Top 10 Greatest John Williams Compositions

In preparation for his concert with Yo-Yo Ma and the Houston Symphony this week, we present the highlights of composer John Williams's legendary career.

By Michael Hardy December 2, 2013

John Williams

John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma
Dec 5 at 7:30
$450 ($1,000 meet and greet tickets also available)
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana St

John Williams is the Balzac of film composers. The Internet Movie Database credits him with providing the music for 145 separate films and television series, beginning in 1952 with the TV series Today and stretching to 2015's Jurassic World, a Jurassic Park sequel currently in pre-production. (Williams has an especially close relationship with Steven Spielberg, having scored 25 of the director's 26 films.) Williams’s supremacy in the world of film soundtracks can be measured by the hardware he’s taken home: five Oscars (out of 48 nominations), four Golden Globes, 21 Grammys, and over twenty Gold- and Platinum-certified records. As if pumping out several film soundtracks a year wasn’t enough, Williams also carries on a parallel career as a classical maestro: he served as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993, and has written a substantial amount of non-film-related music, some of which he will conduct at his one-night-only concert with Yo-Yo Ma and the Houston Symphony later this week.

Williams has never been afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. Perhaps his most significant debt is to Richard Wagner, who pioneered the use of musical leitmotifs to identify particular characters and themes in his monumental Ring Cycle. The Imperial March from Star Wars (always associated with Darth Vader) and the famous two-note “Shark theme” from Jaws are just two of the countless leitmotifs Williams uses throughout his work. In addition to Wagner, Williams frequently draws on the musical idioms of Mahler (especially the composer's love of horns), Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and Debussy. Although still considered a derivative hack by some classical music connoisseurs, Williams’s reputation has steadily improved over time, his prodigious talents winning over many former skeptics. He has served as guest conductor for the New York Philharmonic on several occasions, and has achieved a level of popular recognition rare among contemporary composers.  

Below is my personal top ten list, in no particular order, of John Williams compositions. Whereever possible, I tried to find YouTube videos of Williams conducting a live orchestra. Did I leave out your favorite score? Pick something you absolutely hate? Let me know in the comments section. 

Star Wars (Main Theme)

Star Wars (Imperial March)

Raiders of the Lost Ark 

Jurassic Park 

Olympic Fanfare and Theme




Fiddler on the Roof

Schindler's List


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