John Williams (composer)

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John Williams in May 2006

John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932 in Flushing , Queens , New York City , New York ) is an American composer , conductor and producer of film and orchestral music . The multiple Oscar and Grammy winner has been one of the world's best-known, most successful and most influential film composers since the 1970s . He has worked with directors such as Steven Spielberg (including Jaws , Indiana Jones , ET - The Extra Terrestrial , Schindler's List , Jurassic Park , Saving Private Ryan , AI - Artificial Intelligence , Minority Report , Catch Me If You Can ) , George Lucas ( Star Wars ) and Alfred Hitchcock ( family grave ) together. He also composed the music for the first three films in the Harry Potter series.

Live and act

John Williams in September 2007

20th century

John Williams was born the son of an orchestral musician in the New York borough of Queens in the Flushing neighborhood . He learned to read music at the age of three . He grew up in New York and moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1948 , where he attended the University of California and studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco . After completing his military service in the US Air Force , Williams moved back to New York. There he attended the Juilliard School , where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne . He also worked as a jazz pianist in New York . His first piano sonata was published in 1951 . Other classical works followed. In the following years he also worked for US television and various Hollywood productions, initially under the name Johnny Williams.

From 1956 until her death in 1974, John Williams was married to the actress and singer Barbara Ruick . This marriage had three children: Jennifer (* 1956), Mark (* 1958) and Joseph Williams (* 1960), who is also a film music composer and from 1986 to 1989 and since 2010 the singer of the American band Toto . Since 1980 John Williams has been married to Samantha Winslow for the second time.

He celebrated his breakthrough in 1972 with the music for the disaster film Die Höllenfahrt der Poseidon ( The Poseidon Adventure ). But even more He gained fame with Jaws ( Jaws , 1975) and finally with Star Wars ( Star Wars , 1977). For both he received the Oscar .

The director Steven Spielberg referred John Williams to his friend, the director George Lucas . Lucas was working on the first Star Wars film, for which Williams finally wrote the film music, which won an Oscar in 1978. The film music for all other Star Wars parts (except The Clone Wars , Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story ) including the “Prequel Trilogy” (episodes I - III) and the “Sequel Trilogy “(Episodes VII - IX) comes from his pen. The soundtrack CDs are among the most successful in film music history, pieces such as the theme song or the “ Imperial March ” are well known beyond fan circles. See also: → Star Wars soundtrack

In 1993 John Williams composed the score for the film Schindler's List . Because he was very impressed with the film, Williams initially did not dare to write the score. He said to Spielberg: "You need a better composer for this film than I am." To which Spielberg replied: "I know, but they are all dead."

21st century

John Williams conducts the score for Raiders of the Lost Ark

In 2001, Williams was asked by director Chris Columbus to write the score for the first Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone . For this film, Williams composed, among other things, "Hedwig's Theme", which became world-famous. The following two Harry Potter films were also set to music by Williams. Then he got out of the project. The reason for this was the work on The Geisha .

In 2002 Williams wrote a total of four film scores: Catch Me If You Can , Star Wars: Episode II , Minority Report and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets . In Catch Me If You Can , Williams used jazz elements for the first time in his film music history with Steven Spielberg . Spielberg considered this a birthday present because this film represented the 20th collaboration between the director and the composer.

In 2008 the soundtrack for the fourth Indiana Jones film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released .

In 2009, John Williams wrote the theme music for the television series Great Performances , for which he won an Emmy that same year . In the same year Williams began work on Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn , which appeared in October 2011. This is the first animated film that Williams was involved in. Williams also worked here for the first time with Peter Jackson , the film's producer.

In 2011 Williams composed the score for Spielberg's Companions and in 2012 for Spielberg's Lincoln .

In 2013, Williams worked for the first time since 2005 with a director other than Spielberg: He set director Brian Percival's The Book Thief to music . The film is an American-German co-production in which Studio Babelsberg played a key role.

In 2015, John Williams worked on the seventh part of the Star Wars series Star Wars: The Force Awakens , which was directed by JJ Abrams .

For Spielberg's 2015 film Bridge of Spies - The Negotiator was not available to Williams for health reasons. As a result, Thomas Newman was hired as a composer. This Spielberg film is the first in thirty years (most recently Die Farbe Lila , 1985) whose score was not written by John Williams. In 2016, Williams and Spielberg continued their collaboration with the film BFG - Big Friendly Giant .

Steven Spielberg and John Williams

John Williams and Steven Spielberg have been friends since 1974. That year they worked together on the film Sugarland Express , which brought both of them the breakthrough. Williams has been Spielberg's preferred composer since Jaws (1975), with the exception of Die Farbe Lila (1985), Bridge of Spies (2015) and Ready Player One (2018), all of Spielberg's films to music. The film BFG - Big Friendly Giant from 2016 represents the 28th collaboration between Williams and Spielberg. Williams has also been regularly supported by sound engineer Shawn Murphy for decades .

Current projects

In 2017, Williams composed the score for The Publisher , Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the music for the animated short film Dear Basketball , directed by Glen Keane . He had to cancel the work on Steven Spielberg's film Ready Player One due to time constraints in agreement with Spielberg. The music for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was composed by John Williams.


John Williams 2006

In his work for Hollywood, Williams never committed himself to one genre, and with a few exceptions (e.g. Jane Eyre (1970), Stanley & Iris (1990) or My Mother's Ashes (1999)) , his music is mostly expansive and lush is orchestrated. In 2005 Williams composed four stylistically completely different scores: Star Wars: Episode III , War of the Worlds , Die Geisha and Munich . While there is still dramatic music in Star Wars , elements of horror can be found in War of the Worlds . The geisha, on the other hand, is characterized by elegance and simplicity, and Williams created funeral music for Munich that is carried by strings, piano, guitar and solo vocals.

In addition to his film scores, Williams composed two symphonies , several solo concerts and various shorter pieces for orchestras and ensembles. He also wrote the musical Thomas and the King (1975) about Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England .

For the ceremony for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009, he wrote the quartet Air and Simple Gifts . It was performed by Itzhak Perlman ( violin ), Yo-Yo Ma ( cello ), Gabriela Montero ( piano ) and Anthony McGill ( clarinet ). The composition consists of two parts: the so-called "Air" theme and the "Simple Gifts" theme. The piece is based on the Shaker hymn by Joseph Brackett .

Williams wrote fanfares four times for the Olympic Games , for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul , the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City . In 2003 he was awarded the Olympic Order for this.

The music for the US news program NBC News , The Mission , was composed by Williams, as was the music for the DreamWorks SKG company logo .

In 2011, the Steven Spielberg Stage in Los Angeles was renamed the Williams John Williams Scoring Stage .

Williams was the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993 and is now its honorary conductor. He also gives regular guest appearances with American orchestras. In January 2020 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time .

Filmography (selection)

Concert work

Williams conducting at the Hollywood Bowl


  • 1969: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
  • 1976: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • 1985: Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra
  • 1991: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra
  • 1993: Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra
  • 1994: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
  • 1996: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra
  • 1997: Elegy for Cello and Piano
  • 2000: TreeSong
  • 2002: Heartwood
  • 2003: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
  • 2007: Duo Concertante for Violin and Viola
  • 2009: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
  • 2009: On Willows and Birches, for Harp and Orchestra
  • 2011: Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra
  • 2011: Quartet La Jolla for violin, cello, clarinet and harp
  • 2012: Rounds for solo guitar

Other works

  • 1965: Prelude and Fugue
  • 1965: Symphony # 1
  • 1975: Thomas and the King - Musical
  • 1980: Jubilee 350 Fanfare - for the 350th anniversary of the city of Boston
  • 1984: Los Angeles Olympic Theme - Olympic theme for the XXIII. Summer Olympics in Los Angeles
  • 1986: Liberty Fanfare - for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty
  • 1987: A Hymn to New England
  • 1988: Fanfare for Michael Dukakis - for the presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis
  • 1988: For New York - Variations on a Theme by Leonard Bernstein on the occasion of his 70th birthday
  • 1990: Celebrate Discovery - on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus
  • 1993: Sound the Bells!
  • 1994: Song for World Peace
  • 1995: Variations on Happy Birthday
  • 1999: American Journey
  • 2001: Three Pieces for solo cello
  • 2003: Soundings - for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall
  • 2007: Star Spangled Banner - adaptation of the US national anthem for the 2007 World Series
  • 2008: A Timeless Call
  • 2009: Air and Simple Gifts - to mark Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony
  • 2012: Fanfare for Fenway - to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park

Work for television


John Williams has been nominated for an Oscar 52 times and won five; six times for the Emmy , three he got; Golden Globe 25 times , four won; Got 68 times for the Grammy , 24. He received the British Academy Film Award seven times . With 52 nominations, he currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations for a living person. After Walt Disney with 59 nominations, he ranks second for the most nominations ever.

Williams holds the record in America's best film music list published by the American Film Institute with three of 25 films: Star Wars at # 1, Jaws at # 6, and ET - The Extra-Terrestrial at # 14. He is the only composer with three entries on this list. On June 9, 2016 he was the first composer ever to be honored with the AFI Life Achievement Award for his life's work.

In 2020 Williams received the Princess of Asturias Prize in the art category (together with Ennio Morricone ).




Grammy Award


  • 1976: Best original music written for a film or TV special in Jaws
  • 1978: Best instrumental performance (Pop) in Star Wars (Soundtrack)
  • 1978: Best instrumental composition in Star Wars (main theme)
  • 1978: Best original music written for a film or TV special in Star Wars
  • 1979: Best instrumental composition in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (main theme)
  • 1979: Best original music written for a film or a television special in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • 1980: Best instrumental composition in Superman (main theme)
  • 1980: Best original music written for a movie or TV special in Superman
  • 1981: Best instrumental composition in The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981: Best original music written for a film or TV special in The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1982: Best original music written for a film or TV special in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1983: Best original music written for a film or TV special in ET - The Extra Terrestrial
  • 1983: Best instrumental composition for Flying , theme from ET - The Extra Terrestrial
  • 1983: Best instrumental arrangement for Flying , theme from ET - The Extra Terrestrial
  • 1985: Best instrumental composition for the official music of the 1984 Summer Olympics
  • 1995: Best instrumental composition written for film or television on Schindler's list
  • 1999: Best instrumental composition written for film or television in Saving Private Ryan
  • 2001: Best instrumental composition in My Mother's Ashes
  • 2007: Best composed soundtrack album for film, television or visual media in Die Geisha
  • 2007: Best instrumental composition for A Prayer For Peace , topic from Munich
  • 2009: Best instrumental composition for The Adventures Of Mutt , theme from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • 2015: Best instrumental composition for The Book Thief from Die Bücherdiebin
  • 2017: Best Composed Visual Media Soundtrack in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • 2018: Best instrumental or a cappella arrangement for Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra from Catch Me If You Can

46 other nominations

British Academy Film Award


eight other nominations

Emmy Award


  • 1969: Outstanding achievement in musical poetry in Heidi
  • 1972: Outstanding Achievement in Musical Poetry in Jane Eyre
  • 2009: Outstanding Cover Story in Great Performances

three more nominations

Other awards (selection)

Golden Globe Award

22 further nominations

Saturn Award

eleven other nominations

Critics' Choice Movie Award

three more nominations

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award

two more nominations

Williams also won the World Soundtrack Award three times and the BMI Film & TV Award 21 times . In 2001 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Prize by the National Board of Review for his “excellent film compositions”. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School , New York. In 2009 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . Also in 2009, Williams was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Barack Obama in the White House as an "outstanding conductor and composer" who "has shaped and inspired the modern film industry for decades". In 2017 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard University .


  • Emilio Audissino: John Williams's Film Music. 'Jaws,' 'Star Wars,' 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' and the Return of the Classical Hollywood Music Style . University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI 2014, ISBN 978-0-299-29734-3 .
  • Emilio Audissino: Golden Age 2.0: John Williams and the Revival of the Symphonic Film Score . In: Sebastian Stoppe (Ed.): Film in Concert. Film Scores and their Relation to Classical Concert Music . VWH Verlag, Glückstadt 2014, ISBN 978-3-86488-060-5 , p. 109-124 .
  • Irena Paulus: Williams versus Wagner - Or an Attempt at Linking Musical Epics . In: Sebastian Stoppe (Ed.): Film in Concert. Film Scores and their Relation to Classical Concert Music . VWH Verlag, Glückstadt 2014, ISBN 978-3-86488-060-5 , p. 63-108 .
  • Tony Thomas : Soundtrack. The great film composers - their art and their technique . Heyne, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-453-09007-1 .
  • Peter Moormann (ed.): Classics of film music . Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-018621-3 .
  • Peter Moormann: Spielberg Variations. The soundtrack by John Williams . Nomos, Baden-Baden 2010, ISBN 978-3-8329-5355-3 .

Web links

Commons : John Williams  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ American Film Institute : AFI's Master Class: The Art of Collaboration - Steven Spielberg & John Williams . Turner Classic Movies, 2011, DVD. Quoted from Nigel Morris (Ed.): A Companion to Steven Spielberg . John Wiley & Sons, 2017, ISBN 978-1-118-72691-4 .
  2. COLLIDER July 10, 2017 (English).
  3. ^ John Williams Scoring Stage Unveiled . Film Music Society website . Retrieved April 30, 2011.
  4. ^ Wiener Musikverein: A Tribute to John Williams. Accessed April 30, 2020 .
  7. John Williams. 44th Life Achievement Award Honoree. In: American Film Institute (AFI), January 2016, accessed December 14, 2019 .
  8. Princess of Asturias Prize 2020
  9. ^ Peter Moormann: Spielberg Variations. 2010, p. 21.
  10. Remarks by the President at Presentation of the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of the Arts ( Memento June 13, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) In:, accessed April 17, 2018.
  11. ^ Harvard awards 10 honorary degrees. May 25, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019 .