's a big fan of Claude Thornhill (and a lot of others which can be seen in Conversations).

I think many times though he's influenced by a piece he heard someplace or some idea that came into his head. His "Duo Concertante"was inspired by the "Three Madrigals"by Martinu which he heard at Tanglewood, and the Concerto for Oboe, for example the last movement he wrote in the preface that it's "Haydn meets Rachmaninov".

Also a movie like "Images"was probable influenced by Boulez (Eclat) and Stockhausen (Gruppen, and Kontakte), but not sure he doesn't usually go that far in that direction. He also seems to be really interested in Japanese music, specifically shakuhachi which can be heard all over the place (maybe a general interest or something that came from Takemitsu)

 

 

The Korngold score is of course "Kings Row". Maybe the Herrmann influenced score you're thinking of is "The Fury".

And I always hear a lot of Penderecki in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". 

Didn't knew about Dutilleux's "L'Arbre des Songes", but will try to check it as soon as possible. I know very little Dutilleux.

Are you sure you meant Rachmaninoff when referring to the Oboe Concerto final movement Commedia? I was pretty sure it was "Haydn meets Shostakovich".

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is a lot of Mahler's 9th in things like Home Alone, etc. Mahler's 8th is where he started for Schindler's List, and understandably so. That symphony is subtitled 'Symphony of a Thousand' often and if that isn't some sort of terrifying prophecy...

 

Definitely Stravinsky. Most noticeable in Star Wars. No doubt also Ralph Vaughan Williams and Korngold and Steiner.

 

As inspired as he is by these composers, he rarely 'lifts' whole passages. There are other film composers without such qualms however.

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2 minutes ago, Fabulin said:

Williams is a true gentleman. Instead of "lifting", he elevates.

 

  Reveal hidden contents

 

Hahahaha, zero argument here.

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  • 4 weeks later...

For me, Stravinsky is the go-to composer whenever I want to listen to John Williams without actually listening to John Williams.

 

Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich are pretty big inspirations as well. Holst, too, especially for the Star Wars scores.

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13 hours ago, Ricardo Mortimer said:

I was always curious how Williams works with temp-track, because temp-track is his real inspiration.

 

 


It was weird when Darth Vader started speaking in that performance.

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4 hours ago, Biodome said:

For me, Stravinsky is the go-to composer whenever I want to listen to John Williams without actually listening to John Williams.

 

Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich are pretty big inspirations as well. Holst, too, especially for the Star Wars scores.

 

I just listen to William Ross.

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  • 4 months later...

The flying theme is one of those themes where people point to a classical work as a precedent in the melody, but it's actually a great example of the jazz influence in harmony and voicing that @WilliamsStarShip2282 and @Datameister mention, and which makes Williams unique and distinct. This post on Medium is a nice deconstruction of it—when you listen to the chord progression in isolation at the end of the post, the jazz roots are completely clear, and even though the melody seems simple, straightforward, and "classical", its those chord moves that really make the theme feel fresh and, well, Williamsy.

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That ELO quote has already been employed.

Probably by YOU!😝

 

 

He starts off everyday reading Stewart Smalley:

" I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and , gosh darn it, people like me"

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On 1/12/2021 at 12:55 AM, aviazn said:

and even though the melody seems simple, straightforward, and "classical", its those chord moves that really make the theme feel fresh and, well, Williamsy.

 

Tbh, that goes for a lot of melodies of modern, or relatively modern, film composers. It's just because Williams is the most symphonically minded that there's always this big hooplah about him using certain jazz stylistics.

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1 hour ago, publicist said:

 

Tbh, that goes for a lot of melodies of modern, or relatively modern, film composers. It's just because Williams is the most symphonically minded that there's always this big hooplah about him using certain jazz stylistics.

Agreed, but it's also because he actually was a jazz musician, and a lot of people would argue Williams is a significant transitional figure for that reason. The imprint of jazz (and Black music in general) is of course over all modern music, but most film composers today came by those influences secondhand (including via Williams himself). And practically none of them match his level of craft in that regard.

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29 minutes ago, aviazn said:

Agreed, but it's also because he actually was a jazz musician, and a lot of people would argue Williams is a significant transitional figure for that reason. The imprint of jazz (and Black music in general) is of course over all modern music, but most film composers today came by those influences secondhand (including via Williams himself). And practically none of them match his level of craft in that regard.

 

Of the newer ones, sure. On the other hand, they master the craft of pop, rock and hiphop or even minimalism more naturally, so I see it as a natural progression.

 

Not necessarily one I like much, I still don't see a reason to follow a hobby that offers Junkie XL as big new attraction.

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Yes, JW has legit jazz credentials .

Composers like E.Bernstein did a respectable job of incorporating jazzy elements , but he wasn't a jazzman ( like his namesake Lenny).

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4 hours ago, Jay said:

260+ posts and no avatar?

Uh-oh, I've been called out. I guess if the A has worked so far, why change now?

 

3 hours ago, publicist said:

 

Of the newer ones, sure. On the other hand, they master the craft of pop, rock and hiphop or even minimalism more naturally, so I see it as a natural progression.

Yeah, you could argue that see the influence of Williams' harmonic leanings more now in concert composers than in film composers.

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I think it's much more pertinent to ask which actual Film Composers influenced Williams. I think Previn and Mancini were his primary influences. You could mention Stravinsky Prokofiev Holst Elgar and Walton in relation to many other film music composers. Also the temp track thing is so important here. Its about asking which senior film music composers influenced Williams when he was starting out. Not Classical Composers. 

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  • 8 months later...
2 hours ago, Falstaft said:

Not sure I've seen this mentioned before, but there's a moment in Williams's Tuba Concerto (1985) that's manifestly based on a passage in Henri Dutilleux's  First Symphony (1951). I'll let the excerpts, and sheet music, speak for themselves. (The symphony is staggeringly wonderful, in case you've never heard it.)

 

 

 

 

 

It's not just the Tuba Concerto, though I think that hosts the passage most directly modeled the Dutilleux's. In general, I think Dutilleux remains an underrated but important influence on Williams's soundworld, particularly in terms of harmony and orchestration.

 

I'm not convinced.  I think what you are really saying is that JW is an anglophile and the composers he was influenced by also had deep French influences, same with Dutilleux.  Eg, JW is clearly influenced by the English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (and his significant tuba concerto), who studied with Ravel and brought that French influence into his works.  Similarly, Dutilleux was influenced by his countrymen, Ravel and Debussy.  They share a common heritage.    

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