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Whatever your take on Lucasfilm’s output over the last 13-years may be, there are very few of us who can listen to more than just a few notes of the “Star Wars” score without feeling a rushing sense of possibility, excitement and remembered pleasure, or if it is the "Imperial March" a delicious impression of impending evil.
John Williams is responsible for some of the most beloved and iconic scores of our time. He’s been nominated for 47 Oscars (including two this year, for “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse”), making him the second-most nominated person after Walt Disney (and the most-nominated composer, passing Alfred Newman this year). He won four original score Oscars, for the haunting and evocative “Schindler’s List” (1993), the bitter-sweet optimism of “E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial” (1983), the indelible and enduring “Star Wars” (1977), and what has become the universal sound symbol for “danger in the water,” “Jaws” (1975). He also won Best Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971, kicking off his love affair with the Academy.
A couple of years ago I found myself lying in the grass in the midst of the gorgeous LA Arboretum. The California Philharmonic treated all of us present to an evening that traveled through Williams’s most beloved scores, beginning, of course, with “Star Wars” and moving through to the “Harry Potter” symphonic suite.
When you hear his music detached from the films (as many of us have undoubtedly done over the years), the genius of his work is accentuated. As I lay with my eyes closed to the setting summer sun, the films were right there against my lids. The images were almost more vivid and visceral in my imagination than if they were playing live.
Williams' scores support and serve the stories, but the depth of his connection to the tales he is a part of crafting crystallizes when you realize how inexorably married each score is to its film. One does not exist without the other. It is a rare individual that is both master crafstman and masterful collaborator.
Williams turns 80 today, and it must be a good one, what with another double-dipping night at the Academy Awards on the way. He's done that 14 times now, two of them being triple nominee occasions. The Boston Pops Orchestra, meanwhile, has put together a "What's your John Williams theme?" page for the legendary composer's birthday. Check it out here.
To remind yourself of what both preeminent and prolific look like, take a glance at the first video below, which presents an overview of Williams’s truly staggering body of work. And after that, for “Harry Potter” fans, there's a second video of a performance of the aforementioned suite.
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