John Williams: Scoring Like No Other

Heidi Bahnck

July 2012 has turned out to be a good month for epic music.

As usual, this year’s Fourth of July fireworks were accompanied by a rousing patriotic playlist of Sousa marches, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”, assorted battle hymns, and inevitably one of John Williams’s movie themes — sometimes the solemn “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan, but more often something bombastic, like “Star Wars.”

Today marks the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, an occasion similarly celebrated with lavish ceremonies and heroic music.  Though the official theme of the games is the one hundred-year old “Olympic Hymn”, two other pieces are more often associated with the Olympics: the stately “Bugler’s Dream” by Leo Arnaud, and “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”, written for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games by none other than John Williams.

Williams, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, is best known as one of film’s greatest composers.  Many of his most recognizable pieces have grown out of his longtime collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, all but one of who’s films Williams has scored.

Master of the leitmotif, Williams frequently uses recurring musical themes to identify characters or situations.  Think Indiana Jones and the “Raiders March”.  His iconic two note motif from Jaws has become so pervasive it’s transcended the movie screen and become the universal theme for sharks.  Another example is the driving newsroom beat of his intro to the NBC Nightly News, which instantly calls to mind anchors Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams.

Given the resonance of Williams’s compositions, it was no surprise when NBC Sunday Night Football turned to him a few years ago to create an epic, instantly recognizable theme for its broadcasts.

The musical lexicon of professional football, already rich with the work of NFL Films composers Sam Spence and David Robidoux, is that much richer to include a John Williams theme now.  Listen for his contribution again in a few weeks, when the NFL returns to NBC for the 2012 season — heralded by a grand Star Wars-esque fanfare befitting America’s game, and written by the maestro who scores not only movies and TV, but our lives as well.

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