John Williams, a composer whose film scores many of you will be able to hum as you read this short biography, turns 90 on February 8. Williams was born into a musical family, as his father was Johnny Williams, a jazz player and percussionist who played in the Raymond Scott Quintette. Williams studied at Julliard and composed his first feature-film score in 1958. His work drew the attention of Steven Spielberg, and soon Williams’s terrifying score to Jaws would largely contribute to the film’s success.
Williams has won 25 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards, and four Golden Globes. He has been nominated for 52 Academy Awards, making him the second-most nominated individual behind Walt Disney. Beyond the awards, his film scores are among the most popular and recognizable in cinematic history. Celebrate his long career with this list of top picks.
Fans of the Harry Potter films will recognize the haunting melody, titled “Hedwig’s Theme,” composed by Williams for the opening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the score for the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is largely considered to be Williams’s greatest composition of the series. In this score, listeners can hear a twist on “Hedwig’s Theme” as well as a MacBeth-inspired track called “Double Trouble.”
The score of Home Alone has greatly contributed to its continuing appeal for fans of holiday films, as Williams's music greatly elevates the score beyond traditional Christmas carols.
The score of the original Star Wars Trilogy may be his most successful; in 2005, The American Film Institute named this score the greatest film score of all time. This score is also noteworthy because of Williams's use of leitmotifs, a device often used by German composer Richard Wagner in which characters and environments are given their own unique melodies. Examples include tracks “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “Yoda’s Theme.”
Want to listen to more of John Williams’s music on the go? Check out Hoopla, our online resource for music, to find full soundtracks of some of Williams’s most popular film scores including E.T., Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List.
Are you a musician, or an aspiring musician? Check out one of these printed music titles for a new way to appreciate John Williams’s music:
Do you have a favorite memory of hearing John Williams’s film scores at the movies? Share in the comments below!