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Williams - The Virtuoso Composer

February 18, 2017

Becoming a virtuoso composer requires the same amount of practice as becoming a virtuoso instrument player.

Composing such music seems to be second nature for John. He has been composing virtuoso music for many movies with such a fluency which is mind-boggling.

In the Hook - The Arrival of Tink and the Flight to Neverland there are many interesting textures to be studied.

Today we are going to study a short passage written in tempo presto that is particularly good for understanding the mental process of a composition like this.

Note that composing virtuoso music means more than just composing “fast” music. It means precisely predicting the overall sound effect on a great amount of notes.

Please refer to 1:00 to listen to the short passage.

 

 

 

In a very fast passage full of details like this, the question is: How does the composer achieve this result with such a fluency?

The tendency is to believe that everything in the score, from the fast high runs in the flutes, passing through the horn and going to the pizzicatos in the bass, were all decided right away at once by the composer.

This is not entirely true. The human ear isn't able to perceive all these details at the same time and this counts true for the process of composition. In this specific case, Williams first was rather thinking of a "rhythmic pulse effect" than in the traditional "melody, harmony and rhythm" way.

 

First, let’s examine the rhythms which basically are the accents of the texture.

If you listen in a “lesser detailed” way you are going to realize that the rhythm is what follows:

 

 

The upper notes represent the accentuations and the lower notes represent the accompanying long notes. Both are the basic foundation for construction of all the rest.

 

Second, since the music is to describe the flight of Tinkerbell, which is tiny and fast, John uses a very light orchestration avoiding heavy sounding instruments like trombones and drums.

 

Third, all the instruments involved in the orchestration contribute to the accentuations.

String - Pizz, Horns - stacc and percussion.

The woods highlight the accents with their top notes in every run.

 

Fourth, the piece is based on the octatonic scale with exception of the wood runs which are chromatic sometimes.

 

Now, that we have learned that these are the foundations to start a composition like this let’s start to compose something similar but with a different rhythm as a basis.

The newly chosen rhythm will be like this:

 

 

Based on this new rhythm we can now adapt the contours, notes and orchestration and create a new composition using the same process John used.

 

 

Tinkerbell Arrives

 

 

SCORE: ORIGINAL

SCORE: NEW RHYTHM

 

 

 

The basic rhythm has been changed but the nature and the mental process of the composition stays practically the same.

In addition to the basics of the original composition a celesta has been added to get a more chaotic effect.

After studding this process, what would be a third rhythmic alternative for this piece?

Can you create more variations of this texture besides the basic rhythm?

 

 

 

OBS: the book The John Williams Compositional Techniques has not been released yet. 2017 is a good time for great development of this project and if you want to keep updated about it subscribe to my Blog and my YouTube Chanel.

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