Reynold da Silva's Silva Screen Records (of which Prime Time is an imprint) has devoted itself to new recordings of film music (usually, as here, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra), and its box set The Music of John Williams: 40 Years of Film Music, filling four CDs and running over three hours and 45 minutes, is one of its most ambitious efforts. That's appropriate for Williams, both because he is the most successful film composer of the 40-year period beginning in the early '60s and because his music is produced on such a large scale. Since the '70s, Williams has been associated with directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and he has matched their blockbuster films with his large-scale scores, producing some of the most memorable themes of the era, including instantly recognizable music from Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. Spielberg and Lucas have often attempted to evoke the styles of the old serials of the '40s, such as Flash Gordon, but on an epic scale, and Williams has done much the same thing with his music, which owes little or nothing to the more jazz- and rock-influenced film composers of the '50s and '60s, and everything to the film composers of an earlier generation, such as Franz Waxman and Victor Young, with its sweeping orchestral statements, martial rhythms, and grandly ornamented melodies. Yet, like the directors, Williams does it all with a slight wink to the audience. This collection doesn't restrict itself to Williams' best-known work, but it does demonstrate that even in his lesser-known pieces, his style is often much the same. The overture from The Cowboys, for example, while employing some standard Western elements familiar from Hollywood movies of decades before, also has a hint of Star Wars. Even when he is scoring a more downbeat film like Born on the Fourth of July, Williams can't seem to help writing his usual uplifting music. Despite its length, this collection can't do more than offer excerpts of Williams' extensive work, but the sampling is representative, and the best of the composer's familiar themes is included.
The Music of John Williams: 40 Years of Film Music Review
by William Ruhlmann