A John Williams Score for Every Year of my Life 1981 – The Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - IMDb

With this, the first in the series of Indiana Jones films, John Williams created yet another outstanding opus – that surrounding the wisecracking, whip-swinging, fedora-wearing hero and sometimes archaeologist, Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford may have played the titular hero (and it’s a wonder that despite his resemblances and affinities to a certain smuggler in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, this new creation is in no way a carbon-copy of Han Solo), but John Williams provided his soul.

We don’t hear the main theme until some time into the score, which opens with “In The Jungle”, a mysterious piece based upon the first part of the Dies Irae – this helps to enshroud the beginning on the film, and the main character, in mystery, and a sense of danger. It is a wonderful entrance, because, it gives us no clue as to the sort of character Jones is. We, the audience, must learn what and who he is as the film unfolds.

Like the Star Wars trilogy, this franchise gave Williams the chance to write countless themes, creating a huge multi-layered work which would need more than this blog entry to explore all of the intricacies and to do justice to the sheer volume of motifs which appear. So I will share some thoughts on the main ones, but this score needs to be listened to intently to truly appreciate what Williams has done. Someone said of Mozart I believe that melodies just flowed out of him. That’s what this score feels like – every turn of action has a new rhythmic or melodic motif. It’s an incredibly rich tapestry.

So to the main theme, the “Raiders March”, as it’s often called. It makes it’s first appearance in the fourth cue in the full score soundtrack, towards the end of “Flight from Peru”. After a wonderful frenetic passage for pizzicato strings, it makes its first appearance at 1:03.

It’s a really wonderful theme, which seems, like many of Williams’ melodies, to be effortless. It is dominated by the brass, in a series of climbing phrases, which perfectly capture the spirit of Harrison Ford’s courageous yet risk-taking archaeologist. There is something childlike about the theme’s simplicity, too, which perhaps reflects the hero’s innate sense of right and wrong. His quests are never undertaken for personal gain or glory, and if he is ever tempted along those lines, he generally always makes the morally upright choice.

Williams says this of composing: “Writing a tune is like sculpting. You get four or five notes, you take one out and move one around, and you do a bit more and eventually, as the sculptor says, “In that rock there is a statue, we have to go find it.” I think this is so true of a theme like the Raiders march, which seems so inevitable, as if it could really go no other way. But of course it could have gone any number of ways – it’s the skill of Williams that makes us think otherwise.

Indeed, it very nearly did. Williams had written two distinct themes for the film – the one which we know as the Raiders March, and another theme. He played both to Stephen Spielberg, as he couldn’t decide which one to develop. Spielberg loved them both, and suggested that Williams used both of them in the main theme, and so it became – the secondary theme which is heard at 1:40 in the excerpt above was the second theme Williams had worked on.

There are countless other themes in the score. Williams is truly Mozartian in his ability to attach vibrant new melodies to almost every new piece of action. Yes, he uses the leitmotif structure – so that we often hear the Raiders March whenever Indiana Jones is on the screen, and Marion, his love interest, has her own theme (more on that in a while), and even the big Macguffin, the Lost Ark itself, receives a tremendous theme. But there are themes for the Nazis, for the amulet, and a prolificity of lesser known melodies which appear once and never again. A lesser composer might take care to save some of these for future projects in case the wellspring of creativity runs dry, but not Williams. He responds to the action of the film and creates whatever seems to fit the bill at the time. An almost careless abandon of creative ideas is what marks these scores out.

So to a couple of the other themes – Marion’s theme first. This theme shares it’s DNA with Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars, both melodically in it’s opening phrase (V – III) and also at first harmonically (Tonic, minor fourth). But this theme feels somehow more grown up, more curvaceous. It suits the character of Marion, who is old before her years. But it’s also got an exotic flavour to it, an almost Arabic feel which fits in perfectly to the Egyptian setting of much of the film. It is yet another wonderful example of character writing which Williams excels at. It’s also a slightly ambiguous theme, hinting at a relationship between Marion and Indy, but never quite stating this, which would suggest an ambiguity between the characters on screen.

And then we have the marvellous Theme for the Ark itself. This has got to be one of the cleverest themes ever created for the silver screen. In just a few notes and chords, it creates a sense of time and place and character. Let me explain. In the version of the theme I have placed a link to below, we are treated to a mysterious and unnerving melody. It feels hugely old, a throwback perhaps to some of the Biblical epics of Hollywood’s bygone days. It feels exotic, Hebraic. At the same time it feels utterly otherworldly, and is almost spiritual in the way it creates mood.

It is built around a descending melodic figure, played on the woodwind, which is accompanied by mysterious and ghostly harmonies – Minor tonic (Cminor) to minor augmented fourth (F#minor) and back again. As it develops, the harmonies become no less mysterious and unsettling, which gives the theme a sense of underlying danger. Shortly after the first iteration of the melody, we get a second motif, one that is used at times to represent the Nazis, underscored with some subtle militaristic percussion. This is followed by a climbing melody for strings which is truly chilling, and is akin to the opening from ET The Extra Terrestrial. It’s purpose here is similar – to create a sense of touching something from another world.

Then the main Ark theme returns, this time with swirling strings and picked out by quiet brass. After a short and rather wonderful Arabic sounding interlude, the military theme makes a re-entrance, but with more power this time. And then the Ark melody returns, and we see it’s full potential and power. Played by full brass and strings, with the eerie addition of ladies choir. When John Williams uses choir, you know he means business. The effect here is absolutely terrifyingly wonderful. The piece builds to an apotheosis on thrilling brass, as Indy is shown the way to the hidden Ark.

I could write so much more about this theme – I think it is a true masterpiece, not just in the world of film scoring, but in the whole history of music. It does exactly the right things. And I suppose, that’s what good film music should always be – a piece of music which does exactly the right things, pushes all the right buttons. It’s just that John Williams appears to be able to pull it out of the bag so very frequently. He knows just what needs to be said, and he says it.

A John Williams Score for Every Year of my Life 1980 – The Empire Strikes Back

It’s a while since I wrote one of these posts on the work of my favourite composer, John Williams. I’ve had Covid, but that’s not why. The truth is, since I left teaching to become wholly freelance with my own music and art, I haven’t had a great deal of time to write. And that’s good news. I’ve composed two Television scores, painted at least 10 detailed and often quite largescale pictures, often fulfilling bespoke commissions. I’ve just finished one this week. So I’m pleased in one sense not to have had the time to continue this series.

But as I sit down at my computer on this Sunday evening in September, I’m feeling nostalgic. I’ve been rewatching the original series of Doctor Who, and at the moment I’m working through the Jon Pertwee era. I’m actually too young(!) to remember Jon Pertwee as the doctor, but I do, because I was brought up in Australia, and they were a few years behind the UK, so when UK youngsters of my age were hiding behind the sofa from aliens met during Tom Baker’s exploits, I was being terrified to death of the enormous spiders which clung to people’s backs. My wife refuses to watch any of them with me, because she can’t stand the music. It was either slightly anachronistically cheerful orchestral music, or weird electronic tweets and drones.

When John Williams wrote the groundbreaking score to Star Wars in 1977, I’m sure his grandiose orchestral score raised a few eyebrows. Whatever scifi had graced the silver screen up till then often had an accompanying electronic score, as that was felt to be right and apt for adventures in space. But what we got in Star Wars was a return to the orchestral scores of old, and surely ranks with the best work of Max Steiner and others.

Nobody believed, when the original Star Wars was released in 1977, that this little film would take the world by storm and spawn a whole universe of sequels, prequels, novels, and offshoots. But when it was so successful, it was only natural that a sequel would be made, and so the curtains opened, three years later, on Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. And the score which Williams gave us for this first sequel feels as if Star Wars has grown up. Sure, it has all the heroism and bombast of the first score, but it’s got a darkness and edge to it which the first score lacked. In keeping with the darker tone of the plot, Williams’ developing musical language for the films is darker, more dangerous. Harmonically this score is more daring and avant-garde than the first. But quite apart from that, it gave us a theme which has surely become the most instantly recognisable film theme of all time. The Imperial March, which to all intents and purposes is Darth Vader’s Theme.

This theme is used a lot in the film, and it often accompanies the dreaded Lord Vader, sweeping around the bridge of his Star Destroyer in his menacing black cape. He’s a bit of a marvel, a stroke of genius on the part of Lucas and his designers. The horrific black helmet, the asthmatic wheezing. Truly the stuff of nightmares. And his theme is astonishing in it’s ability to convey so much about what he is and what he stands for.

It’s really Darth Vader’s film. We see him threaten his minions, we see him do away with a number of his Admirals remotely through the power of the force. We see his single minded pursuit of the Skywalker boy who was responsible for the destruction of the Death Star. And we learn the horrifying truth that he is, in actual fact, the fallen father of said Skywalker boy. His presence is felt in almost every single frame.

And so what was just a Saturday morning adventure, full of swashbuckling heroes and the rescue of princesses (how very politically incorrect), becomes a familial saga of betrayal and temptation. And this darkening of tone, and indeed enlarging of the world in which the film is set, is reflected in the music. The wonderful themes from the first film are back, in the main, but they are added to with a seemingly endless collection of new themes. And the most apparent one is the Imperial March, which is really Darth Vader’s theme.

What an amazing piece! I could listen to this piece over and over and never get bored. It is an almost perfect marriage of harmony, rhythm and melody to not just the visuals but also the character of Vader and what he represents. It is a theme that takes you in it’s iron grip and does not allow escape until it’s thunderous climax. It is somehow brutal, inexorable, darkness personified. Yet it is surprisingly simple.

The main idea is built around what would appear to be a major tune if played without the harmonic context, built as it is around an E flat major triad. But add the chords in, and it becomes a very different beast. It is actually in the key of G minor, and when it drops to the E flat, the chord changes to E flat minor. The juxtaposition of these two chords is what informs the mood of the piece. Simple, yet devastatingly effective.

Williams is notoriously self-critical, and almost never listens to his past musical glories. But of the Imperial March, he says this: “There are some individual things that I’ve done – The Imperial March seems to me a perfectly shaped piece that works very well.” Very well indeed.

The theme represents the militaristic might of the Empire, and as such, it perhaps represents the loss of Anakin Skywalker’s individuality as he is subsumed by the Emperor’s will – he becomes one with the Empire itself.

But it’s by no means the only new theme in the film score. In fact, the score is jampacked with new melodies and also new treatments and variations on themes from the original film. Other new themes include a beautiful love theme for Han Solo and the Princess, which whilst reminiscent of Leia’s theme from the first film (sharing the same opening interval), is a much more grown up affair. Harmonically it is a fascinating piece, using chord sequences which would never normally be seen together, but which in the context of the melody sound entirely natural. The initial sequence is as follows: D flat – A – D D flat.

There is some marvellous music written for Cloud City, complete with ethereal female choir. There is some absolutely wonderful action music for the flight through an asteroid field which I honestly don’t think Williams has ever bettered.

The Imperial March makes a statement here, accompanied by rushing strings and percussion, then we have a wonderful little scherzo on sliding strings, before one of William’s fantastic soaring themes comes in. This is Williams at his best, using the full force of the brass section with screaming runs on the woodwind. I could listen to this all day. But then, I am biased.

But the other new theme for this film is a little different to the others, the theme for the Jedi master Yoda. Again, it’s deceptive in its simplicity. There is something almost innocent in it’s melodic shape and harmonies. But its also stately, and somehow ancient. It’s heard in it’s fullest form in the film when Luke tries and fails to lift his X-wing fighter out of the swamp with the power of the force. Yoda then proves that it is not a matter of size. He seemingly effortlessly lifts the X-wing out of the swamp, as his theme swells majestically. It starts at about 2 minutes 20 into the following recording. The crescendo of brass towards the end, which is brought down again to a quiet rendition of the theme as the ship is brought in to land, is spine-tingling. It’s a sign of Williams’ skill that he is able to make such varied use of one single theme, so that it conveys gentleness and power all in the space of a few seconds. It is spine-tingling stuff, and one of my very favourite moments in John Williams’ vast musical repertoire.

A truly monumental score, this is one of my all time favourite scores by JW. This and ET are on a whole new level in the way they transform what we see on screen into something so so much more. The ability Williams has in this score to tell us more about characters, to weave ever deeper the story of the Skywalker clan, there is something magical about it. Something of the force itself.

A John Williams Score for every Year of my Life 9: A bit of a mix, 1978

So I’ve reached the year I turned eight. In that year, John Williams was called upon to score a number of feature films, with wide-ranging subject matter – from superheroes to a man-eating shark. I simply cannot choose one score to epitomise his output that year, so I shall choose a theme (motif) or two from each.

So first, the biggest film of the year to be scored by Williams. Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, was a stylistic take on the age-old superman mythos. Some of the early scenes from Krypton are unique in their visionary portrayal of a civilisation far beyond ours, facing their own demise. The use of reflective costumes makes everything glow with a clean white light. I remember being very struck by this as a lad.

But if elements of the film are rather avant-garde, the score is rip-roaringly traditional in it’s mighty themes, it’s detailed layered orchestration that was a hallmark of William’s writing at the time. The brass of course gets a good workout, especially in the main theme. And what a main theme it is! Its heroic leaps, its reaching for the sky, and its lyrical shape which seems at times to form the words “Superman”. It’s one of the best superhero themes ever created.

But I want to look at a couple of the other themes in the score which need to be heard. The first is the music written for Krypton. Like the theme to Close Encounters, this is deceptively simple. It is a theme made up of one simple angular and heraldic melody, which is heard first in the trumpets over a brooding string bass, and then in further iterations is echoed by the trombones as well as woodwind. In the meantime, the string build up in volume and pitch to bring the theme to a crashing and potent climax, at 1:20. It’s simple by John Williams’ standards, but incredibly powerful. I guess it goes to show that sometimes less is more. And indeed, the least that John Williams has to offer is still hugely impressive.

And then, I have to mention the wonderful pastoral theme, prominent at Jonathan Kent’s funeral, and played in fullest form in the scene below. I’ve looked at this theme in my post on the Cowboys, in which one theme shares some stylistic and melodic DNA to this theme, and so I have copied my text from that post below.

For me, this is what good film music is about. It accentuates and emphasises the emotional charge of a scene. Witness the point at 2:53 where Clark embraces Martha, but John Williams doesn’t bring in the big music just yet – that would be too obvious, too hackneyed. He lets us feel the emotion of the action first, just for a few seconds, before the music ramps up to make sure that we get the full emotional importance of the scene. Truly one of the most wonderful uses of film music that I can think of.

Which brings me to my next score of 1978 – the Fury. The film is less well known I guess, and the music too is not well-known. The main theme is a plodding and nightmarish take on a lullaby, but the two themes I want to share with you in this post are the themes written for the two young protagonists of the film, Gillian, and Robin. First, we have Gillian’s Theme

It’s made up of a number of dancing motifs, all very light-footed, and all painting a picture of a heroine who is innocent, mystical, and beautiful. The theme really comes into its own at 1:40, when Williams gives us another of his soaring, seemingly effortless melodies in the strings. I fell in love with this theme the first time I heard it.

And for me the other stand out theme on the score is The Search for Robin, which, like the pastoral theme from Superman, is a perfect use of melody and dynamics, taking us on an emotional rollercoaster. It starts at 11:37 in the link below. It starts with an elegiac horn melody, which is echoed in the low strings. It continues in this vein for a time, before the main melody comes in on the oboe. It is a sinuous, beautiful tune over a softly moving string and celeste bed. It is delicate, poignant, and I find it very moving. This plays twice, then the strings take over in a full-throated rendition, and the horns provide a rapturous counterpart. It builds, and builds, the timpani provide some lift and… and then dies away to a sweet cadence at the end. It feels bittersweet somehow, as if prefiguring the fact that Robin will not be found, at least, not the Robin his father remembers.

And so to the last score for today’s post. Jaws 2. The film is (possibly rightly) criticised as being a re-tread of the original, but less good. One would assume the music might suffer the same fate. But somehow, John Williams produces a soundtrack which builds on the first score, and in some ways improves on it. The sea-shanty like themes he writes for the Open Sea sections are hugely enjoyable, and as stand alone pieces I prefer them to their counterparts in the first Jaws film.

There is something so seasidey about this music – I can almost smell the salt. It’s not just the melodies – it’s the orchestration. Listen to the section at 0:52 – can’t you feel the sea breeze in your face? The trilling strings over the french horn melody is intoxicating. This is the reason I feel in love with John William’s music. He has such an incredible command of the textures of the orchestra.

Let me give you another example. In “The Water Kite Sequence”, we have a really clever musical trick being deployed. Williams uses different pitches to create a musical image of two different planes – the above water, and the below water. Low strings and woodwind tell us that something lurks beneath. At the same time, higher sounds provide a sense of what is going on above the surface.

And lastly, I want to draw attention to the beautiful End Titles. As in the original Jaws score, John Williams here uses the sea shanty melody heard in The Catamaran race and elsewhere, but slows it down. After the introduction, the melody comes in on cellos, with a simple harp backing and occasional flourishes from the woodwind. The higher strings repeat it, this time with piano. After a grand finale on the brass, the sea shanty returns in full sparkling form, perhaps to remind us that, despite the dangers that might lurk beneath, the sea is still a wondrous and exciting place. At least until Jaws 3, and we won’t go there. John Williams didn’t!

A John Williams Score for Every Year of my Life 8a – Close Encounters

A Look Back at 'Close Encounters:' A Young Spielberg's Curiosity  Characterized - mxdwn Movies

1977 was a big year for John Williams. He wrote the scores to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as a certain space opera set a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. It would be remiss of me not to include both of these immense scores, different as they are. A potted review of the score to Star Wars – that will need a lot of time and thought put into it – I need to build up to that! So I’m going to leave you with a few thoughts on the score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, CEOT3K for short.

I’ve linked to the official expanded score playlist above on youtube – these scores always benefit I think from the full listening experience. But I will dip in and out, and I certainly won’t be able to write a detailed critique of the whole score – that would be more like a whole book!

So here goes. When I first heard this score, it was on the B side of a cassette tape (remember those?) which had highlights from the Star Wars score on the A side. I thought it was awful. I was only about 14 at the time, and I wondered how the same composer could be responsible for both scores? Star Wars, full of bravado and soaring themes, and then this weird concoction, sounding as if it belonged in a horror film.

Things have changed somewhat, and it is now one of my favourite scores. It’s a rich tapestry of musical textures and effects, combining really quite avant-garde harmonic and textural qualities with some stonking melodies and passages, for which Williams is rightly famous.

The score opens as it means to go on, with a simple yet effective musical effect. “Let There be Light” starts as a mere whisper in the string harmonics, building by the addition of other timbres and vocals into a huge fortissimo brass stab. On the original soundtrack album, this segued straight into the passage from “TV Reveals” starting at 056, then the first section of the following track, “Roy and Gillian on the Road”. It is a classic case of Williams rearranging music for the best listening experience, and it works well, but makes no sense in the story-arc of the film.

But the melodic material of the second section of this original presentation, lifted from the aforementioned tracks, is an interesting musical study. It’s built around the melody of the “Dies Irae” – the day of wrath from the Latin Requiem mass. It’s the same melody that Berlioz uses in his riotous last movement to his Symphonie Fantastique, Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat.

And countless other composers throughout history. And it usually signifies something portentious. Something which has the potential to destroy lives. At the same time, as in the Berlioz piece, it can represent something otherwordly, out of our normal experience. Here is a youtube video which shows some of the instances in modern film music of its use.

There is something about this particular note series which draws us to think about the sinister, the unknown, the things which we as humans perhaps have little control over. That is surely it’s purpose in CEOT3K – it is used as Gillian and Roy are drawn inextricably toward the meeting with a power beyond their experience, and their world. It’s extremely effective, and Williams doesn’t hide it in copious orchestration – it is played in all it’s bare majesty by the brass section, especially in the “Roy and Gillian on the Road” track.

There are other pieces of note, where melody comes to the fore. The beginning to the “TV Reveals” for example, starts with an augmented 4th interval – often used to represent mystery and the supernatural. There is a theme which builds on this rising figure, heard throughout the score, but given it’s biggest iteration in “The Mothership” at about 3:39, where it is accompanied by the Dies Irae theme – if we were in any doubt that that theme was about the call to the UFO base.

Of course there is the famous 5 note call as well – Ray Me Doh Doh So. John Williams has said that he spends more time creating these simpler themes than the much more complex ones he provides at other times – the struggle being to create something new which sounds inevitable. It’s effective, and is referenced throughout the score, but usually in the form of source music – the characters hear it being played in the context of the film. It’s integral to the storyline.

I think the thing that strikes me about the whole score of CEOT3K is that it evolves. At it’s start, when everything is very alien to the characters, and really pretty scary, the music is atonal, creating the effect of a horror film, with it’s weird timbres and textures and the Ligeti-like vocals of the choir. But as the main characters hear the call to Devil’s Mountain more and more powerfully, and as they are drawn ever closer towards it, the music becomes more formed, more friendly in a way. Not less powerful. But more comforting, even in it’s majesty. The music John Williams writes for the final appearance of the Mothership is utterly, barnstormingly powerful. He uses brass flourishes to describe aurally the flashes of light we see on the screen. He uses the deep resonances of the orchestra to represent the hugeness of the mothership, and by association, the hugeness of the universe beyond.

If you’ve never heard the score, I’d urge you to have a listen. You won’t enjoy all of it for sure, but work your way through the horror aspects earlier on (which are wonderful in their own right) to reach the apotheosis at the end – it, more than any other score I know of, traces a musical journey from fear and strangeness to discovery and acceptance.

A John Williams Score for Every Year of My Life – 1975 Jaws

It has to be done. Whilst I am a great fan of the other score of 1975 which Williams wrote for “The Eiger Sanction”, I couldn’t not devote this blog entry to the stroke of absolute mastery which is Jaws.

As a teacher, I often use the theme from Jaws to illustrate how composers use dynamics, tempo and texture to build up tension in music. It’s amazing that almost every child I have ever taught, even from the age of 6, recognises this visceral music. I am quite sure that the vast majority of them have never seen the film. Maybe we can put that down to it’s use in the execrable “Baby Shark” (Please, if you’ve never heard of this, do not go and find it on Youtube – it will cause irreparable damage).

But that’s what this theme is all about. It is classic horror music, in that it tells the listener what is to come. It builds up from it’s creepy beginnings, building in volume and speed, adding layers of sounds on, until the tension is unbearable. The listener is left in no doubt that something huge is coming closer… and closer… And all from a piece of music which is little more than a two note ostinato.

It’s fascinating too to see the effect it has on a scene. Witness the title sequence from the film, but turn the sound down. It could very easily be a calm start to a documentary. Try it…

There are many such moments in the score, in which the famous theme is used to signal the presence of the shark, or the after-effects of that presence. One such example is in the piece called “Night Search” on the youtube playlist link at the top. The music is utterly beautiful, magical, full of tender harp glissandos and bubbling woodwinds, with the strings creating a sense of depth – this is after all an underwater search. About halfway through though, the mood darkens, and before too long we hear the ominous signalling of the shark’s arrival.

But here John Williams again shows his mastery of creating mood through music. Because the shark does not appear. What does appear is the horrific partly eaten bloated head of the sailor who had owned the boat they are searching. The shark’s doing of course.

I’ve said that the beginning half of Night Search is beautiful. It is in fact one of my favourite pieces of music by Williams. It is deceptively simple, creating an underwater world for us to explore, rather as Saint Saens did with Aquarium from “The Carnival of the Animals”. But there are other moments of wonder and beauty, and even fun, in Jaws. Promenade (Tourists on the Menu) is an utterly delightful quasi-classical overture, complete with harpsichord, which would be quite at home in the dining room of a palace. And that’s the point. The tourists promenading along the beach and in the water are the choicest of snacks offered up to the king of the sea. I’d be interested to know who came up with this wonderful idea – Williams or Spielberg. But it’s works beautifully.

And then we have a wonderful sea shanty-esque piece which is played a number of times when the boat is on the open sea. It is heard prominently at 0:19 in track 4, Out to Sea. It is playful, and treated in a number of different textured ways throughout the score – as a fugue, for example, but it’s always a breathe of fresh air. I always imagine eating fish and chips when I listen to this – there is something so very much of the sea and boats about it.

Some other music is reminiscent of the work Williams did on “The Cowboys” – for example, the scherzo he writes for “One Barrel Chase”. And that I sense is purposeful – it is almost as if they are riding the waves on horseback, as the boat is dragged along by the massive beast.

Preparing the Cage is a wonderful contrapuntal fugue of a piece, in which Williams shows his absolute understanding and deep roots in classical music at it’s best.

And then at the end of “Hand to Hand Combat”, Williams provides us with another absolutely beautiful passage, as the bloody remains of the fish sink below the surface of the water. The piano plays gentle arpeggios downward, as if tracing the fish’s last journey to the bottom. The strings provide the absolute perfect amount of cushioning, soothing and understated. This is then brought to a conclusion with the End Title, which is predominantly a slowed down version of the sea shanty theme. It’s almost a funeral march, sombre and stately. Interestingly, John Williams uses the same trick in his end theme to Jaws 2 a few years later, for which he wrote an entirely new sea shanty theme. But more on that when we get to 1978…

Return to Jane Eyre

I’ve been working on a piano transcription of the Theme from Jane Eyre, my choice of John Williams Score from 1970. I’ve just posted it to youtube. There will be more to follow – I’m going to do a number of John Williams themes – especially some of his less well-known ones, or at least less well-known themes from his well known film-scores.

Whilst you’re visiting my channel, subscribe for more content – mainly my own compositions for TV and stage.

Where does it come from?

I’ve been asked quite often how I go about writing a new piece of music. People it seems are often fascinated with the process a composer, especially a songwriter, go through to create something. And the answer is… I don’t know.

If I’m writing a song, do the lyrics come first or the music? Sometimes it’s one, sometimes, it’s the other. Sometimes they appear together. There is no hard and fast rule it seems.

And if I’m writing a piece of instrumental music – where do my ideas come from for melodies? For the harmonies and instrumental mixes and timbres that make up the piece? Well, that may be a little easier to pin down. I’m a great lover of film music. And I often start, as a visual artist as well, thinking about the images I want my music to create in the listener’s imagination. And I listen. I listen to music from all sorts of traditions, and when I hear something that I like, I listen to it again. I work out what the composer has done to create the particular effect which has caught me. What instruments has he or she used? What rhythmic patterns underly the whole?

That’s not to say I copy. They say there is nothing new under the sun. That’s true of music. But let’s say that I try to hide my sources! I guess by drawing from a number of different influences, from classical, film and popular music, I create my own amalgam. Yes I am sure you can hear the influence of John Williams – the man is afterall a semi-deity and who wouldn’t want to imitate? But I hope too that in coming through my modes of expression, I create something fresh and new.

But here’s the thing. When they say it’s 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration, they’re not just spouting a cliche. It’s a long process of editing. Sometimes the idea I first came up with is unrecognisable in the final iteration. But that, for me, is part of the joy of the process – the slow shaping of a song or a piece, sometimes having to be cruel and carving away great chunks of what first inspired me, to create something that, in the end, works and speaks on its own.

Where does it come from? Who really knows? But the journey it takes to get from the first inspiration to final piece is often much more easily traced.