Award winning composer John Williams turns 80 today!

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There are very few modern composers that has left as indelible a mark on pop culture as John Williams has. The maestro has provided the musical backdrops to some of cinema’s most iconic moments, and is consider by many to be the greatest film composer off all time. For me personally, he played a pivotal role in my transformation into the proud geek that I am today.

Today he celebrates his 80th birthday and we salute him by looking at his awe-inspiring list of achievements as well as my favourite Williams composed memory.

A Juilliard trained musician, he began his career as a Jazz pianist, before working as an orchestrator for numerous TV and film studios in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He would earn his first Academy Award nomination for his work on Valley of the Dolls and his first win for Fiddler on the Roof. He would become well known in the industry for his scoring of famed disaster movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but I believe it was with his work in 1970 on Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, where he transformed a simple two-note motif in one of cinema’s scariest sounds, that he finally became a household name.

He would then go on to create some of the most memorable music scores in history for numerous genre films over the next few decades, taking us on a tour of far away galaxies, dusty ancient tombs, the trenches of WW2, a school for wizards, dinosaur infested islands and many more. He even helped us to believe that a man could fly, showed us humanity’s darkest hour, provided instructions on how to communicate with aliens and even taught us that life is like a box of chocolates. He most recently returned composing – after a 5 year hiatus – to collaborate once again with Spielberg on The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse, for both of which he received Oscar nominations.

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Williams is currently the 2nd most nominated person in Academy Awards history, bested only by Walt Disney. Which in turn makes him the most nominated living person. In fact, he has been nominated for and subsequently won pretty much every major award out there numerous times:

  • 47 Oscar nominations, 5 wins
  • 22 Golden Globes nominations, 4 wins
  • 59 Grammy nominations, 20wins
  • 12 BAFTA nominations, 6 wins
  • 6 Emmy nominations, 3 wins

In 2005 his score for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was voted by the American Film Institute as the greatest film score of all time, with his work on Jaws and E.T. taking the 6th and 14th places respectively.

To list every movie he has composed for would take far too long, but even just a cursory glance at his IMDB page, and you realize that if you’ve ever watched a film in the last 4 decades, chances are those sweeping and emotive musical cues you were listening to came from the mind of John Williams.

I can actually recall the exact moment that I first heard a piece of William’s music. I was just 5 years old at the time, when a neighbour invited me over to play. His dad, who I only later came to realize was an uber geek, was just about to watch show a friend a film that he had been raving about. He popped in the Beta Max cassette tape he had hired while we played nearby. The only sound coming from the TV was the chipmunk-voiced gibberish, as he proceeded to fast forward past all the “shorts”.

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Suddenly, without warning, he resumed playback. Within an instant I had dropped whatever toys I was playing with and sat transfixed in wide eyed wonder by what was coming from that old Telefunken TV set. Nearly 3 decades later, it’s still my favourite Williams song, and never fails to send a shiver up my spine every time I hear those first trumpet blasts that impacted me so long ago:

 

So what are your favourite John Williams scores? Sound off in the comments below!

Last Updated: February 8, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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