restricted access 5. Williams’s Early Years: Spotting the First Traces of Neoclassicism
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86 5 Williams’s Early Years Spot­ ting the First ­ Traces of Neo­ clas­ si­ cism John ­ Towner ­ Williams was born in New York on 8 Feb­ ru­ ary 1932. His ­ father, John ­ Towner ­ Williams Sr.—known as ­ Johnny ­ Williams—was a per­ cus­ sion­ ist in the CBS Radio Or­ ches­ tra and a mem­ ber of the Ray­ mond Scott Quin­ tette.1 Young ­ Williams stud­ ied music and ­ learned to play the trum­ pet, the trom­ bone, the bas­ soon, the cello, and the clar­ i­ net, and used to fol­ low his­ father into the re­ cord­ ing stu­ dios and at­ tend the ses­ sions.2 He soon de­ cided to de­ vote him­ self pri­ mar­ ily to the piano, aim­ ing to pur­ sue a ca­ reer as a clas­ si­ cal con­ cert pi­ a­ nist. He stud­ ied pri­ vately in Los An­ geles with pi­ a­ nist Rob­ ert Van Eps, who was also an ac­ tive Hol­ ly­ wood or­ ches­ tra­ tor, and this might be con­ sid­ ered­ Williams’s first con­ tact with the world of film music.­ Williams soon ­ showed un­ com­ mon ­ skills for com­ po­ si­ tion and ar­ range­ ment. Dur­ ing his years at the North Hol­ ly­ wood High ­ School, he used to ar­ range music for the ­ school band, ap­ ply­ ing to pop­ u­ lar mel­ o­ dies the tech­ niques he had ­ learned from or­ ches­ tra­ tion man­ u­ als. Later, he moved to the Los An­ geles City Col­ lege and the Uni­ ver­ sity of Cal­ i­ for­ nia at Los An­ geles. Mean­ while, he was pri­ vately tu­ tored in com­ po­ si­ tion and counter­ point by Mario Cas­ tel­ nu­ ovo Te­ desco.3 In 1952 ­ Williams was ­ drafted and dur­ ing his ser­ vice in the U.S. Air Force he had the ­ chance to work on his first film score: Spotting the First Traces of Neoclassicism • 87 I . . . spent two years with the North­ east Air Com­ mand Band in St.­ John’s, New­ found­ land. This was a won­ der­ ful ex­ pe­ ri­ ence, and it ­ seemed I was the only one there who could write ar­ range­ ments for that band. I con­ ducted some of the re­ hear­ sals, and the band ­ played sum­ mer con­ certs in a ga­ zebo dur­ ing which the base com­ mander often re­ quested his fa­ vor­ ite songs. After the end of World War II, the Ca­ na­ dian govern­ ment com­ mis­ sioned a Ger­ man com­ pany, North At­ lan­ tic Films, to make a doc­ u­ men­ tary about the Mar­ i­ time Prov­ inces of Can­ ada. In 1953 the com­ pany was work­ ing in St. ­ John’s, and some of these peo­ ple at­ tended the sum­ mer con­ certs and heard my band ar­ range­ ments. As a re­ sult they asked my com­ mand­ ing of­ fi­ cer if I could write music for the film. He not only ­ granted me per­ mis­ sion but al­ lowed me to use sev­ eral band mem­ bers. I dis­ cov­ ered some folk songs of New­ found­ land in the li­ brary and wove these into the score. This was my first at­ tempt at film writ­ ing, and I used only winds.4 An ar­ ti­ cle of the time was de­ voted to the young ­ soldier-composer: “With dis­ charge day com­ ing his way in Jan­ u­ ary 1955, ­ Johnny plans to con­ tinue his stud­ ies at UCLA with a goal of writ­ ing and play­ ing for mo­ tion pic­ tures. If his ad­ vance­ ment con­ tin­ ues to be as rapid as it has been to this point, soon the words ‘Music by ­ Johnny ­ Williams’ will flash on the local ­ screen and tell the re­ al­ iza­ tion of the goal of a for­ mer March air­ man.”5 After mil­ i­ tary ser­ vice, ap­ par­ ently not sure ­ whether to opt for a ca­ reer as a com­ poser or as a pi­ a­ nist, ­ Williams mused, “I guess I ­ wanted to play Rach­ ma­ nin­ off with the New York Phil­ har­ monic.”6­ Williams moved to New York, where he was ad­ mit­ ted to the pre­ stig­ ious Juil­ li­ ard ­ School in the piano class of Ro...


Subject Headings

  • Williams, John, 1932- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Motion picture music -- History and criticism.
  • Jaws (Motion picture).
  • Star wars (Motion picture).
  • Raiders of the lost ark (Motion picture).
  • Boston Pops Orchestra.
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