Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
School of Music
John Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. As one of the most well-known, awarded, and financially successful composers in US history, Williams has scored some of the most iconic films of all time. Of note, he has scored more than one hundred films, many of which were directed by Steven Spielberg.
This study explores Williams’ writing for pitched and non-pitched percussion, particularly in his scores for E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Hook, The Cowboys Overture, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
John Williams’ film music is often scored for an extensive inventory of percussion instruments, frequently requiring five, six, or seven players to delineate and execute the music in its entirety. This study will analyze selected percussion parts orchestrated by John Williams for the purpose of realizing the music using a lesser number of performers. The task of mapping out the percussion music and providing a logistical system to aid the principal percussionist in assigning parts for selected John Williams film scores is an important one. In order to successfully execute these scores with a condensed number of performers, careful consideration must be given to the orchestration and instrumentation of each piece.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, Williams employs a wide range of percussion instruments, including xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, chimes, cymbals, triangle, bass drum, snare drum, and tambourine, among others. By analyzing the score, the principal percussionist can determine which instruments are essential for each section of the piece and assign those parts accordingly.
Through this process of analysis and mapping, the principal percussionist can develop a logistical system for assigning parts that allows for the successful execution of these scores with a smaller number of performers. This can be particularly useful for smaller orchestras or ensembles which may not have the resources to hire large forces of percussionists for each performance. The job of the principal percussionist in interpreting John Williams’ film music requires careful attention to detail, a deep understanding of orchestration and instrumentation, and the ability to assign parts strategically to achieve the desired musical effect.
Patzig, A. C.(2023). The Film Score Music of John Williams: A Guide to Selected Works for the Principal Percussionist. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/7270