The Best Film Composer Of All Time
This is a film composer debate, intended to determine the best film composer of all time. Each participant, Pro and Con, will choose one film composer each that they consider to be the best and defend his/her musical greatness and genius in the course of this debate.
As the instigator I have decided to let my opponent choose first. Anyone who is willing to debate me, please put the name of your composer in the comments, and I will challenge you if I determine that you are suitable to debate this. Do not try to accept the debate in any other way, as that would result in an automatic forfeit.
The Nature of the Debate and Voting
Every round each participant will supply one musical work by their chosen composer, which demonstrates his/her musical talent. To make this debate more reasonable and to prevent purely subjective voting, I encourage to not only supply musical works, but also to explain in words how or why it is special, unique, valuable, and why it successfully shows the greatness of the composer. Some analysis of the musical work is also recommended as that would help you convince the voters in your favor.
The voters who would like to vote are encouraged not to vote on purely subjective grounds (i.e. because they personally enjoyed the music of one composer above the other), but also to take into account the reasoning that the debaters provide. It is up to you to weigh the impact of these arguments and to vote as objectively and fairly as you can, providing at least some sort of Reason For Decision when you choose a winner. In other words, RFDs like "Well, I really liked the music by X and found Y's music boring" would be frowned upon.
There shall be no rebuttals throughout this debate. Do not attack the works, the arguments or the composer that your opponent chooses. Rather, promote your own.
Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: One musical work each & arguments
Round 3: One musical work each & arguments
Round 4: One musical work each & arguments
Round 5: One musical work each & arguments; summary of your case.
1. Only composers that are widely considered as film composers or that have otherwise significantly contributed to film music shall be used.
2. The duration of each musical work shall not exceed 15 minutes.
3. No trolling, swearing or personal attacks.
4. No kritiks or semantics.
Most importantly of all, make sure to retain a civil and friendly atmosphere, and have a good time during this debate! Let's enjoy some great music! :)
My chosen artist is James Newton Howard.
For those who would like biographical information on this composer, please visit the following link: http://www.imdb.com...
Thanks to MissLuLu! James Newton Howard is a really great composer and I am pretty sure that Con will come up with fantastic works to show his talent.
Meanwhile, I have decided to go with the one and only, John Williams:
I consider him as one of the best, if not the best film composer of all time, and throughout this debate I will show you why.
It is certainly not easy to demonstrate the greatness of a composer through only four works of music, since such composers more than often have massive discographies that could take months or years to fully appreciate. However, I have chosen four works that I consider to be real jewels of Williams' career and I hope that everyone reading (and listening) this will agree that they are the best of the best in film music.
The First Piece
I wanted to start with something that is easily recognizable by most people - Star Wars. Many people, including me, consider the Star Wars soundtrack to be the pinnacle of John Williams' productivity and talent. The specific work that I am going to present is called "Throne Room and Finale", a concert version of "The Throne Room / End Title", heard during Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. There are many different recordings and performances of the piece, but the one I really like was fairly recently performed by the LA Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com...
The link above should lead you directly to YouTube and the start of the piece, but if it doesn't, the beginning is around 2:16, and the piece ends at about 10:18. I hope it works for everyone (DDO website can be dodgy sometimes), but if it doesn't - message me or comment below, and I'll try to find find a way around that problem. Throughout my argument I will refer to that recording, using timestamps.
I consider "Throne Room and Finale" to be the best piece from all of Star Wars, and the reason for that is the multitude of amazing themes, masterfully interwoven with each other. It crowns the whole Star Wars soundtrack, which has rightfully received many awards, including an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA and several Grammy Awards in 1977 and 1978.
The piece starts with an introductory fanfare (02:16), reminiscent of that heard in Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March", which then turns into the Heroic Theme (02:36), based on the Force Theme (which will be heard later). This introduction is probably the best musical introduction that a watcher of a heroic & epic adventure could wish for, sending shivers down everyone's spines from the very first notes.
Another repetition of the fanfare leads us to the Theme A of the piece (03:15) followed by Theme B (03:36) and then a repetition of Theme A with a short cadence (03:57). Note how flawlessly all of these themes interconnect, each of them turning into one another, often with the help of ritenute, emphasizing the beauty of the themes. Note the fantastic harmony in those themes, for example, the interaction of the melodies of the violins, the cellos, and the contrabasses in Theme A, giving great satisfaction to the listener.
At 04:19 we hear the familiar fanfare again, and then a solo oboe plays the Force Theme (04:28), which is perhaps the most prominent theme of all the Star Wars films. Aren't the pizzicato strings, accompanying the oboe, completely adorable? :D Could you name a film soundtrack that you've listened to lately that was better than what you're hearing right now? I seriously doubt that.
After the beautiful Force Theme sequence we hear a variation of Theme A (05:14), which then develops into a stunning show by the brass section - a magnificent little gem in this piece (05:35). If you are thinking of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" right now, know that you're not the only one. Majestic, isn't it?
Variations of themes A and B repeat once again, leading us to the culmination of this part of the piece (06:39 - 06:45), and now we are hearing the themes familiar from every Star Wars movie ending - the End Title. If the first melody (06:46) with its fanfares didn't get you, then I am sure that the next sequence, 07:18 onwards, will. 07:26 introduces us to the Star Wars Theme, heard in the beginning of each movie. By now you should have lost count of the amount of shivers you've had. If not, then brace yourself against this:
The Princess Leia Theme (07:50) - Ask yourself if there exists a better theme for a Princess. The answer, is, obviously, no. This is simply the best of the best. An amazing melody, with beautiful flute flourishes - a theme that fits better than anything to the adventures and the character of Princess Leia. And the way in which it interconnects with the End Title themes, heard both before and after it, is simply mind-blowing.
After another sequence of the themes that we've already heard (08:34-08:54) we can feel that we are nearing the end of the piece. A restatement of Theme B (08:55), heard in the first part of the piece, leads us to the ultimate cadence, based on Theme A (09:51). Here I especially like the effect that the percussion has - the timpani instrument is famous for enhancing cadences, and here they help create the absolute starwarsian ending, full of majesty that is an integral part of John Williams' scores.
Summary of the First Piece
I hope that the "Throne Room and Finale" has convinced you of the great talent of John Williams. Inspired by other composers, such as Gustav Holst, he manages to bring awe to both Star Wars fans and film music enthusiasts. There are many elements of this piece that make it great, which indeed apply to the Star Wars soundtrack in general - the interconnectedness of the themes and how effortlessly they seem to fit together, the consistently beautiful harmony, the clear and unique leitmotifs of the different characters, coupled with musical flourishes. I also really like how Williams uses these themes throughout the piece - he repeats them when needed, often as different variations of the same theme, bringing musical structure to the piece. Williams also alters between solo and tutti (e.g. The Force theme), emphasizing the primary themes in many ways and showing off their beauty.
I've listened to this particular piece countless times, and the more I listen to it, the more I love it. I hope that will be the case for you, the listeners & voters, as well.
If you enjoyed this, you'll love what's coming in the next round. But now, over to Con for some James Newton Howard action!
John Williams and his classic Star Wars is absolutely brilliant. On my part, I intend to show why Howard deserves to be chosen over Williams. Although four pieces is rather a narrowed selection, I have decided upon four of my favorite pieces from my childhood that showcase the artist’s ingenuity.
My first piece by Howard will be from Atlantis The Lost Empire (2001), OST 15: “The King Dies / Going after Rourke” (5:12 minutes). Listen here: https://www.youtube.com...
The film score for this 2001 Disney film is a slowly rising majestic theme depicting lost civilization. Howard’s use of eclectic instrumentation marks these soundtracks as his own, particularly by way of the simple, harmonious chord progressions. In this score he displays a choral and percussion creativity that boosts the overall atmosphere of the strange new (or rather, old) world that is the underground Atlantis.
He was chosen over Alan Menken for this project purely for his enormous scope of epic proportions. His work on Disney’s Dinosaur (2000) brought attention to him, and he was rehired to compose for the next Disney animated film, Treasure Planet (2002). The movie Pearl Harbor came out at the same time as Atlantis, which took away audience attention from the fantastic score wherein female sopranos represent the majesty of the seas, and the fuller adult chorus hauntingly reflects the ghosts of a dying civilization, all of which is elevated by the steady underline of bass and strings.
OST 15, titled “The King Dies / Going after Rourke” is especially memorable. It encompasses a broad, moving theme that is reimagined in two scenarios: sorrow for the death of Princess Kida’s father, and then determination and action when the protagonist Milo chases the antagonist Rourke.
Howard is able to incorporate a multitude of emotions and atmospheres into one piece in such a way that they flow continuously, helping the audience’s mood change to reflect that of the hero’s. The brassy and punctuating title motif (around the 4:40 mark) rouses the adventurous spirit and is a call to action.
This soundtrack is one of the most empowering and best-rated of the entire score, the pinnacle of the epic. The unearthly voices accompany the king’s passing, signifying the end of greatness. A quiet moment follows his last breath, wherein Milo mourns, but a sudden swell indicates change—the protagonist of the movie resolves to rescue his princess. But the softening after the swell reveals that he cannot do it alone, for he needs his companions. Suspense overtakes the score as they abandon the mission and take his side, as true friends do. Together, and with the help of the few Atlanteans left, they manage to procure weapons and vehicles. Here begins the chase, which ends on a dramatic note, a war cry, as they race to the rescue.
Even without seeing the animation of the scene, it is clear that due to a tragedy, a choice is made, and that choice is enacted. Not only is it an amazing piece, but it also tells a story on its own.
While this is not considered to be his best work, it is my personal favorite.
I look forward to seeing the next piece by Williams!
Thanks, Con! Your piece from Atlantis is definitely a solid choice. I too remember those beautiful scores from the Disney movies I've watched as a kid.
With my second musical work I wanted to show Williams' versatility as a composer, and decided to move away from the heroic themes to show you how John Williams scores tragic movies, such as Schindler's List. When Steven Spielberg, the director of Schindler's List, approached Williams with the film, Williams, amazed by the movie, said to him, "You need a better composer than I am for this film." To that Spielberg responded, "I know. But they're all dead!" Thus, Spielberg openly regards John Williams as the greatest composer alive, and I can only agree with him.
This score consistently appears at the top of lists of the best film scores, and many John Williams fans regard his score for Schindler's List as the most emotionally moving score Williams has ever written. This is also recognized by the academia and critics, as the score received universal acclaim, as well as Academy, BAFTA and Grammy awards in 1993.
The Second Piece
The particular piece that I want to show you is the main theme of the film - "Theme from Schindler's List" (link: https://www.youtube.com...), which features Itzhak Perlman - one of the greatest violin players in the world. As he is of Jewish descent, he fully understands the impact of the events depicted in the film, which is, perhaps, why the score resonates so much with the listener - it has been composed and performed with genuine emotion.
The score starts with a brief introduction, leading to the main theme (0:16 - 1:07). The theme, compositionally, appears very simple:
Every other bar there is a constant idea, recognizable by the two initial melodic jumps. This fragment repeats throughout the theme and changes only minimally, setting the mood for the theme, keeping the structure of the piece steady and not letting the melody stray too far. What gives us the feeling of melodic development, however, are the remaining bars, which are not constant. These bars fill in the gaps with movement and allow the soloist to fully show his emotion through musical accents, dynamics and tempo changes.
The main theme is then repeated on a higher octave (1:08), emphasizing the tragic atmosphere even more, as the violin reminds us of human grief and lament. The theme perfectly fits to the scenes of the film, resulting in a gigantic emotional impact on the audience.
At 2:03 we see that the idea heard in the introduction of the piece develops into a full-fledged melody. We can also hear a musical dialogue between the violinist and the rest of the orchestra, which I personally find very beautiful.
After a final restatement of the main theme (2:39) we move to the final part of the piece, which is based on the main theme (3:33). This leads us to the cadence, ending the piece.
Summary of the Second Piece
What makes this piece great, in my opinion, are not necessarily the strictly musical aspects (e.g. melodies and dynamics), which are, nonetheless, very beautiful, but the mutual understanding between Williams, the composer, and Perlmann, the player. It is evident that Williams composed the piece with Perlman in mind, and when a composer actually knows who is composing for and is aware of the capabilities of the performers, it can result in top-notch musical experience for the listener.
As I've stated before, the piece may look simple from a structural-compositional perspective, but it is all the more so amazing how much emotion and musical development we actually feel, despite its deceptive simplicity. The movie is, of course, great in and of itself, but coupled with the astonishingly beautiful score it results in the ultimate emotional work of art, which I, by the way, encourage you all to see, if you haven't done so yet.
So we've seen the Heroic Williams and the Tragic Williams which leaves us with two more Williamses left to hear. But before that let's hear another James Newton Howard piece. Over to Con!
A captivating and moving piece by Williams! I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t exhibited Schindler’s List.
The second chosen piece by Howard is from The Village (2004), OST 2: “What Are You Asking Me?” (6:01 minutes). Listen here: https://www.youtube.com...
Though the movie itself isn’t logical, The Village film score by Howard has been well-received. James Newton Howard was hired to write for this movie because of his skill in creating a suspenseful atmosphere, as well as his ability to keep period authenticity. The Village, a romantic and mysterious story, takes place in 1897 in Pennsylvania, so Howard incorporates a piano and a solo virtuoso violinist, a prodigal teenager named Hilary Hahn, whose recordings are phenomenal. Howard received an Academy Award nomination for this score.
I chose OST 2: “What Are You Asking Me?” because it is a summary of two major, elegant melodies in the score, which emphasize first loneliness and uncertainty and then companionship and love. It hovers between brooding and hopeful. This soundtrack is particularly striking because the meandering, restless themes are paradoxical, yet complement each other quite beautifully even when mixed together. The rhythmic flow is associated with movement towards confrontation, while the slower and more contemplative moments describe quiet uncertainty.
Howard expertly pulls off the dual nature of this soundtrack just as the film juxtaposes the village itself, which represents civilization, and the forest, where the supernatural roam. Romantic elements are added as an overtone for the melody, the driving force that carries the melody even through the uncertainty and eventually overtakes that theme altogether. The composer makes an incredibly complex statement with this piece that is so powerful that one cannot help but to be enthralled and moved. Howard shows that things, particularly feelings, are not always black and white. It is a mixture of different emotions, all vying for domination within the self, which is something that resonates in everyone.
This piece is especially important because it brought the movie to life in a way that the often stilted dialog did not. It sets the stage of the premise, and is complete in and of itself—which I feel The Village could not accomplish alone. That is to say that the film would have fallen flat without Howard’s score.
Thanks Con! I haven't seen The Village myself yet, but I am definitely familiar with that great score!
The Third Piece
Jurassic Park has two very notable themes, both of which are heard in "Welcome To Jurassic Park" (YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com...). The first theme is known as the main theme of the film, heard in many cues throughout the series. The second theme is often heard when the main characters are travelling, and I will refer to it as the journey theme.
After a short variation of the theme (03:21), we hear a horn (03:38) and piano (03:58) playing the theme, again, giving us a surreal, dream-like feeling. It seems as if the piece is about to end, but we soon realize that this ending isn't real as the orchestra suddenly joins in to play the journey theme (04:26).
The journey theme features Williams' signature heroic, upward melodic jumps, giving the listener a feeling of magnificence and grandeur, symbolizing the awesome island of the dinosaurs. We can see that it couples very well with the main theme, symbolizing the dinosaurs themselves. The journey theme is restated several times, featuring different melodic variations and orchestration, until it finally culminates and resolves into an ending (06:13-06:34).
Summary of the Third Piece
We could clearly hear the two parts of this piece – the first featuring the main theme of the film, and the second featuring the journey theme. Both of those themes work very well in tandem to introduce us to the beautiful island and its amazing inhabitants – the dinosaurs.
Between those themes we could hear many musical ideas, bridging and gluing the piece together. Ultimately, however, I think that the piano is the star of this piece, appearing at the beginning, middle and the end to crown those themes in a dreamlike mood, telling us of how the film characters really felt like while being on the island and seeing what no one has ever seen before.
John Williams has revealed that the film themes were inspired by dinosaur noises and motion that he observed while he was at Skywalker Ranch where the movie was produced. This is why these themes fit so well with the movie, having been composed by matching "the rhythmic gyrations of the dinosaurs", which led to "these kind of funny ballets", as Williams himself put it. Stephen Spielberg also praised the work of John Williams, revealing that he would listen to it daily as he travelled to the film sets.
Great choice, Pro! I absolutely love Jurassic Park. I’ve still got all the VHS tapes.
The third work I’ve chosen by Howard is from King Kong (2005), OST 13: “That’s All There Is…” (3:26 minutes). Listen here: https://www.youtube.com...
When I first heard this score I was slightly disappointed. As it was credited with Howard, I had certainly expected something a bit more grandiose and moving, never minding the fact that it is a monster movie. My disappointment transformed into astonishment when I learned that the reason this score is simpler than his usual work was because the composer who was originally hired for this film, Howard Shore (best known for his score for Lord of the Rings), quit. That left the producers scrambling to find a replacement, which they found in James Newton Howard. He had only five weeks to completely compose, record, and edit an original score.
For this reason, Howard had to resort to a more straightforward orchestral score, shying away from the soloists he usually incorporates into his music. Despite the mad dash for completion, Howard’s score, as usual, was successful. He earned six Oscar nominations for the score. It conveys and evokes a great many emotions and feelings throughout, even in this short piece called “That’s All There Is…”, which is suspenseful, beautiful, and whimsical at once, thanks to an effortless flow.
Most notable in Howard’s score of this classic remake is the four-note descending brass motif for Kong (can be heard at the 0:22 mark and is repeated later in the piece). In Max Steinbeck’s original 1933 score, Kong’s theme was a three-note descending motif. The fact that Howard adds another note implies that Howard can, so to say, do one better, which I believe he most certainly did.
Thanks for keeping up. Looking forward to the next piece by Williams!
Thank you, Con! The King Kong soundtrack is indeed a James Newton Howard classic!
The Fourth Piece
I wanted to get off the beaten path and show something that probably wouldn't be the first choice of a Harry Potter soundtrack enthusiast, considering that there are pieces like "Hedwig's Theme" or "Harry's Wondrous World". I decided to go with "Fawkes the Phoenix" (link: https://www.youtube.com...), which appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Fawkes theme is used sparingly, and can only be heard a couple of times, when Fawkes the Phoenix is seen in the scene.
At 1:00 and onwards we hear a bridge-passage, which modulates and rises to lead us back to the third restatement of the Fawkes theme (01:30). Another passage then follows (02:02-02:40), embellished by a powerful brass melody, giving a dramatic feeling, perhaps associated with the dangers of Hogwarts and the Chamber of Secrets. The full orchestra soon returns back to the main theme, for the fourth and final restatement (02:45).
I really like how Williams concludes the piece with the use of a celesta (03:23), reminding us of the magic and wonder of Fawkes and Hogwarts itself.
Summary of the Fourth Piece
The flowing and optimistic Fawkes theme, in my opinion, is really a hidden gem within the Harry Potter soundtrack. Within "Fawkes the Phoenix" the theme is repeated four times, each time giving a different feeling, rising in dynamics and power throughout the piece. John Williams is very skilled in creating recognizable and unique leitmotifs of this kind for various film characters, and in this case, I believe that he does that masterfully.
Summary of the Debate
As you've probably noticed, I tried to show various aspects of Williams' talent throughout this debate. Starting with the heroism of Star Wars, continuing with the grief and tragedy of Schindler's List, moving on to the adventure and amazement of Jurassic Park, and, finally, ending with the magic and wonder of Harry Potter.
John Williams is probably the most versatile and productive film composer of all time, starting his musical career in the 1950s, and still continuously composing to this day, at the age of 84. He has rightfully received countless nominations and awards, including 50(!) Academy Awards nominations, winning 5 of them. Truly an unforgettable composer, whose name will forever be written in the history of cinema.
For me, Williams' music has been very influential, as it has followed me since my early childhood, while I watched movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter. Even today, I find that my music playlists are full of his scores, and, seeing that he has no plans of retiring (John Williams has recently said that "Steven expects me to work until I'm 100"), that can only make me and other devoted fans of his all the more happy.
As this is the last round for me, I also wanted to take an opportunity to thank MissLuLu, who has taken up this debate to show the beautiful works of James Newton Howard. I have certainly admired her chosen works and analysis. Even though I was already familiar with many of Howard's scores, I still learned a lot of new things about him and his music.
Fawkes’ theme is brilliant! It is one of my favorite soundtracks in all of Harry Potter.
My final piece by Howard is OST 3: “Charades” from Lady in the Water (2006). (5:50 minutes). Listen here: https://www.youtube.com...
This score is one of his most stand-alone works. There is never a dull moment that simply accompanies a dialog or compliments a lull in the action. Every note moves the piece along, has a meaning—this is a prime example of constant motion. The entirety of the score reflects the different properties of water: flowing, freezing, thawing, rushing, etc.
Howard again displays his mastery of harmony, writing this piece in a dominant minor key, which gives it a hooking sense of both discord and flowing beauty. He allows for a brass element that does not drown out the treble, which is often difficult to achieve, although “Charades” mostly deals in woodwind introductions. The theme is stated liberally and principally throughout, ranging from slight meanderings to full-ensemble pronouncements. There is also a plethora of secondary themes and interactions of theme fragments and motifs, highlighted by fantastic crescendos.
To summarize, I’ve exhibited four of James Newton Howard’s works: “The King Dies / Going after Rourke,” “What Are You Asking Me?,” “That’s All There Is…,” and “Charades.” Although Howard has not produced as many pieces as he has in the past due to commitments in running his own studio (JNH Studio), his works continue to showcase his brilliance, and I am happy to announce that Howard has been chosen to compose the score for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He has been nominated for no less than 38 awards, and has won seven of those.
Howard has been a very important musical figure in my childhood and even now. When asked to suggest some of my favorite music, I always push his name at people.
I would like to thank Biodome for challenging me to this debate and for being so courteous. I had a fantastic time with this, and I learned some new facts about Williams and his works!
Lastly, thank you to the audience for keeping up, and I hope you enjoyed listening to not only Howard’s works, but also Williams’. They are both magnificent composers.