John Williams: Catch Me if You Can (2002)

April 19, 2008

People ask me who my favorite film composer is. These days I say Dario Marianelli and Alexandre Desplat, but if I had to take this question seriously, I’d have to say that John Williams is right there at the top. Too many people try to accuse him of just spitting out Star Wars music over and over which is simply not true. Williams continues to reinvent himself. He shows up year after year with an Oscar nomination and I know that he won’t win. Why? I guess people think he’s had enough recognition, which is probably true. I remember reading in Guinness book of records some 10 or 15 years ago that John had become the first billion dollar composer, and I’m sure he is way beyond that by now. He is rich for good reasons: he is a great composer.

Take the music here in this opening to Steven Spielberg’s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002) — how do we describe the music? Film music? Well, technically yes, but the musical language reminds me a bit of Ornette Coleman, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Duke Ellington, and maybe even a bit of Stravinsky (Ebony Concerto). It is his courage and interest in builiding upon our rich musical heritage that draws me to his music.

I find contemporary so-called classical music getting more and more out of of the reach of people who like music. (I don’t need to go into that here.) I see film music getting stylistically richer and richer, and new concert music getting more remote. Yes, there is room for everyone, but in terms of what to spend my own energies on for the rest of my life as a composer, modern classical music seems like a dreary choice.

As a teacher of composition, I can no longer look down on non-classical music as unimportant populist pap. The experience I’ve had composing my new musical, and the last couple of films I’ve done has been tremendously satisfying. In this music, I have used all the tools I learned to be a concert composer, but have no interest in out-Boulezing Boulez, or out-Cartering Carter, which is what I thought I had to do when I was in college. Out-Bourlanding Bourland should be just fine.

John Williams or Elliott Carter? Williams: hands down.

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