Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: John Williams

John Towner Williams (born 1932)
John Towner Williams (born 1932)

We celebrate the birth on February 8, 1932 – 89 years ago today – of the American composer, conductor, pianist and trombonist John Towner Williams, in the neighborhood of Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens. Williams must be regarded as among the greatest film composers of all time and is without a doubt the most successful in terms of awards garnered and dollars earned.

Let’s do the numbers, if only to get them out of the way.

To date, John Williams has created the scores for 8 of the 25 highest grossing films in American box office history.

His 115(!) film scores include those for:

  • The Reivers (1969)
  • The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
  • The Long Goodbye (1973)
  • The Paper Chase (1973)
  • Earthquake (1974)
  • The Towering Inferno (1974)
  • The Eiger Sanction (1975)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Missouri Breaks (1976)
  • Midway (1976)
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  • E. T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
  • The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
  • Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
  • Hook (1991)
  • JFK (1991)
  • Schindler’s List (1993)
  • Sabrina (1995)
  • Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
  • Amistad (1997)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Angela’s Ashes (1999)
  • Minority Report (2002)
  • The Terminal (2004)
  • War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Munich (2005)
  • Lincoln (2012)

Williams has as well provided the music for:

  • The Star Wars franchise
  • The Superman franchise
  • The Indiana Jones franchise
  • The Home Alone franchise
  • The Jurassic Park franchise
  • The Harry Potter franchise

We’re breathless; and that list doesn’t include Williams’ large body of television work (including, heaven help us, the incidental music for season one of Gilligan’s Island).

Let us now add to the list Williams’ concert works, which include:

  • 18 concerti (composed between 1969 and 2018)
  • 23 miscellaneous orchestral works (composed between 1965 and 2014) and
  • 9 miscellaneous chamber works, composed between 1951 and 2014.

Among many other high-end musical institutions, Williams has been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

His celebratory fanfares and marches, composed for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, the Atlanta Olympics in 1994, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009 have collectively made him the American equivalent of George Frederick Handel, who himself created just such a body of ceremonial music for his adopted United Kingdom.…

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