John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932) is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning over six decades, Williams has composed some of the most popular and recognizable film scores in cinematic history, including Jaws, the Star Wars series, Superman, the Indiana Jones series, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and the first three Harry Potter films. Williams has been associated with director Steven Spielberg since 1974, composing music for the majority of his feature films.While skilled in a variety of 20th century compositional idioms, Williams' most familiar style may be described as a form of neoromanticism, inspired by the late 19th century's large–scale orchestral music–in the style of Tchaikovsky or Richard Wagner's compositions and their concept of leitmotif–that inspired his film music predecessors.
After his studies at Juilliard, and the Eastman School of Music, Williams returned to Los Angeles, where he began working as an orchestrator at film studios. Among other composers, Williams worked with Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman, and also with his fellow orchestrators Conrad Salinger and Bob Franklyn.
Williams was also a studio piano, performing on film scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini. Williams recorded with Henry Mancini the film scores of 1959's Peter Gunn, 1962's Days of Wine and Roses, and 1963's Charade. (Williams actually played the well-recognized opening riff to Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.)
Williams (sometimes credited as "Johnny Williams", i.e., John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)) composed music for various television programs in the 1960s: the pilot episode of Gilligan's Island, Bachelor Father (1959–1960), the Kraft Suspense Theatre, Lost in Space (1965–68), The Time Tunnel (1966–67), and Land of the Giants (the last three created by the prolific TV producer, Irwin Allen).
Williams's first film composition was for the 1958 B movie Daddy-O, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young. He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano, and symphonic music. Williams received his first Academy Award nomination for his film score for 1967's Valley of the Dolls, and was nominated again for his score for 1969's Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Williams broke through to win his first Academy Award for his film score in the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof. In 1972, he composed the score for the Robert Altman–directed psychological thriller Images (recorded in collaboration with noted percussionist Stomu Yamashta) which earned him another nomination in the category Best Music, Original Dramatic Score at the 1973 Academy Awards. During the early 1970s, Williams' prominence grew thanks to his work for now–film producer Irwin Allen's disaster films, composing the scores for 1972's The Poseidon Adventure and 1974's The Towering Inferno. In addition, he scored Universal's 1974 film Earthquake for director Mark Robson, completing a "trinity" of scores for the decade's highest-grossing "disaster films". He also wrote a very memorable score for the 1972 film The Cowboys, a western starring John Wayne and directed by Mark Rydell.
In 1974, director Steven Spielberg approached Williams to compose the music for his feature directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. They teamed up again a year later for Spielberg's second film, Jaws. Widely considered to be a classic suspense film, its film score's ominous, two-note ostinato has become synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. The score earned Williams his second Academy Award, his first one for an original composition.
Shortly thereafter, Spielberg and Williams began a long collaboration for their next feature film together, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. During their two-year-long collaboration, they crafted its distinctive five-note figure that functions both in the background music and as the communications signal of the film's extraterrestrials. Williams also used a system of musical hand signals in the film that were based on hand signs created by John Curwen and refined by Zoltán Kodály.
During the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious 1977 space epic film Star Wars. Williams delivered a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Its main theme, "Luke's Theme" is among the most widely recognized in film history, and the "Force Theme" and "Princess Leia's Theme" are well-known examples of leitmotif. Both the film and its soundtrack were immensely successful–it remains the highest grossing non-popular music recording of all–time–and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score.
In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he introduced "The Imperial March" as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, "Yoda's Theme", and "Han Solo and the Princess". The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams' score provided most notably the "Emperor's Theme", "Parade of the Ewoks", and "Luke and Leia". Both scores earned him Academy Award nominations.
John Williams conducting the score to Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Avery Fisher Hall. Williams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme, known as "Can You Read My Mind," appeared in the four sequel films. For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, created by Lucas and directed by Spielberg, Williams wrote a rousing main theme known as "The Raiders March" to accompany the film's hero, Indiana Jones. He composed separate themes to represent the Ark of the Covenant, the character Marion, and the story's Nazi villains. Additional themes were featured in his scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg's 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score.
For Spielberg's The Color Purple, Quincy Jones wanted to personally arrange and compose the project's music. Williams also did not score Twilight Zone: The Movie, but Spielberg had directed only one of the film's four segments; the film's lead director and producer, John Landis, selected Jerry Goldsmith as composer. The Spielberg-Williams collaboration resumed with the director's 1987 film Empire of the Sun, and has continued to the present, spanning genres from science fiction thrillers (1993's Jurassic Park), to somber tragedies (1993's Schindler's List, 2005's Munich), to Eastern-tinged melodramas (2005's Memoirs of a Geisha, directed by Rob Marshall), to dramatic war films (1998's Saving Private Ryan). Spielberg has said, "I call it an honorable privilege to regard John Williams as a friend."
In 1999, George Lucas launched the first of a series of prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. Williams was asked to score all three films, starting with The Phantom Menace. Along with themes from the previous films, Williams created new themes to be used as leitmotifs in 2002's Attack of the Clones and 2005's Revenge of the Sith. Most notable of these was "Duel of the Fates", an aggressive choral movement utilizing harsh Sanskrit lyrics that broadened the style of music used in the Star Wars films. Also of note was "Anakin's Theme", which begins as an innocent childlike melody and morphs insidiously into a quote of the sinister "Imperial March." For Episode II, Williams composed "Across the Stars", a love theme for Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker (mirroring the love theme composed for The Empire Strikes Back).The final installment combined many of the themes created for the series' previous films, including "The Emperor's Theme," "The Imperial March", "Across the Stars", "Duel of the Fates", "The Force Theme", "Rebel Fanfare", "Luke's Theme", and "Princess Leia's Theme", as well as new themes for General Grievous and the film's climax, entitled "Battle of the Heroes".
In the new millennium, Williams was asked to score the film adaptations of J. K. Rowling's widely successful book series, Harry Potter. He went on to score the film franchise's first three installments. As with his Superman theme, the most important theme from Williams' scores for the Harry Potter films, dubbed "Hedwig's Theme", has been used in the fourth through to the eighth films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2), scored by Patrick Doyle (Goblet of Fire), Nicholas Hooper (Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince) and Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hallows). Like the main themes from Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones, fans have come to identify the Harry Potter films with Williams' original compositions. Williams was asked to return to score the film franchise's final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, but director David Yates stated that "their schedules simply did not align" as he would have had to provide Williams with a rough cut of the film sooner than was possible.
In 2006, Superman Returns was completed under Bryan Singer's direction, best known for directing the first two films in the X-Men series. Although Singer did not request Williams to compose a score for the intentionally Donner-esque film, he employed the skills of X2 composer John Ottman to incorporate Williams' original Superman theme, as well as those for Lois Lane, Krypton and Smallville. In 2011, the "Main Title Theme" and elements of "Can You Read My Mind" were notably used in the final scene of "Finale," the series finale of the WB/CW television series Smallville. Don Davis performed a similar role for Jurassic Park III, recommended by Williams himself to the producers.
In 2008, Williams returned to the Indiana Jones series to score the fourth film–Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He received a Grammy nomination for his work on the film. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was also the only film score from the Indiana Jones film series not to be nominated for an Academy Award. During 2008, he also composed music for two documentaries, Warner at War and A Timeless Call, the latter of which was directed by Steven Spielberg.
After a three-year absence from film scoring, Williams composed the scores for Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse in 2011. Both scores received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with both scores earning Oscar nominations, and the latter being nominated for a Golden Globe. The Oscar nominations are Williams' 46th and 47th, making him the most nominated musician in Academy Awards history (having previously been tied with Alfred Newman's 45 nominations), and the second most nominated overall, following Walt Disney. Williams won an Annie Award for his score for The Adventures of Tintin in 2012. In 2012, Williams scored Spielberg's film Lincoln and subsequently received his 48th Academy Award nomination.
In February 2013, Williams conducted the Young Musician's Foundation Debut Orchestra and also expressed his interest in working in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, stating: "Now we′re hearing of a new set of movies coming in 2015, 2016... so I need to make sure I'm still ready to go in a few years for what I hope would be continued work with George." He also scored the 2013 film The Book Thief, which marked his first collaboration with a director other than Spielberg since 2005. The score earned him Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and earned him a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition. It was his 44th nomination for Best Original Score (and 49th overall), setting a new record for the most nominations in that category (he previously tied Alfred Newman's record of 43 nominations in 2013).
In 2015, he scored Star Wars: The Force Awakens, earning him his 50th Academy Award nomination. Williams was set to write the score for Bridge of Spies, which would have been his 27th collaboration with director Steven Spielberg. However, in March 2015, it was announced that Thomas Newman would replace Williams for the film, as Williams' schedule was interrupted by a minor health issue and he became unavailable to score the film. This is the first Spielberg film since The Color Purple (1985) not scored by Williams.
Currently Williams is scoring Spielberg's next movie The BFG which opens in July 2016.