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Modal Interchange and Semantic Resonance in

Themes by John Williams

Article January 2015

DOI: 10.1558/jfm.v6i1.49


0 32

1 author:

Tom Schneller
Ithaca College


All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate, Available from: Tom Schneller
letting you access and read them immediately. Retrieved on: 28 August 2016
Journal of Film Music 6.1 (2013) 49-74 ISSN (print) 1087-7142
doi:10.1558/jfm.v6i1.49 ISSN (online) 1758-860X


Modal Interchange and Semantic Resonance in

Themes by John Williams1

Tom Schneller
Ithaca College, NY, USA

Abstract: This article examines the semantic properties of several characteristic triadic shifts in the film and
ceremonial music of John Williams. These shifts result from particular modal inflections in major keys, which
include the Mixolydian subtonic (associated with the heroic and/or patriotic), and the Lydian supertonic (asso-
ciated with magic, wonder and flight). My aim in examining Williams use of modal interchange is both to gain
a more precise understanding of one particular aspect of his style, and to place it into the larger context of the
musical tradition in Hollywood.

Keywords: film scores; harmonic analysis; John Williams; modal interchange; semiotics

We sense that in many different films people have During the period of silent film, the classification of
danced or suffered, loved or died to the same or musical conventions or topoi linked with particular
at least very similar music, Zofia Lissa wrote 50 dramatic situations was already highly developed, as
years ago in her classic study Aesthetics of Film Music.2 Tobias Plebuch demonstrates in a recent article that
Musical stereotypes cause stereotypical physiological details the complex taxonomy of musical affect around
reactions. These have not yet been systematised which photoplay collections such as Giovanni Becces
by physiologists, but composers intuitively employ Kinothek were organized.5 From its inception, film
certain devices which are suited to triggering specific music relied on standardized gestures to communicate
reactions in the listener.3 The use of such devices with speed and efficiency.
is rooted in a historical practice that dates back to Film and television music thus provides a
nineteenth-century opera and stage melodrama.4 particularly rich quarry for musical semioticsits
coordination with images, moods, characters, or
1 All music examples in this article are reduced transcriptions by the author, actions allows semantic content to be determined
used in compliance with the U.S. Copyright Act, Section 107. Since many
Williams scores are unpublished, and not accessible to researchers, the bulk with greater precision than is possible in most concert
of examples have been transcribed by ear. Where published scores were music (although even ostensibly absolute works
consulted, the sources have been cited.
2 Translation mine. Zofia Lissa, sthetik der Filmmusik (Berlin: of the classical canon present the listener with a
Henschelverlag, 1965), 372. tapestry of signifiers pointing to expressive meaning
3 Lissa, sthetik der Filmmusik, 355.
4 See David Neumeyer, Melodrama as a Compositional Resource in Early or extramusical concepts, as the investigation of
Hollywood Sound Cinema, Current Musicology 57 (1995): 61-94; Anne Dhu musical topics by Robert Hatten, Raymond Monelle,
McLucas, The Continuity of Melos: Beginnings to the Present Day, The
Journal of Film Music 5, nos. 12: 15-28; or Michael V. Pisani, When the
Music Surges: Melodrama and the Nineteenth-Century Precedents for Film
Music Style and Placement, in The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, ed. 5 Tobias Plebuch, Mysteriosos Demystified: Topical Strategies Within and
David Neumeyer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 559-582. Beyond the Silent Cinema, The Journal of Film Music 5, nos. 12: 77-92.

Copyright the International Film Music Society, published by Equinox Publishing Ltd 2015, Office 415, The Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX.

and others have shown).6 One of the first scholars include the Major Tritone Progression (e.g., C
to attempt a semiotic examination of contemporary majorF# major), which features prominently in a
media music is Philip Tagg, who in the late 1970s number of science fiction films, and the Tarnhelm
introduced the concept of musematic analysis as Progression (e.g., C minorA minor), which is
a framework for the study of musical codes. Tagg usually associated with the sinister, the eerie, and
defines a museme as the basic unit of expression the eldritch.11 Lehman suggests that because certain
which in the framework of one given musical system harmonic progressions bear consistent cross-stylistic
is not further divisible without destruction of connotations a harmonic field guide of sorts
meaningfor example, a chord or chord progression, could be devised for all absolute progressions, to be
a characteristic phrase, or a motivic rhythm.7 The used by composers, filmgoers, and analysts alike.
extramusical meaning of a museme in a given cultural While cautioning that this would require a complete
context is established first through comparison of oversimplification of the complex task of harmonic
the museme to particular gestures from previous hermeneutics, he concludes that there is sufficient
music that are similar to it, and secondly through consistency of triadic relational associations and
examination of any semantic resonances that may affects across individual films and scoring styles
have accrued around these gestures through repeated that a complete theory of film expressive tonality
association with images, dramatic situations, song cannot discount outright this reductive taxonomical
lyrics, etc. Tagg points out that approach.12
That a taxonomy of affect and sonority is indeed
thanks to the world-wide marketing and unchallenged viable in the context of contemporary film music has
dominance of Hollywood on the international film been demonstrated by Philip Tagg and Bob Clarida,
arena, an efficient global audio-visual learning process who have conducted reception tests that gauge
has come into being in which filmgoers, perceiving
time and time again similar combinations of visual, listener responses to film and TV title themes,13 as
verbal, sonic, and musical message, have been taught well as by Scott Murphy, who has surveyed over 300
set patterns of musical behavior through identification recent popular movies in search of a semantics
and reinforcement.8 of triadic progression in film music.14 Murphy has
located several progressions with consistent, and
In addition to this process of cultural conditioning, occasionally quite specific, narrative associations.
Tagg points to immanent features of a museme For example, minor triads separated by tritone often
that, by way of analogy, can map onto extramusical accompany mortal threats and dangers that issue
meanings, such as sonic anaphones (the onomatopoeic from situations, objects, or natural phenomena15 as
stylization of non-musical sound including thunder, in John Williams theme for the Ark of the Covenant
bird song, etc.) or kinetic anaphones (musical gestures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, in its coupling of
that are perceived as analogous to various types of minor triads with the diabolus in musica, draws on
bodily movement, including walking, running, flying, centuries worth of associations with dark magic.16
etc.).9 The music of Williams is particularly interesting
In recent years, Scott Murphy, Matthew in this context, since it embodies many of the
Bribitzer-Stull, and Frank Lehman have further
elucidated the extramusical connotations of several Music Studies, ed. David Neumeyer (New York: Oxford University Press,
harmonic musemes typical of film music.10 These 2014), 471-499; Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, From Nibelheim to Hollywood:
The Associativity of Harmonic Progression, in The Legacy of Richard Wagner:
Convergences and Dissonances on Aesthetics and Reception, ed. Luca Sala (Lucca:
6 As Monelle puts it, Within the music of our civilization, as in our Turnhout, 2012), 157-183; Frank Lehman, Reading Tonality Through
literature, we may find heroes, riders, journeys, pomp and ceremony, Film: Transformational Hermeneutics and the Music of Hollywood (PhD
weeping and dancing, the woodland, the church, the salon. See Raymond diss., Harvard, 2012), Music Theory through the Lens of Film, The Journal
Monelle, The Musical Topic: Hunt, Military and Pastoral (Bloomington and of Film Music 5, nos. 12: 179-198, and Transformational Analysis and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006), 31. the Representation of Genius in Film Music, Music Theory Spectrum 35 ,
7 Philip Tagg, Kojak: 50 Seconds of Television Music. Towards the Analysis of Affect no. 1 (2013): 1-22. Other examinations of harmony in the music of John
in Popular Music (Gteborg: Musikvetenskapliga institutionen vid Gteborgs Williams and other film composers include James Buhler, Star Wars, Music
universitet, 1979), 71. and Myth, in Music and Cinema, eds. James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, and David
8 Tagg, Kojak, 59. Neumeyer (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), 33-57 and
9 Philip Tagg and Bob Clarida, Ten Little Title Tunes: Towards a Musicology of Jamie Lynn Webster, The Music of Harry Potter: Continuity and Change in
Mass Media (New York: Mass Media Music Scholars Press, 2003), 99-100. the First Five Films (PhD diss., University of Oregon, 2009).
10 See Scott Murphy, The Major Tritone Progression in Recent Hollywood 11 Bribitzer-Stull, From Nibelheim to Hollywood, 159.
Science Fiction Films, Music Theory Online 12, no. 2 (May 2006), The 12 Lehman, Reading Tonality Through Film, 122.
Tritone Within: Interpreting Harmony in Elliott Goldenthals Score 13 See Tagg and Clarida, Ten Little Title Tunes, 107-154.
for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, in The Music of Fantasy Cinema, ed. 14 Murphy, Transformational Theory.
Janet K. Halfyard (Sheffield and Bristol: Equinox, 2014), 148-174, and 15 Murphy, Transformational Theory, 488.
Transformational Theory and Film Music, in The Oxford Handbook of Film 16 Lehman, Music Theory through the Lens of Film, 184.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 51

Example 1: Men of the Yorktown March from Midway (1976)

defining features of Hollywood scoring in the last positive valence than were the four minor modes,20
half-century. This article will explore his use of but affective gradations between individual modes
several characteristic triadic progressions and their were perceived as well. Thus, Straehley and Loebach
association with particular emotions, concepts, report that Phrygian was most strongly identified
or dramatic situations. My aim in examining as expressing fear, apprehension, and sadness. Major
these progressions is both to gain a more precise was very strongly identified with joy and serenity.
understanding of one particular aspect of Williams Mixolydian was most frequently selected as conveying
style, and to place their use into the larger context of admiration, joy, and serenity.21
the musical tradition in Hollywood. While Lehman Film composers have been adept at utilizing
and Murphy have proposed neo-Riemannian theory modality as an affective resource, whether by writing
as an effective tool for the analysis of harmony in film extended melodies cast in a single mode (as in Nino
music, particularly for elucidating the trajectory of Rotas melancholy, archaizing Aeolian theme for
tonally ambiguous passages in underscore, most of the Romeo and Juliet), or by flavoring an otherwise diatonic
progressions I will examine occur within the relatively tune with a dash of modal spice. Many Williams
stable tonal framework of principal themes and themes open with a tonicsubdominant progression
leitmotifs, and can be explained by the use of modal (sometimes grounded on a tonic bass pedal) and
interchange.17 conclude with a cadence on the tonic or dominant.
This sturdy diatonic framework is typically enriched
by one or more chromatic surprise chords, usually
Modal Interchange preceding the cadence. The result strikes a balance
between the familiar and the unpredictable, as in the
As several recent psychomusicological reception Men of the Yorktown March from Midway (Example
tests involving both musically trained and untrained 1), in which the VII chord preceding the half-cadence
subjects have confirmed, the communication of provides a colorful harmonic twist.22
musical emotion is closely related to modenot In major keys, Williams frequently replaces
only in regard to majorminor tonality but also diatonic minor and diminished chords with major
to the diatonic modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, triads borrowed from the Aeolian, Mixolydian,
etc.).18 According to a study by Temperley and Lydian or Phrygian modes. Although his themes
Tan, listeners respond quite consistently to the generally do not adhere to any single mode, and
emotional connotations of diatonic modes.19 Not could in some cases be analyzed simply in terms
surprisingly, the three major modes (Lydian, Ionian, of parallel majorminor mixture, I assign a modal
and Mixolydian) were more strongly associated with nomenclature to most of the progressions discussed
in this article because they are harmonic gestures
17 In neo-Riemannian theory (NRT), triads are related directly to each
other through a system of transformations, rather than through reference to
a tonic-centered functional hierarchy. This flexible, contextually determined 20 D. Ramos, J.L.O. Bueno, and E. Bigand, Manipulating Greek musical
analytical approach to harmonic progression makes NRT especially useful modes and tempo affects perceived musical emotion in musicians and
in passages of highly chromatic, roving harmony that resist functional nonmusicians, Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 44, no. 2
interpretation (as is the case in many of Williams restlessly modulating (2011), 170.
action cues). Themes, on the other hand, tend to be tonally self-contained, 21 Ian C. Straehley and Jeremy L. Loebach, The Influence of Mode and
and thus respond better to more conventional analytical approaches (see Musical Experience on the Attribution of Emotions to Melodic Sequences,
Lehman, Reading Tonality Through Film, 23). Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain 24, no. 1 (2014), 31.
18 The idea that particular modes can affect the emotional state and even 22 Other examples include the Olympic Fanfare and Theme, in which the first
behavior of the listener can already be found in Antiquity (see Platos two phrases of the theme alternate between I and IV, while the third and
Republic [398d-399c] and Aristotles Politics [Book VIII, chapters 5 and 7]). fourth phrases introduce the chromatic twist of VI and II, and Luke
19 David Temperley and Daphne Tan, Emotional Connotations of Diatonic Skywalkers theme from Star Wars, in which the diatonic opening is followed
Modes, Music Perception 30, no. 3 (2013), 255. by the same chromatically altered half-cadence (VIIV) as in Example 1.

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Example 2: Modal Interchange in Three Hollywood Themes (transposed to C for com-


characteristic of modal music, such as the Aeolian of rock, which also makes use of modal interchange.25
VIVIII or the Mixolydian VIII cadences. The patriotic anthem America, The Dream Goes On
Other typical modal inflections include the Phrygian (1982), for example, consists almost entirely of major
(II) or Lydian supertonic (II#). While II and II# chords, many of which are modally inflectedout
are chords that are also commonly encountered in of 84 bars, only eight contain minor triads. The
the context of functional tonality, Williams usually supersaturated major mode is also at work in the
does not treat II as a predominant (i.e., it does Theme from the Olympic Fanfare and Theme, which
not serve as a Neapolitan chord borrowed from the uses two diatonic chords (I and IV) and two modal
parallel minor),23 nor does he usually deploy II# as an substitutions (II and VI).
applied dominant (V/V). Both sonorities tend to be Extensive use of modal interchange is an integral
color chords that fleetingly import the flavor of the part of the classic Hollywood style, particularly in
Phrygian or Lydian modes into an otherwise diatonic the grand, epic manner to which Williams is often
setting.24 considered heir.26 Among the most common modal
The elimination of minor and diminished inflections in film music are the flattened seventh and
sonorities through modal interchange results in the raised fourth. These have been utilized by several
a major key on steroidsa simple but effective generations of Hollywood composers, as can be
procedure in heroic passages of Williams film and observed in Example 2, which shows the main themes
ceremonial music. In its sonorous muscularity, from Erich Wolfgang Korngolds The Prince and the
Williams triadic harmony is occasionally reminiscent Pauper (1937), Bronislau Kapers Mutiny on the Bounty
(1962), and Jerry Goldsmiths The Blue Max (1966). As
we will see, ^7 and ^#4 appear frequently in the
23 An exception is the use of II in the march from Raiders of the Lost Ark, music of Williams as well.
which precedes the dominant.
24 This analytical methodology generally conforms to the one proposed
by John Vincent in his 1951 book The Diatonic Modes in Modern Music: [t]he 25 See Walter Everett, Making Sense of Rocks Tonal Systems, Music
interchangeability of scale forms above a single tonic for the enrichment of Theory Online 10, no. 4 (2004), accessed December 14, 2014, www.mtosmt.
the melodic and harmonic means is not limited to the juxtaposition of Major org/issues/mto.04.10.4/mto.04.10.4.w_everett.html
and Minor modes, but also includes those diatonic scales which are the 26 Kathryn Kalinak, for example, describes Williams as the major force
modern counterpart of the ecclesiastical modes. When applied to harmonic in returning the classical score to its late-Romantic roots, and notes that
analysis, this mutual interchangeability offers a valid means for a simple through his example, the epic sound established in the thirties once again
and diatonic explanation of the relationship which certain chords (hitherto became a viable choice for composers in contemporary Hollywood. Kathryn
considered chromatic) bear to the tonic. John Vincent, The Diatonic Modes Kalinak, John Williams and The Empire Strikes Back, in Settling the Score:
in Modern Music (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, Music and the Classical Hollywood Film Score (Madison: University of Wisconsin
1951), 1. Press, 1992), 188.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 53

In the following discussion, I will focus on five

particular progressions. Three involve the flattened
seventh degree and are often associated with heroic
individualism and/or the mythology of American
nationhood (VIIV, VIII, VIVIII). The
other two involve the altered supertonic and are
usually associated with romance, the exotic, and the
wondrous (Iii7II and III#).

VII in Major as a Signifier of

As conductor of the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993,
and laureate conductor since then, Williams has been
intimately associated with the pomp and circumstance
of national festivities. He has contributed music to Example 3: Copland, Fanfare for the Com-
various patriotic events ranging from the centennial mon Man (1942). 1944 The Aaron Cop-
of the Statue of Liberty in 1986 to Barack Obamas land Fund for Music. Copyright Renewed.
presidential inauguration in 2009. In his film music,
Williams has provided a portrait gallery of American
Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
presidents (Kennedy in JFK, Adams in Amistad, Nixon,
Lincoln) and illustrated defining conflicts in American VIIV (The Cowboy Half-Cadence)
history (the revolutionary war in The Patriot, World
War II in Saving Private Ryan, Vietnam in Born on the The use of triads derived through modal borrowing
Fourth of July). His musical representation of American to add a bold American aroma to otherwise plain,
subjects is thus an especially rich, and ideologically folk-like diatonic harmony was pioneered by Copland,
pregnant, aspect of his work. as can be observed in Corral Nocturne from Rodeo
Williams American sound has several (1938).
components, including plain hymnal textures, Coplands Prairie Neonationalism, as Richard
pandiatonicism, and blues or folk song pastiches. In Taruskin calls it, quickly turned into grist for the
harmonic terms, one of the key ingredients is VII, mill of studio composers.27 In 1946, it inspired one of
which typically appears either as a predominant chord the most celebrated examples of Americana in film
(VIIV), a dominant substitute (VIII) or as part of music: Hugo Friedhofers score for The Best Years of Our
a IVsus4 chord. The lowered seventh degree in major Lives, which broke with the cholesteric chromaticism
has long been associated with American roots music of Steiner and Korngold in favor of the leaner triadic
(Appalachian folk, blues, jazz, and rock). It is also folklorisms of Copland. In the main title, Friedhofers
an integral part of Aaron Coplands nationalist style: use of colorful modal predominant substitutes (III
VII features prominently, for example, in the iconic IIVIIVI) is almost identical to the progression
Fanfare for the Common Man (Example 3), the shadow from Corral Nocturne (VIIIVIIVI). Note,
of which looms large in Williams oeuvre. This cluster in particular, the VIIV progression, which lends a
of associations helps to explain why Williams (along characteristic swagger to both passages (Examples 4
with Goldsmith, Horner, and other film composers) and 5).
resorts to VII again and again as a musical shorthand In the 1950s and 60s, Coplands influence in
for America. Hollywood was most palpable in Westerns. Copland
The use of the lowered seventh is already a feature himself paved the way with his music for The Red
of Williams earliest film scores, particularly those Pony (1948). Perhaps the most characteristic element
for Westerns. Since the cowboy is a central figure in bequeathed by Copland to the Western genre is what
American mythology, a closer examination of VII in Philip Tagg terms big-country modalism, that is, any
the context of Williams Western music will provide a
gateway into the use of this sonority as a more general 27 Richard Taruskin, Music in the Early Twentieth Century, vol. 4 of The Oxford
signifier of American identity. History of Western Music (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
2005), 662.

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Example 4: Copland, Corral Nocturne from Rodeo, ms. 1315. 1946 The Aaron
Copland Fund for Music. Copyright Renewed. Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.

Example 5: Hugo Friedhofer, Main Title, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Repro-
duced in Roger Manvell and John Huntley, The Technique of Film Music (Hastings House:
Communication Arts Books, 1975), 166.

modal sequence of chords that occurs in connection in the orchestras of both The Big Country and The
with pictures showing or words describing wide Magnificent Seven, so he was exposed early on to the
open spaces, especially those of the North American Western sound of Moross and Bernstein.
West. Tagg notes that the most common big-country In keeping with his wonderful ear for endearingly
modalism is the VIIV change, which he refers to as hackneyed tropes of film scoring,30 Williams uses the
a cowboy half-cadence because it recurs in numerous VIIV progression in several of the Westerns he scored
Westernsmost famously in Elmer Bernsteins theme in the 1960s and 70s, including the James Stewart
from The Magnificent Seven.28 According to Mervyn vehicle The Rare Breed and the made-for-TV feature The
Cooke, the score that established VIIV as a Western Plainsman, both released in 1966 (Example 6).
sound in film music is Jerome Moross The Big Country Williams use of the cowboy half-cadence is not
(1958).29 As it happens, Williams performed as pianist restricted to Westerns. More generally, it can serve
as a signifier of rural Americana, as in the two Mark
28 Tagg and Clarida, Ten Little Title Tunes, 357.
29 Mervyn Cooke, A History of Film Music (New York: Cambridge University his career, it is not particularly common in Coplands work, and suggests
Press, 2008), 129. Moross had been a member of Coplands Young that Moross may have arrived upon the progression on his own. (Frank
Composers Group in the early 1930s, and later orchestrated Coplands Lehman, Hollywood Cadences: Music and the Structure of Cinematic
score for Our Town (1942), so his adoption in The Big Country of the blend Expectation, Music Theory Online 19.4 [December 2013]). For additional
of diatonic and modal elements that characterizes Coplands style is not analysis and information on the impact of The Big Country on Western scores,
surprising. Despite this biographical and aesthetic connection, Lehman see Mariana Whitmer, Jerome Morosss The Big Country: A Film Score Guide
cautions against reflexively attributing the origin of the cowboy half-cadence (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012).
to Copland. He notes that, while Moross used the cadence throughout 30 Steve Simels, Star Wars: The Soundtrack, Stereo Review 39 (1977), 95.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 55

Example 6: Examples of cowboy half-cadence in Williams Westerns

Rydell films The Reivers (1969) and The River (1984). suffuses the harmony, both as a IVsus4 and in the
Both scores feature VIIV within themes designed to form of the cowboy half-cadence (Example 8a). In
evoke a world of decent, hard-working country folks. this case, VIIV functions as an imprimatur of
The opening of The Reivers, for example, conjures up a democratic egalitarianism: it connects the noble
nostalgic vision of a hazy childhood summer around heights of Camelot with the humble log cabin of the
the turn of the century. As the narrator (Burgess frontiersman and thereby claims Kennedy as one of
Meredith) intones, When I was young, I lived in a us, while simultaneously evoking the mythical figure
town called Jefferson, Mississippi..., a folksy tune of the cowboy and the associated American values of
on harmonica and guitar establishes a wistful mood, individualism and independence.32 The music taps into
brightened by the progression from iii to VIIV what John Hellman calls the American myth of JFK,
(Example 7a). through which, [l]ike a film star, Kennedy became
In The River (set in 1980s Tennessee), farmer Tom a mirror image of the citizens desire, an idealized
Garvey and his wife struggle to hold on to their family reflection.33
farm despite poverty, flooding, and the attempts of a The same harmonic ingredients are at work in Luke
greedy landowner to drive them away. At the climax of Skywalkers theme, which utilizes both the quartal
the film, the family prevails against all odds to reclaim sound of sus4 and VIIV (see Example 8b). This
their land. The accompanying music, titled Ancestral nod to the tradition of music for Westerns meshes
Home, features cowboy half-cadences (Example 7b) perfectly with George Lucas concept of Star Wars as
and steadily builds to a jubilant VIII climax in horns cowboys in spacewhich is how he pitched the
and cymbals. film to executives at 20th Century Fox in 1974.34 As
In the preceding examples, the cowboy Douglas Brode writes, Lucas reinvent[s] the Western
half-cadence is specifically associated with by repositioning its essence not on the old frontier
ordinary Americans from the rugged frontier but in an entirely other galaxy. 35 Several scenes in
or the rural heartland. But the progression can Star Wars were directly modeled on classic Westerns,
also be transplanted into the upper echelons of such as Lukes discovery of the burning moisture farm
society, and even into outer space, without losing and the charred bodies of his aunt and uncle, which
its semantic charge. As Frank Lehman has noted in
32 A similar transplantation of the cowboy half-cadence from the wild West
a recent article,31 the themes for Kennedy in Oliver into patriotic historical drama occurs in the A section of Williams The
Stones JFK (1991) and Luke Skywalker in Star Men of the Yorktown march from the 1976 World War II drama Midway
(see Example 1). In Jerry Goldsmiths score for MacArthur (1977), it provides
Wars (1977) both prominently feature the cowboy a cocky swagger to the march associated with the eponymous World War II
half-cadence. The opening phrase of the Kennedy general.
33 John Hellman, The Kennedy Obsession: The American Myth of JFK (New York:
Theme from JFK again invokes Copland with its Columbia University Press, 1997), 96.
open fourths and fifths. The lowered seventh degree 34 Douglas Brode, Cowboys in Space: Star Wars and the Western Film,
in Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars: An Anthology, ed. Douglas Brode
(Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012), 14.
31 Lehman, Hollywood Cadences. 35 Brode, Cowboys in Space, 21.

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Example 7: Cowboy half-cadences in The Reivers and The River

echoes Ethan Edwards discovery that Comanches idealism of youth (Because theyre young, because
have burned the family homestead in The Searchers theyre young/The stars are twice as bright above...).
(John Ford, 1956). Despite his extraterrestrial Which brings us back to Star Wars: while working on
provenance, then, the modally inflected half-cadence the score, Williams considered the film to be a mere
codes Luke as an American hero in the tradition of Saturday morning popcorn picture for kids.38 His
the great Western gunslingers. 36 use of a progression associated not only with Westerns
A secondary associative layer of VIIV should but also with teen pop resonates with his own initial
be mentioned at this point. The colorful harmonic assessment of Star Wars.
progression was in the air at the time Williams began
his career in Hollywood, not just in Westerns, but
in pop music as well. Walter Everett notes that in VIII
pop, [t]he VIIVm7 first appeared in 195860 with
songs including Link Wray and his Ray Mens blues One of Williams earliest prestige pictures after his
adaptation, Rumble, Duane Eddys Because Theyre apprenticeship years in television was Frank Sinatras
Young, and Joan Baezs Fare Thee Well...before it directorial debut, the 1964 World War II drama None
became a mainstay of all rock styles in the 1960s.37 but the Brave, in which two platoons, one American,
The 1960 teen drama Because Theyre Young, which the other Japanese, square off on a remote island in
features the eponymous song, was Williams second the Pacific. The score is based on two contrasting
film score. The title tune, composed by Don Costa and soundworlds: a theme for the Japanese (based on
conducted by Williams, is sung in the film by James the Hirajoshi scale),39 and an American theme
Darren, and later became a hit when it was recorded which alternates between tonic and VII (Example
by Duane Eddy. Its most memorable feature is the 10). The shift between two major chords separated
insistent use of a VIIV cadence (see Example 9). by wholestep is one of the most characteristic
In keeping with the target audience and subject progressions in Williams music (more on this
matter of Because Theyre Young, the lyrics by Aaron below).
Schroeder and Wally Gold extol the innocence and In the scores for the 1973 Western The Man Who
Loved Cat Dancing and the 1974 drama Conrack (set in
rural South Carolina), the Mixolydian cadence VIII
36 Frank Lehman points out that Williams derives not only the Rebel
Fanfare from the cowboy half-cadence of Lukes theme, but in the course helps to convey a suitably folksy mood (Example 11,
of the hexalogy develops the germinal harmonic gesture into thoroughly
abstracted rhythmic or harmonic allusions, including a passage in The
Battle for Corruscant from Revenge of the Sith in which the mixolydian 38 John Williams, interview by Jo Reed, A Conversation with John
sounds of the prairie can be heard faintly echoing in the chromaticism of Williams, NEA Podcasts, March 3, 2011, accessed December 14, 2014,
this space battle. Lehman, Hollywood Cadences.
37 Walter Everett, The Foundations of Rock: From Blue Suede Shoes to Suite: 39 The oldest and most frequently used tuning scale for the Japanese koto
Judy Blue Eyes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 278. (DEGAB).

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Modal Interchange in Williams 57

Example 8: Comparison of Main Themes from JFK and Star Wars. Suite from JFK, 1992
Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature
Edition, 04490121. Star Wars: Suite for Orchestra, 1977 Warner-Tamerlane Publishing
Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490057.

Example 9: Williams arrangement of Because Theyre Young (1960)

Example 10: Main theme, None but the Brave (1964)

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Example 11: Use of VIII in themes for American characters. Raiders March, 1981
by Bantha Music and Ensign Music Corporation, printed by Hal Leonard, John Wil-
liams Signature Edition, 04490015.

a and b). Over a tonic pedal, it appears in the themes to a song in the dust of a country road that sings
for all-American characters like Indiana Jones or in the farms and the factory towns of the American
Dorinda, the feisty firefighting pilot from Always heartland, the harmony oscillates between I and VII
(Example 11, c and d). (Example 12a). As in Coplands Fanfare for the Common
In Straehley and Loebachs study of the emotional Man, Mixolydian cadences feature prominently in
connotations of diatonic modes, the Mixolydian mode music for patriotic ceremonies such as the Liberty
was most frequently associated by test subjects with Fanfare (composed in 1986 for the centenary of the
joy, admiration, and serenity.40 It is also a harmonic Statue of Liberty, Example 12b) or the Olympic Fanfare
feature of the shared musical vernacular of American and Theme (composed for the 1984 Olympic Games in
cultureas Robert Walser has pointed out, most pop Los Angeles, Example 12c).
songs are either major (Ionian) or Mixolydian.41 Thus, In music for domestic settings, Williams tends
it is not surprising that, in the music of Williams, the to draw on the same harmonic vocabulary as in his
Mixolydian shift VIII is often linked with the idea patriotic themes. This conflation of national and
of home in both a patriotic and a private sense. The domestic domains reflects a powerful ideological trope
former is evident in Williams anthem America, The in American political discourse: the idea of family
Dream Goes On, composed in 1982 in collaboration and home as the dominant fantasy and metaphor of
with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman for the national community. 42 The cognitive linguist George
Boston Pops. As the American Dream is compared Lakoff points out that:

40 Straehley and Loebach, The Influence of Mode and Musical Experience,

41 Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy 42 Robert Burgoyne, Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at American History
Metal Music (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013), 46. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 84.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 59

Example 12: VIII in America, The Dream Goes On and two fanfares. America, The
Dream Goes On, 1982, 1984 Threesome Music Co. (ASCAP); Liberty Fanfare 1986
Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. and Marjer Publishing Co. (BMI); Olympic Fanfare
and Theme 1984 Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. and Marjer Publishing Co.
(BMI), printed in John Williams: Fanfares and Themes, 1989 Warner Bros. Publications

[p]art of our conceptual systems, whether we are Dream Goes On resurfaces in themes associated with
liberals, conservatives, or neither, is a common family and domestic life, as in the Family Theme
metaphorical conception of the Nation as Family,
with the government, or head of state representing from the legal thriller Presumed Innocent (1990), or in
the government, seen as an older authority figure, the song When Youre Alone from Hook (1991), in
typically, a father. We talk about our founding fathers which little Maggie, lost in Neverland, sings of being
[] The U.S. government has long been referred to all alone/Far away from Home (Example 13, a and
as Uncle Sam. [] When our country goes to war,
it sends its sons (and now its daughters) into battle. b).
A patriot (from the Latin pater, father) loves his The coalescence of the familial and the patriotic
fatherland.43 is made most explicit in the Mel Gibson potboiler The
Patriot (2000). The main character, Benjamin Martin,
It is consistent with this metaphoric framework is at first wary of involvement in the American
that the same harmonic progression that represents revolution, but joins the rebels after his farm is
American soldiers in None but the Brave and burned and his son shot by the sadistic British
underpins patriotic exhortations in America, The General Tavington. In the context of the film, the
imperative to defend the homestead is intertwined
with the imperative to defend the national cause.
43 George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2010), 153 (emphasis in the original).
According to producer Mark Gordon, [w]hat we

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Example 13: VIII in themes associated with Family and Home

hope the audience will take away after seeing The IIIIVV and VIVIII: Emblems
Patriot is that the only way to protect your family is
to protect the family of all men.44 Individual and
of Righteous Euphoria
collective aspirations are linked on the harmonic
level as well: the theme associated with romance/ Other common progressions generated through modal
domestic happiness (Example 13c) and one of the interchange and associated with an American sound
themes associated with the national cause are based, are IIIIVV and VIVIII, which provide the basis
once again, on the alternation of I and VII (Example for two of the principal themes in Williams 1972
13d). score for The Cowboys (Example 14).
VIVIII, in particular, has become something
of a clich in Hollywood music. Ron Sadoff describes
44 Cited in Susanne Kord and Elisabeth Krimmer, Contemporary Hollywood the progression, which borrows the submediant
Masculinities: Gender, Genre, and Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2011), 59. and subtonic from the Aeolian mode, as a portal of

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Modal Interchange in Williams 61

Example 14: Major triads ascending by wholestep in The Cowboys (1972). The Cowboys
Overture. 1972 Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John
Williams Signature Edition, 00490061.

cultural affect which elicits hope, righteousness, This is an interesting example of Williams skill in
and euphoria45 connotations that may in part derive fusing multiple points of association into a polysemic
from its prominent use in the influential Hollywood brew with a potent ideological punch. The opening
epics Ben Hur and Exodus.46 More recently, it has of the anthem, stated by the chorus in the opening
become associated with both movie studio logos section, is based on IVIVIII. In conjunction with
(the Universal themes by James Horner and Jerry the phrase and the dream goes on! it conveys a
Goldsmith) and video game music (Super Mario Bros, sense of supercharged optimism which recalls not
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). Since the mid- only the big-country modalism of Western scores
1960s, the progression has also been a mainstay of and the pomp of 1950s biblical epics, but also the
rock: With a Little Help from my Friends (The power progressions of rock with their connotations of
Beatles), Lola (The Kinks), Crazy Little Thing blue-collar gritin particular, Jimi Hendrixs famous
Called Love (Queen), to name a few. rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in
In the context of Williams music, VIVIII often 1969, which established VIVIII as a concluding
assumes an implicitly or explicitly patriotic character. flourish for the national anthem (more recent
In the Superman Fanfare, the progression is linked, examples include Whitney Houstons performance
through an archetypal figure of pop mythology, at the Superbowl in 1991, or Beyoncs at the 2013
with Truth, Justice, and the American Way; in presidential inauguration).
the Ewok Celebration that follows the defeat of Perhaps most significant in this context, from a
the evil Empire in Return of the Jedi, it punctuates the musical as well as an ideological point of view, are two
fist-pumping celebration song of the victorious rebels themes from Ben Hur and Exodus. Mikls Rzsas score
(Freedom! Power!);47 and in Oliver Stones Nixon, for Ben Hur (1959) is, of course, the locus classicus
it spotlights a subcurrent of patriotic idealism beneath of the biblical style la Hollywood, with its massive
the Machiavellian machinations of the main character orchestral and choral forces and its lushly resonant
(Example 15, ac).48 modal archaisms. These include a prominent VI
The apotheosis of VIVIII in Williams work is VIII cadence in the love theme for Esther and Judah
the anthem America, The Dream Goes On (Example 15d). Ben-Hur (Example 16).
As Roger Hickman notes, this theme is given
45 Ron Sadoff, Composition by Corporate Committee: Recipe for Clich, the most extended playing time of any theme in the
American Music 22 (Spring 2004): 68.
46 The progression also appears in earlier Hollywood scores, including score,49 and thus is one of the most prominent and
Max Steiners Key Largo (1948) and Elmer Bernsteins Battles of Chief Pontiac memorable musical elements of Ben Hur. Like the
(1952). Thanks to Frank Lehman for pointing me to these examples.
47 I am referring to the original 1983 version of the film, not the 1997 Family theme from The Patriot (Example 13c), it is
release, which features different music for the Ewok Celebration.
48 Example 15c (from Nixon) presents a variant of the progression, in which
I is the initiator, rather than the goal, of the phrase (IVIVII instead of 49 Roger Hickman, Mikls Rzsas Ben-Hur: A Film Score Guide (Lanham, MD:
VIVIII). Scarecrow Press, 2011), 97.

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Example 15: Examples of VIVIII. Superman March, 1978 Warner-Tamerlane Pub-

lishing Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490228.
America, The Dream Goes On, 1982, 1984 Threesome Music Co. (ASCAP).

Example 16: Mikls Rzsa, Love Theme from Ben Hur, VIVIII cadence

associated with the protagonists private, domestic America. In this sense, Ben-Hurs struggle for national
existence, an existence which, like Benjamin Martins, self-expression in a homeland oppressed by Roman
is threatened by an overbearing imperial power. Ben imperialists resonated with the modern founding of
Hur, like Martin, is at first reluctant to be drawn Israel in British-occupied Palestine.50
into conflict, but once the security of his private
domain is shattered, he thirsts for revenge against the
oppressor. His rejection of Rome, as Jonathan Stubbs 50 Jonathan Stubbs, Historical Films: An Introduction (New York and London:
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), 98. When pressed by the Roman tribune
argues, can be seen in the context of contemporary Messala to inform on Jews critical of the Romans, Ben Hur replies: Theyre
Jewish nationalism and the support for it in 1950s not criminals, Messala. Theyre patriots.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 63

Example 17: Ernest Gold, The Exodus Song. 1960 & 1961 by Carlyle-Alpina
S.A., printed by Hal Leonard, 150 of the Most Beautiful Songs Ever, Hal Leonard

In his Oscar-winning score for Exodus, released with the mythology of America, a persistent feature of
the year after Ben Hur, Ernest Gold draws on a similar which is a belief in exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny,
modal vocabulary to lend a biblical sweep to the and divinely sanctioned nationhood which can be
film version of Leon Uris novel about the founding of traced back to the Puritans and John Winthrops city
the state of Israel. As shown in Example 17, the main upon a hill.52 This resonance may explain in part why
theme from Exodus resembles the love theme from Ben Uris novel was such a publishing phenomenonthe
Hur, both in its melodic outline and its conspicuous biggest bestseller in the United States since Margaret
use of the ascending wholestep progression (both as Mitchells Gone with the Wind.
VIVIIi and as IIIIVV). The similarity between Given this complex of associations (and Williams
the two themes was sufficiently pronounced for finely tuned ear for widely known points of reference,
Robbins Music Corporation, the publisher of the Ben especially within the Hollywood tradition), a
Hur music, to consult with an outside expert (Vincent connection can be drawn between the harmonic
Persichetti) to determine if a plagiarism case could gesture associated with the Promised Land of Israel
be made. Persichetti decided that the two pieces, in Exodus and the opening of Williams paean to the
while related in their use of modal harmony, exist as Promised Land of America. But there are revealing
independent and separate creations. 51 contrasts as well: whereas the Exodus theme evokes
Nonetheless, the resemblance suggests an a background of adversity and tragedy by fluctuating
intertextual link between the Jewish heroes of the dramatically between the Aeolian and Dorian modes,
two epics. The biblical flavor of the music was made and between major and minor forms of the tonic and
explicit after the fundamentalist evangelical singer Pat dominant, Williams anthem maintains a consistent
Boone added lyrics to Golds theme (God gave this
52 From the Puritan era on, many American Protestants have identified
land to me...). Boones version of The Exodus Song with Israel, whose sacred history offered a metaphorical narrative for the
(This Land is Mine) became a hit in the early 1960s, Puritan founding and establishing of communities in the New World. Like
the Jews, the Puritans had suffered under the yoke of tyrannical rulers, and
and has remained the most famous melody associated the Jews exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land was deemed analogous
with Israel in American popular culturean icon of to the Puritan crossing of the Atlantic to the New World. Both journeys
and new foundations were perceived as part of a divinely ordained mission
musical Zionism. The image of Gods chosen people to establish the true kingdom of God on earth. Political oratory, literature,
laying claim to the Promised Land resonates deeply and the visual arts from the Puritan era to the present have all made use
of a metaphorical identification of America as the Promised Land, the
New Jerusalem, and Americans as Chosen People with a divine mission.
51 Vincent Persichetti, letter to Joseph Levin, November 7, 1960. Mikls Margaret Malamud, Ancient Rome and Modern America (Malden, MA and
Rzsa Papers, Syracuse University Special Collections. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 141-42.

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focus on the major triad. This relentless brightness, Williams fondness for the nostalgic sound of
combined with the simplicity of the melodic material, ii7 is a feature of other love themes as well, including
creates an effect of banality that makes America, The those from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The
Dream Goes On a fitting counterpart to the hollow Terminal (see Example 21). As Philip Tagg notes, the
optimism of the Reagan era (Its morning again in use of half-diminished seventh chords in a major-key
America!). context has an instant dramatization potential.
Due to whatever vestiges of woe they may have
inherited, half-diminished sevenths in major offset
The Half-Diminished and Phrygian the general delight of their tonal surroundings and
Supertonic as Signifiers of Romance heighten the musics dramatic value, adding emotional
and the Exotic (Iii7, III) depth.55 Tagg traces the correlation of anguish
and the half-diminished seventh back to Dowlands
Flow My Tears and Purcells Dido and Aeneas. In the
While the flat submediant and subtonic in major keys
nineteenth century, it acquired connotations of
are integral to Williams heroic style, his love themes
romance (e.g., Wagners Tristan, Liszts Liebestraum)
tend to place strong emphasis on altered forms of
which established the sonority as a musical symbol
the supertonic. It typically appears in three modally
of love, longing, and pathos. It has been invoked in
inflected forms: half-diminished (ii7), Phrygian (II),
this capacity by numerous film composersincluding
and Lydian (II#). The half-diminished and Phrygian
Williams mentor Bernard Herrmann, whose score for
variants of ii are the operative sonorities in the love
Vertigo is stuffed to the gills with references to Tristan.
themes for the first Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the
If the half-diminished supertonic serves as a
Lost Ark, the opening phrases of which are shown in
signifier of romance, the Phrygian supertonic (II)
Example 18.
is redolent of gypsy music and flamenco and has
Note the prominent use of the ascending major
long been associated with the erotic and exotic (as in
sixth; Williams seems to correlate this interval with
the Seguidilla from Bizets Carmen, or the opening of
romance, just as the ascending fourths and fifths that
Ravels Tzigane).56 Its prominent use in the Star Wars
dominate his themes for Luke Skywalker, Superman,
and Raiders love themes adds a whiff of sensuality
and John F. Kennedy are linked with the heroic. As
and the faraway to the musical depictions of Princess
illustrated in Example 19, all four love themes utilize
Leia and Marionboth well-traveled and adventurous
the same harmonic components.
heroines. In the Indiana Jones series, with their exotic
The rich emotional associations triggered by this
settings in South Asia and the Middle East, Williams
constellation of chords provides another example
draws on the orientalist associations of II, both as
of Williams skill in drawing on the affective
a chord and as a melodic inflection of ^2, to convey
connotations of harmony. The progression Iii7
a sense of locale and adventure. For example, the A
recalls love themes from Hollywoods Golden Age
section of the March of the Slave Children from
such as those from Roy Webbs Notorious or Mikls
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a film set in a
Rzsas The Lost Weekend and Spellbound (Example 20):
phantasmagoric version of India) is based on the scale
a touch of nostalgia in keeping with the retrospective
DEbF#GABC. The augmented second created
aesthetic of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series,
by II between Eb and F# (m. 2 of Example 22) is
which constantly evoke visual and narrative tropes
standard orientalist practice.57
from 1930s and 40s cinema.53 The chromatic
alteration of ^6 serves as a poignancy-enhancing
tendency tone, either gravitating by descent to ^5 (as Prince Igor. Richard Taruskin notes that [t]he reversible chromatic pass
between the fifth and sixth degrees isthe essential symbol or marker
in Princess Leias Theme and Luke and Leia), or of sex la russe (Richard Taruskin, Music in the Nineteenth Century, vol. 3
by ascent to diatonic ^6 (as in Marions Theme).54 of The Oxford History of Western Music [Oxford and New York: Oxford
University Press, 2010], 401). In film music, the most famous manifestation
of sex la russe is the opening four-note bass line of Monty Norman/
53 Neil Lerner argues that this retrospective aesthetic, with its John Barrys theme from James Bondan appropriate point of reference for
conventionalized musical codings of gender, reinforces the masculinist and Marions Theme, considering that the world of international intrigue and
authoritarian tendencies some critics perceive in the films of Lucas and glamorous women depicted in Indiana Jones is heavily indebted to the James
Spielberg. See Nostalgia, Masculinist Discourse and Authoritarianism in Bond franchise.
John Williams Scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind 55 Tagg and Clarida, Ten Little Title Tunes, 195.
in Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Phillip Hayward 56 As Philip Tagg observes, Flattwo Spain and flattwo Gypsies must
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 96-108. be among Western exoticisms most exploited musical tropes. Philip Tagg,
54 In the case of Marions Theme, the sinuous chromatic line ^5 ^6 Everyday Tonality II: Towards a Tonal Theory of What Most People Hear (New York
^6 ^6 in the harmonic accompaniment taps into another vein of and Huddersfield: The Mass Media Music Scholars Press, 2014), 106.
association that can be traced back to late-19th-century Russian exoticism, 57 Ralph Locke, Constructing the Oriental Other: Saint-Saenss Samson
as manifested in the Chorus of the Polovtsian Maidens from Borodins et Dalila, Cambridge Opera Journal 3, no. 3 (1991): 267.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 65

Example 18: Love themes from Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and
Raiders of the Lost Ark (transposed to G major for comparison). Star Wars: Suite for
Orchestra, 1977 Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John
Williams Signature Edition, 04490057. Luke and Leia, 1983 Bantha Music,
printed in John Williams: Fanfares and Themes, 1987 Warner Bros. Publications Inc.
Raiders March, 1981 by Bantha Music and Ensign Music Corporation, printed by Hal
Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490015.

Example 19: Basic progression of themes in Example 18

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Example 20: Love themes from The Lost Weekend, Spellbound, and Notorious

Example 21: Love themes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and The
Terminal (2004)
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Modal Interchange in Williams 67

Example 22: March of the Slave Children from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Example 23: Comparison of Augurs and Jaws chords. Suite from Jaws, 1975 USI B
Music Publishing, printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490414.

While the flat supertonic is often used to convey associations as well. The first, and most obvious,
the allure of the exotic, it also has a dark side: the is the pounding, polytonal Augurs chord from
Other in the sense of the alien and monstrous. In Stravinskys Rite of Spring, which Williams seems at
Straehley and Loebachs study of the emotional first glance to have lifted wholesale.
perception of diatonic modes, more test subjects But the chords, while similar in pitch content, are
associated Phrygian with Terror, Fear, and not identical. The Augurs chord belongs to set 7-32
Apprehension than any other mode (closely followed [0,1,3,4,6,8,9], while the Jaws chord (and its half-step
by Locrian, which also has a flat supertonic).58 transposition) belongs to the octatonic subset 5-31
In the iconic shark motif from Jaws, the tension [0,1,3,6,9]: a characteristic tension sonority used by
between ^1 and ^2 is stripped down, through Bernard Herrmann in Hitchcock thrillers like Psycho
simple alternation, to its starkest formso stark, and Marnie (see Examples 23 and 24). Herrmann
in fact, that Spielberg at first rejected the motif as usually presents 5-31 as a fully diminished seventh
too primitive.59 Of course its primitive character chord in root position with added ninth; Williams, on
is precisely what renders the music suitable for a the other hand, models his voicing on the Augurs
single-minded killing machine; the accelerating chord (same register and transpositional level, with
oscillation between two neighboring pitches vividly the E dominant 6/5 sonority on top).
evokes the seesawing motion of the caudal fin which By cross-breeding elements from the Sacre
propels the shark toward its prey. and Psycho, Williams manages to conjure up two
In its emphasis on the half-step, the shark different demons at once. The shark motif is a kind
motif follows in the tracks of Wagners Fafner, who of resonance chamber which gathers and amplifies
rises from the depths of his lair in a serpentine multiple musical echoes of murderous violence into a
succession of ascending and descending half-steps. single sleek and streamlined signifier of terror.60
Its harmonized variant dredges up other musical
60 In a recent interview, Williams noted that it...touches on some kind of
58 Straehley and Loebach, The Influence of Mode and Musical Experience, primal fear and defense network that we all have of reptiles and of monsters
26-27. that are unstoppable and are the predatory sovereigns of the earth. (John
59 Joseph McBride, Spielberg: A Biography (Jackson: University of Mississippi Williams, interview by Tommy Pearson, John Williams at 80: A Classic FM
Press, 2010), 253. Interview Special, Classic FM, August 27, 2012).

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Example 24: Comparison of Jaws chord and Herrmann tension chords

The Lydian Supertonic as a Signifier in the opening of the Waldstein Sonata, op. 53).
This denial of normative, functional resolution marks
of Flight, Magic, and Wonder (I the progression as an extraordinary harmonic event
II#) and thereby intensifies its affective impact.
Given its implicitly levitational trajectory, the
We have observed Williams predilection for moving progression lends itself to suggesting, among other
between major chords a wholestep apart in his use things, the physical sensation of flight, as it does in
of VIVII, VIII, and IIIIV. This infuses much Jerry Goldsmiths main theme for the World War
of his music with the otherworldly brightness of the I aviation adventure The Blue Max (see Example 2).
Lydian mode, since all of these progressions generate According to Williams, the emotion he most enjoys
Lydian hexachords.61 It is not surprising, then, that the expressing through music is exhilaration...being
third, and perhaps most typical, modal inflection of able to escape gravity, and just fly.64 The importance
the supertonic is II#, which borrows the raised fourth of the Lydian fourth in attaining this state of
degree of the scale from the Lydian mode. In most exhilaration is exemplified by the Adventure Theme
instances, II# is preceded by I, and often appears over from Jurassic Park, which is heard for the first time as
a tonic pedal, which maximizes the tritonal tension John Hammonds helicopter speeds toward Isla Nublar
of the progression. This harmonic maneuver conveys (the dinosaur island). The III# progression, in
a sense of joyous anticipation in both Korngolds conjunction with the rousing orchestration, perfectly
score for The Prince and the Pauper (1937; see Example complements the kinetic excitement of the camera
2) and Leonard Bernsteins West Side Story, where it sweeping across the glittering ocean (Example 25).
features prominently in the song Tonight.62 Williams Since the 1970s, the Lydian supertonic has been
himself has described the progression as ceremonious utilized in many science fiction and fantasy scores,
and heraldic.63 Its characteristic buoyancy, which by Williams as well as other composers.65 It is a
conveys a visceral sense of lifting off, results from key component of what Frank Lehman describes as
the unexpected suspension of the usual gravitational Williams soaring wonder style:
forces that condition melodic movement in major:
instead of ^4 falling to 3, ^#4 sets up an anticipation The mode finds such extensive employment in film
of upward resolution toward ^5. Williams typically music in part because of its brightening of the already
does not, however, resolve II# to V (as Beethoven does positively-valenced major mode, an intensification of
its upward tendencies...and a super-saturation of its
61 B major to C major = BCDEFG.
62 Williams, incidentally, was pianist for the 1961 film version of West Side 64 Meeting with John Williams, YouTube video. 4:17, undated backstage
Story. interview, posted by narutosaiyans, May 27, 2007, accessed December 14,
63 The style [of the music for Superman] is tonal and kind of ceremonious 2014,
and heraldicC major to D major-ish, if you know what I mean. Williams, 65 Examples include Alan Silvestris Back to the Future (1985) or James
interview by Derek Elley, John Williams, Part I, Films and Filming, 28 (July/ Horners Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Star Trek II (1982), Star Trek III (1984),
August 1978), 21. and Deep Impact (1998).

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Modal Interchange in Williams 69

Example 25: Journey to the Island, Jurassic Park (1993)

victorious, childlike, and optimistic connotations. At Like E.T. and Yoda, Anakin Skywalker in The
the same time, its divergence from the diatonic norm, Phantom Menace is diminutive and childlike in outward
and the presence of a prominent tritone between tonic
and subdominant scale-degrees, enables suggestion of appearance, but gifted with extraordinary mental
the extraordinary and otherworldly.66 powers. He is driven by his yearning to escape from
slavery and, quite literally, ascend to the stars. I'm
a pilot, you know, and someday I'm going to fly away
Victorious, childlike, optimistic, extraordinary,
from this place, he says early in the film as we hear
and otherworldly: suitable adjectives for E.T., Yoda,
the first statement of Anakins Theme, a sinuous,
Superman, and the boy Anakin Skywalker, all of
complex melody that recalls the bittersweet lyrical
whom are characterized by themes based on III#
idiom of Prokofiev (Example 28). Once again, the
(Example 26). It is through their ability to defy
progression III# over a tonic pedal suggests not
the laws of gravity that E.T., Yoda, and Superman
only otherworldly powers, but also the idea of flight.
demonstrate their magical powers. In Superman,
The plot of The Phantom Menace hinges on Anakins
Lois Lane falls in love while soaring skyward in
prowess as a pilot, which is displayed in the pod race
Supermans arms, to the strains of the love theme; as
that wins him his freedom, as well as the climactic
they float above the clouds, we hear a vocal version of
battle, in which he pilots a starfighter and manages to
the theme, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse that stress
single-handedly turn the tide of battle by destroying
Supermans celestial origins (I dont know who you
the Federations droid-control ship.
are/Just a friend from another star...You can fly/You
The magical flavor of I#II is often intensified
belong in the sky, etc.). In The Empire Strikes Back,
by transposing the initial progression, as is the
Yoda restores Lukes flagging faith in the Force by
case in Spacecamp (1987). The main title, which
telekinetically lifting his submerged glider from a
accompanies images of nebulae and galaxies, opens
swamp, accompanied by an apotheosis of the Yoda
with a shimmering synthesizer ostinato. This
theme. In E.T., Elliott and E.T. take off into the night
provides a backdrop for a majestic horn cantilena
sky during their famous bike ride to the strains of
which shifts first from C major to D major, then
what Williams calls the Flying Theme.
from D major to E major (Example 29a). The
Considering these magical and levitational
Adventure motif for the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost
associations, it is surely no coincidence that all three
World is similarly saturated with Lydian hexachords,
themes utilize the same basic harmonic components
progressing (over a tonic/dominant ostinato pedal)
(Example 27).67
from A major to B major, then from C major to D
major (Example 29b).
66 Lehman, Reading Tonality, 31.
67 Note that the Flying Theme from E.T. presents the only exception Many other progressions with strong associative
among the examples presented here of II# operating as a secondary connotations could be added to this overview of
dominant, since it resolves to V and can thus be interpreted as a
conventional V/V. Even in this case, however, there is a connection to the characteristic harmonic devices. As we have seen,
Lydian mode, since the theme is derived from the unambiguously Lydian progressions such as VIIV or III# tap into
E.T. motif. For a detailed discussion of this derivation, see my article Sweet
Fulfillment: Allusion and Teleological Genesis in John Williams's Close well-established veins of association. The connotations
Encounters of the Third Kind, The Musical Quarterly, 2014; doi: 10.1093/musqtl/ I ascribe to them are evident in many cases, but

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Example 26: The Lydian supertonic in Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, and E.T.
(transposed to G major for comparison). Star Wars: Suite for Orchestra, 1977 Warner-
Tamerlane Publishing Corp., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition,
04490057. Adventures on Earth: From the Universal Picture E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial),
1982 MCA., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490009.

Example 27: Harmonic components of Example 26

Example 28: Anakins Theme from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). Star Wars:
The Phantom Menace, Suite for Orchestra, 1999 Bantha Music (BMI), printed by Hal
Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490125.

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Modal Interchange in Williams 71

Example 29: Transposition of Lydian supertonic. Theme from The Lost World, 1997
MCA, Inc., printed by Hal Leonard, John Williams Signature Edition, 04490069.

they do not, of course, apply in all instanceseven dramatic concept for the franchise. A lot of these
the most stereotyped progressions in film music are references are deliberate, Williams notes, Theyre
capable of harboring a rich diversity of polysemic an attempt to evoke a response in the audience
meaning, depending on the dramatic context.68 [when] we want to elicit a certain kind of reaction.70
Musico-cinematic topoi, as Tobias Plebuch has It is indicative of Williams compositional skill and
noted, are not fixed symbols like traffic signs, but vivid sense of dramaturgy that his music sounds
flexible and constantly evolving signifiers that can be consistently fresh and compelling, despite its frequent
handled with subtlety: Once a topos is established, a reliance on harmonic gestures common to many
composer or improviser may just use a characteristic Hollywood scores.
feature and inject, for example, a tiny but recognizable
dose of mysterious, pastoral, religious, or military
sound into any scene.69 The inclusion of a cowboy Acknowledgements
half-cadence in the main title of Star Wars, for
example, adds just the right dash of Western flavor to I would like to thank Frank Lehman for his incisive
music that otherwise evokes the grand Korngoldian comments on a draft of this article.
tradition of Golden Age adventure movies. Thus,
from the start the music points up the mixture of
genres that is a defining feature of George Lucas

68 See Lehman, Reading Tonality, 149-50. 70 Randall Larson, Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic
69 Plebuch, Mysteriosos Demystified, 78. Cinema (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1985), 297.

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