Happy Birthday, John Williams!

Feb 08, 2018

Posted by: Dawn Johnson

Birthdays, Composers, Fandom, Fans, Film Awards, Films, Films - Soundtracks, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Philosophers / Sorcerers Stone, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Movies, Music, News, Williams

Today we celebrate the birthday and work of renowned composer John Williams. When we think of our favorite films we typically discuss the actors, the direction, even the writing, first. The music of film often subsists in the background, but as soon as we hear the unforgettable notes which spark our recognition and drive our emotions, the story comes alive in a way that reminds us the telling would be bereft without it. John Williams has scored many of the films which define our childhoods–and film history at that–and continues to do so.

His first composing credit dates back to 1958, and in most of the next decade he lent his musical genius to television series. Not until the ’70s was he regularly tapped for larger projects, scoring film adaptations for the big screen. Then, in 1975, Williams broke into the public consciousness and film legend with an iconic bone-chilling score which still captivates audiences today–JAWS.

Notoriety came swiftly after that, and he caught the attention of a maverick director by the name of George Lucas. Lucas had a crazy idea for a film that would revolutionize the science fiction genre and special effects in the entire film industry. What he needed was an epic score to match his space adventure, and he found that in John Williams, who composed the music for Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope.

Williams went on to score every other Star Wars film, including the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX, now in pre-production. But this is not the only successful film franchise to be defined by his memorable work. In 1978, he wrote the soaring composition for Superman, a theme which caused both adults and children to cheer with excitement!

He began the 1980s with another fan-favorite franchise, Indiana Jones. From the first triumphant notes, audiences knew they were in for a thrilling adventure and neither Indy nor Williams ever disappointed!

Throughout the ’80s, Williams continued to make incredible music, scoring E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Born on the Fourth of July, among others.

He kicked off the 1990s scoring a flurry of notable films: mystery thriller Presumed Innocent, family favorites Home Alone and Hook and historical dramas JFK and Far and Away. Then he broke the decade wide open in 1993 with another adventure saga, Jurassic Park. The gentle piano opening belied the heart-stopping moments to come but nonetheless captured the imaginations of the audience, inducing them to join in the journey as the music swelled and soared.

Williams followed Jurassic Park with a return to historical drama, scoring the WWII masterpiece Schindler’s List, which won him one of his five Academy Awards. The theme managed to be haunting, inspiring and beautifully elegant all at the same time, rendering it a work of unparalleled magnificence and a truly worth recipient of ones of film’s highest honors.

In the next few years, he would go on to compose scores for the historical dramas Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot, all of which earned Academy Award nominations, before returning to fantasy with the magical melodies which captured our hearts. In 2001, Williams charmed the world with his score for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and began a partnership that would last for three films, set the tone for an entire series and eventually play to enchanted audiences in an ongoing live concert series.

Though all of William’s scores deserve equal recognition and appreciation, we must carve out special space and time for the films which bring us together here, for when we heard the opening notes of the prologue to Sorcerer’s Stone, we knew we would never be the same. Williams welcomed us to the wizarding world so perfectly and thoroughly, we were swept into the story and continue to be whenever and wherever it is played.

His score for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ushered us back into the wizarding world with the familiar magical theme which quickly changed tone, letting us know this would be a darker and more intense story. We were immediately on the edge of our seats as we awaited Harry’s next adventure!

His last entry in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was both a welcome home and a warning as the memorable strains were filled with a new energy, stirring up a whirlwind of anticipation for the things to come. (You really must listen to the soundtrack in its entirety–also nominated for an Oscar, alongside Sorcerer’s Stone–or watch the film again and concentrate on how incredible the music truly is!)

In the over 10 years since Prisoner of Azkaban, Williams has continued to create moving, impactful scores, a litany of which have received Oscar nominations, adding to the already lengthy list. Notable among them are Memoirs of a Geisha, Munich, The Adventures of Tintin, Warhorse, Lincoln, The Book Thief and, of course, more Star Wars.

Now on this, his birthday, we wish him many more years of making the music which captivates us and defines the movies we love. Thank you, John Williams, for casting your spell–wands up, Potter fans.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.