Thursday, February 5, 2009

Best of John Williams

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight my favorite works from some of my favorite composers.
We start with the big man himself, Mr. John Williams. Now, Williams's early work is so iconic and so familiar that I won't bother providing samples of the more well-known themes from films like Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Jaws and Indiana Jones. Instead, I'll focus on his more recent work, as well as some older tracks that I believe are under appreciated.

On that note, here is "The Asteroid Field" from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

This is probably my favorite track from the original trilogy. John really hit his creative stride with Empire Strikes Back, which introduces Vader's infamous Imperial March, the battle of Hoth, Yoda's playful theme, and a frenetic ride through an asteroid field. There is an extended version of "The Asteroid Field" featured on this album, of which I recommend grabbing a copy. I think it just may be the quintessential space motif.

"Adventures on Earth" is my favorite arrangement of music from E.T. (and also featured on the above album) It is varied, infused with urgency and grandeur, and simply moving. One of my most favorite moments is from the 2 minute mark until 2:50.

Ever hear of a little Spielberg film called "Empire of the Sun"? No!? Well, it seems a lot of people have missed out on one of young Christian Bale's greatest movie roles. But more tragically, they've missed out on one of William's most uplifting and magical movie themes, "Cadillac of the Skies"

Now for the new stuff. Everyone is probably familiar with "Duel of Fates" from Star Wars Episode I, but I want to include it because I believe it is just as impressive as Orf's "O Fortuna" or Goldsmith's "Ave Satani." Even George Lucas seems to have noticed the brilliance of the piece because he uses it in all three films as well as during Yoda's battle with the Emperor in Episode III, which interrupts Williams's newer but less impressive track, "Battle of the Heroes." Here's the original: (which actually made it on VH1)

Although this next track from Minority Report entitled, "Anderton's Great Escape" trails off into uninteresting territory, the first 3/4's are pure powerhouse and some of Williams's best action writing to date. I love going to my brother's soccer games and listening to this track. The action tends to line up in uncanny ways.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite film in the series, and probably for one reason alone: John Williams's score. The leap he makes between this film and the first is akin to the leap between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back in terms of variation and inventiveness. Narrowing down my favorite track from the album is difficult, but I think "Buckbeak's Flight" takes the cake.

Runners up include "Double Trouble" and "The Whomping Willow," but of course you could just listen to one of my favorite musical arrangements, the medley "Mischief Managed!"

I don't have this next track on my ipod, but it's a crying shame because when it came out, it was the one piece from AI: Artificial Intelligence that gave me hope that John Williams still had an impressive career ahead of him. It's the most poignant moment in the film, filled with dread and mystery. Here is "Abandoned in the Woods":

That wraps up this edition of "Best of" with John Williams. If there's a track you think I should include or would recommend, please add it in the comments!


SuiginChou said...

A.I. was incredibly sad, but I also remember being very disappointed by it. Can't remember all the details, but iirc doesn't it involve exploring a city underwater towards the end? I remember thinking the robot-teddy was kinda creepy but at the same time kinda cool. The "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" scene is probably the most memorable scene for me (well, it's one of the few I can remember, lol, so I guess the competition's slim).

As for the music, I feel that Williams' newest material is all incredibly inbred and thus uninteresting. Whereas his older work is unique (e.g. compare Episode V's music with E.T.'s), his newer stuff (e.g. compare A.I. with Minority Report) seems to all be derived from the same "mother brain," if you will, or from the same parent-song. They seem less like unique songs in a repertoire and more like variations on some unpublished, hidden 10-minute song Williams wrote in the '80s and keeps at home in his desk.

Last thing to say: seems I struck a nerve not only with Blaise (Yoko Kanno) but with you too! XD All I'll say is, you by no means need to be so defensive about these musicians. I love many of Williams' songs too! And I'm by no means going out of my way to knock the man! I was just voicing my discontent that men as talented as him have yet to produce one memorable symphony, that's all. John Williams has many masterful 5-minute pieces, but he's yet to do anything 10 or 15 minutes long that ranks up there with Mozart and Chopin, and that's a shame -- because I think he could do it if he tried. (Or at least I think the old John could have. Not so sure about the new John.)

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