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 10: 1979 – Dracula

Dracula, scored in 1979, is perhaps one of john Williams’ lesser known works. It is however a mighty work, built mainly around the lush and dangerous theme Williams provided for the central character. This theme features firstly in the Main Title and Storm Sequence :

John Williams has said that he tries not to know too much about the books on which the films are often based. In the case of Dracula, he came to the film, if you like, a further step removed – he’d never even seen a Dracula film! Not one. So he had no preconceptions about what a Dracula theme should do. And so what we get in the main theme is a heady mixture of sensuality and threat. It is a sinuous melody. Some of its intervals, and especially the fall at the end of the first two phrases of the melody, play a similar trick to the theme from Superman, in that one can almost hear the word “Dracula” being sung in the orchestra.

There are indeed other links to the Superman score from the previous year. At 1:14 we hear the low strings intoning a ponderous ostinato with trills. Williams used the same trick in Superman, here at 5:30:

There are other themes which wind their way in and out of the score, such as the jaunty brass motif heard at 2:20:

Or the rather threatening brass and piano combination here at 6:38

There is also a lovely little travelling piece which sounds for all the world like a hunt. This may be because of the instrumentation at the beginning – a horn plays a questing little up-down melody before the piece begins in earnest, full of racing strings and woodwind. There is a marvellous melody on the horns, which shows Williams’ mastery of the French horn’s capabilities.

There is one standout variation of the main theme in the score, where john Williams takes it to it’s rapturous extreme, in “The Love Scene”. After a wonderful intro on the horns, the strings come to the fore. They seem to swell like the waves of the ocean, coming to a climax at 1:10. And it really does feel like a climax – its surely the musical version of an orgasm. The piece becomes tender as it draws to a close, but there is always an underlying sense of menace, which pervades the entire score.

There is not much beauty in this score. That’s not to say that the main theme is not majestic, and marvellous. But it’s not a beautiful piece of music. It’s far too dangerous for that.

There are moments of lightness, such as the lovely little motif played on the woodwind in “Give Me Your Loyalty”, at 0:42.

But these moments are rare in a score which is overshadowed by the menace and allure of Dracula himself. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. John Williams is a genius. He creates themes which seem inevitable, fitting perfectly to the characters and images portrayed on the silver screen. This version of Dracula portrays the vampire as a seductive handsome stranger who exerts a supernatural power over the women he pursues. The theme he furnishes Dracula with is likewise intoxicating, seductive, sensual, but at the same time, always with a sense of danger, of menace lurking just below the surface.

If you’ve never heard the score, try and get a copy, or find it on youtube – it’s well worth the listening to.

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!

What makes a good melody?

I’ve been teaching some year 5 classes about melody recently, helping them to realise that good melodies don’t just happen by accident. It’s not that composers slavishly follow rules to compose memorable tunes, because most of the time, a good melody does present itself as if my magic. But there are certain truths I suspect which composers unconsciously tap into when they write a melody which is going to be remembered.

The first truth is about space. Not space as in the cosmos. But space within the melody, both in its timings and in the gaps between consecutive notes. Let me show you by quoting a well known melody – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

Look at the first three notes. The tune is played CCG. That leap between the C and the G of the third note is called an interval of a fifth – a perfect fifth if you want to be precise. It is found in countless pieces of music, and it gives a suggestion of scale, of importance. It’s there too in the theme to Star Wars:

So it’s important to leave spaces between the notes – not to just run up and down the scale. These gaps are important. They speak of something. If we look at the theme to Star Wars, they speak of strength, of adventure, of reaching for the skies. Look at where the melody goes next after those first two notes in Star Wars. The melody comes down three steps, as if it’s finding ground again, but it’s only so that it can build up the energy to launch into space, with that high C.

But you’ll notice too that not all the notes look the same – some are coloured in black, others have white innards. this tells a musician how long the sounds are. If Star Wars had notes all the same length, it would be a very tedious tune. In fact it wouldn’t even make much sense as a tune. The rhythmic timings – the spaces between one note sounding and the next, are what make a tune really captivating. You need both spaces of pitch (up and down space between consecutive notes) and spaces of duration (the length of time between different notes sounding.)

Let’s have another look at how a good melody makes use of pitch – the intervals or spaces between the notes. Somewhere over the Rainbow is a beautiful example of a finely crafted melody which, like Star Wars, tells its story through the tune as much as through the lyrics.

That’s a tune with spaces! That first gap between first and second notes is what we call an octave – a whole eight notes stretch. The melody is made up of a number of small phrases which constantly find their way upward. The effect of this is to give a yearning sense to the music – portraying perfectly Dorothy’s desire to escape from her humdrum existence and find what she dreams for. But even though every individual phrase is always questing upward, the actual shape of the whole tune is inexorably downward. Look at each bar. The direction within each is upward. But after that first huge leap in the first two notes, everything is basically travelling downward pitch-wise, bringing it back to the note it starts on. The effect of this is to ground the tune, just as Dorothy, as she sings the song, is still bound to her life in Kansas. The adventure she dreams of is just that – a dream.

There is another truth in the world’s best melodies. It’s simply this – once you’ve got an idea, repeat it. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying twice, or three times. Look at Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – I’ve colour coded the phrases so you can see the repetition.

So there are two areas of repetition – the first line in its entirety is repeated as the final line, and the middle line (yellow) is itself a two part carbon copy. Do you want to know why this tune is so easy for children to learn? It’s because of the repetition. Our brains like order. They like to feel comfortable. And if they hear a tune which is then repeated, they think, “Oh I know this – I’ve heard it before” And it becomes what we call a hook, or an earworm – it gets in the brain without even trying.

What about the other two tunes I’ve looked at? Star Wars has a repeating phrase (yellow box), but the entire first line is itself repeated as the second line (red box).

Is this because John Williams was feeling lazy? Not at all – he’s a master melody-creator who knows that to create the sense of rightness and order which the human brain craves we need repetition.

And let’s have a look at the third example. The repetition in “Somewhere over the Rainbow” is less obvious, but it’s there – in the shape of the phrases. There are two building blocks, if you like. The first, picked out in yellow, is the yearning upward leap. The red phrases are the same shape every time – the starting note of the phrase drops three notes and then finds it’s way back up stepwise.

Don’t get me wrong – there are many wonderful melodies out there which don’t always reflect these truths, these needs for space and for repetition. But I’d hazard a guess and say that actually, they probably do, but they might hide it a little better. The next time you’re listening to a good tune, see if you can hear what I’ve been talking about – see if you can hear those leaps and spaces, those longer sounds interspersed with shorter ones. Those examples of repetition. Because good melodies don’t just happen.

A John Williams Score for every year of my life 8b. 1977 – Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope

Do I dare? What on earth can I say about this magnum opus which single handedly transformed film scoring, just as the film it accompanies reinvented the blockbuster. So much has already been written about the score John Williams wrote for George Lucas’ little space opera – I certainly couldn’t say anything new or improve on the work of people more versed than I. What I can do is share my own guttural reaction to the score. As a raving Star wars fan, whatever I say about the music will be coloured by my love of the film. And in fact, it was this score which started me on my love affair with the music of John Williams.

What an opening! The Fox fanfare has scarcely faded away when that blast of brass and percussion blazes in, and the words “Star Wars” appear on the screen. Every time I hear that chord, and see those words, I feel like a seven year old all over again. Of course, when I was a seven year old, sitting in a cinema to watch Star Wars for the first time, I didn’t know what I was in for. But that first introductory brass fanfare gives you a clue. This is no less than one of the defining moments of cinema history, and the music leaves you in little doubt about it.

And then that iconic theme. I use this theme in my teaching to illustrate how strong intervals create a sense of adventure, of reaching beyond. This theme is full of them – the opening two notes have the perfect 5th. then the melody steps down three steps, but only because it’s saving it’s energy for the leap from the C to the B flat. And that is all about reaching for the stars. It’s about blasting off from the confines of one’s little planetary existence. It’s about realising your dreams. And all played by the immense power of the London Symphony Orchestra brass. It really is a musical archetype, which has rightfully entered our modern psyche. It’s a true hero archetype. There is a funny story about this theme. Mark Hamill apparently expressed some disappointment that John Williams had written themes for Princess Leia, for Ben Kenobi. The imperials had a theme; heck, even the jawas had a theme. And he (or his character, Luke Skywalker) didn’t. Then John Williams pointed out that the main theme was Luke’s theme. Imagine not just having your own theme, but it being the main theme of the score!

The main theme, after it’s gorgeous second idea for strings (0:26), reiterates the first melody, this time lead by the horns. And then the music, with the magical tones of piano, flute and celeste, sweeps us away to a galaxy far far away. The camera pans down in a sea of stars, and we see below us a desert planet. But we are not allowed to enjoy the moment, for the music has taken a dark turn.

Many people have remarked on the next musical section’s (1:30) similarity to a part of Mars from Holst’s Planets Suite. It’s not a direct quote, but the mood, and the instrumentation, is undeniably similar. And of course Williams has taken his cue from that piece. As a composer, I do it all the time – in fact, many directors will give their films “temp tracks” for their composers to create bespoke music “In the style of”. I would not be at all surprised if Holst was not mentioned at this point in the first musical discussions between Lucas and Williams. Quite apart from that, Holst is a great composer to be emulating.

From here on, so as not to write an entire volume, I will be picking out snippets of the score to share with you. The next bit that struck me even at an early age is the beautiful string passage Williams wrote for the escaping droids as they board the escape pod. A rather magnificent theme for two nonhuman characters to depart their sinking ship on!

The passage is at 4:20 in the above track. But of course everything hinges on these two droids. If they do not find their way down to the planet, then they do not get bought by a moisture farmer, and they never meet a young man called Luke Skywalker. And so the message which Artoo-Detoo carries inside his rusty innards will never find it’s way to an aging Jedi Knight in hiding called Ben Kenobi. So Luke will never hear of the princess, he will never meet Han Solo and his furry companion, and the film would have been markedly shorter. The point is, that this section might seem overcharged for the droid’s escape, but it really is one of the defining moments of the whole saga. And as such, it needs music which sounds portentous. And quite apart from anything else, the melody, formed by a series of interlocking falling lines which rise a step or two every time, is simply beautiful. It comes to a climax with a wonderful crash of the percussion, which was a hallmark of Williams’ work back then, and then we hear two chords in the brass, F and B, and back to the F, then repeated. This motif appears from time to time in the score, often accompanying Imperial action. The two chords form a perhaps overused science fiction trope, using the interplay between a chord and the chord an augmented fourth above it. James Horner uses it a lot in his two scores for the Star Trek franchise. But somehow, when Williams uses it here, it feels fresh. Maybe it’s because he forms a three note pattern with the chords – F B F, or I IV(aug) I. So it carries a sense of purpose and finality which it wouldn’t if it had ended on the augmented chord rather than finding home again

One of the most famous passages and indeed secondary themes in the Star Wars music universe is the music which accompanies Luke Skywalker as he watches the twin setting suns. It is known as the binary sunset music. Have a listen to it below at 2:20.

It is rightly famous, because it is such a clever piece of music. It somehow feels ancient and ageless at the same time, mystical, melancholy yet hopeful – and encapsulates everything about the lost Jedi – I cannot think of a movie theme that does it’s job as well as this one. It becomes Ben Kenobi’s theme. It starts in a minor key, with a step of a fourth. This interval is often used to represent something mystical and ancient. The melody, almost a solo line for french horn, then takes us on a short journey upward, but it soon drops down to it’s starting point. But it soon has another go, and this time reaches a note of hope, in the shape of the C chord (in the key of G minor, this is an unusual chord to land on, and it suffuses the theme with a sense of light, and hope – the Jedi have found their new hope, in the person of Luke Skywalker.) The theme then momentarily swells with full strings – for me this has always been one of those deeply resonant moments, when I erupt in goosebumps. The theme in it’s second half is even more magnificent than it’s first half. Rather like the main theme to Star wars, it reaches up and up, and finally reaches it’s highest point, before resolving peacefully. But it is even more powerful a reaching up in this theme, and I suspect this is because it works it’s way there. It takes longer to get there. You feel that the climax has been well earned. It tells a story of something mystical and ancient, lost, but now regained.

There is an alternative version of this music, completely different – have a listen to the scene with the original. I love the original theme, but I agree with Lucas that Ben’s theme is so much better in this context.

Another section I’d like to share with you is the moment Ben Kenobi shows himself, after frightening off the Tusken Raiders. He kneels by Luke’s side as he lies unconscious in the sand, and then becomes aware of a diminutive droid watching from the safety of an overhanging rock. It’s the passage which starts at 2:14 in the track below. Again, it’s Ben’s theme, but it takes a while to arrive. There is a small two chord motif which is played 5 times on woodwind, brass, and celeste. On the fifth time, the harp plays a gorgeous upward glissando, which feels like a window opening, or a book opening, a secret being revealed. And indeed it is, for it reveals Ben Kenobi to Artoo Detoo and to us, the audience. Williams uses this trick in the soundtrack to ET too, when the camera pans down to show the spaceship in the forest at the beginning. It’s an effective trick of the trade. Then we have a rather heavier version of Ben’s theme, but it peters out before it is able to reach it’s climax. You see, it needs to allude to Ben, but it can’t be too clear, because at this moment we don’t actually know it is Ben.

I’m going to leave this there now. As I said before, I could write a whole book about the thematic richness of the musical Star Wars universe, but I wouldn’t do it as well or as fully as many who have written about it before. I leave you first with a link to a fantastic resource if you’d like to investigate further. It’s a catalogue of the musical themes across all nine Star Wars films by Frank Lehman. It shows the transcription to the innumerable themes created by John Williams across more than 40 years of writing, with many of them linked to sound recordings available on youtube etc.

Another rich source of information can be found at


And finally, I leave you with another of the wonderful themes Williams wrote for this first Star Wars film – the poignantly beautiful theme for Princess Leia, here presented in its concert performance version. It is yet another reason why I fell in love with the music of Star Wars, which then led me into my love affair with the whole ouvre of this amazing composer John Williams. Listen to it from beginning to end, and then tell me that this isn’t worthy of being remembered on into the future, along with the standard repertoire of classical music. It’s like a wave, building up, then crashing on the shore, leaving just an echo of itself imprinted on the sand. Listen to that gorgeous violin cadenza which brings the piece to an end. It always makes my heart soar, just as the notes of the violin disappear into the heights. Simply stunning. But of course, I’m slightly biased!

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 7 – 1976 the Missouri Breaks

I know very little about the film which gave birth to this choice of score by John Williams. I know that it is a Western film which starred Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, but that’s only because they appear on the album artwork. Having looked at Wikipedia’s entry on the film, I see that it is the story of a regulator’s (read hired policeman) personal vendetta to destroy a gang of horse rustlers.

The score is somewhat of a departure for Williams. It is based largely on a small ensemble of guitars, mouth organ, bass and drums, piano, and occasional harpsichord.

The Theme (track 1) is sombre, but the mood is soon lifted by Logan’s Entrance, which is a wonderful jaunty melody played on harpsichord, mouth organ, piano, bass and drums. When Williams isn’t working with the huge forces of an orchestra, it’s interesting to see that even with the much thinner textures available to him, he is able to create such a rich tapestry of sound. This is partly because he understands the language of each of the instruments he is using. The guitar, which comes to the fore in the following track, “Logan and Calvin Talk”, is written for beautifully throughout, and Williams returned to this instrument in later scores such as Stepmom and The River. But it’s also for me because his command of melody is so sublime. Just listen to the little melody which begins the 2nd track.

The fourth track returns to the upbeat feel of the second track, with similar instrumentation and the addition of a banjo and even a fiddle – well, this is a western afterall. It’s enormously fun. Again, the melodies are strong, light-hearted and memorable. One gets the sense that this must have been great fun to perform as an instrumentalist.

The following track, After The Trial, I’m guessing is what we call source music – in that it’s performed live on screen – this feels like a squaredance or barndance.

Leaping on a bit, Logan and Jane is a beautifully delicate love theme, with similarities to the work Williams had done on the Reivers. There are two main melodies, one a truly lovely melody which begins with a gentle rocking between two notes. Everything is understated, and sparsely orchestrated, mainly played on the guitar, bass, harmonica, electric piano and glockenspiel. There is a child-like simplicity which is very charming.

I won’t say much more on this score, except to say that when i first heard it I must confess to having felt a little underwhelmed – it’s not John Williams as we usually hear him. But the joy of this score is it’s very simplicity and sparseness. Rather like the score to Stanley and Iris a few years later, the simple beauty of melody and texture is allowed to shine. One thing I have heard of John Williams music is that it is often so complex, so multi-layered, that it is sometimes difficult to truly understand his thought processes. That is not the case in this score. It’s a little gem. No completist should be without it.

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…

A John Williams Work for Every Year of my Life 5 – 1974 Earthquake

For this post I want to zoom in on one part of this score which struck me as soon as I heard it some years ago – the main theme. It encapsulates so much of the time, with upbeat funky additions to the mix, and that wonderful soaring John Williams horn melody.

Honourable mention of course must go to Williams’ other big score of the year, The Towering Inferno – which is also a wonderful score, full of contemporary beats and big statements, but because I couldn’t possibly do both scores justice, I want to look at just this one piece, and examine what John Williams is doing in his compositional process here.

After a haunting introduction with string harmonics reminiscent of some of the music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we are treated to a massive cataclysmic rising horn figure over a crashing bass note on trombones and double basses. This resolves into a kinetic bass piano line which repeats throughout the first statement of the theme. The drums also kick in. The effect is of a juggernaut – a force of nature which we are helpless against. It is a trick Williams used again in the opening to the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, when the AT-ATs are spotted in the distance. And then the melody comes in.

It is similar in part of it’s shape to the music Williams composed for Lisolette and Harlee in The Towering Inferno – but that is almost like an elevator music version of this powerful theme. It’s basically two lines of a similar falling figure played by French Horns in their lower register, but it is counter-acted by the strings which play short rising scales, and the harmonies which accompany it – G minor to A minor (moving upward). The effect is to pull apart the music as if at the seams, almost as if the music itself is portraying the Earthquake, developing cracks in it’s very surface.

The melody line repeats, but ratchetted up to B flat minor and C minor.

There is a short interlude, in which the music seems to almost lose its way – the woodwind play a rising scale and the harmonies seem to work against each other – the only thing holding them together are the tumultuous bass notes. However, the brass soon reassert themselves, playing a rising chord sequence which leads back into the melody. This time a bass guitar is more prominent. The French Horn, which must be Williams’ favourite timbre of the orchestra, now plays in a higher register, as the whole piece has now modulated up to E minor. Punctuated by stabs from the lower brass, the melody ratchets up again, into G minor, before reaching it’s climax with one of the most gorgeous themic developments I’ve ever heard. The Melody of the theme is there, but suddenly it becomes warmer, the harmonies are friendlier, and as if to signal this the strings come to the fore to provide a softer cushion of sound for the melody to soar above. And it does – until it reaches it’s high point (at 2:17 in the youtube link).

It seems to come back down to earth after this, and the tone is slower, more elegiac, deeper in tone. It’s like what they say – when you’ve reached the top, the only way is down.

I remember hearing this score for the first time in my 20s when it was first released on CD. This main theme grabbed me instantly. It’s everything a disaster theme should be – it’s got plenty of forboding, but in the mix it has the ability to lift the listener, reminding us perhaps that life finds a way (to quote another film from the JW ouvre). Humankind have the amazing ability to come back after nature has done its worst. That in the end is what films like this are supposed to remind us – that nothing is absolutely lost. Who would go and see a film with no hope in it? I wouldn’t. (Apart from Alien 3 – which I think takes hopelessness to a new level, but I love it anyway).

As a composer this is what i love so much about John Williams’ work – it is an experience which works on many different levels. Yes it grabs one emotionally. That high point of the Earthquake theme is just marvellous – so seemingly accidental, yet so perfectly in place. But if you start to take apart the themes, separate them into their constituent layers, examine what the process is behind their creation, the ideas are phenomenal.

A John Williams Work for every Year of my Life 4: Cinderella Liberty

In some ways John Williams’ music for Cinderella Liberty was a departure from the style he was beginning to make his own in the early seventies; certainly in the context of the soundtracks which he’d composed in the years before, such as Jane Eyre, the Cowboys, it almost feels like a different composer. It is very much inspired by jazz idioms – felt very much in the two opening tracks – Wednesday Special (The Main Title), and Nice To Be Around, sung by Paul Williams (no relation to the composer).

However, this was no departure for Williams, but a return in some ways to much of his work during the 60s, when he’d written jazz elements in many of his scores for films such as Diamondhead, Batchelor Flat, A Guide for the Married Man. It was an idiom to which he’d return in later scores, including his disaster film of the mid-seventies such as Towering Inferno, and even later in “Cantina Band” in Star Wars as well as the dance scene in 1941. Perhaps it finds its ultimate expression in the soundtrack to “Catch Me if you Can”, as well as in the title sequence to “the Adventures of Tintin”. That is one of the many refreshing aspects of listening to John Williams’ ouvre – his ability to write in so many different styles, chameleon-like. He is just as much at home with big band numbers as with the full symphony orchestra, as well as much more intimate writing for chamber orchestra, as is found in scores such as “Stanley and Iris”.

The score opens with the vocal “Wednesday Special”, sung by Paul Williams, himself a songwriter – he penned the lyrics throughout. It’s a groovy soul number which has echoes of Williams later work in “Rosewood”. This is followed by “Nice to be Around”, which is perhaps the most famous number form the score. It’s a much more laid back expansive piece complete with soaring harmonica lines, which you can imagine being played in smoky jazz clubs at the end of the evening.

This is followed by “New Shooter”, an upbeat piece for brass, drums and saxes. It’s similar to “Miles on Wheels” which Williams would compose the following year for Earthquake. It illustrates another aspect of Williams’ scores, or at least his presentation of the scores – and fans argue about whether he’s right to do this. He organises the tracks not in the order in which they appear in the film generally, but to make for the best listening experience, so he follows up a lazy jazz theme with this light-hearted poppy piece, so that the ear doesn’t get too used to any one style or dynamic for too long. For myself, it depends on whether I want to listen to the score as background music, or if I want to actually listen with a musician’s ear to the music. In that case, I prefer to have the tracks arranged in dramatic order, as they appear in the film. But in that case, I also want to listen to the entire score, so that’s where the spate of entire score presentations in recent years from La La Land Records and Intrada come in very handy.

The 4th track, Maggie Shoots Pool, is again a wonderful quietly understated jazz inspired piece. It is very like music he would compose for his disaster films for Irwin Allen the following year.

The following pieces are built on ideas which Williams has already worked into the score – for example, Boxing Montage is a more upbeat version of Nice to be Around, all fast paced shuffle beats and funky piano. It’s brilliant Sunday afternoon listening. This is followed by the first vocal rendition of “Nice to be Around”, sung again by Paul Williams.

Neptune’s Bar is out and out jazz, built around a series of harmonic ostinati, with searing sax lines improvising above.

The last few pieces are again built on existing musical ideas from the score – generally either of the songs. But each time we hear them, they are treated differently. They are still recognisably themselves, but the particular instrumentation might vary. The tempo might be different. The harmonies might be subtly changed. The treatment of the jazz elements might be altered. And that again is part of William’s huge talent. He is able to write variations on a theme with deceptive ease, and this is a craft he uses throughout his career – that ability to change the purpose and emotional impact of one single melody simply by changing tempo, orchestration, rhythm, pitch. He is an absolute master of this.

I’ve never seen the film “Cinderella Liberty”. To be honest, I don’t feel I need to. The music is a pleasant listening experience in and of itself. Because of the lack of action cues and its being built around jazz elements, it almost feels like a concert album, an easy listening album of the seventies. As a child of the seventies, I love the sounds of this album. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re not a heavy jazz officianado but enjoy some light jazz listening on a Sunday afternoon, you could give this score a go.

A John Williams Work for every year of my life 3: The Cowboys (1972)

John Williams was 40 when he wrote the music to the Mark Rydell film, “The Cowboys”. In the same year, he produced what has to be his most avant-garde score for the Robert Altman film, “Images”. I just want to briefly look at his work on this latter film before taking a more in depth look at “The Cowboys”.

Images tells the story of an authoress’s descent into madness. The music more than suggests this – it is deeply unsettling, with disembodied voices and strange otherworldly instruments peppering the pieces on the score album. The only recognisable melody is “In Search of Unicorns”, but even this begins with disjointed piano wanderings, before it begins a sombre and deeply disturbing elegy, written for piano and strings. Any sense of eerie peace is disturbed by a horrific outburst on rather weird percussion and what can only be described as a siren. Periodic returns to more melodic iterations are intermittently disturbed by more deeply unsettling and frankly shocking interludes.

The main theme, such as it is, returns at points later in the score – such as in “Dogs, Ponies, and Old Ruins”

Throughout the soundtrack there are elements of John Williams musical language which found their way into later scores, such as Close Encounters, The Empire of the Sun, and War of the Worlds. But this is Williams at his most unconventional, his most experimental. It is not pleasant listening. Very interesting, but not pleasant. This really is the stuff of nightmares, of horror movies. It’s interesting to note that the film itself is not a horror film – maybe the intention is to make us feel that there is nothing more horrific than the descent into madness of the human mind.

So to “The Cowboys”.

The Main Theme is gloriously bright, positive, exuding a wonderful Americana which could very well have come from the pen of Copland. You can almost smell the horses! And where Images created it’s sounds around strings, piano and a selection of non-Western percussion instruments, “the Cowboys” is written for full orchestra, with occasional help from the mouth organ, and electric piano.

This is John Williams at his most jubilant, his most melodic. I defy anyone to listen to the main theme and not go away humming part of it. The film is about a rancher who must find replacement drovers when he is deserted by his ranch-hands. He finds his troupe in a group of school-boys. The music reflects their joie-de-vivre, and even though the film has it’s dark turns, there is little in the original score album to take away from that first sense of fun we hear in the opening theme.

As an example, “Wild Horses”, the 4th track, is absolutely, wonderfully joyful, conjuring up a horse-ride through the majestic plains of the Wild West.

And then, as if the main theme wasn’t enough, we get an alternative main theme, which I presume was written, recorded, but never used. It is just wonderful! If anything, I love it even more than the actual theme that was used. It has something of the theme to Dallas about it – maybe in those sawing strings.

In “The Ranch” we hear one of the secondary themes from the film. This is a beautiful theme full of wide-open space, and if you’ve got the feeling as you listen to it that you’ve heard it before, then maybe it’s because it’s the precursor of the wonderful pastoral theme from Superman, played predominantly when Clark Kent takes his leave of his mother in the cornfields. This is the full coming of age of the theme which we hear first in the Cowboys.

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.

If you’ve never discovered the music to “The Cowboys”, then I urge you to give it a listen. It’s John Williams as he was entering what might be seen as the golden age of his cinematic work. It’s full of beautiful melodies, of drama, of intricate orchestrations. These are the hallmarks of his trade which are then seen in his countless scores up to the present day.

A John Williams work for every year of my life 2: The Fiddler on the Roof.

In 1971 John Williams won his first Oscar, for his adaptation and incidental music for “Fiddler on the Roof”. I can not claim to know this film, or the musical, well at all.

When I was in secondary school I remember singing “Sunrise, Sunset” in the school choir. That was the extent of my knowledge of the musical. So I’ve dusted off the album (well, actually, I downloaded it from Amazon) and had a deeper listen.

What is perhaps unique about this score for John Williams is that it is mainly not his own work. The Oscar was not for best score, afterall, but for best adaptation and original song score. But it doesn’t take long to hear John Williams’ mark on the music of this film. At the age of 39, he’d already developed his own brand of sound, his ways of mixing using the sounds of the orchestra. The orchestration of the songs, often much more complex than the stage version of the same songs, shows his love of intricate counter harmonies and rhythms, and his use of big brass section is evident, especially in the opening track, “Tradition”.

Much of the score is a mixture of comedic beats and Judaic melodic turns. Williams had cut his teeth on writing scores for comedy capers, and this was no new skill for him. But there are some parts of the score which point forward to the orchestral and musical language which John Williams has surely made his own in the years since. The first is this piece from the first act finale:

Some of this could be from one of his disaster films, even from one of his later dramas such as Munich. It has a building power and passion which Williams does so very well.

And then there is this – listen from the 1:05 mark, and tell me those strings writhing around above the melody aren’t a precursor to the wonderful writing he did for the Slave Children’s Crusade in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 13 years later?

(listen at 0:37 and then again at 0:58)

So what I need to do now is track down a copy of the film itself, as whilst much of John William’s wonderful music stands apart from the films it was created for, and is a great listening experience in and of itself, one can only really appreciate the mastery with which he writes when you see how he expresses the action on screen through music. That’s what has put him at the top of his craft for so many years – he knows what to say and how to say it, using the speech of the orchestra.

A John Williams work for every year of my life (almost)

I fell in love , as so many people did, with the music of John Williams as a child, without knowing anything about the man who gave us so much incredible memorable music. His main themes are amongst some of the most recognisable and hummable tunes in musical history. But it’s not just his main themes which are remarkable. He seems able to imbue every sequence of a film with music which transports, which deepens emotion, which accentuates the action. And what melodies! Even throwaway action sequences are sometimes given the most amazing melodies and harmonic sequences which are heard once, and never again. He is a master.

So I’m going to see if I can pick a piece of music from his huge body of work to highlight for every single year of my life. So I start with 1970. And discover that unfortunately there were no new John Williams albums released in the year of my birth. However, Jane Eyre was a TV movie released in December 1970, even though the soundtrack was not released until the following year.

The film featured Susannah York and George C. Scott in the main roles. Williams composed a beautiful fluid main theme, a lilting melody filled with yearning leaps and tinged with melancholy, played first by the piano. After a secondary theme, it repeats with a more full-throated version of soaring strings. the secondary theme comes in again, before briefly reiterating the main theme, before a wonderful cadenza of the piano brings it to a close.

I heard this album for the first time in the early 90s, and the main theme captivated me. But it is by no means the only theme of note on the album. there is a beautiful tender theme for flute and harp, called reunion. Then there is a sombre and chilling piece called “Lowood” – representing Jane’s arrival as an orphan at the dreaded institution. Oh and a gorgeous Vaughan-Williamsesque piece for St John Rivers.

If you have never heard this soundtrack, then head over to Youtube, or see if you can nab yourself a copy. It really is stunning. And like so many of Williams’ soundtracks, it really doesn’t sound 50 years old – it hasn’t aged, but still sounds fresh.