Happy Birthday John Williams! (And a Blaggers’ Guide To Classical Music)


We rely on this man to create the music that soundtrack some of the most important cultural moments in life – hyperbole? No way. He’s composed the soundtrack to 4 Olympic tournaments; E.T., Star Wars; Jaws…Close Encouthers of the Third Kind – and many, many more; and not in the sense of Now! Autotune album 89 or whatever number they’re on now.

John Williams: a true musical hero.

Get out your Monocles/amusing Owl charms/closest instrument or pan to hand…but only for fun. For fun. Don’t ever wear a monocle seriously. Why? Well, not that it’s an unecessary antique that’s merely symbolic of an elitist appreciation which lends itself to further elitist apparatus such as tiny shitty binoculars for opera, or, like, you actually fit the stereotype of a jingoistic dictator-in-waiting…woah! Nelly! That pretty much emerged as a rant there, didn’t it? Ah well. I know you agree with me and that also, you’re not a dictator…but it’s always worth checking. If the last paragraph made you feel awkward (aside form the stacking nature of its clauses) then you might want to reconsider that throne and totalitarian regime of yours.



…With 5 Oscars, 43 nominations; 6 BAFTAs, 4 Golden Globes, 19 nominations; and of course 17 Grammies following 47 Nominations, this man is demonstrated that film soundtracking is probably one of the most secure forms of ridiculously cool employment you can have.

And just to prove that actually, yes you damn well do know things about classical music, below is a comprehensive list of everything this man’s responsible for (to date…)

Lincoln (2012)

War Horse (2011)

Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Munich (2005)

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Munich (2005 War of the Worlds (2005)

Revenge of the Sith (2005)

The Terminal (2004)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Minority Report (2002)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Jurassic Park III (2001)

The Patriot (2000)

Angela’s Ashes (1999)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Stepmom (1998), Amistad (1997)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Rosewood (1997)

Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

Sleepers (1996)

Nixon (1995)

Sabrina (1995)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Schindler’s List (1993)

Far and Away (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Hook (1991)

JFK (1991)

Home Alone (1990)

Presumed Innocent (1990)

Stanley & Iris (1990)

Always (1989)

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The Accidental Tourist (1988)

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

SpaceCamp (1986)

Jaws IV: The Revenge (1985)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The River (1984)

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Superman III (1983)

Aliens From Another Planet (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Monsignor (1982)

Yes, Giorgio (1982)

Heartbeeps (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Superman II (1980)

1941 (1979)

Dracula (1979)

The Fury (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)

Superman (1978)

Black Sunday (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Star Wars (1977)

Family Plot (1976)

Midway (1976)

The Missouri Breaks (1976)

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Jaws (1975)

Conrack (1974)

Earthquake (1974)

The Sugarland Express (1974)

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)

The Paper Chase (1973)

Tom Sawyer (1973)

The Cowboys (1972)

Images (1972)

Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

The Screaming Woman (1971)

Jane Eyre (1970)

Story of a Woman (1970)

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

The Reivers (1969)

Heidi (1968)

Sergeant Ryker (1968)

Fitzwilly (1967)

A Guide for the Married Man (1967)

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

How to Steal a Million (1966)

Not with My Wife You Don’t (1966)

Penelope (1966)

The Plainsman (1966)

The Rare Breed (1966)

John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)

None But the Brave (1965)

The Killers (1964)

Nightmare in Chicago (1964)

Gidget Goes to Rome (1963)

Diamond Head (1962)

Flashing Spikes (1962)

Bachelor Flat, The Secret Ways (1961)

Stark Fear (1961)

Because They’re Young (1960)

I Passed for White (1960)

Daddy-O (1959)

(Just note ‘Sabrina’ isn’t the Sabrina the Teenage Witch movie, as much as you were hoping it was. Anyway, incase you are a straight-to-DVD kinda homie anyway, then check out the work he’s done for television films:

Hollywood in Vienna (2011)

Heidi (November 17, 1968)

Jane Eyre (March 24, 1971)

The Screaming Woman (January 29, 1972)

The Unfinished Journey (December 31, 1999)

GOOD GOD MAN. Look at all that symphonic, chamber, operatic and Baroque ‘n’ roll goodness that’s permeated your life thus far, and probably, without you noticing. 

Oh, and he has 14 – FOURTEEN – honourary degrees. Who even does that? Exactly, John Williams, that’s who. Ever professional, ever innovative, fun to watch as a composer in general (passionate, aye; although maybe not as sweaty as some composers – here’s looking at you Giandrea Noseda) and reliably well-read enough to understand a director’s true vision, often making the music as important and as iconic as any character.

John Williams: “I’d rather go into a projection room and look at a film to have that same pristine, unprepared reaction that the audience will have, however special effects (added later) complicate that process.

“If I can see the film fairly close to its editorial rhythms, I’ll get a sense of its kinetic ebb-and-flow; where the film may be slowing down, or where it’s accelerating, and where I can pick up on the rhythms of the film. My own belief is that the first and most important issue in scoring films is tempo.

“If the music is quicker than the editorial rhythm it may seem to slow the film down, and the reverse is also true. You need to get into the rhythmic “pocket.” We know we’ve got it right when it’s riding with the action in an effortless way.

“I’ll run the scene several times and have a timing cue sheet that’s been prepared for the scene, and then I’ll write three or four bars and go back and look at it and then write four bars more and look at it again. And it’s a constant process of writing, looking, checking, running it in my mind’s ear against the film, even conducting with a stopwatch against the action of the film. It’s driven almost measure by measure by the film itself.”

There’s something magical about knowing about this care and dedication still exists in a world dominated by autotune and gratuitous wub-wub which fails to make proper reference to the roots of dubstep and at its essence dub. Or lyrical references that go unnoticed by the mainstream press. Or licks which are in direct homage rather than purposeful pigeonholing. Alas…

By the same measure it’s perfectly OK to not be au fait with any composer that’s ever existed. Why? Because classical music is easy peasy anyway. Seriously. Forget everything you may believe about not being able to understand it. Next time some snoot-ignoramus attempts to backhand you with a seemingly obscure Handel remark…screw ’em.

Welcome to the big, wide, massive and actually, all-inclusive world of classical music. Here’s where you can begin.

In my line of work, I am lucky enough to come into regular contact with a particular internationally acclaimed Philharmonic Orchestra on a regular basis. They compose themes for television, and are most recently famous for collaborating with Elbow for the Olympic theme tune which was broadcast across the UK. It’s awesome – and whenever I get the chance to hear them rehearse, I grab it. Their perfomances really are other-wordly – uplifting, dramatic, mesmeric…


1. Classical Music from the Classical Era

(All you need to know is that it’s classical. And this era’s between Baroque and the Enlightenment eras. And Handel’s involved.)

(a) Schubert – you already know Ave Maria, so try Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat (D.929)

(b) Gluck – Orfero Ed Euridice/Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Act 2)

2. John Williams – Modern Classical

(So much to choose from! See above!)

3. Baroque ‘n’ Roll

(Churchlike…all about crazy destruction and emphatic redemption. I wonder why *cough* Jesus *cough)

(a) Vivaldi – The Four Seasons

(b) Bach – Air On a G String!

4. Enlightenment Tunes

(Dramatic! Experimental! Rousseauvian! Designed to make your brain turn into pure gold!)

(a) Mozart – Piano Sonata in C (K.545)

(b) Beethoven – 9th Symphony

Once you’ve picked your tunes, have a think about how each piece makes you feel, who wrote the piece, if there’s a famous orchestra who performed it the best; (orchestra *do* sound different – and it’s all down to the conductor) the key it’s in – if there’s any variations of the same track in a different key; and if the composer makes a cheeky musical nudge to one of his composer contemporaries (but that’s when you’re heading into real maestro territory).


I’ll get you started with a personal anecdote.

As a precocious youngster I LOVED Vivaldi and Beethoven. Like, really, really loved Vivaldi and ‘composed’ a funky synth version of The Four Seasons: Spring (1st Movement) in his honour. It was actually awesome, and felt akin to having my very own string section. Yeah, I was that kid. Oh well. Ticked that one off the bucket list: ‘direct my own string section’. No-one said it had to be a non-electronic one.

Then I did the same 80s synth-treatment with ‘Ode To Joy’ on the keyboard. Also awesome. Now, after learning this bit by heart, I did some library research and discovered that Ode To Joy, is in fact, a German poem that has been set to song at least 9 times (d’oh!). The one I’d learned was the most famous one – which just so happened to be arranged by Ludwig van Beethoven (serious man painted above) in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony. While I had String Effect & ‘Sparkling’ Piano coupled with an electronic thud-thud beat on my keyboard, the piece was originally designed as a choral symphony for an orchestra, four solo voices and a choir.

When I listened to the full thing, it felt like watching an episode of Neighbours; joyous, full of sunshine… until each diminuendo takes you to this horrible nervewracking point which leaves you wondering where they’ll go next with it. Then the song has it’s own truly wrenching nervous breakdown, and sadness, before following with a glorious Baroque-y redemption over and over again. It’s really beautiful and intriguing, and maybe not like Neighbours at all.

The whole chorus alone is about 11 minutes, and by the end of it I was completely exhausted. In comparison, this is not how I feel after Calvin Harris. The piece made me open my eyes to all the bits we remember about classical music: they are all the bits that are truly heart-stopping when the piece is played out in full.

This journey was 11 minutes – while I’d managed to whittle it down to a pumped-up 2:30 version that made me laugh at the end after pressing a voiceover key programmed to so powerfully thrusted “Huh!”.

john williams

See, Classical music is easy. And it’s good for your brain, like vegetables. Have a go!

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