Golden Age 2.0: John Williams and the revival of the symphonic film score

Audissino, Emilio (2014) Golden Age 2.0: John Williams and the revival of the symphonic film score. In: Film in Concert: Film Scores and Their Relation to Classical Concert Music. VWH Verlag, Glücksstadt, Germany, pp. 109-124. ISBN 9783864880605

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The chapter looks into John Williams' contribution to the return of symphonic film scores in the Hollywood cinema of the late 1970s.

In the first part, it traces an outline of the context, i.e. the pop-music fad that characterised Hollywood during the 1960s and early 1970s. Due to many reasons, the symphonic film score entered a gradual demise at the end of the 1950s. In particular, 1966 is a highly symbolic landmark, as in that year Hitchcock rejected Bernard Herrmann's symphonic score for Torn Curtain in favour of a more pop and market-oriented one: thus one of the most successful director/composer relationship ended abruptly. In those years, the symphonic score was replaced either by pop-music scores whose piece de resistance was a marketable song – as in Henry Mancini's film scores. Although the symphonic score did not disappear completely, it decidedly became a second option and an old-fashioned one.

In the second part, the chapter shows how John Williams reverted the trend. The unanimously recognised landmark is the release of Star Wars in 1977 which launched the so-called “Film Music Renaissance.” However, the chapter shows how Williams' penchant for the classical Hollywood music and for symphonic writing can be also spotted in his early 1960s works – e.g. in the 1967 comedy Fitzwilly and in the picaresque 1969 film The Reivers. Also, before Star Wars it was Jaws that demonstrated that a symphonic score could still be a very powerful cinematic tool, more powerful than any pop score. After almost a decade, Jaws was the first major film set in the the present day, telling a contemporary story and designed to be a popular success that did not resort to pop music or marketable songs. Instead, Jaws employed a symphonic score reminiscent of Herrmann, on the one hand, and Korngold, on the other, which was awarded an Oscar.
Williams' restoration was completed two years later with Star Wars, a film boasting a grand-orchestral almost continuous symphonic scoring sounding like the old Korngold scores for the Errol Flynn films, brilliantly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. With the success confirmed by another Oscar and by unprecedented sales – in two months the symphonic album sold 650,000 copies – Star Wars brought back symphonic scoring as a major option for block-buster films and confirmed that the symphonic score could not only be enormously effective to film narration but also successfully marketable.

If it is historically imprecise to state that John Williams brought back symphonic music as the Hollywood music, as it used to be in the old days, it is safe to say that he launched a successful neoclassical trend within the eclectic style of contemporary Hollywood cinema, and he was responsible like no other for bringing the symphonic score back to the general attention and appreciation.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Film and television
Depositing User: Emilio Audissino
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2016 11:44
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:06

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