Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Music Performed by The Vienna Philharmonic
Single CD/Blu-ray+CD Release: 2020
2 CD Live Edition Release: 2021
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Available also as a digital stream/download
“All the soundtracks of this collection, and generally all the masterpieces written by John Williams, and they are so many, have a common feature, they are irreplaceable! It is impossible to imagine the movies without the music they have. Consider for how many movies we can say this nowadays…”
When the greatest living composer of the cinema meets for the first time one of the best orchestras in the world, then a landmark concert takes place. Whether you had the privilege to attend it live or not, Deutsche Grammophon now gives you the chance to get it. It is a fact that composer John Williams has lived long enough to acquire the title of the greatest film score composer. And if this title may seem exaggerated to you, you only have to compare John Williams with anyone else writing music for the big screen nowadays. Of course, there are many extremely competent and talented composers, but nobody is at the level of John Williams. Since the recent deaths of the last great active composers of his generation, Michel Legrand and Ennio Morricone, John Williams must have been feeling lonely up there at the top where he is.
His meeting with the Vienna Philharmonic has been of historical importance for both the Vienna Philharmonic and him, since his compositions were the first ones from the cinema that the orchestra performed! Yet another fort fell, yet another narrow-minded relic of the past was eliminated. Better late than never, as they say. An interesting presence in the concert, which took place on January 2020, was according to John Williams, Germany’s best violin soloist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, former wife of the deceased composer and conductor Andre Previn, to whom John Williams was linked by long-standing ties of friendship. Andre Previn, as the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, was the one who invited John Williams to record the music of “Star Wars” (1978) in London in order to enhance its popularity. Since then, John Williams has often returned to London for his recordings.
The main question that is usually asked for every film music collection from a concert is the following: how are the new performances by the Vienna Philharmonic? Good or bad? With an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic and a conductor like John Williams, does anyone really expect that the performances would not be good? Are they the same as the original ones or are they altered in any way? Some of them are the same, others are somehow different. There are some people who are usually annoyed by the slightest change that they may hear, but how rational or reasonable is this? Why should the new performance of a musical theme be exactly the same as the original one? Some changes, such as the slower tempo in the introduction of Star Wars, in “Main Title from Star Wars” (#9), are interesting and generally welcome. When the score of a movie becomes autonomous and is no longer subject to time restrictions posed by the movie, then in a concert, the composer has the opportunity to experiment with his music. In no case can this be reprehensible, and of course there is no doubt that it is his right to do so, if he wishes.
“Star Wars” (1978) was a focal point in the development of music in cinema. In an era when rock music had prevailed over it as well, in response to the movie “Star Wars” the once thriving symphonic score (1930-1960) became fashionable again. It was even combined with the arrival of Dolby sound in the cinema. Imagine, thus, the impression of the viewers who saw the movie in the cinema, with the music making its explosive start with a sound unprecedented until then. It would undoubtedly be a riveting experience that could hardly be forgotten! Since the word “war” is in the movie’s title, the musical introduction could not be anything but a war call to battle. And just to think that John Williams almost wouldn’t write this music, since the original idea of the director George Lucas was to follow the musical philosophy of Stanley Kubrick for the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), is really shocking. Namely, to use classical music and adapt it to the movie. Thank God, he was convinced by John Williams that such a thing would not work in the movie, which would be deprived of the desirable musical cohesion that it needed.
By applying the extremely effective over the time technique of leitmotif, he created a masterpiece, of which both Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) and Max Steiner (1888-1971) would be very proud, being the ones who established it in cinema. By identifying motifs or bigger in development musical themes with characters or situations of the story, the music becomes easily understood by the viewer due to its straightforwardness. It is the most palatable and direct way in order for anyone, even a viewer of younger age, to understand the essence of a character. Take for example a Star Wars character, Darth Vader. Listen to his theme in “Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back” (#12) and you will immediately understand his two main features: he is beyond any doubt the villain of the story and he has military power. Actually, according to John Williams himself, the performance of Darth Vader’s theme by the Vienna Philharmonic is the best one he has ever heard! It is interesting that despite the laden with brass music that the orchestra already had to perform, the performers of the brass instruments asked the composer to include in the concert the theme of Darth Vader, even though he had not planned it!
And while someone would expect to include the shark’s theme from the movie “Jaws” (1975) in the concert, John Williams surprisingly chooses music from other two interesting scenes of this movie. Until 01:57 of “Out To Sea & The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws” (#7), we hear the music that accompanied the departure of the ship carrying the three brave ones that will confront the shark. The music defines a carefree mood and relaxed atmosphere for a routine departure, which, however, completely contradicts the adventurous and terrifying events that will follow. The role of music is useful when it prepares the viewers for what follows but it is even more useful when it misleads them on purpose. That’s when the feeling of the unpredictable is enhanced and what follows becomes more suspenseful. From 01:57 onwards, the violins present several times the preparation theme of the three on board in order to face the shark, using the underwater cage. Its performance becomes more intense as their preparation progresses. The appearance of the brass section at 03:27 works as a danger signal and the flow of music is lead to a peak when shortly afterwards the preparation theme is performed by the brass.
The alternations in the atmosphere of the music are a very interesting element in a concert, as it happens in this one as well. From the adventure of the movie “Jaws” (1975) we are moving to 1912 Great Britain and the movie “War Horse” (2011). Albert is a young man who lives in a farm of the British countryside with his beloved horse Joey, which he trains. However, the outbreak of the first world war will change everything. Although separated by war and tested in battle, Albert and Joey will remain forever tied by their friendship. The track “Dartmoor, 1912 from War Horse” (#6) brings in mind images of the breathtaking British countryside and the horse running carefree. Do not doubt for a moment that John Williams’ music expresses the feelings of the horse, becomes its voice. It is admirable how the horse becomes a main character of the movie, practically an actor, through the music. The horse, supported by the music, seems to be talking to the viewer through its look. Both when running carefree on the farm and when running like there’s no tomorrow on no man’s land, showing incredible heroism, the musical notes of John Williams become the words that the horse never utters.
Another friendship, even more famous, for which John Williams wrote music, was the one between little Elliott and a harmless alien, who must stay hidden from Elliott’s mother and the government. The track “Adventures On Earth from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” (#4) that is heard at the finale of the movie, is the maturity of the entire music that preceded. Connotative references here and there until the point when the extra terrestrial and Elliott fly with a bicycle under the moonlight, give their place to an unprecedented emotional roller-coaster of the orchestra that is completed with one of the most characteristic and magnificent musical finales in the history of cinema. Unforgettable music which created unforgettable movie moments. That’s why it won an Oscar! Crucial for this was the willingness of the director Steven Spielberg to adapt the movie to the music of John Williams, an initiative that rarely happens, when, during the recording, the composer had trouble achieving accurately the wanted synchronization with everything happening on screen.
When watching the movie list of this musical collection, someone may wonder: could these movies have a better soundtrack? There is a clear answer to this question, which is supported by any track of this collection. From the excitement caused by a flight in the movie “Hook” (1991), which reaches and develops the orchestral magic and mastery of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, to the awe highlighted by the music at the sight of the dinosaurs in the movie “Jurassic Park” (1993), and the definition of adventure with Indiana Jones’ theme in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), all the above scores could not become better! It is an undeniable conclusion, that makes the imprint of the composer John Williams unique. All the soundtracks of this collection and generally all the masterpieces written by John Williams, and they are so many, have a common feature, they are irreplaceable! It is impossible to imagine the movies without the music they have. Consider for how many movies we can say this nowadays …
The impressive and at the same time admirable thing about John Williams, and about every other composer that achieves it through the music he writes, is that all the tracks of this collection do not need their movies to exist. They can all stand by themselves autonomous. If this is not a sample of a great narrative capacity on the part of the composer, then what is it? The director and his partner for more than 40 years, Steven Spielberg, has fairly described him as the greatest musical narrator of the cinema. And without forgetting in which era we live in, let’s wonder for how many composers can we say the same thing…
In 2000, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam recorded for the first time a film score. It was for the movie “Enigma” (2001), composed by John Barry, and unfortunately it was about to be his last score. Three years later, in 2003, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recorded for the first time a film score. It was George Fenton’s music for the documentary film “Deep Blue” (2003). Seventeen years later, the Vienna Philharmonic performs for the first time film music, thanks to the concert of John Williams. It characteristically delayed to be synchronized with the other two best orchestras in the world, but it finally adapted to reality. As someone may realize, the reference to the other two orchestras is no coincidental, since, along with the Vienna Philharmonic, in 2010 they were proclaimed the three best orchestras in the world, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra being the first one and the Berlin Philharmonic being the second one. However, apart from the important step forward taken by the Vienna Philharmonic by performing music from the cinema, the invitation to John Williams in particular, also signifies somehow a great atonement for the orchestra. The offspring of Vienna, an already accomplished composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who was strongly contested by Hollywood that managed to win his services, by giving him privileges that no other composer has enjoyed at the time, had never in his lifetime the opportunity to hear the orchestra of his hometown performing some of his masterpieces, because back then music for entertainment was by definition inferior. The image of John Williams, the only contemporary composer who is so close to the style and the philosophy of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, standing in front and conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, is in a way comforting for his spirit, which hovers over the city in which he was born and it is at long last smiling.
With 5 Oscar awards, 52 Oscar nominations in total and countless other awards, the 89-year-old John Williams is a valuable global treasure from whom every other younger composer can learn a lot. And one more thing that it can be learned from him, is that humility is a virtue, despite all the successes or distinctions a composer might get. As the only composer ever being awarded by the American Film Institute (AFI), when he received the award in 2016, John Williams stated: “Tomorrow morning when I am back at work, I will try to deserve this honor!”. John Williams, the honor is ours every time we hear your compositions!
With more than 100,000 CD & Blu-ray sales and 150 million streams/downloads, the concert of John Williams with the Vienna Philharmonic is the most popular release of 2020 in the category of orchestral album. It is available as a digital download and in various editions in physical form, such as in CD, Blu-ray & CD and in a 2 CD Live Edition.
Single CD Track List:
01. “The Flight To Neverland” from Hook (5:15)
02. “Excerpts” from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (7:47)
03. “Devil’s Dance” from The Witches Of Eastwick (5:51)
04. “Adventures On Earth” from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (10:09)
05. “Theme” from Jurassic Park (6:03)
06. “Dartmoor, 1912” from War Horse (5:08)
07. “Out To Sea & The Shark Cage Fugue” from Jaws (5:08)
08. “Marion’s Theme” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark (4:02)
09. “Main Title” from Star Wars: A New Hope (6:25)
10. “The Rebellion Is Reborn” from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (4:34)
11. “Luke & Leia” from Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (4:06)
12. “Imperial March” from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (3:21)
13. “Raider’s March” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark (5:45)
Total Time: 74:56
Collection Rating: * * * * *