Sunday, December 24, 2017

Composing Greatness: #29. John Williams - "Schindler's List" (1993)

Schindler's List
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Schindler's List (1993)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score
Did He Win: Yes

Other Nominees:
-The Age of Innocence (Elmer Bernstein)
-The Firm (Dave Grusin)
-The Fugitive (James Newton)
-The Remains of the Day (Richard Robbins)

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 31
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Theme from Schindler's List"
2. "Jewish Town"
3. "Immolation"
4. "Remembrances"
5. "Schindler's Workforce"
6. "OYF N Pripetshok and Nacht"
7. "I Could Have Done More"
8. "Aushwitz-Birkenau"
9. "Stolen Memories"
10. "Making the List"
11. "Give me your Names"
12. "Yeroushalaim Chel Zahav"
13. "Rememberances"
13. "Theme from Schindler's List"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Theme from Schindler's List"

The brilliance of this score by John Williams is that he captures the emotional impact on strings as effective as ever. However, he doesn't go big nor does he use an orchestral quality to get the point across. In its place is a fiddle, playing a somber melody that will become one of his greatest works. It captures a deeper resonance as it builds, capturing a longing for a more peaceful time. This score is just as rooted in Jewish roots as Fiddler on the Roof, but seems more impressive because of how Williams has grown as an artist since then. Here, he uses minimalism to capture a singular loneliness that will play throughout the entire film. It will build to a unification, but that sole fiddle defines the struggle of each individual in that ensemble. It's a beautiful, iconic piece of work that shows his ability as an artist to be more than a showman. He can be compassionate in ways that play to his strengths, which is pretty surprising given all of the scores he's been nominated before this one.

Interesting Standout:

The score remains largely minimal for most of its first half, choosing to capture the emotional gravitas of the individual. However, this is one of the early examples of the score shifting towards Jews as a culture, struggling together while keeping the faith. This stands out in part because of the powerful harmonic singing that comes at the center of the piece. It adds weight to John Williams' score, causing it to feel rooted more in a culture that will become very vocal by the soundtrack's end. Here, it's the early roots of music becoming integral to the emotional and psychological survival of its characters. There's no weak spot in this entire score, and this only stands out because of the perfect balance between the classical instrumentation and the orchestral accompaniment that swirls perfectly through the entire work.

Best Moment:
"Schindler's Workforce"

If there was only one showcase for Schindler's List and its greatness, this nine minute track effectively captures everything that John Williams does best. It has an underlying pulsating beat that drives the emotional arc, building to an orchestra that is as somber and dramatic as the rest of the album. Still,this works as its own miniature opera that captures the pains and struggles of the characters in a word-free composition. You understand everything perfectly in this piece, which features the motif coming back to center the piece in its identity. There may be be a lot of interesting shorter tracks that play with harmony better, but this is where Williams really gets to show what his skills are by drawing out notes, making the tension rise as the listener gets invested in the emotional aspects of the music.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

There's an easy complaint to be made in suggesting that Jurassic Park also should've been nominated from 1993. I would be with them. However, it would still lose to Schindler's List because it's another example of a career best for John Williams, who has had his ebbs and flows, but tends to deliver with Steven Spielberg. Here, he creates something that feels personal in its elaboration, capturing an emotional depth that he hasn't been able to do before. You can feel the sad notes echoing before the first 20 seconds of "Theme from Schindler's List" finish. It has the typical catchy hook, but this time it doesn't come with a whimsical and happy melody. Instead, it's as somber and reminiscent as they come. Few composers could ever hope to make music this engaging yet sad for a mainstream film. Williams did it, and I can only hope we see this side of him again.

Did This Deserve to Win?

What's interesting is that this is John Williams' last Oscar win as of 2017. While there's an off chance that either The Post or Star Wars: The Last Jedi could alter that (I would hope more the former if anything), I think that this is a pretty good one to win for. It's the one that challenged him in ways that I haven't actually heard him challenged before. He usually goes for big, elaborate numbers that are exciting, but I feel like they're familiar. Here, he is exploring something richer as a composer and coming up with a sound that shows his gravitas. This is the work of an artist dedicated to an emotional complexity, no matter which end of the spectrum that lands on. This is a bona fide masterpiece, and I'm curious if I will ever feel this strongly about a Williams score going forward. He'll probably go great work, but one has to wonder if this is his last masterpiece that should've won. Oh well, we got about 20 nominations to prove otherwise.

Up Next: Sabrina (1995) for Best Original Score (Musical or Comedy) and Best Original Song

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
10. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
11. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
12. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
13. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
14. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
15. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
16. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
17. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
18. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
19. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
20. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
21. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
22. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
23. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
24. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
25. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
26. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
27. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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