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Williams, John (Christopher) (i)

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Williams, John (Christopher) (i)

(b Melbourne, 24 April 1941). Australian guitarist. He began learning the guitar at the age of four with his father, Leonard Williams. He moved to England in 1952 and subsequently participated in Segovia's summer courses at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena: later he attended the RCM, where he studied piano and music theory. After his Wigmore Hall début in 1958, he gave highly successful concerts in Paris and Madrid. In 1962 he toured the Soviet Union, and in 1963 made débuts in Japan and the USA. He was professor at the RCM (1960–73), deputized for Segovia at the Santiago de Compostela summer courses (1961–2) and became visiting professor at the RNCM in 1973. He was one of the first classical musicians to play at Ronnie Scott's Club, London. He has given duo recitals with Julian Bream and enjoyed musical collaborations with musicians such as Cleo Laine, Paco Peña, Itzhak Perlman and André Previn. In the 1970s his concerts and recordings stimulated a revival in the compositions of the Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Barrios.

In 1978 Williams performed music for the film The Deer Hunter. In 1979 he formed the group Sky, dedicated to its own distinctive popular repertory. Leaving Sky in 1984, he formed the ensemble ‘John Williams and Friends’, which toured extensively (1983–7). He was artistic director of South Bank Summer Music from 1984 to 1986 and of the Melbourne Arts Festival in 1987. After touring the USA (1990–91), he formed a new group, Attaca, to play specially commissioned contemporary music. During the 1990s he increased his concert tours in Europe, East Asia, the USA and Australia and continued to expand his already prolific recording activities. He was made an OBE in 1980 and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1987; he is an honorary fellow of the RCM and RNCM.

From the start of his career, Williams has displayed remarkable technical mastery, which has influenced subsequent generations of players and raised the technical expectations of the instrument to new heights. Many composers have written works for him, including Leo Brouwer, Stephen Dodgson and André Previn.


G. Wade: Traditions of the Classical Guitar (London, 1980)

G. Clinton: ‘John Williams’ (Interview), Guitar International, xiii/4 (1984–5), 9–12

C. Cooper: ‘John Williams’, Classical Guitar, iii (1984–5), no.6, pp.13–17; no.7, pp.23–5

C. Kilvington and C. Cooper: ‘Conversations with John Williams’, Classical Guitar, viii (1989–90), no.5, pp.10–13; no.6, pp.13–16; no.7, pp.50–52

M.J. Summerfield: The Classical Guitar: its Evolution, Players and Personalities since 1800 (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1991)

C. Cooper: ‘John Williams: A New Profile’, Classical Guitar, xii (1993–4), no.2, pp.11–14; no.3, pp.16–20

J. Tosone: ‘A Conversation with John Williams’, Guitar Review, no.97 (1994), 2–8


Williams, John (Towner) (ii)

(b New York, 8 Feb 1932). American composer, arranger, conductor and pianist. He learnt the piano from the age of eight and, after moving to Los Angeles with his family in 1948, studied with the pianist-arranger Bobby Van Eps. He served in the US Air Force (1951–4), orchestrating for and conducting service bands, then moved back to New York, where he studied for a year with Rosina Lhévinne at the Juilliard School, and played in jazz clubs and recording studios. Returning to the West Coast he enrolled at UCLA and took up private composition studies with Arthur Olaf Andersen and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, among others. From 1956 Williams was a studio pianist in Hollywood, and two years later began arranging and composing music for television, contributing the main title to Checkmate (1960; see Thomas and Burlingame). Through the mid-1960s he composed for several series, and worked for Columbia Records as a pianist, arranger and conductor; he also made a number of albums with André Previn. During this period Williams began scoring feature films, with many of his earliest scores for comedies, such as John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1964) and How to Steal a Million (1966). He also worked on more serious projects with major directors, including Robert Altman (Images, 1972, and The Long Goodbye, 1973). Williams briefly became typecast as a disaster-film specialist, owing to his successful score for The Poseidon Adventure (1972); it contained one of his few popular song hits, ‘The Morning After’, with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Indicative of his talent at this time are the Americana of The Reivers (1969), the heartfelt English lyricism of Jane Eyre (1971) and the rousing Western style of The Cowboys (1972). Williams later arranged music from each of these three films into popular concert works.

The long and close association of Williams with the director Steven Spielberg began with The Sugarland Express (1974) and Jaws (1975). In 1977 he scored Spielberg's masterly Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released only a few months after Star Wars, the film that began his similarly close association with director George Lucas. These and following films marked Williams's ascent to a pre-eminent position in Hollywood, as well as the re-emergence and critical approbation of the symphonic film score, dormant for nearly a decade. Within the next six years came music of comparable power for The Fury (1978), Superman (1978), Dracula (1979), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial (1982). Since then, Williams has remained a uniquely famous and popular film composer; he has generally scored two films each year, including every Spielberg film except The Color Purple (scored by Quincy Jones). No less notable are his recent scores for the director Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July, 1989, JFK, 1991, and Nixon, 1995), as well as lighter, more lyrical and witty projects such as The Accidental Tourist (1988), Stanley and Iris (1990), Home Alone (1990) and Sabrina (1995). He has also composed several signature tunes for NBC and a series of popular Olympic fanfares; by 2000 he had received five Academy Awards from 36 nominations and over 30 Grammy awards and nominations.

Williams freely acknowledges his stylistic debt to various 20th-century concert composers – among them Elgar, whom he greatly admires – and perpetuates the traditions of film-scoring developed by such composers as Korngold, Newman, Rózsa, as well as arrangers such as Salinger. His own skill as an arranger, for example in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Tom Sawyer (1973), owes much to Salinger, as does the poetic feeling for the beauty of sound manifest in all his orchestral work. In the 1980s, in films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Empire of the Sun (1987), Williams steadily expanded his stylistic range, partly by incorporating choral textures (sometimes with text). His unerring dramatic instinct and musical inventiveness are well shown in Spielberg's contrasting projects, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List (both 1993). Moreover, his score for the latter, along with those for Born on the Fourth of July, JFK (1991) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), display his acute response to tragedy and sense of the epic.

Williams is fundamentally a romantic traditionalist, but often blends traditional musical syntax and expression with avant-garde techniques and elements of popular music. More than any of his contemporaries he has developed the ability to express the dramatic essence of a film in memorable musical ideas; likewise, he is able to shape each score to build climaxes that mirror a particular narrative structure. The score to Close Encounters, for example, is built upon a small range of related motivic fragments: a 5-note ‘aliens' theme’, the first four notes of the Dies Irae, an ascending tritone and a related, disguised kernel from the Disney standard, When You Wish Upon a Star. These fragments, relevant to the narrative, are interwoven to shape a score with dramatic, emotional and musical logic, and which moves from a harmonically clouded beginning to a lush and expansive diatonic climax.

Williams has always maintained a steady flow of concert works, mostly written in an advanced but still tonal and intelligibly expressive idiom. Among the early works, his Essay for strings (1966) has been widely played and his Symphony (1966) received an important London performance in 1972 under Previn. He has composed several concertos, beginning with dissonant ones for flute (1969) and violin (begun in 1974, following the death of his first wife, and completed in 1976). More recent concertos are written in simpler idioms, and the bassoon concerto (The Five Sacred Trees, 1995), inspired by the writings of the British poet and mythologist Robert Graves, is personal and reflective. In 1980 Williams succeeded Arthur Fiedler as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a position which enabled him to compose many occasional pieces, as well as to conduct numerous best-selling recordings of works in the classical and film repertories. Though he retired from this position in 1993, he has continued to make frequent guest appearances in Boston and at Tanglewood, as well as with numerous other major orchestras, ranking high among America's most eloquent and representative composers.


(selective list)

film scores

directors in parentheses

Diamond Head (G. Green), 1963; John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (J. Lee-Thompson), 1964; How to Steal a Million (W. Wyler), 1966; Fitzwilly (D. Mann), 1967; Valley of the Dolls (M. Robson), 1967; Heidi, 1968 [television]; The Reivers (M. Rydell), 1969; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (H. Ross), 1969 [adaption of score by L. Bricusse]; Fiddler on the Roof (N. Jewison), 1971 [adaption of score by J. Bock]; Jane Eyre, 1971 [television film]; The Cowboys (Rydell), 1972; Images (R. Altman), 1972; The Poseidon Adventure (R. Neame), 1972; The Long Goodbye (Altman), 1973; The Paper Chase (J. Bridges), 1973; Tom Sawyer (D. Taylor), 1973; Cinderella Liberty (Rydell), 1974; Conrack (M. Ritt), 1974; Earthquake (Robson), 1974; The Towering Inferno (J. Guillermin and I. Allen), 1974

The Sugarland Express (S. Spielberg), 1974; Jaws (Spielberg), 1975; Family Plot (A. Hitchcock), 1976; The Missouri Breaks (A. Penn), 1976; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg), 1977; Star Wars (G. Lucas), 1977; The Fury (B. de Palma), 1978; Superman (R. Donner), 1978; Dracula (J. Badham), 1979; 1941 (Spielberg), 1979; The Empire Strikes Back (I. Kershner), 1980; Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg), 1981; E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial (Spielberg), 1982; Monsignor (F. Perry), 1982; Return of the Jedi (R. Marquand), 1983; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg), 1984; The River (Rydell), 1984; Empire of the Sun (Spielberg), 1987; The Witches of Eastwick (G. Miller), 1987

The Accidental Tourist (L. Kasdan), 1988; Always (Spielberg), 1989; Born on the Fourth of July (O. Stone), 1989; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Spielberg), 1989; Home Alone (C. Colombus), 1990; Presumed Innocent (A.J. Pakula), 1990; Stanley and Iris (Ritt), 1990; Hook (Spielberg), 1991; JFK (Stone), 1991; Far and Away (R. Howard), 1992; Jurassic Park (Spielberg), 1993; Schindler's List (Spielberg), 1993; Nixon (Stone), 1995; Sabrina (S. Pollack), 1995; Sleepers (B. Levinson), 1996; Amistad (Spielberg), 1997; The Lost World (Spielberg), 1997; Rosewood (J. Singleton), 1997; Seven Years in Tibet (J.-J. Annaud), 1997; Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg), 1998; Stepmom (C. Columbus), 1998; Star Wars, the Phantom Menace (Lucas), 1999

television series and themes

1958–60: Episodes of Bachelor Father; Checkmate [also title theme]; General Electric Theater; Gilligan's Island; Tales of Wells Fargo; Wagon Train; Wide Country

1961–3: Alcoa Premiere

1963–5: Kraft Suspense Theater

1965–8: Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants

1985: The Mission Theme and others, NBC News

1988: The Olympic Spirit, NBC Sports

other works

Orch and choral: Essay, str, 1966; Sym., 1966, rev. 1972; Jubilee 350 Fanfare, 1980; America … the Dream Goes On (A. and Marilyn Bergman), male V, chor, orch, 1981; Fanfare for a Festive Occasion, 1981; Pops on the March, 1981; Esplanade Ov., 1982; Olympic Fanfare and Theme, 1984; Celebration Fanfare, 1986; Liberty Fanfare, 1986; A Hymn to New England, 1987; We're Lookin' Good (A. & M. Bergman), 1987; Fanfare for Michael Dukakis, 1988; To Lenny! To Lenny!, 1988; Fanfare for Ten-Year-Olds, 1989; Winter Games Fanfare, 1989; Celebrate Discovery!, 1990; Fanfare for Prince Philip, 1992; Sound the Bells!, 1993; Satellite Celebration, 1995; Variations on ‘Happy Birthday’, 1995; Summon the Heroes, 1996; Seven for Luck (R. Dove), song cycle, S, orch, 1998

Concs.: Fl Conc., 1969; Vln Conc., 1976; Tuba Conc., 1985; Clt Conc., 1991; Cel Conc., 1994; Bsn Conc., ‘The Five Sacred Trees’, 1995; Tpt Conc., 1996; Hn Conc., [forthcoming]

Other Inst: Pf Sonata, 1951; Prelude and Fugue, wind ens, perc, 1968; A Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey, 1971; many suites adapted from film music

Principal publishers: Colgems, Fox Fanfares, H. Leonard, MCA Music, Warner Bros.


CBY 1980

I. Bazelon: Knowing the Score: Notes on Film Music (New York, 1975), 193–206

D. Elley: ‘The Film Composer: John Williams’, Films and Filming, xxiv (July–August, 1977–8), no.10, pp.20–24; no.11, pp.30–33

T. Thomas: ‘John Williams’, Film Score: the View from the Podium (South Brunswick, NJ, and New York, 1979, 2/1991 as Film Score: the Art and Craft of Movie Music, Burbank, CA, 1991), 324–40

F. Karlin and R. Wright: On the Track: a Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring (New York, 1990)

The Cue Sheet (Los Angeles), viii/1 (1991) [John Williams issue]

K. Kalinak: Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film (Madison, WI, 1992), 184–202

J. Burlingame: TV's Biggest Hits: the Story of Television Themes from ‘Dragnet’ to ‘Friends’ (New York, 1996)

Film Score Monthly, ii/1 (1997) [Star Wars issue]

D. Adams: ‘The Sounds of the Empire: Analyzing the Themes of the Star Wars Trilogy’, Film Score Monthly, iv/5 (1999), 22–5

R. Dyer: ‘Making Star Wars Sing Again’, Boston Globe (28 March 1999); repr. in Film Score Monthly, iv/5 (1999), 18–21


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