John Williams as we know is one of the most successful composers of film music in the history of Hollywood. He is also known for composing music for the concert state. However, there is also a very different side to his concert music. In the 1960s, while he was still working in music for TV he was also composing concert music in styles totally unknown to most.
His piece Sinfonietta for Wind Ensemble in 3 Movements was composed in 1968 for no reason or commission. This piece is atonal with themes and harmonies that do not resolve in the traditional sense. Many people have disliked atonal music, both in the academic world and in the audience. This maybe true, but some atonal works are powerful and brilliant. It really depends on the composer. Here in this piece John Williams examples his own unique expression in the surroundings of atonality. The piece has a climax of tremendous dissonance, not as rich in harmony as his film music, but yet still as expressive. He demonstrates that his capabilities as a composer extends further into other reaches. This piece is among on the top brilliant atonal works that I have ever heard.
It was recorded in 1970 by The Eastman Wind Ensemble and conducted by Donald Hunsberger. Among the other pieces in this recording are Penderecki: Pittsburgh Overture and Mayuzumi: Music with Sculpture. It’s long out of print and never went to CD, however copies can still be found on eBay.
Another piece at this time period by John Williams is his Prelude and Fugue for Orchestra. This piece is not atonal, but among the other major influence of Williams’ musical output: Jazz. It has a huge flavor of Jazz harmony set to a trditional orchestration with a drum set. It is a Fugue which is a style from the Classical genre of music, but yet expresses this Jazz style. A combination of both worlds in the highest level. It really brings out the side of John Williams that most are not aware and it’s a must to listen. The recording was done by Stan Kenton with the Los Angeles Neophobic Orchestra and first released on Vinyl but later reissued in the 1990s on CD. This is also out of print but copies can be found on eBay.
I have listed links to YouTube videos of both pieces and I highly recommend a listen. It’s worth your time.
John Williams has not only had a successful career in Film scoring and music for the concert stage, but he is also known as the official composer for the Olympic Games. He has composed for four of the Olympic games ranging from 1984- 2002. These pieces to this day are still performed and celebrated for the Olympics.
In 1984, John Williams had already become a household name. He had just completed scoring for the Star Wars Original Trilogy. He’s done the first of the Indiana Jones installments, The Superman motion picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws (which started his career in the spotlight). The Olympic committee for the Los Angeles Games decided to choose a local composer to create the official music. Who else would be the better choice than John Williams? He composed a piece titled Olympic Fanfare and Theme. There are also two recordings of the piece. One of which was recorded with the Los Angeles Studio Orchestra and the second with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The second continues to be available both on CD and Digital Downloads.
NBC covered the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. John Williams was called upon again and commissioned to compose the official music for these Olympic Games. The pieces titled Olympic Spirit was created for the event. It was recorded by Williams with a television studio orchestra for the official Olympics CD and later recorded with the Boston Pops for the Summon The Heroes CD recording on Sony Classical.
1996 marked the Centennial Anniversary of the Olympic Games and once again held in the United States. For the Atlanta games in 1996, John Williams was committed to once again compose an original piece. Summon The Heroes was composed and performed at the Summer Olympics. As this was a huge anniversary for the Olympic Games with celebrations. Opera singer, Jennifer Larmore, a local of Atlanta, was joined in on the closing ceremonies along with John Williams. The piece was recored on the Sony Classical label of the same name. The first several 100 recordings were sold at Tower Records with a souvenir T-Shirt for the celebration. During the beginning of that summer seasons, John Williams and Jennifer Larmore also performed in celebration for the Olympics at the Hollywood Bowl.
in 2002, John Williams was once again called in to compose for the Olympics. This time it was for the Winter Games held once again in the United States in Salt Lake City, Utah. The piece he composed for these games was titled Call of the Champions and was once again recorded under the Sony Classical label. The recording also has a second performance of Summon The Heroes along with many of other John Williams’ Fanfares and March themes.
John Williams is a true composer of many facets. His style of composing ranges in all aspects. The Olympic music shines in brilliance in his biggest strength, the brass instruments. In particular the French Horn. He loves to compose for these instruments which makes a true Olympic sound world. There was no other choice than John Williams to compose for these games. All of these pieces are still available to listen on the internet, purchase as a digital download or as a CD. I highly recommend them to those who would be interested in knowing more about his music outside of the film world.