Sunday, May 13, 2018

Composing Greatness: #41. John Williams - "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005)

Scene from Memoirs of a Geisha
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: Memoirs of a Geisha (2004)
Collaborators (If Available): Yo-Yo Ma (Cello), Itzhak Perlman (Violin)
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Brokeback Mountain (Gustavo Santaolalla)*winner
-The Constant Gardener (Alberto Iglesias)
-Munich (John Williams)
-Pride & Prejudice (Dario Marianelli)

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: 44
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Sayuri's Theme"
2. "Journey to the Hanamichi"
3. "Going to School"
4. "Brush on Silk"
5. "Chiyo's Prayer"
6. "Becoming a Geisha"
7. "Finding Satsu"
8. "The Chairman's Waltz"
9. "The Rooftops of the Hanamichi"
10. "The Garden Meeting"
11. "Dr. Crab's Prize"
12. "Destiny's Path"
13. "A New Name... A New Life..."
14. "The Fire Scene/The Coming of War"
15. "As the Water..."
16. "Confluence"
17. "A Dream Discarded"
18. "Sayuri's Theme/End Credits"

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:
"Sayuri's Theme"

Just when you thought that John Williams couldn't do anything interesting, when his motifs had run dry, he produces a powerful score like this. It's most striking feature is how different it is from what's come before, at times playing more on somber Eastern melodies than traditional Hollywood compositions. It's what leads this to be a big, delicate piece of music that is at times meditative thanks to a mix of string, wind, and percussive instruments that make a flowing melody that has a power all its own. What this lacks in memorable rhythms, it makes up for as one of his most mature pieces of works, and one that has the soothing nature that Williams has rarely been able to achieve in even his most nuanced works.

Interesting Standout:
"Brush on Silk"

It's a track that strays from the norm by creating something more upbeat and fast, mixing in percussive with strings in a way that creates an adventurous vibe. It intensifies, capturing a sense of place that is powerful. It's an active track, and one that builds in the traditional John Williams manners, eventually landing on a brilliant crescendo. It's powerful stuff, especially as he has a grasp of Eastern melodies and incorporates them into something more familiar in a way that never feels false. This isn't the greatest track of the bunch, but it definitely has enough energy to get the heart racing.

Best Moment:
"Finding Satsu"

While a lot of the tracks share a unifying beauty, there's something about this one where everything finally clicks. It's where the violin slowly builds up, creating a flowing melody that remains meditative even as it grows louder. It's traditional John Williams, but without resorting to bombast. Instead, it reflects a quiet maturity that most artists would be too squeamish to work towards. If anything, it's great to see him collaborate with such talented artists, allowing them to shine in a way that elevates the music beyond simple tribute. This is a work of art thanks to its quietness and ability to find the joy in the notes not played. It's powerful and may be among Williams' greatest achievements. It doesn't sound like him while also having his gentle touch.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I think it's a bit difficult to call this one of John Williams' most accessible works, in large part because of how quiet it is. He hasn't made a score that has this delicate of a balance in a genre style that is different from his own. There's not much to suggest that this is the same composer of JawsE.T., or Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's one of an artist who is challenging himself and in the process creating something beautiful and new. This is easily his most mature work, and evidence that he maybe needs to collaborate more often with musicians and artists outside of his inner circle. When he does, he creates something with the nuanced power of this score. What it lacks in memorable melodies, it makes up for in sheer blissful peace.

Up Next: Munich (2005) for Best Original Score

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" - 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'" - Superman (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. "Prologue" - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
10. "Sayuri's Theme" - Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
11. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
12. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
13. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
14. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
15. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
16. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
17. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
18. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
19. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
20. "Catch Me If You Can" - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
21. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
22. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
23. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
24. "Lumos!" - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
25. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
26. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
27. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
28. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
29. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
30. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
31. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
32. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
33. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
34. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
35. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
36. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
37. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
38. "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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