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Thread: John Williams: worthy addition to the canon or charlatan?

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Default John Williams: worthy addition to the canon or charlatan?

    I am listening to John Williams presently. I always enjoy his music, and it certainly enhances whatever movie I may be watching with his score. I am wondering what people here think of his ouvre.

    Are his compositions as interesting or complex as some of the all time greats? Is he a lesser light, though still comparable to an overture composer like a Rossini or a popular musician like J. Strauss? Is he a hack/ ripoff artist?

    For my part, I think he is probably closest to the second option, but is a great "gateway" musician to get people into classical.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    He's a very skilled, professional composer. He's paid his dues, worked very hard and mastered his craft. But add to the canon? Certainly his film music is worth our attention; perhaps not all of it. At his best he wrote scores that are right up there worthy to stand next to Korngold, Waxman, Steiner, Herrmann and the others. But since film music (other than some chosen works by Vaughan Williams, Prokofieff, Shostakovich...) generally isn't part of the orchestral canon, Williams contributions will depend on his concert works - and there's the problem. He's written several concertos, but it seems that the only one that gets a regular outing is the bassoon/orchestra work The Five Sacred Trees. To the best of my knowledge he hasn't written a major (or even minor) orchestral work that is going to become standard fare other than for pops concerts. He won't be the first film composer to be in that situation. Although if someone could explain why Prokofieff's Lt. Kije suite from the film is legit music and a suite from Star Wars isn't, I'd like to hear your argument.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewWeflen View Post
    ... an overture composer like a Rossini ...
    reductio ad absurdum

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    Senior Member D Smith's Avatar
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    A charlatan is someone who is a fake or a fraud. How John Williams, an extremely talented composer, could be considered a charlatan is beyond me.

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    Gustav Holst lived a life of genteel poverty teaching and composing until he died of overwork at the age of 59. John Williams rips off ideas from The Planets and makes a million bucks. How can that be right?

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    I've listened to both the Planets suite and John Williams' Star Wars scores quite a bit. I agree they're tonally similar in spots, but I would not be able to point to passages that sound similar (like Jaws and Dvorak 9-4). Could you elaborate?
    Last edited by MatthewWeflen; Feb-23-2019 at 23:52.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    In terms of the actual substance of JW's Star Wars theme, many would look not to Holst but to Korngold's music for Kings Row. Of course JW set the music more effectively, no mean task given Korngold's talents!

    Last edited by KenOC; Feb-24-2019 at 00:03.


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    shirime
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    Get rid of the canon altogether.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Phillips View Post
    Gustav Holst lived a life of genteel poverty teaching and composing until he died of overwork at the age of 59. John Williams rips off ideas from The Planets and makes a million bucks. How can that be right?
    Most (all?) composers "rip off" someone, sometime. Yes, there are more than hints of Holst's Mars in the opening scene of Star Wars. Yes, the main theme of Star Wars is quite similar to the main title of Kings Row. Deliberate? I don't know. In any event, the final score is quite effective. Many years ago at Jeff's Classical Music Shop in Tucson (no longer there) the owner had a funny, large on-going poster labeled: The John Williams Lack-of-Originality Chart. With each new movie he'd identify themes and their source from the masters. I wish I had a copy of that.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    Williams‘ Schindler List theme is now being widely performed in concert halls ... and IMO, deservedly so. I find it deep, melodic, and meaningful. He’s written masterful themes with sensitivity and wide emotional appeal that can stand on their own, not to mention that he’s always been a masterful orchestrator... It’s not for every composer to have the gift of melody, and I consider that the most glaring shortcoming of so much modern 20th-century music where it was considered sentimental, old-fashioned, or unimportant. I believe the human heart and brain will always have a need for a beautiful, memorable, and uplifting melody. I believe the realization of that will be the next revolution in music because of its immediate emotional appeal rather than an abstract work that’s more intellectually interesting than deeply felt or satisfying. It’s emotion that unites people, not just the intellect.

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Feb-24-2019 at 07:14.
    "That's all Folks!"

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    Williams‘ Schindler List theme is now being widely performed in concert halls ... and IMO, deservedly so.
    In the 2016-17 season and among US orchestras, John Williams was the 2nd most-performed living composer (after John Adams). The data are for mainline concerts only and exclude pops concerts.

    Arrangement of John Williams' works, 1 performance
    Catch Me If You Can, 2 performances
    Escapades for saxophone (from Catch Me If You Can), 9 performances
    For New York (Variations on Themes of Leonard Bernstein), 2 performances
    Hook: Flight to Neverland, 1 performance
    JFK, Suite from the film, 2 performances
    Lincoln, Suite from the film, 4 performances
    Sound the Bells, 2 performances
    The Cowboys Overture, 4 performances
    The Patriot, 1 performance
    The Witches of Eastwick: Devil's Dance, 1 performance
    Theme from Schindler's List, 5 performances
    Last edited by KenOC; Feb-24-2019 at 03:31.


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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    Williams‘ Schindler List theme is now being widely performed in concert halls ... and IMO, deservedly so. I find it deep, melodic, and meaningful. He’s written masterful themes with sensitivity and wide emotional appeal that can stand on their own, not to mention that he’s always been a masterful orchestrator... It’s not for every composer to have the gift of melody, and I consider that the most glaring shortcoming of so much modern 20th-century music where it was considered sentimental, old-fashioned, or nonessential. I believe the human heart and brain will always have a need for a beautiful, memorable, and uplifting melody. I believe the realization of that will be the next revolution in music because of its emotional directness rather than an abstract work that is more intellectually interesting than deeply felt or satisfying.

    But … isn't this the theme from Mahler's Eighth Symphony?

    Listen about 7 minutes in ….


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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    I heard about six notes that sounded a bit like Schindler, but nothing close to the entire theme. Am I missing something?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewWeflen View Post
    I heard about six notes that sounded a bit like Schindler, but nothing close to the entire theme. Am I missing something?
    J.W. lifted a short motive. It's not uncommon practice (especially in older music), plus his most of his music is derivative. He is a very skilled composer, but a well known plagiarist (in film music directors usually say: "compose something that sounds like "x" theme"). If he had any original ideas (even his non-film music is based on "borrowed" ideas - mainly Shostakovich from what I've heard), he would have probably been recognised by the critics.
    Still, it's pretty hard to come with any original melody - http://www.musipedia.org/melody_search.html - try this melody search engine, - but he was not really trying to do anything original. It is interesting that sometimes he improved upon the source material (by adding "better" - more catchy/tuneful - melody - see for example Howard Hanson's second symphony and the score of E.T.)

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    MacLeod
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Phillips View Post
    Gustav Holst lived a life of genteel poverty teaching and composing until he died of overwork at the age of 59. John Williams rips off ideas from The Planets and makes a million bucks. How can that be right?
    How can that be wrong? (setting aside the emotive "rip-off").

    Williams was born two years before Holst died. He can hardly be held responsible for Holst's finances.

    It may be disappointing that the movie world doesn't take enough trouble to advertise the rich sources of some of its composers' works, but those that want to know will find out and give credit - not that Holst will benefit either way.

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