Korngold vs. Williams – The Battle of the Film Scores

…and the film score battle rages on.


Cognoscenti who find borrowing in John William’s film scores, would have found the same in Bach and Mozart. For Goddess sake, they all three used the same notes of the scale!


Once again, a source I most admire – this time a Midwestern journalist who shall remain nameless – took a swipe at composer John Williams.

I share the following response, which was received in the spirit it was offered and arrived with a retraction of the original good natured snipe with which I took issue.


Korngold’s finale was “buoyed by a zesty melody John Williams will surely steal some day — if he hasn’t already.”


“Your most recent concert review was up to the usual high standard until the dilettantish snipe at John Williams. Tsk-tsk-tsk, as I now take umbrage.

Not that I haven’t heard that same criticism prior,  most often from folks who in the first thirty seconds of conversation inform you of their “degree in music,” yet remain in lifetime employment as civil servants or community college administrators.

And yes, if all you know of Williams is his Star Wars/Indiana Jones/Jurassic Park oeuvre, and all you know of Korngold is Captain Blood/ Sea Hawk/The Adventures of Robin Hood, then this Church Music Committee Chairperson response is standard issue, and a disservice to two unique and remarkable talents.

Of course, one problem is that the general public only knows Williams and Korngold for their film scores, while those are only a portion of their output.  Korngold’s opera Die Tote Stadt and his art song, especially the Lied des Abshieds, are worthy examples of stylistic range as well as deeply intimate expression.(Beverly Sills and Julius Rudel made a stunning recording of the soprano aria popularly known as Marietta’s Lied.) Worth noting is that in striking contrast to Williams, Korngold’s work in and for Hollywood was always regarded by the composer as slumming and William’s concert music is almost always, sadly, overlooked.

Pause for two reminiscences: I recall a fine performance of William’s Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra by the MSU symphony, Leon Gregorian conducting, guest soloist unfortunately unremembered for a memorable performance of a work that deserves a wider audience. July 19, 1985, The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra was on tour in a summer appearance at the Meadow Brook Music Festival, John William’s, conducting. The concert closed with an arrangement of what William’s referred to as the last reel of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The ensemble performed at a stellar level, eclipsing the original soundtrack recording by 10 light-years or as Han Solo would say…” made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” Bigger point being, these are not the accomplishments of a mere copyist.

Finally, only a broader experience of John William’s complete, eclectic and dramatically succinct soundtracks, (Arthur Hiller’s Penelope (1966), Robert Altman’s Images (1972)) not merely his popular scores of Swashbuckling Redux, (perhaps revivalism is easily confused as borrowing) will elicit a deeper appreciation of a fine composer with a deep knowledge of many musical genres, who remains at the top of his distinctive game.”