John Williams The Music of John Williams: 40 Years of Film Music Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

No one has contributed more to modern film music.

Morag Reavley 2003

All hail the king! With five Academy Awards and over 40 Oscar nominations, John Williams is a member of cinema's elite. No one has contributed more to modernfilm music.

This gargantuan four-CD collection marks the fortieth annivesary of Williams' film career. The tracks are arranged generically rather than chronologically. Williams' work for Steven Spielberg fills the first two discs; the fourth features blockbusters written for other directors, including a romp through the Star Wars series.

Overworked as the big numbers have become, they are far from worn out. The music from Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones still startles in the fullness of its sound and simplicity of its structure.

Not all the music is familiar. The third disc gathers music from early and less well known films, starting with a suite from the 1966 movie The Rare Breed - the complete soundtrack of which has never been released. Other less familiar work includes a florid, romantic suite from Jane Eyre, pastiche-Western music from 1972's The Cowboys and the end titles from Alfred Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot.

Such a heterogeneous collection reveals interesting sub-themes. There's a folksy strand evident in the harmonica of Williams' first Spielberg collaboration, 1974's Sugarland Express, and the fiddle music of Schindler's List. Tracks from Dracula and The Witches of Eastwick reveal a darker, Gothic strain. And there's an interesting cluster of choral pieces, from the pseudo-African chorus of Amistad to the Borodin-esque "Duel Of The Fates" from The Phantom Menace.

Williams isn't slowing down. Tracks from Catch Me If You Can and AI show he's still at the top of his game. "Hedwigs Theme" ,from the first Harry Potter film, is already a classic; its magical, ring-a-roses melody miraculously avoiding sentimentality.

These are renditions by the City of Prague Philharmonic, not original recordings. The reinterpretation rightly treats the music as living, complex works.

Despite its girth, this collection merely samples Williams' oeuvre - it cannot convey the depth of individual scores. What it does proclaim is the astonishing variety and sheer quality of his achievement; here's to the next 40 years.

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