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Originality of John Williams(?)

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At risk of going off on a tangent...

Would someone mind explaining to me the significance of Angela Morley (Aka Wally Stott) on William's works? I have found a couple of references of her assisting william's in orchestration with star wars and superman (including her/his auto biography http://www.angelamorley.com/site/bio.htm and on wikipedia it states that any work was done through working in an 'uncredited capcity'. I am curious as to why there should be a mention of her influence on william's on sites in reference to her, but absolutely nothing i can find that is to do with john williams.

Sorry if this is convuluted.

Ferret

She "helped" Williams by arranging concert suites of his film scores as did many other composers/arrangers during his tenure at the Boston Pops. Note that often a team of orchestrators is required to meet the schedule demands on a major motion picture. She become one of Williams's orchestrators in the early 70's and was noted for her skills at adapting music. This is from her obituary:

"Morley assisted with orchestrations on several key John Williams scores, first in London (Star Wars, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back) and then in America (E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Home Alone, Schindler's List). She also arranged many orchestral numbers for Williams during his 13-year tenure as conductor of the Boston Pops, many of which have been preserved on Pops CDs. Most recently, Williams engaged Morley to pen several arrangements for his best-selling Cinema Serenade albums for Sony Classics. 'Angela Morley was a respected colleague and valued friend for over forty years,' says Williams. 'She was certainly one of the finest musicians I've ever known or worked with. As an orchestrator, her skill was unsurpassed, with a technical perfection that was drawn on and nourished by a lifelong devotion to music. She will be irreplaceable and greatly missed.' "

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THE FORM is the most important , you cut this ,cut that and u stick into one piece , the music will not complete , believe me . i try b4 , therefore , williams didnt copy thing , he just use something to compose

dark

Uhmm... not quite sure what you mean by "form". I'd argue that "form" is not very important at all in incidental music. Sure, cycling leitmotifs and themes around is a pretty important and effective tool for incidental music composition but I wouldn't say this is exactly the same as "form". I don't think structure and form matter a whole lot to a genre that is prmarily concerned with capturing the feeling of non-musical ideas. It is, first and foremost, background music and while many of John Williams scores can make a pretty reliable transition over to standalone music, that does not change the fact that they are composed primarily for background purposes.

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John Williams is the reason I got in to music. I was ten when I heard the Star Wars score, and decided I wanted to play the flute just like that dude in the LSO in Princess Leia's Theme. (hey, I was ten, and wasn't yet aware of the lving hell that was to rain down on me! ).

One thing I have learned in life, nobody is going to do your work, and let you get all the credit and get some tremendous pay and not go and do it themselves, fairly quickly. Williams had a first rate education, worked in the industry--largely without notice --for almost 20 years before it all came together. This was earned.

This man is tremendously talented, knowledgeable and given the world some beautiful musical gifts. Enough said.

Virtually every composer of note has borrowed from others, either intentionally or as a subconscious memory. Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn... Some were inspired by others work. It is part of the ropes, you could say, being so pervasive. Now, take a man who gets a commission for a film score and has 3-4 months in some cases to churn out a few hours of music for full orchestra and record it.

Please. What's the point of this argument?

Williams is the best of the best. Yet some here argue, Why pay him when you could get his orchestrator for half off??

Answer: His orchestrator isn't him!! Williams works in a for-profit industry full of huge egos. If someone else could do it, they would, and let you know about it!

I agree. Williams' work got me into writing orchestral music. His film scores are likely to live on long after his departure. ET and Star Wars; they're up there in my opinion. I saw a performance of some of the Star Wars Score recently and it goes way beyond the tiny moments that sound similar to other composers' work. It's truly brilliant.

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Thread (but hopefully not controversy) resurrection!

I ran across this video:

Interestingly William Walton is a name I've never heard mentioned in connection with John Williams, yet at the same time his commonalities of style are much clearer (I think) than with Prokofiev, Mahler etc.

Very neat! I need to find out more about Walton.

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If you really want to uncover Williams borrowing liberally, especially in terms of style, just listen to Hansen's symphonies.

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I think everybody is just a little bit jealous that the man makes more money off of one film than they'll make their entire lives.

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I find it absurd to -call- him on it when so many other lesser known composers do it as well... all the time.

And why should we complain about the man? I could care less if Williams took a melody of mine I did a piss poor job with and turned it into something everyone knows. Hell, I'd thank him for showing me how he does it so I can incorporate it into my own writing and, with any luck, go make money alongside him.

People are so damn adversarial about this sort of thing, they can't see their nose to spite their face. It's pathetic bickering, not insightful discussion.

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This has resurrected more of the controversy than I wanted.

I am not interested in "calling out" Williams in a negative way or complaining about his melodies (especially compared to certain other film composers who are notorious for classical plagiarism and self-plagiarism, and are deserving of negative criticism). I'm just interested, since his style is so successful, what sources he is most influenced by. Especially in his orchestration.

I don't think anyone accuses Williams of plagiarizing his style, but they do say he is heavily influenced by lots of other composers (a good thing; who isn't?). William Walton is one I hadn't heard of, but it's a good addition to the list.

BTW I agree with you about "taking it and making it better." IIRC Williams has admitted he listened to Hansen's Romantic Symphony for the E.T. finale, and in my opinion what Williams did in E.T. is better. I could care less where the inspiration came from because Williams did a better job.

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If you really want to uncover Williams borrowing liberally, especially in terms of style, just listen to Hansen's symphonies.

Man I friggin love Hansen. Do you know where could I find his symphonies? Preferably for free?

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BTW I agree with you about "taking it and making it better." IIRC Williams has admitted he listened to Hansen's Romantic Symphony for the E.T. finale, and in my opinion what Williams did in E.T. is better. I could care less where the inspiration came from because Williams did a better job.

Actually, there is a court case on Williams and plagiarism. The piece that is cited as the one 'being copied,' however, is not Hansen's. It is a cabaret tune.

Here is a summary of the case provided by Lukas Kendall regarding the case in question that really -spurns- debate about all of this "plagiarism" business. I think it's important to understand where, how, and why this all came about.

Les Baxter v. John Williams Lawsuit Recap

by Lukas Kendall

We recently printed a letter asking about a lawsuit that happened a while back involving Les Baxter and John Williams over the theme to E.T.

Reader Robert Delaney was helpful enough to pull the court data as to exactly what happened. However, he accessed them through the Lexis-Nexis database which is a copyrighted presentation of the public records, so I'm not at liberty to reprint the full legal document here.

However, longtime FSM columnist Mike Murray is acquainted with these records due to his profession and was kind enough to provide a summary. The following then is MY interpretation of Mike's summary of the court history, as well as Robert Delaney's email to me of what he read. (In other words, in this column about plagiarizing, I'm plagiarizing our trusted correspondents below!)

  • 1) November 2, 1983: Les Baxter sued John Williams, claiming that the theme to E.T. was plagiarized from a selection of Baxter's "Passions" 10-inch LP, "Joy," which dates from 1954 (released on Capitol Records). In addition to Williams, identified as "John T. Williams," MCA, Inc., Universal City Studios, Inc, Music Corporation of America, MCA Records, Inc., and Merchandising Corporation of America were named as defendants.
    Williams did concede that he was familiar with "Joy" and had performed it in concert. However, in 1984 the judge ruled that to the layman, "Joy" and E.T. were not substantially similar, and it was not necessary to submit the case to a jury trial.
    2) 1985: Baxter appealed, saying that in a technical field like music, laymen may not know what to listen for and that he should be allowed to have experts point out to a jury where the similarities are. This appellate court agreed that the lower Federal District court was in error when it granted summary judgment dismissing Baxter's copyright infringement suit against Williams etc as a matter of law. The appellate court reversed the District court and remanded the case back for a jury trial. That was a 1987 decision.
    3) 1987: Williams and other defendants appealed that decision to the US Supreme Court which denied certiori (i.e. refused to hear it) (Williams v.Baxter, 484 US 954 {1987)).
    4) The case proceeded to jury trial after which the jury found that the portion of Baxyer's song that was substantially similar to Williams' E.T. Theme was not original material protected by copyright.
    5) 1990: That jury verdict was appealed and affirmed by the Ninth Circuit (Federal) Court of appeals with a citation of Baxter v. MCA, INC et al, 907 F.2d 154.

In other words, Williams "walked."

But wait, that's not all...!

Reader Thomas Morrow was kind enough to send the FSM office a tape of the Baxter composition, an interesting seven-movement piece broken down as "Despair," "Ecstasy," "Hate," "Lust," "Terror," "Jealousy" and "Joy."

So, what's the deal? I can understand how Baxter must have freaked when he heard E.T. because there is a melodic gesture in Williams's theme that is also found in "Joy." If you think of the theme from E.T. (the most famous theme, the flying music), it's the part where, after the first two notes outline a fifth, the melody descends: da-da-da-da-DA-da. (In the Baxter, this motive is preceded by an upward motion of a fourth, so the contour is the same, but the pitches are different.) Baxter probably also went bananas because "Joy" has a "big finish" where the motive that's similar to E.T. is slowed down and orchestrated in a way similar to E.T.'s "big finish."

Anyway, MY opinion, and solely my opinion, based on judging the two pieces of music, is that the judicial system came up with the correct verdict in siding with Williams. It's a coincidence. I understand that Williams was very convincing to the jury when he described the rather scientific method in which he came up with the E.T. theme (it cannily outlines a sensation of flight). I also understand he played piano on "Joy" in concert in the '60s, but what did he do, sit there and think, aha! I'll copy Les Baxter!

There's been a lot of film music which truly is plagiarized of copyrighted material but this isn't it. In E.T. alone, there's more of an argument to be made for similarity between one of the action sequences and a Howard Hanson symphony. But "Joy" is a zany, short, '50s, almost bachelor pad piece for female voice and jazzy orchestra and E.T. is a film score reflecting the emotional bond and journey of a boy and an alien. They happen to share around six notes of a melodic line (most of it step-wise motion -- in other words, part of a scale), and some coincidences of orchestration and variation. That's it. It's too bad that this probably disturbed Les Baxter to no end and that a lot of time and money was spent litigating... but that's life.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. This column is not meant to be a definitive record or interpretation of a legal proceeding. If anybody identifies anything as incorrect in the above, please contact:

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com

- http://www.filmscore...wsuit_Recap.asp

So, there it is.

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Let's not forget that Mozart imfamously stole (probably by accident, due to his incredible musical memory) the theme to the Magic Flute overture from Clementi.

I don't think anyone would argue that Clementi would've done a better job of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h018rMnA0pM

Likewise, I highly doubt Les Baxter could've written a film score or even main theme as adeptly as Williams managed in ET.

In a lot of music, the exact notes are not incredibly important, but what the composer does with them is.

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As a sidenote on the Baxter case, Williams tends to use 90% diatonic material in his title themes. My guess would be because in a diatonic context a short sequence of notes, or even a single note, can have a solid harmonic implication. This makes his music very memorable, because the harmonies are "there" even when you're humming his melody. Williams also appears to limit himself consciously and construct his "main themes" from extremely solid and conventional harmonies, like so:

*I, V (especially V7sus), and IV

*borrowed bVI, bIII or bVII

*ONE out-of-place chord that serves as a harmonic "identifier" (for example it's N in Indiana Jones, Lydian II in E.T.)

Some themes that clearly fall within this harmonic framework:

*ET Flying Theme

*Harry's Wondrous World

*Raider's March

*Star Wars Main Theme

*The Force Theme

*Superman Theme

*NBC News Theme

*Call of the Champions

etc etc

Nobody could ever successfully sue Williams over one of these, because they use the building blocks of harmony.

That's why when people say that one of Williams' main themes is "from such-and-such" a passage in Tchaikovksy or Mahler or wherever I have to laugh. Did Mahler copyright diatonic scalar motion?

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Someone sent me this PM yesterday:

Hi there, I was reading a post of yours from 2009. It was on the topic called 'Originality of John Williams?'. I have a basic knowledge of musical theory but I was slightly confused by some things in the post. I was wondering if you could maybe explain some of the things you said in a more simple way. I'm dying to know what you actually mean because its very intresting. Is this really the key to why Williams' main themes are so damn catchy?

"Williams also appears to limit himself consciously and construct his "main themes" from extremely solid and conventional harmonies, like so:

*I, V (especially V7sus), and IV

*borrowed bVI, bIII or bVII

*ONE out-of-place chord that serves as a harmonic "identifier" (for example it's N in Indiana Jones, Lydian II in E.T.)"

First of all; is this a chord progression or something else? Could you possibly explain this using an example key instead of numerals? Also what does the 'N' mean in Indian Jones and 'Lydian II' in E.T?

I would be gratefull if you did explain this in a more simple way but I know it may be as simple as it gets! Thank you very much!!! :D

As you know, the most important chords in classical harmony are the tonic (I), subdominant (IV), and dominant (V).

Here they are in the key of C: C major, F major, G major. You can see they make a satisfying-sounding progression.

3Qq92.png

In basic harmony, one of the only places a dominant seventh chord is found is in V7. By adding F we turn G-B-D into G-B-D-F, a dominant 7th chord.

ePyS1.png

The disadvantage of V7 is it has a very "obvious" sound. One could say it is almost obnoxiously dominant. Overusing this plain tonality will make your music sound very conservative.

Instead of V7 we can play V7sus4.

A sus4 chord replaces the third of the chord with a fourth. For example the third of a G7 chord is B: we replace it with C.

Compare:

AfG0T.png

You can hear the V7sus has a "smoother" feel.

One of the identifying features of Williams' music is that he uses plain V7 very sparingly, preferring V7sus4.

(When he does play V7, he will often play some cool notes on top based on jazz theory; Williams got his start as a jazz pianist and arranger. However that is beyond our scope for now :sweat: )

Moving on: you know that the C major and C minor scales differ by three notes. The C minor scale has Eb, Ab, and Bb. There are a few chords, therefore, that have different qualities when we play them with those notes.

For example you know that IV is F major. But in the C minor scale we would play iv, or F MINOR.

7usfZ.png

These different chords are called "borrowed chords" because we can "borrow" them from C minor and play them, even when our piece is in C major. We do this because the borrowed chords are like adding color or spice to our music.

Williams loves borrowed chords (he is not alone among composers in this!) but he has a particular affection for bVI.

If I play bVI then I, you can hear how strong that chord progression is. Especially if I put G in the bass below bVI (which technically turns it into a major seventh).

E1efs.png

If you compare bVI-I to the classical V7-I, you can hear that the first chord progression has a more colorful, unpredictable, dynamic and modern sound.

Williams often uses bVI as though it were a dominant chord.

Finally I have to explain Lydian II. Now you may know that the Lydian mode of C, is like the C major scale, with ONE DIFFERENCE, it has an F# instead of an F.

ERiIS.png

When you play a D major chord over the note C, you get a dreamy sort of sound. This is Lydian II. There is a more technical name for this chord (V7/V) but when Williams uses it, his intention is most often to add a Lydian sound to the music.

Lydian II is yet another of Williams' favorite chords.

Now to prove that I'm not just making stuff up let's look at some tunes from Williams' music.

The first tune we can look at is the theme from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

Some things to note about this: listen how the Lydian II gives a magical sound. Also notice how Williams uses bVI as the "climax" of his chord progression, not V.

XgqDM.png

Now here is the Force Theme from the Star Wars movies. Notice the V7sus4. And also notice the use of two borrowed chords bIII and bVI.

76OIq.png

Now finally here is a tune from Harry Potter. It uses only I, IV, V7sus, and bVI! (Well and one GbM chord).

7M40o.png

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What does it care if something looks like the work of another composer? It's made for film and if it is nice to hear, okay then. I love listening to the music of John Williams and many other film composers. They all make their own music. I never read a review of a piece on this forum were someone says: "This is much like ...". Why care when someone else became famous with it?

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I IV and V stand as a illusory progression. When you speak of functional harmony it is bIII which acts as your resolved and then unresolved I. So I chose to see that John Williams uses traditional functional harmony, not a set of borrowed roots.

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