Saturday Night at the Movies: Saturday 13 July 2013

For the second in his new mini-series of Great Living Film Composers, Howard Goodall showcases the life and career of John Williams.

Howard Goodall continues his new mini-series focusing on Great Living Film Composers – and this week, he’s chosen John Williams, the most prolific and widely honoured living composer of film music and the most Oscar-nominated man alive. 

John Williams was born in New York but moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 16. He attended UCLA and studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. After service in the Air Force, he returned to New York to attend Juilliard where he studied piano. He also worked as a jazz pianist in both clubs and on recordings.

Moving back to Los Angeles, Williams began his career in film studios working with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programmes in the 1960s, winning two Emmys for his work.

Beginning with his first screen credit, for Because They're Young, Williams' career as a composer of film scores gathered steady momentum. In 1974 Steven Spielberg came to John Williams after being moved by his score to The Rievers to score Sugarland Express. It was the beginning of one of the greatest film composer/director collaborations ever.

Williams' first Oscar was actually for his adaption of the music for the screen version of Fiddler on the Roof. In 1976 he received his second for Jaws. In 1978, an Oscar for Star Wars followed in a competition that included his own score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Oscars were also awarded for E.T. and the haunting Schindler's List soundtrack.

Tonight Howard has all of John Williams' big hits – from Star Wars and Superman, to E.T. and Jurassic Park – as he tells the story of how Williams became Hollywood’s most lauded film composer.