Musical Syntax in John Williams’s Film Music Themes



John Williams’s thematic conception and construction, which has a prominent role in his musical style, is characterized by a high sophistication in his composition style that results in memorable and versatile themes. His thematic syntax in turn has its roots in the two fundamental forms of classical music, the sentence and the period. The analysis in this chapter is based on Caplin’s important study of these theme types, along with later views of sentential types, which can be identified in many of Williams’s themes. The essay shows that the connection with the classicism of the past is not a stagnant one in Williams’s oeuvre, but leads to a mature development of enriched and advanced structures. Formal characteristics of these works, such as repetition, contrast and cadence, are joined with clarity, precision and symmetry, resulting in solid structures that make up extraordinarily memorable themes that give us aesthetic pleasure. Notated musical examples (out of over 300 themes that have been studied) that represent each form will be used and analysed to help the reader understand these functional norms, while these thematic structures will be summed up in collected statistics, showing the frequency of each type.


Typical Sentence Classical Music Motivic Content Instrumental Music Contrasting Idea 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Music StudiesNational and Kapodistrian University of AthensAthensGreece

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