Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Many Inspirations of John Williams

How many times have you heard that John Williams steals music from other classical composers? I'm not sure exactly why everyone seems to pick on poor Johnny, as every movie composer borrows from someone else. Heck, even classical composers borrow from other classical composers. It is not stealing as long as you take the melody, harmonies, style, and do something different with it. Then it becomes a variation, a tribute, a nod of the hat to the inspiration from which it came.

So how about we pick on poor Johnny?

I'm always filled with joy when I'm listening to random classical compositions on the radio, and I hear something that I recognize from a movie. Just a couple of weeks ago, the radio was playing Korngold's "Much Ado About Nothing" suite for violin and piano, and I heard this over and over again:

After the second time, it hit me that it sounds an awful much like the Star Wars theme ... mainly the minor 7th jump. As soon as I got a chance, I started researching to see if this Korngold character (who--believe it or not--I had never heard of before) was intentionally doing variations on "Star Wars." I was surprised to learn that I had it backwards.

It turns out that Korngold was a prominent movie composer in the 1930s and a major influence on John Williams. This piece very well could have helped shaped the main Star Wars theme (not so much the first five notes, but the ones that follow that--the first five notes come from another piece).

This previous example may be difficult to hear, but I think you'll have no problem making out the rest of the movie themes from the following excerpts. As you listen to each, I've cued up Youtube to play just the pertinent excerpt. However, if you hit replay, it will play the whole video. If you want to get Youtube to re-cue the excerpt, just refresh this blog post (thus giving me more page views -- yay!).

So from here on out, I'm not going to give the answers. You tell me what movie themes the following inspire.

#1) Korngold - the main theme from "King's Row" -- inspires two different John Williams movies.

#2 Holst - "Mars" from the Planets

#3 Stravinsky - "Rite of Spring" (The Sacrifice)

#4 Richard Strauss - "Death and Transfiguration" (Transfiguration theme)

These next two go together:

#5a) Stravinsky: Rite of Spring

#5b) Dvorak: New World Symphony (4th Movement)

Finally, here are two more bonus videos to show that John Williams isn't alone. See if you can identify movie themes inspired by the following:

Bonus #1) Mahler 1: Symphony #1

Bonus #2) Saint Saens -- Carnival of the Animals - "Aquarium" (Think Disney on this one)

And there you. I hope you enjoyed going down Movie Inspiration Lane!

PS - Update: I forgot this one. It may be harder to hear, but John Williams has specifically named this piece as an inspiration for "Superman." Plus, it's such an awesome piece, and an awesome performance. Let me know if you hear "Superman."

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