It’s no surprise that John Williams has been pinned by many as one of the greatest film composers of all time. As the driving force behind the scores of the original Star Wars Trilogy, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Schindler’s List, and many other notable works; he’s effectively cemented himself as a cinema icon. That reputation comes with its fair share of criticism though.
Take a look at one of Williams most notable works,”‘The Imperial March” from Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes back. Any informed classical music fan could spot the obvious similarities between the march and Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from his seven movement suite, “The Planets.” In fact, many music buffs did recognize the similarities and accused Williams of stealing from Holst. That accusation may be a bit harsh. Sure, the huge horn motive blaring above the rest of the orchestra’s unison, pulsating rhythm is entirely too familiar. But, like so many of the composers that came before him, Williams is an artist of reimagining.
Soundtracking motion pictures is an art form in its own right and no easy task. Moods have to be aptly appropriated with a major or minor key, recurring motives have to appear at the right moment, song meter has to reflect the pacing of the scene – and this all has to promote a common musical theme that effectively reflects the visual it’s accompanying. In terms of setting audio to video, sometimes creators are more messengers than anything. That, in and of itself, is daunting enough and respectful.
Inspiration from other artists is a common thing among creators that many people look down upon. A blatant ripoff, obviously, isn’t something to be praised. However, I challenge you to look at any of the great musicians, composers, singers, etc. and see if you can’t trace their style or sound back to a specific influence. What’s more important is that that influence is employed or re-imagined in a fresh and creative way.