CD Selections
3:50 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

LISTEN: Kile Smith Recommends...

John Williams: Greatest Hits 1969-1999

A lone violin plays a simple, haunting melody, and you think of the people: the many taken away, the few saved, and the one who saved the few. His name is Schindler, and the violin plays. This forlorn, soft, heart-rending music--performed here by Itzhak Perlman--is by John Williams, the king of Hollywood composers. It transforms the movie, because as sad as Schindler's List is, it is the sweetness of the music that drives the sadness deeper. John Williams makes magic happen in front of our eyes. That's what he does.

Starting in film in 1954, Williams orchestrated for Henry Mancini and Bernard Herrmann. He's arranged for pop and jazz artists, and composed TV themes and concert pieces. But in these two discs of his movie hits, his technique finds its home.

With 30 years' worth of his greatest themes, these CDs are a re-appreciation and a re-discovery of his work. The trumpet blasts during the opening text crawl of Star Wars make our blood run hot, and the menacing double bass growls in Jaws make it run cold. E.T.'s spaceship lifting off and Indiana Jones on horseback are all here. But for each obvious thrill, there's a Born on the Fourth of July or Seven Years in Tibet or Saving Private Ryan or even Home Alone, quietly waiting to surprise.

Williams' language is filled with the leitmotifs of Wagner and the Romanticism of Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Holst. His genius, though, lies in how he's turned the incidental music of the Saturday matinee into a juggernaut of emotion. By making film music--subservient to the image--a force on its own, he changed the course of movie history. We hear why in these CDs.

The violin plays, driving the emotion deeper as we think of the people. Right there, in front of our eyes, John Williams is making magic happen.--Kile