John Williams (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)Composer John Williams' Oscar nomination for Best Score, for "Lincoln," marks his 48th nomination, second among individual nominees only to Walt Disney.
Williams, at this point in his career, might be the most famous film composer that ever has been, with his long-standing partnership with the legendary (and prolific) Steven Spielberg accounting for much of that fame. His work with Spielberg is not, by any means, all of what Williams has done either, composing iconic themes for film such as "Star Wars," "Superman," and the "Harry Potter" franchise as well.
Williams, after attending Julliard and the Eastman School of Music, found work arranging scores by such luminaries as Franz Waxman, Bernard Hermann, and Alfred Newman. This led eventually to Williams scoring his own films, notably 1958's "Daddy-O," and 1967's "The Valley of the Dolls," for which he received his first Oscar nomination.
By the 70s, Williams' scores for "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" led Steven Spielberg to approach Williams to do the music for "The Sugarland Express," Spielberg's first theatrical feature. Williams has gone on to score every feature Spielberg has directed with the exception of "The Color Purple," on which producer Quincy Jones, no musical slouch himself, assumed music duties.
The ubiquity of John Williams both in Spielberg's body of work and at Oscar time, when it seems Williams' nomination is automatic, can tend to obscure how very good he is at what he does. With the case of "Lincoln," very little of the film is set to what one commonly expects to hear from "John Williams," music-wise. There is, however, music very subtly embedded throughout. And then, at the dramatic climax of the film, just as one might be asking oneself, "I thought John Williams did the music for this movie, where is he?" the familiar, emotional swell of string music arrives, at the "John Williams moment." It is at such moments that one truly appreciates John Williams; how many other composers can lay claim to not only a distinctive style, but a specific dramatic emotional beat within a story?
Outside his work in film, John Williams conducted the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, and has been a guest conductor at the New York Philharmonic. He also has a large body of non-film composing work, with dozens of concertos and other orchestral works to his credit. It is, however, his film work for which he shall be remembered, setting a standard both in cultural impact and acclaim for that impact that may never again be seen by another film composer. And he is still by no means done.
Watch Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg discuss 'Lincoln':