Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 2: 1968-1974)

By 1968, John Williams was already a veteran in Hollywood, having spent the better part of two decades scoring movies and television shows.  He was an Oscar nominee and an Emmy winner, which is a pretty good thing to say about yourself.

Comparatively, though, he'd accomplished nothing compared to what would come later.




We'll get to that, but first, let's return to our overview (part one of which can be found here) with a look at the span of years I am defining as his second major phase.  We begin with:


1968 -- Land of the Giants





For the 1968-1969 television season, Williams teamed up with Irwin Allen again on Land of the Giants, contributing the theme music and the score for the pilot episode, "The Crash."  I'd say this is arguably Williams' best television work for Allen.


1968 -- "Symphony No. 1" and "Sinfonietta for Wind Ensemble"


1968 was also a notable year for Williams in the concert hall.  He premiered his "Symphony No. 1" as well as a Sinfonietta For Wood Ensemble.  The former has never been released, so far as I can tell, and Williams has never had much of anything good to say about it.  I'd like to hear it someday, though, and judge for myself.




The sinfonietta was released -- in 1970 or 1972; I've seen both years cited -- on an album of music from the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the direction of  Donald Hunsberger.  I do not believe this has ever been reissued on CD, but I do have a version of the sinfonietta on a bootleg.  The sound isn't great, but it's good enough; a judgment I'd also apply to the sinfonietta itself.


1968 -- Heidi





If you're a casual John Williams fan, the odds are pretty good that you've never heard any of the scores I've mentioned so far; and you've probably never even heard of a great many of the films and television shows.  There's no shame in that.

If you're a more hardcore Williams fan, then you've probably got at least some familiarity with his pre-seventies music, and if that's the case, then the odds are good that you've found yourself wondering something: when did John Williams really become John Williams?



It's a good question, and an impossible one to answer definitively.  What does "John Williams" mean to you?  The answer to that question will determine the answer to the question of when he came into his maturity as a composer.

I think you could persuasively argue that Williams became Williams on 1968's Heidi, and the reason I say that is because when I think of Williams, I think of sweeping orchestral melodies.  That's not to suggest that none existed pre-Heidi (they are present in The Rare Breed, for example); but for me, Heidi represented a turning point of some sort.  It wouldn't be the last one, but I think it's where the doors really began to open.

The film itself was a television movie-of-the-week produced for NBC.  It reunited Williams with director Delbert Mann, with whom Williams had worked on Fitzwilly.  The movie was a huge hit, and earned Williams an Emmy award for his score.  Today, it's probably best known for pissing people off: NBC began the broadcast at the scheduled time, cutting off the final minute of a hotly-contested NFL game and enraging sports fans around the nation.

The score is a bit of a marvel (including the song "A Place of My Own," the lyrics for which were written by Rod McKuen); I'm a little surprised that it doesn't get talked about more when Williams' name is mentioned.  This may have to do in part with the fact that the soundtrack was unavailable for most of the time Williams' star was in ascendancy.  Capitol released an LP at the time of the film's broadcast; it included voiceover narrations by the film's cast retelling moments from the story, which arguably did the music no favors.  Quartet Records reissued the score -- both the original LP tracks as well as narration-free versions -- in a 1500-unit limited edition in 2013.  Very happy to have gotten one of those!

I've never seen the movie, but I've seen a clip or two, and it looks good.  One of my grand ambitions is to eventually watch all of the movies scored by John Williams.  I've seen many, of course; but quite a few (especially the early ones) have mostly been ignored by yr. humble blogger.  I'd love to change that someday.

  

1969 -- Daddy's Gone A-Hunting






The first film Williams worked on in 1969 was Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, director Mark Robson's follow-up to Valley of the Dolls.  I've never seen the movie (which is apparently about a guy who stalks an ex-girlfriend who aborted their would-be child), and there has never been a soundtrack.  I found a bootleg online and downloaded it, and it's not exactly the best thing Williams ever wrote.  He partnered with Dory Previn for the title song, which was sung by Lyn Roman and is tacky.  The melody is good, though, and Williams got fairly good use out of it in his score.  Hopefully one of the specialty labels will get their hands on it one of these days.

Stephen King connection: the screenplay was written by Larry Cohen, who two decades later would write and direct A Return to Salem's Lot, the "sequel" to the miniseries.




1969 -- Goodbye, Mr. Chips



Don't you love how my scanner puts parts of images out of focus?  I need a new one.

The three-disc Film Score Monthly release of this music is easily one of the most laudable Williams efforts from any of the specialty labels.  It's a film that could have continued to be overlooked, the way it was overlooked for the better part of four decades; but thanks to FSM, at least a few people are familiar with it now.

The 1969 remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips was a box-office dud, one which set the story behind the 1939 classic film to song, hired Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark as its stars, and died a quick and undistinguished death.
    
It took me a few listens, as well as a thorough read-through of the forty-eight pages of liner notes by Michael Matessino, but eventually I came to realize that this is not merely good music, but that it might be one of the most important of all Williams' film scores.  Remember earlier, when I claimed Heidi as the moment Williams became Williams?  Matessino argues that it happened on this film; and, what's more, Leslie Bricusse agrees with him.

It might not be immediately evident to you.  The songs and melodies are by Bricusse, after all.  However, Williams adds flourishes to Bricusse's work that complements the songs marvelously; and, what's more, these flourishes are unmistakably Williams-esque.  You will hear them echoed throughout the rest of his career.  You will also hear (in the "Overture," for example) an indication of the sort of work he would do as conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra during his years there.
  
Apart from the Williams angle, I've grown to quite like most of songs (including "And the Sky Smiled," "London Is London," the gorgeous "Walk Through the World," the even more gorgeous "You and I").  I've never seen the movie, so maybe it's a turd; but based on the songs, I suspect I'll enjoy it when and if I get around to seeing it.
  
Either way, the score deserves a place of honor in the Williams canon.


1969 -- The Reivers





I'm of the opinion that Heidi is the score on which Williams came into his own.  Michael Matessino says it's Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
  
Conventional wisdom says we're both wrong, and that it's the Americana of 1969's The Reivers which marks the emergence of the mature and fully-formed Williams.
  
The film was a Steve McQueen vehicle based on a William Faulkner novel.  Have I seen it?  I have not.  Regardless of my inattention, the film was directed by Mark Rydell, with whom Williams would work on three subsequent movies (The Cowboys, Cinderella Liberty, and The River).
    
Williams has performed a suite from the score fairly regularly over the years, typically accompanied by a narrator who relates the highlights of the story.  The movie's narrator was Burgess Meredith, and his and Williams' version of the suite can be found on a 1994 Boston Pops recording called Music for Stage and Screen that focused on scores by Williams and Aaron Copland.  It is marvelous, and that's a pretty good way to enjoy the score.
  
The original soundtrack is pretty good, too, and features the sort of lush, romantic music that would soon make Williams famous, plus a decent amount of bluegrass-esque material.  Williams picked up an Oscar nomination for the score (his second of the year, alongside Goodbye, Mr. Chips), but lost to Burt Bacharach's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Hard to argue with that, I guess.  (Chips lost in the adaptation category to Hello, Dolly.)
  
The Reivers was the final film score of the sixties for Williams.  Great things lay ahead, but before that happened, this happened:


1970 -- Storia di una Donna





1970's Story of a Woman is often referred to by its Italian title, Storia di Una Donna.  I don't know much of anything about this movie; for starters, whether it's an American film or an Italian one!  The director was Italian, but the stars were not.
  
In any case, the film has never been released on video and is about as obscure as a movie can be.

Some kindly soul made a bootleg of the score at some point, and two bits from that are currently on YouTube (here and here).  The quality is very poor, but the music itself seems like about what you'd expect from Williams during this era: strong.  I hear a few pre-echoes of Close Encounters, for example.

Williams also wrote (with Italian lyrics by Antonio Amurri) a song for the film: "Uno Di Qua L'Altro Di Là," which was performed by Ornella Vanoni.

This is possibly THE most obscure of all the Williams film scores; here's hoping one of the specialty labels gets their hands on it one of these days!


1970 -- Jane Eyre





1970 also found Williams reuniting with the producer (Frederick Brogger) and director (Delbert Mann) of Heidi for another television adaptation of a classic novel: Jane Eyre.  The filmed starred Susannah York and George C. Scott and was a big hit, winning Williams another Emmy for his score.
  
Not hard to see why.  The music is haunting, especially the main theme.  It's also quite versatile, with an exciting scherzo and a piece for string quartet that suggests Williams might be a time-traveler from the age of Mozart.  This points the way toward later Williams scores such as Dracula, but it stands alongside them quite comfortably, and deserves wider remembrance these days.
  

1971 -- Fiddler on the Roof





The 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof was based on the enormously popular Broadway musical by composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and playwright Joseph Stein.  The film was a smash hit, too; in fact, it was the top-earning film of the year (the first time a Williams project held that distinction, but decidedly NOT the last).
  
Williams came onboard the project to perform adaptation and arranging duties, similar to the services he provided on Valley of the Dolls and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  He earned Oscar nominations for those films, and did for this one, too . . . and won it.
   
I confess to not being entirely sure where Bock/Harnick end and Williams begins when it comes to this music, but at the end of the day I don't know that that matters much.  The songs are wonderful, the music behind the songs is wonderful; what more matters than that?  It does sound like Williams to my ears much of the time, and rarely is that more evident than in the cadenza for Isaac Stern that appears during the final three minutes of the main title sequence.  (A terrific performance by Itzhak Perlman and the Los Angeles Symphony happened in 2014 -- check it out.)
  
Whatever degree of Williamsosity you wish to assign the film, it's obviously a huge moment in the composer's career: he won an Oscar for the biggest hit of the year, and if he was not already on the A-list of film composers before Fiddler, he certainly was after it.
  
He was silent for most of the rest of 1971, excepting one concert piece: "A Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey."  This piece was mostly unheard by the average Williams fan until the 2015 album John Williams for Winds: Music for Cinema and Beyond, which was performed by the U.S. Coast Guard Band and was, at the time of this writing, available for free download or streaming on their site.  They performed "A Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey" on that release; it's only somewhat jazzy and makes me only mildly nostalgic, but I do like it quite a lot.


1972 -- The Cowboys





For his first act of 1972, Williams scored the John Wayne film The Cowboys for director Mark Rydell (with whom he'd previously worked on The Reivers).  His main title theme has lived on in relative prominence ever since; it certainly appears nearly any time there is a compilation of film music from Westerns, and thanks to the continued appeal of John Wayne, it retains some status simply because the movie itself is semi-notable.
   
The score itself is pretty much exactly what you want from a Western: robust Americana.  The music isn't terribly varied; the high points mostly revolve around the main theme.  Is that a problem?  Not really; it just means that whereas the theme is a classic, the rest of the score is merely good.  So says this blogger, at least.


1972 -- The Screaming Woman



A lie!  No soundtrack for this movie has ever been released.


The Screaming Woman was a television movie which aired on ABC, starred Olivia de Havilland, and was based (loosely, by all accounts) on a short story by Ray Bradbury.  It was directed by Jack Smight, who had previously directed the Bradbury-based film The Illustrated Man.
  
I wish I could tell you something about the music, but I can't.  There's never been a soundtrack album.  I found a bootleg online at some point, and downloaded it, and listened to it, and here's what I can tell you about that: it was basically just the audio from the movie.  If that was any indication, Williams fans aren't exactly missing out on a lot by not being able to hear this music; it struck me as being functional and not much more, and if I didn't know better I'd swear that it had come from his television period of the early sixties.
  
That said, if the score is ever issued, I will absolutely buy it.


1972 -- Images





Williams reunited with director Robert Altman (and Jane Eyre star Susannah York) for Images, which tells the story of a mentally unstable author who may or may not be killing a lot of people.  I've never seen the movie, but it sounds pretty terrific.
  
The score?  Well, brother/sister, it'll either be your cup of tea or it won't.  It has some very melodic passages, but a lot of it consists of avant-garde music that wouldn't have been out of place in a Kubrick movie.  Williams dipped his toe into the waters of avant-garde music here and there over the course of his career (specific passages from both Close Encounters and A.I. come to mind), but Images is his most significant forays into that field.  There is a great deal of percussion -- some improvised, but most composed by Williams -- by Stomu Yamash'ta, whose voice can occasionally be heard grunting or exclaiming in what may or may not represent the death throes of the main character's victims.  It's unsettling stuff, and the first time I listened to the score I had no idea it was coming.  I'm sure I said "what the fuck?!?" a time or two.
  
The main titles can be heard here, and will give you a good mix of the two distinct styles with which Williams worked on Images.
  
Williams earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for the film.  It wasn't the only film for which he was nominated that year, either; and speaking of that...


1972 -- The Poseidon Adventure



This is the cover to the out-of-print release from La La Land Records.  I've got an earlier release from Film Score Monthly, which is even more out of print (and which also included two later films, the Paper Chase and Conrack).


The Christmas 1972 season saw two Williams-scored films, the first of which (The Poseidon Adventure) earned Williams his second Oscar nomination of the year.
  
Its reputation hasn't held up particularly well over the years, but the film was an enormous hit on release, earning over $90 million (a gross that would be the envy of some releases even today, nearly fifty years later).  Among that year's films, it was second only to The Godfather at the box office.
  
I wish I could say I was a bigger fan of the music, but it leaves me cold every time I listen to it.  There are numerous Williams scores from before 1968 or so that I could say the same about, but once Williams really hit his stride, he composed very few scores which fail to excite me in some way; at the most, I'd say that are a dozen that would go on that list.  This is one of them.
  
That's not to say it's bad.  It isn't, and the listener with the determined ear can hear foreshadowings of later (better) scores.
  

1972 -- Pete 'n' Tillie





The second December 1972 release for Williams was Pete 'n' Tillie, a melodrama that starred Carol Burnett (no relation) and Walter Matthau as a romantic couple with a few challenges ahead of them.  The film was directed by Martin Ritt, who'd made Hud and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  Nobody seems to remember Pete 'n' Tillie these days, but it was a hit; and with a cast like that, you'd figure it'd have a bit more notoriety.
  
The score -- all eight minutes of it -- has never been issued on album.  Most of it seems to be based on a single theme, a wistful and melancholic piece that also serves as the melody for "Love's the Only Game in Town," a song that was recorded by both Burnett and Matthau.  I'm not entirely sure I knew Burnett could sing; but boy, can she.  It's a terrific song, and methinks it would have been more deserving of the best-song Oscar than was "The Morning After"; that song -- which was not composed by Williams, though he quoted it in the score -- from The Poseidon Adventure won the Oscar that "Love's the Only Game in Town" couldn't even get nominated for.
  
I've never seen this movie, but I'd like to.  You can say much the same for our next film:


1973 -- Tom Sawyer





Tom Sawyer was the fourth and final musical for which Williams adapted and conducted the music; he received an Oscar nomination for all four, which is a statistic to be proud of.  He lost this time to Marvin Hamlisch, whose adapted score for The Sting is fondly remembered to this day.  Hard to argue with that one.
  
The songs for Tom Sawyer were written by Richard and Robert, the Sherman brothers.  You might know them from their work on Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Charlotte's Web, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc.  They're kind of a big deal.  Pair them up with another big deal like John Williams, and you've got to figure good things are going to happen.
  
Sure enough, I'd rate the songs for Tom Sawyer as being mostly successful.  They suffer a bit from sappiness, but you don't go to the Shermans looking for edge and grit.
  
The best song in the group is probably "River Song," sung by Charley Pride.  He knocks that sucker clean out of the park.  So does Williams, who by this point had become so accomplished at adapting musicals that you almost -- almost  -- wish he'd done more of that and less of what he ended up doing.
  
The movie was directed by Don Roberts, best known in my house as the director of Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  It co-starred an unbelievably young Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher!  I've never seen it, but it seems to have been a commercial and critical success, so it's probably worth a look one of these days.
  

1973 -- The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing





Released during June of 1973, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing was a Western that starred Burt Reynolds.  It had a rocky production history consisting of death (the murder? suicide? of co-star Sarah Miles' personal assistant), on-set injuries, a change in directors, screenplay-authorship controversies, and the firing of original composer Michel Legrand.
  
John Williams was brought in as a last-minute replacement for Legrand, and got the whole thing done in a week.  That sounds like an unbelievable feat, but let's not forget that Williams got his start composing for television, where it is often necessary to work very fast indeed.
  
It isn't one of my favorite Williams scores by any means, but it's not bad.  The love-theme melody was later expanded by Williams in collaboration with singer/songwriter Paul Williams (no relation), who turned it into the song "Dream Away."  Frank Sinatra recorded a version for his 1973 album Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back, and Paul Williams put his own version on his 1974 album Here Comes Inspiration.
  
The Film Score Monthly release pictured above contains the Williams score (excluding "Dream Away," which was not part of the film) as well as the rejected Legrand score.  Unlike many FSM releases, it is still available.


1973 -- The Paper Chase



This Film Score Monthly release also included The Poseidon Adventure and Conrack


The Paper Chase came out in October 1973, and its most significant legacy probably involved making John Houseman a big enough star that he could go on to appear in a large number of commercials playing the same sort of stuffy, imperious, and knowledgeable fellow that he plays here.  I've never seen the movie, but it's one I heard my Dad mention a lot when I was a kid; I'm going to check it out someday, if only for that and for the Williams music.
  
The highlight of the score is the "Love Theme," which is in much the same vein and tone as "Love's the Only Game in Town."  If anything, it's even better than that piece.  Much of the rest of the score is only so-so, but the love theme comes close to being essential Williams.
  

1973 -- The Long Goodbye





Also released in October of 1973, The Long Goodbye proved to be the final time Williams collaborated with director Robert Altman.  Altman cooked up a crazy scheme: working with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Williams would write a song ("The Long Goodbye") which would then serve as the entirety of the score but be played in different arrangements to suit whatever the scene called for.  For example, when Elliot Gould's Philip Marlowe went to Mexico for a scene, the tune would be played by mariachi.
  
There are various vocal versions, too, most prominently by Jack Sheldon and Clydie King.

This must surely rank as one of the weirdest scores in the Williams canon, but it's a very good song, and the melody never wears out its welcome.  You'd think that would have been sufficient to earn the song an Oscar nomination, but you'd be wrong; the movie was not well received critically or commercially, and has taken decades to build up its cult audience.
  


1973 -- Cinderella Liberty





One of the songs that prevented Williams and Mercer's "The Long Goodbye" from receiving an Oscar nomination was "Nice to Be Around," another John Williams / Paul Williams collaboration.  It's good stuff.  And no offense to Paul, but the instrumental version is even better, and includes virtuoso harmonica work from Toots Thielemeans, who would reunite with Williams a year later on a little movie called The Sugarland Express?  Haven't heard of that one?  We're getting there, trust me.
  
Cinderella Liberty starred James Caan as a sailor who gets into an iffy love affair with a down-on-her-luck prostitute, but ends up having an even more significant relationship with her illegitimate son.  I've never seen it, but it sounds really good.  It was directed by Mark Rydell, who'd worked with Williams on The Reivers and The Cowboys.  The film launched the career of Marsha Mason, earning her an Oscar nomination.  Williams was also nominated for the score; three Oscar noms in one year isn't shabby.
  
Stephen King connections: James Caan would go on to star in Misery; Marsha Mason would appear in the Nightmares & Dreamscapes episode "The Road Virus Heads North"; and co-star Eli Wallach would narrate the audio version of Insomnia.
 


1974 -- Conrack





Conrack was based on Pat Conroy's autobiographical novel The Water Is Wide, about his time teaching children on an island off the coast of South Carolina.  Conroy would later go on to write The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and The Prince of Tides, among others; those are all well worth your time, as is The Water Is Wide.
  
Director Martin Ritt re-hired John Williams, and once again the result is a score that is less than twenty minutes or so in length.  The main titles were released by Film Score Monthly on the same disc that had The Poseidon Adventure and The Paper Chase on it; it's a good piece, reminiscent of Williams' Reivers and Cat Dancing scores.
  
Conrack is not a major score, and in some (but definitely not all) ways, neither was his next one.
 
 


1974 -- The Sugarland Express





The Sugarland Express is an odd movie, but a terrific one.  It stars Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as a wife and escaped-convict husband who go on a (rather slow) road trip with a kidnapped state patrol officer, whom they intend to ransom so as to get their infant child back from his foster family.  Ben Johnson, only two years after his Oscar win for The Last Picture Show, plays a state police Captain tasked with bringing them in.
  
By turns comedic, tragic, exciting, and introspective, your ability to enjoy it will almost certainly depend on whether you can tolerate Hawn's performance.  She is very shrill and annoying, and while it's purposeful (and intended to illustrate how childish and unstable her character is), it can be very off-putting.  Me?  I think she's terrific.  Your mileage may vary.
  
Seems like I'm forgetting to mention something...

Oh!  Right!  Did I forget to mention that this was the feature-film debut of director Steven Spielberg?  Indeed it was, and since he'd been a fan of John Williams' score for The Reivers, he hired the composer for Sugarland, thus beginning a collaboration that has lasted over forty years and has resulted in 25 feature films.  In fact, he's scored every Spielberg-directed movie except for The Color Purple, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Bridge of Spies.  A hell of a run by any metric.
  
The score for The Sugarland Express has never been released on disc, which seems like a major oversight.  The main theme has been rerecorded (here's one example) on various Williams compilation in a somewhat more fulsome and robust version than the one which appears in the actual movie.  Some of these rerecordings feature Toots Thielemans on harmonica, as does the original score.  It's a terrific theme, and maybe some day one of the specialty label will get the full soundtrack into the world.  Word is that Williams himself is opposed to the notion, though, so it may be awhile.


1974 -- Earthquake





Released just before Thanksgiving 1974, Earthquake would go on to be the biggest-grossing films of the year.  The movie was directed by Mark Robson, for whom Williams had previously scored Valley of the Dolls and Daddy's Gone A-Hunting; it was produced by Jennings Lang, who had already done the universe an immeasurable favor by introducing Williams to Steven Spielberg.
  
The Earthquake score is a lot of fun; the main titles even have earthquake sound effects in them!  The music reeks of the seventies, so much so that I believe it may be illegal in California to listen to it without wearing one of those wide-collar shirts everyone used to have back then.
  
The score (as presented on the soundtrack album, at least) is quite varied, too; it veers from symphonic melodies to jazz/rock fusion to lounge-style piano music.  The result is not what I would rank as a Williams masterpiece, but it does a capable job of evoking an era.  I'm especially fond of the seventies cheese that is "Something For Rosa."  You may hate it and feel embarrassed for everyone involved, but I find it to be a lovely and exuberant piece.
     


1974 -- The Towering Inferno






Released only about a month after Earthquake, producer Irwin Allen's The Towering Inferno was arguably the pinnacle of the seventies disaster movies.  It garnered multiple Oscar nominations, starred Paul Newman AND Steve McQueen (not to mention Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, William Holden, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and OJ Simpson), and ended its run as 1974's highest-grossing movie.
  
Among the Oscar nominations (though not the wins): the score.

As you might expect, given that Williams scored the films back to back within just a few weeks, there is some tonal overlap between this score and the Earthquake score, much of it in the approach to the film' love themes.  You will occasionally find suggestions online that the scores are interchangeable; when and if you do, don't listen to them, because they are 95% incorrect.  Whereas Earthquake found Williams adopting a modernistic approach utilizing sounds of the day, most of the score for The Towering Inferno is in the more timeless orchestral mode that the composer would very soon come to perfect.  In some ways, The Towering Inferno points directly at oncoming works like Jaws and Star Wars; Eartthquake, though fine, assuredly does not.
  
The main title is vibrant, exciting stuff; it just plain works.  However, I wonder if Williams himself isn't a fan of his work on the film.  It rarely (so far as I can tell) got programmed into his concerts or official compilations, suggesting that Williams didn't feel it was quite up to snuff compared to some of his other work.  You'd have thought that the sheer magnitude of the movie's success would have ensured that the music would live on, but it kind of hasn't.  That seems like a shame, and it feels to me as if the music is in danger of being totally forgotten by all but the most avid film-score enthusiasts these days.
   


1974 -- Music for Cello and Piano




 
It's worth remembering that Williams trained as a classical pianist at Julliard.  I'm no expert, but I'm given to understand that they don't let just any old fool do that.  With that in mind, I suspect that in some parallel universe, there's a hugely successful concert pianist named John Towner Williams who spent decades recording classical works like the ones represented on this disc.  Break out the Ur-Kindle and download 'em, then send 'em to me, please.
 
In this universe, Williams obviously followed a much different career path, which means that recordings like this one are few and far between.  In fact, this is the only of its kind, so far as I know.
 
So, what does it hold for the John Williams fan?  My take: it's enjoyable music in its own right (it consists of Prokofiev's Sonata in C and Ward-Steinman's Duo), and it gives fans like me a chance to hear a bit how the Maestro fares purely as a pianist.  Pretty well, I'd say.  There are places -- particularly in the Prokofiev -- where his playing distinctly has the feel of his own compositions, which was fun to hear.  What that suggests to me is that to some extent, his voice as a composer and his voice as a pianist are one and the same . . . or, if not quite one and the same, then certainly joined at the hip.
 
From that standpoint, I enjoyed this quite a bit.  Such moments are few and far between, though, to be clear; Williams has no evident interest in doing anything other than honoring the compositions of Prokofiev and Ward-Steinman, and he plays them very well (as does Lustgarden).
  
*****
  
Well, that's it for Part Two.  Of all the posts in this series, this is the briefest, and it covers the smallest period of time (a mere six years).  One might reasonably ask why I decided to break the series apart as I have done, and I suppose I should shed some light on that.  The first era (1954-1967) could, in all honesty, have been broken down into smaller sections; but since much of the music from those years is unavailable, I saw no point in doing so.  The first period, then, is essentially John Williams Begins (or, if you prefer, John Williams: Year One, although that doesn't work for obvious reasons).

I can go ahead and give you a spoiler that you may already know: the years covered during Part Three will be The Golden Age when it comes to Williams music.  These years detailed in Part Two, then, represent a sort of link between the beginning of a mature phase in Williams' career and the beginning of a musical dynasty of sorts.  These are the years in which a talented musician turned into a musician who began to work with occasional inspiration.  He became an Oscar-winner during these years, and then became a composer whose work was gracing some of the biggest hits of the era.

What came next?

History.

5 comments:

  1. Holy moley, “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting” sounds amazing. Probably terrible. Not a bad little tune, though.

    I’ve seen very few of these – I think I saw this version of “Heidi” once or twice as a kid, but I was more familiar with the Shirley Temple one; God, I haven’t thought of that in forever, and of course “Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure”. I actually enjoy the music for that one, though not to a huge degree, just I find it effective for the film.

    While we’re here, those Lorhelmchen76 and Frederick5495 guys do great work.

    I’m looking forward to finishing my “Long Goodbye” blog. It’s been half-written for many months. The score for that one is unique. It’s a neat idea and it’s done in a way that calls just the right amount of attention to itself and mutates and meanders just the right amount. It’d be terrible if every film was done that way, but it works there.

    Looking forward to pt. 3!

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    1. I've only seen a few of these, myself. I may be one of the only movie-lovers of my age who hasn't seen "The Poseidon Adventure," "Earthquake," OR "The Towering Inferno." I'm honestly kind of impressed by it; it seems like some weird sort of achievement.

      I want to see all three, and I'm really keen to see "Images," too. You seen that one?

      I really need to watch T"he Long Goodbye" soon, if only so I can better appreciate your eventual post. I may try to make that happen!

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    2. I have not seen "Images." I'd like to watch all of Altman's stuff one of these days. He made so many movies, and different kind of movies to boot.

      All three of the disaster movies you mention have some fascinating "what the hell is happening to this country!?" panic from The Love Boat generation. (For lack of a better term) "Earthquake," especially, seems designed to be deconstructed along these lines.

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  2. Revised slightly to reflect the fact that I actually listened to the Williams/Lustgarden duos CD. Pretty good.

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  3. I've got a "Peter 'n' Tillie" update: the score has finally come out on disc. Turns out there's about twenty minutes (not eight), and that "Love's the Only Game in Town" was not technically part of the movie. The movie's love theme was turned into that song but did not actually appear in the movie, and the Carol Burnett version didn't come out until well after the film.

    The score appeared on the same disc as an expanded version of 1990's "Stanley & Iris," which is a lovely little score (as is "Pete 'n' Tillie").

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