Earlier today, I went and watched The BFG – one of the highlights was, as it always seems to be when he is involved, the score by John Williams. The composer is perhaps the most-renowned in his field, and his scores are pretty much synonymous with film music – after all, who doesn’t know the theme to Star Wars, the Raiders March, the menacing two note motif of Jaws or the sweeping Flying Theme from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, to name but a few?
In this piece, I’ll talk about some of his lesser-known scores, as well as pieces that don’t get the recognition they deserve because they are overshadowed by most famous aspects of the score. I’ve selected eight, but there are many more that could have been included and if you’re a fan of film music (or music generally), I’d recommend looking further at his music.
Leaving Hogwarts (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
If you think of the Harry Potter films musically, the celesta-based Hedwig’s Theme will be what springs to mind, but I’m quite partial to this simple track. It comes at the end of the film, Harry boarding the Hogwarts Express as his first year comes to an end, and it has a gentle sense of finality to it – it is a musical highpoint on which to end the picture.
Main Title (The Towering Inferno)
Now, here’s a film that everybody is familiar with – an early disaster movie, and one of the best. A fire breaks out in a San Francisco high-rise building, with a bunch of A-list stars trapped inside. They must try to survive – it wouldn’t be a spoiler alert to say that not all of them do. This music conveys urgency and peril, and helps get the adrenalin pumping even before the fire has started.
Remembering Petticoat Lane (Jurassic Park)
I doubt I would be alone in suggesting that the score to Jurassic Park is Williams’ best – the themes are iconic and grand, and frankly awe-inspiring to listen to. The piece I’ve chosen to highlight from that film is very different in intention – it comes as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) remembers his early life, and his motivations for opening the park, and its music box feel makes it particular haunting.
Olympic Fanfare and Theme
As well as his film work, Williams has also composed music for four Olympic Games – this theme was written for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and I love how grand it is. The music is so inspiring, it is almost pushing the athletes to go and there and compete.
Where Dreams Are Born (A.I. Artificial Intelligence)
Steven Spielberg made this film after the death of Stanley Kubrick (the latter had wanted to make it, but had passed on the mantle to the former), and brought in long-time musical collaborator John Williams to write the score. This piece comes in the end credits – it is a vocal reprise of a theme heard earlier, entitled ‘The Reunion,’ and it is absolutely beautiful.
The first of Oliver Stone’s films about the American presidency (he later made Nixon and W., starring Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin as the respective presidents), JFK looks at the events leading to the assassination of Kennedy and the alleged cover-up through the eyes of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). Williams’ score is very patriotic, feeling both very military-style and very American, as is the case in this piece.
Presumed Innocent (Presumed Innocent)
This 1990 film sees Harrison Ford as a deputy attorney who winds up implicated in the rape and murder of a colleague. Williams’ score is very different from his normal work, with a single piano at its heart to represent the family lifestyle, with dissonant electronic effects bringing fright to this mix. This piece is a fantastic example of that.
The Throne Room (Star Wars – Episode 4: A New Hope)
I’ll close the list with what I imagine with be the most famous track on here – everybody knows the main theme, the cantina band music and the Imperial march, but I like this. The music truly sums up the movie – it has a grand brass theme which evolves into a sweeping string arrangement, reprising some of the movie’s themes and then leading into the end credits. As our heroes receive commendation for their role in blowing up the Death Star, this is a suitably grand piece on which to conclude.