The Edit

5 composing lessons from John Williams

Jurassic Park

On 8th February John Williams, legendary composer, the King of the Hollywood Score, turns 85. To mark this occasion, we look at five great lessons the multiple Oscar-winning artist’s career can teach us. Prepare for a musical ride through Hollywood’s most iconic pieces: from Jaws to the Star Wars movies, from Schindler’s List to E.T. or Home Alone, there is no genre, hero or human emotion that the maestro cannot bring to cinematic perfection.

Find your niche, then branch out 

Bursting to the scene with historical and tongue-in-cheek Fiddler on the Roof, Williams soon found himself musicalising a series of typical 1970s disaster films, today considered cult classics. The Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno ensured Williams caught the attention of up-and-coming director Steven Spielberg. The Sugarland Express followed, establishing their partnership (and commitment to suspense) later confirmed by the mega-hit Jaws

Endure in your alliance 

Although today Williams is known for being more than 'just' Steven Spielberg’s resident composer, their behind-the-scenes collaboration is one of Hollywood’s most lasting and successful – perhaps only comparable to that of Scorsese with his editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The dread you feel during Jaws, the adrenaline rush of D-Day in Saving Private Ryan, or the heartbreak invoked by Schindler's List are in large part caused by exceptionally gripping music. Spielberg expresses his gratitude to Williams by having worked with him on almost every one of his films. Their most recent release was The BFG and they have two new flicks in the making! 

Diversify your art 

Williams is responsible for some of the most cherished and recognisable musical themes in cinematic history which come from many sources and traditions. From the Kodály method (listen to the aliens' Do-Re-Mi in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) to Strauss or Polish folk tunes, his music is both eclectic and totally original. This should give you an idea what is fundamentally necessary for such a long-spanning career. 

Focus on the heroes and their struggles

A well-known array of characters - in Jurassic Park or in Hook, from Superman to Indiana Jones, or the icons of Star Wars - have fought for survival to Williams’s regal scores. A great composer understands that every hero is unlikely, and finding courage doesn’t come naturally to any of us. There is lead-up and there is doubt before the great deed can be undertaken. 

Times change, quality doesn’t 

The Harry Potter movies, The BFG, the newest Star Wars episodes... The key lesson to be taken away from John Williams’s career may well be that exploration is not age-dependent: technologies and practitioners can be replaced, but we will always need superb scores to make film a true form of art. 

Highlight the emotion in your film with an orchestral score



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