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How many periods/stages would you divide Williams' music into?

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I thought about it in a following fashion:

 

late 1950s to late 1960s - early period (still finding his voice)

early 1970s - transitional early/middle period (Williams was on to something, especially in the disaster scores, and experimented a lot)

late 1970s till the end of 1980s - middle period (the flowering, main blockbuster block)

early 1990s till the mid 2000s - third period (reform around the time of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List)

mid 2000s - ? - fourth period (marked by a relatively more introverted tendencies)

 

What do you think?

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A very interesting take @SteveMc !

A couple thoughts:

 

1. I wonder to what extent was Williams' "Reflective Period" shaped by the type of films Spielberg and Lucas, his formerly major employers, were doing. It was perhaps more of a reflective period for them. Spielberg turned to less adventurous films, and Lucas decided to rest a while. We do not have a precise knowledge about what film assignments exactly were offered to Williams in this period, so we cannot judge with a complete clarity whether, and if, to what extent did Williams "abandon" "heroic" assignments on purpose. As for The Last Crusade score, it is a bit more serious than Raiders (not to mention TOD) simply because it was written for a film that has a very different type of seriousness (less about awe or dread, more about maturity)---which should again be traced back to Spielberg, not to Williams. 

2. Concert works flourishing can possibly be explained by the amount of money that Williams made (which made him more comfortable) coupled with a less exhausting schedule of "busy" assignments like the rich Star Wars scores, or the advanced Close Encounters.

3. I find it interesting that you consider Williams to be at his compositional peak in the "Reflective Period", and not in the "Heroic Period". Although Williams himself stated recently that "he doesn't feel that he has gotten any better than 30 years ago", which implies that he reached a peak of sorts at that time, at the same time he still considers his best scores to have been (depending on the interview) E.T. or CE3K, both from the Heroic Period. These being indeed his best works would align with Beethoven considering his favourite symphony to be 'Eroica', and with his implied second favourite being  the 5th.

4. Imagine Beethoven living into his 80s, in the 1850s. Let's suppose he would have the ability to comperehend how the new works of Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner sound. I think that to compete in this new setting, he would, devoid of youthful energy, but as masterful as ever, compose works that would be to a certain extent en vogue, and, compared to some more bombastic younger contemporaries, very "streamlined". Just like what Williams does right now.

5. I find the comparisons that can be made between Williams and Beethoven to be in danger of falling prey to cherry-picking and biased conclusions, because they can be simply based on typical career trajectories of any gifted composer---but nonetheless fascinating.

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Quite a few, but they are rarely neat and tidy like the above suggestions. Quite a few cross over into each other, since Williams has operated on so many arenas, also outside film music  -- and one thing has influenced the other and vice versa. I have my own periods that I've charted out, from 1932-2019, but it's all too complex to lay out here.

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7 minutes ago, Thor said:

Quite a few, but they are rarely neat and tidy like the above suggestions. Quite a few cross over into each other, since Williams has operated on so many arenas, also outside film music  -- and one thing has influenced the other and vice versa. I have my own periods that I've charted out, from 1932-2019, but it's all too complex to lay out here.

Undoubtedly it is.

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46 minutes ago, First TROS March Accolyte said:

I wonder to what extent was Williams' "Reflective Period" shaped by the type of films Spielberg and Lucas, his formerly major employers, were doing. It was perhaps more of a reflective period for them.

Well, even something like Home Alone has him writing a piece like "Star of Bethlehem" which seems to be very self-aware of its seriousness, without becoming self-important.

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Ha, ha....good one, Illustrious Jerry. Although all jokes aside, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET is actually symptomatic for one of these 'sub periods' or 'sub categories' in Williams' history that I've charted out -- what I call the 'cello period' (roughly from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s) and his extensive work with Yo-Yo Ma in both film and concert music.

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For me:

 

1959-1974: The early years

 

1975-1982: The creative peak years

 

1983-1993: Succesful years, with some creative peaks (Born On The Fourth Of July, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, ...)

 

1994-2005: Slightly darker, more personal years, with some creative peaks (A.I., Harry Potter)

 

2008-present: The latter years

 

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22 minutes ago, Thor said:

I love how many of you group 1959-1975 as simply his "early years". That period has SO many different aspects and sub periods and evolutions; perhaps more than any other in his musical life.

There is an interesting 1991 John Caps article ("John Williams: Scoring the Central line") that divides Williams' periods as follows:

a) his jazz and comedy apprentiship beginning with Checkmate (1959) and ending with A Guide for the Married man (1967)

b) apparent transition into serious scoring with the Reivers (1969) culminating in Jaws (1975)

c) unprecedent reign as the most successful film composer in history from Star Wars (1977) to E.T. (1982)

d) his gradual mellowing in later 1980s into a refined romanticism which was sentimental in Accidental Tourist (1988), peaceful and tempo-less like New Age dream in Always (1989), pianistic and ceremonial in Presumed Innocent (1990).

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I think there is an interesting parallel to (although not identical to) Williams' performance periods. I am including playing, band leading and arranging (for other people's music)

 

1950's-1965 - Keyboard/Band Leader: Jazz player / film score session pianist - here I include his own band, the work at Fox, playing for Henry Mancini & Elmer Bernstein, Shelly Manne, Mahalia Jackson and his work with Previn on various albums. 

1965 - 1979 - Quiet Period: Occasional performance work including his mostly arranging work on Valley of the Dolls and Fiddler, the Paul Williams album and his classical piano duet Serge Prokofiev: Sonata for Cello & Piano; David Ward-Steinman: Duo for Cello & Piano.

1980 - 1993 - A Performance Conductor Emerges: Boston Pops leadership period. Also includes leading things like the LA Olympic Opening Ceremonies and Oscars telecasts.

1993 - 2015 - Conductor Emeritus I: Regular Boston Pops, Tanglewood, Hollywood Bowl and other full concerts

2015 - Present - Conductor Emeritus II: Handful of performances each year, often splitting duties with another conductor

 

 

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11 hours ago, Ludwig said:

I came up with a breakdown of Williams' film output into style periods for an academic chapter I wrote on Williams' theme writing a couple of years ago. It was in John Williams: Music for Films, Television, and the Concert Stage. See below.

 

Your chapter is a wonderful contribution to John Williams studies, and I'm glad you brought it up @Ludwig I know accessibility is a bit of a problem with this volume, given its steep price tag, but really, if you're curious about its contents, I urge you to get a copy (or, better, request your local library to order one)!

 

 

4 hours ago, filmmusic said:

I think I'll disagree with this.

Tintin has a regular 8-bar theme.

 

I think I side with @Ludwig on this one. That statement you've linked to is quite exceptional, the only "extended" iteration of the Tintin main motif in the score, which is otherwise always treated as a 2 or 4 measures long motto--even in wonderful, broad instances like at the end of "Capturing the Plane." I take the climax of "Pursuit of the Falcon" to be a thematic transformation, rather than the definitive or purest form of the theme. In that sense it's quite similar to Kylo Ren's A-theme, which does get extended grammatical version at the end of the Last Jedi (well, 3/4ths of a grammatical theme...it's frustratingly stunted); but the "definitive" motif is still clearly just 2 or 4 bars. 

(There's also the question of how coherent the "Pursuit of the Falcon" climactic statement is as a 8-bar theme, given the internal modulation and the lack of a clear cadential final phrase, but that's getting quite into the weeds!!)

 

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34 minutes ago, Falstaft said:

That statement you've linked to is quite exceptional, the only "extended" iteration of the Tintin main motif in the score,

Well, there is an alternate main title music (not available in recording), that uses the exact same iteration of Tintin's theme as soon as the title appears, so I used this as the "original pure theme". of which we hear snippets here and there in the film.

This "heroic" version (it states "heroically" in the sheets in both instances) sounds like having a too clear profile to be a metamorphosis of a main motif. At least to me.

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