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.