John Williams – A Short Biography.
John Williams is without doubt the most lauded and respected living film composer. His music has a quintessential American quality to it, and he has received nearly every industry award going, including In excess of 45 Oscar nominations and 5 wins.
Born in Long Island, NY in 1932. His father was a professional percussionist so Williams was exposed to music at an early age. The family moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1948 and the young John Williams was soon exploring composition, performing his first fully original work, a piano sonata in 1951 at the age of 19.
He received a classical music university education at two of America’s top colleges: firstly UCLA and then at the Julliard School of Music in New York where his piano professor impressed on him the need to focus on composition.
After graduating, Williams moved back to LA and began working in Hollywood studios, initially as a piano player, but by 1956 he had become a staff arranger at Columbia and 20th Century Fox, working with some of the major composers of what is now called the ‘Golden Age’ of US Cinema (1930s-50s). Composing jobs for TV followed in the 1960s leading to film work from the mid-60s onwards.
John Williams provided music for some of the major disaster movies of the early 1970s: The Poseidon Adventure (1972); Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (1974) but it has been his work with director Steven Spielberg, starting with Jaws (1975) that has produced some of his most memorable scores including ET (1982), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Empire of the Sun (1987), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998).
John Williams has also worked with many other directors, but it was Spielberg’s recommendation of him to his friend director George Lucas that led to Williams being engaged to compose the music for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) and many other Lucas films since.
John Williams on his composing style: “I work very much in what some would consider old school, in front of the keyboard with pencil and paper. The piano is my favourite tool. Over the decades there has been so much amazing technological change in the music business, but I’ve been so busy I’ve never retooled.”
It is worth bearing-in-mind that when John Williams began writing film music, composers effectively had to learn on-the-job, often as assistants to established composers. Nowadays it is possible to study film composition as part of a university degree, which is an indication of how much more mainstream the film, TV and gaming music industry has become.