The musical score to any film can be as important as any other element in the story; indeed many times without the score central themes and emotions would not be able to resonate as strongly. While the list of great film composers is an esteemed and long one, there has been only one man who has through his music captured our hearts and imaginations for over 60 years.
John Williams, who celebrates his 85th birthday on February 8, is unarguably one of the greatest living composers today, if not the greatest. In a career that has spanned six decades, he’s won 23 Grammy Awards, 7 BAFTA’s, 4 Golden Globe’s, and 5 Oscars. (from a record-setting 50 Oscar nominations, second only to Walt Disney – whom I also profiled as a visionary here)
But it’s not the number of awards he’s won that make him exceptional; it’s his consistent ability to create wondrous, stirring and melodically inspiring symphonic masterpieces. His scores aren’t just accompaniment to their respective films, but essential parts of the viewing experience.
We can say that through his scores, Williams has created the soundtracks to our lives. From Jaws to Star Wars to Jurassic Park to Harry Potter and more, John Williams has crafted an unprecedented canon of unforgettable work. His music has become such a part of our popular culture, it would be hard to imagine some of our favorite screen heroes and villains without his musical backing.
The Empire without the Imperial March? Indiana Jones without the Raiders March? These themes could have been composed by another, but only John Williams has shown the ability to create themes that leave lasting impacts years after their debuts. Even if one hasn’t seen the films he’s scored, they’ll probably be able to recognize the music.
It’s also his ability to write in a wide variety of genres that makes him very versatile for any movie project, and further showcases his genius. Scores like Catch Me if You Can and Tintin highlight his early jazz roots, while the music from Home Alone captures both comic mischief and orchestral majesty simultaneously. Imagine that the tracks Cantina Band and the theme from Schindler’s List were written by the same person!
“This shy modest man has taken us to the moon, and to every place where the heart can reach and the notes can speak.” – Steven Spielberg describing frequent collaborator John Williams
It’s been said that music can prolong one’s life and now at 85 Williams has thankfully shown no signs of slowing down. Currently working on Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, this octogenarian is proving to get better with age. And yet with such an impressive resume, he’s a man of little hubris. Perhaps one of the most humble of men (as evidenced by numerous interviews, firsthand accounts from others, and this letter he sent in response to a letter I sent him) Williams presents himself as just another musician, happy to have been able to work. If only you fully realized just how special and immense you are John!
The music of John Williams is an incredible treat for our ears, hearts and minds and one that like an old friend will always be there for us. His musical genius has never been clearer and the world has been enriched because of it.
Happy 85th Birthday dear Maestro Williams, today and forever we thank you for your indelible contributions.